Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ramsey's position continues to evolve, actuarially speaking

The University of Louisville's position on whether it is subsidizing health benefits for the live-in sexual partners of its staff seems to change by the day. The problem, it appears, lies with actuaries, of which U of L seems to have no shortage.

President James Ramsey, the recipient of so much actuarial advice on this issue, originally told lawmakers in a March 6 meeting of the House Health and Welfare Committee that the full cost of the benefits of the domestic partners of its staff was borne by the employees themselves and their partners. But then it was discovered that, according to U of L's own website, it's employees were not bearing the full costs, and that part of the benefits were, in fact, being subsidized by the University.

This was a problem for Ramsey, whose credibility was on the line. So Tuesday, the last day of the session, he showed up in Frankort "begging for mercy," as WHAS-11's Mark Hebert put it Tuesday, "and a chance to explain some things he said earlier this month." According to the same report, Ramsey claimed he was telling the truth "at the time of the meeting," since he was relying on a 2006 actuarial report that indicated that the premiums charged would cover all the medical bills. This, however, turned out later not to be true.

In other words, at the time of his testimony before the March 6 committee meeting, the benefits did not cost taxpayers anything (according to the 2006 actuaries) and so Ramsey was telling the truth (at the time). But something happened after that that resulted in the benefits being subsidized by taxpayers, making Ramsey's testimony false. This became evident when the information U of L makes available to its employees through its website (which is apparently the work of a second set of actuaries) was discovered to say something completely different.

An honest man on March 6, but last Tuesday, a liar. What a bummer.

The 2006 actuaries, the ones who rendered Ramsey's testimony truthful by saying that the university didn't subsidize the benefits, are apparently different from the actuaries who actually run U of L's health insurance program, who made him out a liar by saying the university does subsidize them. But what about the 2005 U of L report (which Ramsey now disavows, as he now disavows the 2006 report) that said that the costs for underwriting the health insurance of domestic partners would be into the hundreds of thousands? Were these figures provided by another, third set of actuaries?

And if so, where do they fit in to the fickle fortunes of this ill-fated university president?

This third set of actuaries would have also made his testimony false, unlike the 2006 actuarial figures, which made it true, but similar to actuaries for the health plan who would have made it false. But it doesn't matter, because we don't believe them anymore either.

Is this getting confusing yet? We hope not, because Ramsey, who gave false testimony on March 6 (but was really telling the truth because of what the first set of actuaries told him) and who was then not telling the truth (because of what the university was telling its employees), is now telling the truth again.

How can this be? "U of L will get private donors to foot the bill," says Hebert, "allowing Ramsey to keep his promise that no tax money or university funds will be used."

Voila! What was true at the time but really false, and was then false (even at the time) is now true again!

How can you give false testimony to state lawmakers in a committee meeting and then make it true later on? Our theory is a fourth set of actuaries, their existence hidden from the public, who have figured out (like the characters in Frank Herbert's book, Dune) how to bend time.

But however he did it, Ramsey has now found a way to make his testimony true ex post facto. Let us call this new technique, "retrospective honesty."

G. K. Chesterton once said of the playwright George Bernard Shaw that he was in a "perpetual state of temporary honesty." Could the same be said of Ramsey?

Think of its ramifications of this new technique. If you cheated on a test because you didn't know the material, for example, you could study later, and claim that even though you didn't know the material then, you know it now, and therefore the fact that you cheated is irrelevant.

U of L students, are you listening? We hope not.

James Ramsey comes clean

For Immediate Release
March 28, 2007

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

U of L President visits lawmakers, comes clean on misleading testimony on domestic partner benefits bill

U of L President James Ramsey came clean yesterday on misleading testimony he gave to legislative committees. His inaccurate testimony formed the basis for much of the opposition to legislation restricting domestic partner benefit programs at state universities. Ramsey visited several lawmakers on the last day of the legislative session, according to a WHAS-11 news report, and admitted that his testimony was mistaken.

Ramsey had told a legislative committee—and his own Board of Trustees—that the University was not subsidizing the health benefits for domestic partners of its staff in whole or in part. Last week, however, in a press release The Family Foundation pointed to U of L’s own website, which states that the university does subsidize the benefits for domestic partners of its staff.

Ramsey’s statements, and subsequent statements by opponents of the bill were used repeatedly in arguments against SB 152, which would have prohibited state agencies, including colleges and universities, from such subsidies. SB 152, which was passed by the Senate, failed to gain a majority in the House Health & Welfare Committee in an 8-8 tie vote.

“We are pleased that Ramsey has admitted his testimony was false,” said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky, “but we wonder why he waited until the waning hours of the very last day of the General Assembly session, when it was too late for the bill to be reconsidered, to make it clear that the basis for much of the opposition was mistaken.”

Cothran called for more questions to be asked about the timing of the admission. “Someone needs to ask what they knew and when they knew it. It appears as if U of L staff has known about his for some time, and the question is whether this was intentional deception or just bureaucratic incompetence. We’re not saying Ramsey lied; it could be that he doesn’t have good communication with his staff. Maybe the left hand at U of L doesn’t know what the far left hand is doing.”

The Family Foundation was one of the groups that opposed state universities subsidizing the live-in sexual partners of their staff and faculty with tax and tuition money.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Did James Ramsey tell the truth?

U of L Pres. James Ramsey told a House committee his university does not subsidize domestic partner benefits. Why is he telling state lawmakers one thing, and his employees something completely different?

In the debate over domestic partner benefits at Kentucky’s public universities, one alleged fact has been hammered home by proponents again and again: that no taxpayer money was being used by the University of Louisville to subsidize the benefits. Legislators have relied on this fact in arguing for it, and U of L’s own Board of Trustees relied on it in making their decision to approve the university’s plan. But new information is calling into question whether the university is being truthful in its statements to state lawmakers and the public.

During House Health and Welfare Committee testimony on March 6, University of Louisville President James Ramsey testified that his university did not subsidize its employee health insurance plans of domestic partners. U of L officials have maintained since last year, when it instituted its domestic partner benefit plan, that no taxpayer or tuition money was involved in their decision, since the cost of their health benefits was borne solely by employees.

That testimony was the chief point of controversy for many of the committee members. Representative Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville) tried to clarify the matter during Ramsey’s testimony:
Damron: You mentioned that there is no cost to the university. Is your health insurance plan structured such that the dependents, spouses, children and so on that are added to your plan are purely a pay as you go basis or is there any subsidy? Most state plans have a subsidy that helps to pay part of the family plan or at least a piece of it or buys the cost of participating in a family plan. Are you stating that the University of Louisville pays for the single policy but they don't subsidize in any shape form or fashion adding additional people to the plan?

Ramsey: As I indicated to you I pay for my dependents health insurance

Damron: That's not the question. The question is are you partially subsidizing the cost of a family plan? The state of Kentucky partially subsidized the cost of the family plan. Is the University of Louisville not partially subsidizing the cost of their family plan?

Ramsey: No. Are you talking about on an actuarial basis?

Damron: On an actuarial basis.

Ramsey: The actuaries told us no we are not.
Damron continued to press the issue, and pointed out that he didn’t think the numbers added up. Again Ramsey affirmed that U of L did not subsidize their plan:
Damron: I guess in my own mind, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you could do that at half the cost of what the state employee’s were paying for their family plan.

Ramsey: Do you want us to follow the state plan? [laughing]

Damron: No, I want to make sure that before you make a statement, before a committee of the General Assembly, that you are accurate in what you say.

Ramsey: Bob, you’ve known me for a long time, and I’ve always been honest with the General Assembly.

Damron: I’m not saying you’re not honest. I’m just saying I think you need to look at that issue before you make statements like that.

Ramsey: What I’m telling you is what I’m telling you.
A few minutes later, Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville) brought up the matter again, just to make sure:
Owens: That does not change the fact of your testimony which is that the university does not subsidize. Is that correct?

Ramsey: Correct.
Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think Ramsey is saying that Uof L doesn't subsidize its benefits. But there's one little problem: the health care section of U of L’s own website indicates exactly the opposite.

Not only does it say they are subsidizing family benefits, but the new part of the site dealing with domestic partner benefits says quite clearly that the university is subsidizing benefits for domestic partners. According to the website page dealing with domestic partners:
Whether or not your domestic partner qualifies as a tax dependent,” says the site, “makes a difference in how taxes will be deducted from your paycheck for benefits. IRS does not allow pre-tax treatment for any dependents that don't qualify as your tax dependent. Therefore, if that's the case, you will be taxed on the money you spend through payroll deduction as well as the money U of L spends for your domestic partner and his/her children.” [Italics added]
In the same section, it goes on to say that the university pays the same amount for an employee and domestic partner as with an employee and spouse.
You will see that the university contributes the same amount in both situations, but the differences in the tax treatment will make a difference in your net take-home pay.” [Italics added]
Now I could be mistaken again, but this seems to say that the University of Louisville is subsidizing the benefits.

The site goes on to show an example of the employee’s paycheck with the benefit for the domestic partner under the label “Employer Paid Benefit.”

In other words, the university’s own website would appear to directly contradict President Ramsey’s unequivocal testimony before the committee. If U of L is not subsidizing the benefit, then how can employees report to the IRS that it is?

It is beginning to look like President Ramsey owes state lawmakers—and his own Board of Trustees—an explanation of why he is telling them one thing while his university is telling its employees something completely different.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Is There a Teletubby Agenda?

There are times when you just have to speak up. And last Tuesday was one of those times.

The House Health & Welfare Committee was considering Senate Bill 152, a bill which would prevent the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky from pursuing domestic partner benefit policies. As anyone who has been watching the seemingly endless string of meetings on SB 152 in Chairman Tom Burch's committee knows, the atmosphere of the meetings had been charged, and the debate intense.

Partisans on both sides of the issue had argued their case. Supporters of the bill called it an attempt to subvert the Marriage Amendment of 2004, and opponents charged that it was a thinly veiled attempt to legislate bigotry.

Then, Kathy Stein spoke up.

Until that point in last week's final meeting, the topic of discussion had been whether domestic partner benefit policies were constitutional, and how U of L's health insurance policy, which offers no subsidy for dependent family members, could possibly be effective in attracting top national talent. But in all of that discussion, one important issue had been completely ignored. One topic of conversation had been studiously avoided--the veritable 300 pound gorilla in the room. No one wanted to touch it. No one, that is, except Rep. Stein.

The issue of Tinky-Winky.

Cutting through all the irrelevant rhetoric, Stein addressed the issue head on. Here is her bold statement on this crucial subject:
I have a statement I am going to make in good faith, and it's going to be controversial, and it is going to be that, you know, I believe that in religion and in religious faith and in all the good things that come along with it, but I've gotten to the point in this General Assembly session that I resent The Family Foundation and what they are trying to do to make issues of fairness controversial issues. And I resent that we are listening to folks who, with a straight face, looked at America and said, don't let your children watch Tinky-Winky because he is gay. I find it ... it's a sad day in Kentucky when we are dealing with issues like that when you have to keep your children from seeing Tinky-Winky, and that was made as a straight comment. Thank you.
Now, some may wonder what this has to do with the issue of domestic partnerships, and state university employee benefits policies, and whether the Constitution places any restrictions the ability of a state university to create a legal status similar to marriage. What, in short, was Rep. Stein referring to? And the answer, of course, is this:

We don't have a clue.

But then, we are obviously not as well-versed in Teletubby issues as Rep. Stein. Maybe she knows something the rest of us don't. Perhaps there are secret plans afoot of which we are completely ignorant.

Could we, for example, be looking forward to an influx of Teletubbies into the state, the result of the UK and UofL's increasing emphasis on diversity?

After all, Teletubbies, being androgynous, constitute the kind of talent pool Lee Todd and James Ramsey seem to find highly attractive for faculty and staff recruitment purposes: they are not married--that seems to be a plus--and they would appear to constitute a minority group. And if this is the case, we can see why Rep. Stein, known for championing the rights of the underrepresented, would be concerned about any bigotry directed toward them.

If Rep. Stein doesn't speak up for the Tinky-Winky's of the world, who will?

Yet Rep. Stein's comments make us wonder. Could there be some sort of Teletubby agenda? Could Tinky-Winky be only the first step in a much broader plan to subvert our universities? Who else might our children be bumping into between classes if we invite a flood of public television children's characters onto our college campuses? Big Bird? Snuffleupagus? Are these people going to start instituting Muppet Studies programs in our college curricula?

And, if so, could Barney be far behind?

On the other hand, this might not be so bad. Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act has produced such poor math students coming out of Kentucky high schools, it might help to incorporate songs like "A Great Day for Counting," and "One, Two, Buckle my Shoe" into our college math curricula. And, let's face it, now that Western civilization has become declassé in many of our humanities programs, why not spend a few minutes every class period singing "The Alphabet Song" and "Books are Fun"?

Not only that, just imagine what a few choruses of "Pennies in My Pocket" would to do spruce up those boring business classes.

Not all of Barney's repertoire would be appropriate in the brave new world of higher education that Todd and Ramsey have planned for Kentucky's institutions of higher learning, of course. "That Sounds Like an Opposite to Me," would obviously be considered heterosexist, and "Ole King Cole" would (no doubt about it) be judged far too patriarchal. But you've got to think there would be a renewed appreciation for old favorites such as "Look Both Ways."

And then there is one of our personal favorites: "The Land of Make Believe." Is there any particular reason they couldn't make this the school song at UK or UofL?

All this, of course, is a highly insensitive treatment of issues some people, like Kathy Stein, take very, very seriously. And we fully expect to be taken to task for it.

Probably in her next speech.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Rep. Kathy Stein and Her Discontents

Rep. Kathy Stein needs a vacation. Just a few days at the beach or something--anything to get her away from the stress of having to fight the radical religious right at the state capitol. It is a job she shows up for every day, and to which she has devoted herself wholeheartedly. But the responsibilities of this increasingly burdensome task are obviously beginning to affect her judgment.

Maybe we could take up a collection.

Stein's increasingly intemperate remarks at committee meetings about those with whom she disagrees are a clear indication of stress-related complications from taking her responsibilities as defender of the Liberal Faith against the religious barbarians she sees battening on the doors of the State Capitol just a little too seriously. But whereas her remarks up until now have been merely strident, she has now descended into incoherence.

Here are her words at the House Health & Welfare Committee meeting last Tuesday during the debate over Senate Bill 152, which would prevent state agencies from recognizing "domestic partners" as a legal status similar to marriage (which is prohibited in the state's constitution):
I have a statement I am going to make in good faith, and it's going to be controversial, and it is going to be that, you know, I believe that in religion and in religious faith and in all the good things that come along with it, but I've gotten to the point in this General Assembly session that I resent The Family Foundation and what they are trying to do to make issues of fairness controversial issues. And I resent that we are listening to folks who, with a straight face, looked at America and said, don't let your children watch Tinky-Winky 'cause he is gay. I find it ... it's a sad day in Kentucky when we are dealing with issues like that when you have to keep your children from seeing Tinky-Winky, and that was made as a straight comment. Thank you.

Now I'm almost afraid to ask the question for fear I might cause another blood vessel to rupture (which would only make matters worse) but, ... how should I phrase this, ... What, exactly, are we talking about?

In regard to "fairness", the only reason it has become controversial is because people like Kathy Stein have redefined it to suite their left-wing political purposes. To Stein and other gay rights activists, "fairness" means forcing other people to agree with you about issues of human sexuality. To these people it is no longer a word, but a weapon--to used to beat those with whom you disagree.

And in regard to the rest of it, well, let's just say anyone who interrupts a serious public policy discussion during a meeting of public officials and launches off into a discussion about Tinky-Winky is in danger of being taken a little less than seriously.

I suggest Hilton Head. It survived Hurricane Hugo, so presumably it can handle Kathy Stein.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mr. Smith takes a hike

Where was State Rep. Ancel Smith, the tie-breaking vote on SB 152, when the bill failed by an 8-8 vote in House Health & Welfare Committee yesterday? He was sitting on the couch in Suite 432 of the Capitol Annex watching it on the television monitor—apparently taking refuge from a controversial vote.

If you ever wondered why they compare the making of laws to the making of sausage, now you know why.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2007

Contact: Martin Cothran
Phone: 859-329-1919

Domestic partner benefit ban fails to clear important hurdle, but supporters say there is still hope

FRANKFORT--A bill that would have prevented state agencies, including public colleges and universities, from subsidizing the health care benefits of the live-in sexual partners of their employees failed to clear an important hurdle today when the House Health & Welfare Committee voted 8-8 on Senate Bill 152. The bill needed 9 votes to win approval, but the tie-breaking vote, Ancel Smith (D-Leburn), who represents Knott and McGoffin Counties, as well as part of Letcher, was absent.

"We don't know how Rep. Smith would have voted," said Martin Cothran, "but obviously his vote would have made the difference as to whether the bill was approved." Cothran said Rep. Smith seemed to be avoiding the meetings in which the bill was considered. "Rep. Smith was the deciding vote, but he didn't show up." Cothran is senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky, which supports the legislation.

"House Democratic leadership sent this bill to this committee because they knew it would have little chance of passage. They were obviously clever in defeating this bill," said Cothran, "but that doesn't mean the bill is cannot be resurrected." Cothran pointed out that, under House rules, a member not voting can make a motion to reconsider a vote.

"It's all up to Rep. Smith," said Cothran.

On her way out of the committee after the bill failed, Rep. Kathy Stein, a member of the Health & Welfare Committee and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, handed Cothran a box of Rice-a-Roni, and said, "Here you go--a San Francisco treat." It was a reference to Cothran's remarks in January's special organization session when House Democrats elected their leaders. Cothran had said that appointing Stein, the House's most liberal member, to the Judiciary post would make House Democrats look like "San Francisco Democrats."

"I appreciate the gift," said Cothran. "I guess it symbolizes the values that won today."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Erratum Eorum Oopsum

The Lexington Herald-Leader today ran my piece on Richard Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class, and its use in the debate over domestic partner benefits. Normally, the edits they do are pretty reasonable, but there was one glitch made, apparently, in the editing process at the newspaper that needs to be corrected.

They have taken something I used as a quote and placed it as if I said it myself. So, just in case anyone accuses me of plagiarism, let it be known: the 11th paragraph is from Steven Malanga's piece in the Wall Street Journal. I had it attributed in the piece as I submitted it, but it is not attributed nor set off in quotations in the article.

Here is the relevant paragraph:
A generation of leftish policy makers and urban planners are rushing to implement Mr. Florida's vision, while an admiring host of uncritical journalists tout it. But there is just one problem: The basic economics behind his ideas don't work.
Just thought I would mention it for the record.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Erratum Meum Oopsum

We take refuge in Latin when we make a mistake, and State Rep. Kathy Stein points out an inaccuracy in my piece the other day about Merck contributions to legislators, one which is fairly minor, but we do want to keep things as accurate as possible here.

It was not "Front Page with Sue Wiley," on which State Sen. Dan Kelly appeared (and into which Rep. Stein called in), but the "Kruser Show." She also says that she has a recording of the program in which Sen. Kelly was talking about "payoffs from drug companies" (or something similar to that--Rep. has the recording), to which, of course, she takes exception.

Well, I'll take her word for it. And I wouldn't use those words myself (and didn't the other day), but the problem is that when you take money from a company who developed a drug, and the drug company stands to make literally billions of dollars from a piece of legislation mandating that drug, and then you vote for the bill, you open yourself up to such charges, and its hard to sort out whether there was a relationship between the campaign donation and the vote in favor of the bill or not.

That's why I stressed the importance of the appearance of impropriety in my post--precisely because it looks to some people like this is exactly what is happening.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Another report on surprise legislative hearing

A small piece of my testimony during yesterday's hearing on SB 152, which would bar public agencies from instituting domestic partner benefits programs, was quoted in Deborah Yetter's Louisville Courier-Journal story yesterday.

It is also interesting to note that the Legislative Research Commission has yet to post a streaming video of House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Tom Burch's attempt to ambush supporters of SB 152. There is no online video available for the surprise nighttime meeting of his committee, while other meetings are posted.


Charade, starring Tom Burch

In the midst of conducting a charade, Rep. Tom Burch accuses others of conducting a charade, the media dutifully ignores the former and reports the latter, ... and other things that really surprise us.

The Lexington Herald-Leader headline on the story about last night's committee hearing on domestic partner benefits bill reads, "Partner Benefits Bill Called a Charade." This was reference to Health & Welfare Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Burch's remark during his committee hearing last night on SB 152 that the bill has "pulled a charade on the people of Kentucky."

Now let's see if I've got this straight:
  • Rep. Burch gives the bill sponsor, State Sen. Vernie McGaha, only one hour's notice that his bill will be heard (House rules say a bill is to be posted three days before it is to be heard), giving him and the bill supporters no time to prepare for testimony
  • Burch hears the bill at 6:30 in the evening when the Capitol is largely vacant and most legislators (including some members of the committee who support the bill) have gone home
  • And yet, somehow, numerous opponents of the bill show up for the meeting, apparently having been made aware of the meeting before even the sponsor was made aware of it.
And yet it is bill supporters that Rep. Burch is accusing of conducting a charade.

Got it.