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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chip Faulknerís Report
from the National Conference of State Legislatures
2009 Legislative Summit

Philadelphia. Pennsylvania -- July 20-24th

I went to this conference as a guest of Grover Norquistís organization, Americans for Tax Reform based in Washington, DC. ATR offers all expense-paid scholarships to a number of conservative activists from all over the country. We get together at the Conference to meet and exchange war stories about the latest government debacles -- state by state.

The first night there Grover took about 40 of us out to dinner at a local restaurant. Most of the diners were leaders of their Center-right coalition meetings in states across the country. In Massachusetts the C-r meeting is called the Friday Morning Group, which I have hosted the second Friday of every month for almost 8 years. Grover had each of us get up and say a few words. When I stood up I told them I felt like I was at an AA meeting because, in front of all these conservatives, I had to confess: "My name is Chip and Iím from...from... MASSACHUSETTS! With great sympathy they whispered back, "Hello, Chip."

Interesting note: I had two different people ask me if they were still working on the "Big Dig" and what was the latest price tag? Also, some always express amazement that we donít have a graduated income tax in this state. Theyíre pleasantly surprised and then even more amazed when I tell them its been defeated at the ballot box five times.

On Tuesday, ATR hosted a working lunch and on Wednesday a working breakfast for those ATR had invited to the Conference. During these sessions Grover went around the room asking for updates on Center-right meetings and the political situations/races in each state. The general feeling I got from their responses was that the excesses of the tax and spenders the last year or two will come back to bite them in 2010. The mood was actually upbeat and looking forward to substantial conservative gains next year.

I also had the chance to give some pointers on organizing and sustaining Center-right coalition meetings for some that were trying to boost attendance. Our Massachusetts meeting has been averaging almost 50 attendees per meeting this year, which surprised many of the other state leaders. One came up to me and said he "didnít think there were fifty conservatives in the entire state of Massachusetts."

We were eligible to attend almost 200 panels, workshops, roundtable discussions, etc. on every imaginable topic during this conference. Although there were several that dealt with how the states are grappling with health care, transportation needs, human services, etc. there was no one panel I could find that focused just on taxes.

I did find one roundtable discussion in which 18 people ( most of them appeared to be state legislators) discussed how to deal with the budget deficits in most of their states. After about an hour and a half, the roundtable chairman asked for questions from the audience of twelve - I being one. My hand shot up and I asked: "In the last 90 minutes Iíve heard all sorts of reasons why youíre running deficits except for the main one: The power of the public sector unions and their ability to extort high salaries, sky rocketing health care costs and fat pensions from politicians. When are you going to address these runaway costs and stand up to the unions? Because unless you do, the deficits youíve just been talking about will continue into the future."

There was about a 5 second pause after I finished, the roundtable resumed conversation on other topic for a couple of minutes then adjourned. There was no response at all to my question - as if I didnít even exist!

I spotted only two Massachusetts legislators, Senators Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) and Tom Kennedy (D-Brockton) at the conference. Iíve seen quite a few more at NCSL Conferences in the past.

Lastly, I had two Philly Cheesesteaks at two different places recommended by the locals. I was slightly disappointed: the cheesesteaks in Massachusetts are better.

Chip Faulkner
CLT Associate Director