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The American Legislative Exchange Council
38th Annual Meeting
New Orleans -- August 3-6, 2011
Chip Faulkner’s Report


I went to this meeting as a guest of Grover Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform, based in Washington, DC. ATR covers basic expenses for a number of conservative activists to attend conferences like those held by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is the conservative counterpart to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The first meeting of ALEC activists was held Tuesday night at the Palace Café where ATR treated about thirty of us to dinner. I had catfish for the first time; it tasted like a spicier version of haddock. Most of the diners were leaders of their center-right coalition meetings around the country. In Massachusetts our meeting is called the Friday Morning Group, which I’ve hosted every second Friday of the month for almost ten years.

On Wednesday morning ATR held a breakfast and policy briefing for state center-right chairs. During this meeting ATR’s Patrick Gleason went around the room asking for updates. For almost two hours chairs talked about the political situations/races in their respective states along with the progress of their meetings. Many of these groups have been energized by the addition of tea party activists the last two years. They are looking forward to conservative gains in 2012. Everyone seemed to understand that the President is going in the wrong direction, especially on fiscal issues. However I sensed a lot of uncertainty about Republican ability to take advantage of this without falling into inner-party squabbling. There was lots of support for Texas Governor Perry, who at this point in early August, was only rumored to be running for President.

The high point of the trip was the visit to the World War Two museum located about a mile from my hotel. Thank God we were transported in a bus instead of attempting a stroll over. The 96 degree (very humid) heat was unbearable. It was so hot I saw a dog chasing a cat and they were both walking – OK old joke. Never visit New Orleans in the summer – unless, of course someone else is paying.

The Wednesday luncheon featured Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal as the keynote speaker. His speech was laced with humor, anecdotes about his background and specifics about the failures of the present Administration. He was also the consummate cheerleader for his state as expected. I can see why he’s on some short lists as a vice-presidential pick. Speaking of luncheons, they invariably have you sitting next to a state legislator from another part of the country. Over the past 15 years or so when I say “I’m from Massachusetts” they roll their eyes, grimace, and mumble “Ted Kennedy” or “Barney Frank.” Now they light up and shout: “The Scott Brown state!”

Thursday’s ATR session dealt with effective meeting practices among the 55 center-right coalition meetings around the nation. ATR asked me to speak specifically to this issue, since Massachusetts is considered one of the top three or four. Among the reasons for the success of the Massachusetts coalition meeting, which we call "The Friday Morning Group," is the fact they’re always held the second Friday of the month, have a printed agenda including a guest speaker and always end after two hours at exactly 11:30 am.

I attended a few workshops including one entitled: “State successes in corrections policy.” A surprisingly liberal approach was advocated for minor drug offenses. It was maintained that throwing people in jail for this offense was a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. Among other ideas pushed was immunity to employees who hire ex-cons. Also, place fathers who owe child support in halfway houses, rather than jail, so they could make support payments by holding jobs.

Only one session dealt exclusively with taxes. A task force meeting on “tax and fiscal policy” was only for select legislators. However I was able to finagle myself into the room near the end of the session. I caught one intriguing idea to eliminate any state income tax: Limit the growth in state spending to population growth and inflation. Take the savings each year and eliminate 1% of that state’s income tax rate. According to the speaker almost all the states could eliminate this tax in 11 years or less using this formula.

Almost 50 organizations and/or associations had tables in the exhibition hall. The most helpful and informative from CLT’s viewpoint was the information available at the Tax Foundation table. This DC-based group provide data and analysis on tax policy along with the size of the tax burden at all levels of government. Their state-by-state comparisons on income, sales, gas, corporate taxes etc. are invaluable. Poring through the material you find priceless little nuggets of information. For example, Massachusetts was the next to last state to enact a gas tax! The year was 1928 and the tax was two cents per gallon. It has climbed to 23.5¢ per gallon.

New Orleans, as I happily found out, is one big four letter word: FOOD! It seemed to surround you everywhere you went, including the visit to the World War Two museum. Before entering the museum itself, visitors walked (or rather ate) through a huge reception area featured prodigious amounts of Cajun shrimp, oysters and fish along with wine.

Lastly, on Bourbon Street I consumed Linguine Lafitte at the Cajun Café while the Marriot Hotel served an awesome seafood gumbo soup.

New Orleans was one big feast – just don’t go there in the summer.

Chip Faulkner
Associate Director


Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665