KIFFMEYER PROUD TO WASTE MINNESOTA DOLLARS
Why did Mary Kiffmeyer go around the state, posing with checks for federal dollars for election equipment under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)?
As a Republican, she should be fiscally prudent. Fiscally prudent people know that federal grants do not come from the Publishers Clearinghouse. The money comes from us, the taxpayers. And in Minnesota, we pay more.
Minnesota taxpayers only got back $44.5 million of the $56 million we are sending to Washington to fund this act.
Why? Minnesotans are helping taxpayers from Illinois, New York, California and elsewhere replace their punch card and lever machines. (Minnesota prudently didn’t have those devices.)
And Minnesota pays more per capita than average in federal taxes, because we have higher incomes.
So here’s the math. HAVA funds processed as of December, 2005 are $2.969 billion. According to the Tax Foundation, Minnesotans pay 1.89% of federal revenues, even though our population is 1.73% of the nation (296.4 million for USA, 5.13 million for MN). And $300 million of HAVA went only to states with punch card and lever machines. So we pay $56 million. We got $44.5 million.
Here’s more bad news. The $44.5 million we received had to be spent in ways our legislature would not have chosen, had we any flexibility at all. The federal government mandated that every polling place in the nation (about 4000 in Minnesota alone) have a voting machine accessible to the blind and disabled. The cost to states that have electronic voting is less because it is easy to adapt those machines for the disabled. But we use optical scan equipment (for good reason, to have a paper trail), which is not adaptable. Mary Kiffmeyer knew that and should have warned the feds to give us some flexibility. Instead, we were required to buy a separate machine for every polling place. When the 2006 deadline arrived, there was only one machine which Kiffmeyer certified, the ES&S Automark, and ES&S took us to the cleaners for about $20 million. Without the federal mandate, we could have reached a different accommodation with the blind and disabled voters for a year or two while other equipment options were developed.
In the September primary in Washington County, there were 87 Automark machines that were used by a total of ten voters. Many other counties reported little or no use.
These Automarks cost a lot to program, maintain, store, and set up. The leftover federal money was supposed to help counties meet these costs for many, many years. Because of the high cost of the Automark, there is not a lot of money left. It won’t be long before you, the Minnesota taxpayer, will have to pick up the tab for this premature mandate. Again.
As an officer of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Kiffmeyer supported this act and lobbied for it, even though the interest of Minnesotans were at times at odds with the interests of the other states represented in that organization. On their behalf, she did not want the Congress to create an unfunded mandate.
I would argue that as taxpayers, we shouldn’t prefer funded mandates. Mandates, funded or unfunded, add to our tax burden at some level. An unfunded mandate is something a state or local government can gripe about, but from a taxpayer standpoint, it is usually preferable because state and local governments are likely to meet the mandate in a more cost efficient way than the feds. And vendors have more negotiating power with a large federally funded mandate. We could debate this point, but you can’t deny that it is the mandate itself that is the problem, not whether it is funded.
As recently as July, Mary Kiffmeyer was imploring Congress to disburse the remaining $931 million appropriated by HAVA. But why? Of that amount, Minnesota taxpayers will get less than $16 million for election administration, but Minnesota taxpayers will pay more than $17 million in federal taxes to get those funds.
Republicans know that unintended consequences occur when the federal government gets involved in an area previously the province of state and local officials. The Secretary of State is an administrator who needs to have good instincts when it comes to taxpayer dollars. We need someone else for this job.