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Deadbeat Government in Virginia 
 
NOTE: This commentary originally appeared in the print edition of The Washington Times, Sunday February 9, 2003, p. B5. Comment to that publication at: letters@washingtontimes.com.
 

 

In 2001, an opinion piece in this newspaper resulted in my dismissal from a government panel in Virginia to which I had been duly appointed. Officials made no attempt to disguise the fact that I was removed because of the political views I expressed. "Upon reviewing your opinions published in the June 17, 2001, [edition of The] Washington Times, we question whether you would be able to work effectively with other panel members," Secretary of Health and Human Resources Louis Rossiter wrote. "I find it difficult to see how you could effectively participate along with representatives of other groups that very likely have different perspectives than yours."

The panel reviewed child-support guidelines. It was required by law to include members with different perspectives. But Mr. Rossiter said disagreement with other panel members was grounds for dismissal. Since the other panel members all had a vested interest in making child-support burdens as high as possible, a willingness to increase child-support burdens effectively became a requirement for being on the panel.

Predictably, the panel recently voted to increase child support by an astounding 15 percent to 25 percent, and the legislature is now considering legislation to implement that increase. When officials rig the democratic process, they generally have the decency to disguise it. Not when it involves child support. After all, nothing is excessive when it is "for the children."

In this case though, it appears to be for the grown-ups. This action will not mean more money for children, as the government would have us believe. It will mean more money for the government. Like every other state, Virginia receives federal payments based on the amount of child support that passes through government hands. Increased burdens mean increased income from federal taxpayers to fill state coffers and subsidize divorce.

The added result of making divorce more lucrative will be more divorce, more fatherless children, and more fathers jailed without trial because they cannot pay impossible child support burdens. It also means more money and power for courts, bureaucrats, prosecutors, and attorneys.

This is why California Gov. Gray Davis recently vetoed a bill to relieve wrongly-accused men who are ordered to pay the state^s crushing child-support levels for children whom DNA testing shows they did not father. He too acted for the children, though he later admitted that not vetoing the bill would be "putting California at risk of losing up to $40 million in federal funds."

As always, one lie necessitates another. In defending my dismissal in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Dr. Rossiter promised that the panel would investigate questions like, "How much does it cost to raise a child? Who has the right to determine how the money is spent on the child?" Yet these are the very questions it avoided.

In fact, Virginia is in open violation of the law on precisely these questions. Section 20-108.2 of the domestic relations code and Senate Joint Resolution 192 specifically require the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to "include in its study of child support enforcement an examination of the costs of raising children in Virginia." JLARC came back with a report saying such a study "would cost millions" and never undertook it, though JLARC received federal money to make this determination.

So government officials can refuse to obey the law with the plea that it would cost too much, when it is for precisely this that they are jailing parents without trial: failure to obey the law -- in that case capricious court orders -- because they cannot afford it.

Like most states, Virginia requires no economist on its panel, an odd omission if the purpose is to determine child-rearing costs. Other than my replacement, Murray Steinberg, the panel consisted of operatives from the divorce industry, all of whom profit from divorce and impossible child support burdens. In Virginia the divorce industry reviews itself.

Last June, Liberty magazine documented how the government manufactures "deadbeat dads" by seizing their children and forcing them to pay impossible sums. In November, Crisis magazine exposed systematic corruption endemic in the child support industry nationwide. Now the citizens of Virginia and America can see firsthand how the cynical power of the divorce regime feigns pity for children while exploiting them to increase its already dangerous power.

Like Barry Koplen before him (whose minority report formed the basis of my item in The Times), Mr. Steinberg found the panel^s results had been rigged from the start.  "The numbers are arbitrary and capricious," he reports. The author of the new guidelines, Dr. William Rodgers of William and Mary College, told the panel, "If we did not like these numbers he would create a schedule to suit."  Rules that ostensibly reflect broad principles of public policy are in fact custom-tailored to appease favored constituencies.  It might be called Groucho Marx government: "Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

A government spokesman told the press I was dismissed because I "did not display an open mind." Yet I was not the one excluding other viewpoints in order to ensure desired results. "He should have expressed his concerns in the context of the panel and not the press." This is the argument of censors and tyrants throughout history: Government will determine what is fit for the public to hear. As the Free Lance-Star editorialized, "Baskerville's key point -- that when it comes to state-dictated child-support issues the fix is in -- is only strengthened when he's sacked for making it."

Now we will see if Virginia's elected representatives are willing to protect children or the judicial machine that is exploiting them, and making a mockery of ethical government in the process.

STEPHEN BASKERVILLE
Department of Political Science
Howard University
[baskerville@starpower.net]