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Spirit of '96

Wednesday, May 1, 1996

Since the Republican victories of November 8, 1994, the press has focused on the dramatic changes in Congress. With a net gain of 52 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and eight seats in the U.S. Senate, the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. Party-switching and special elections have since left the partisan balance in the House of Representatives at 236 Republicans to 198 Democrats (with one independent); in the Senate, it is 53 Republicans to 47 Democrats.

          This shift in party control certainly changed the direction of the national policy debate in Washington. Less than two years ago, Congress was seriously debating President Clinton's attempt to nationalize the entire health-care industry. And just a year earlier, Congress passed and Clinton signed a budget that contained what Democratic senator Pat Moynihan called the largest tax increase in the history of the world. Since the elections of 1994, however, the debate in Washington has centered on how to cut taxes and balance the budget in a way that would, over time, cut the size of the federal government from 21.2 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product to roughly 17 percent.

          Yet the intense focus on Washington, D.C., has obscured the conservative revolution within the states. In some ways, the changes occurring in state capitals across the country are even more important than those inside the Beltway. Conservative reforms at the state level make similar efforts in Washington both more likely and, oddly, less important. The states have led the way so far, and they are quite prepared to march ahead, even if the revolution in Washington stalls.

          Although less visible, the 1994 shift in partisan control was more pronounced at the state and local levels than in Washington. Republicans won 24 of 36 gubernatorial races to increase the number of statehouses in their column from 19 to 30. With Mike Foster's victory in last year's gubernatorial election in Louisiana, Republicans now occupy 31 statehouses. More than 72 percent of the American people now live in states with Republican governors. Within state legislatures, the GOP gained 105 senate seats and 367 house seats in 1994 to gain control of seven upper chambers and 10 lower chambers. Since that election, 50 state legislators have switched to the GOP.

          These gains have historic consequences. Prior to the 1994 elections, Democrats controlled the governorship and both legislative chambers in 17 states. In these states, all labor law, election law, budgeting and taxes, redistricting, and judicial appointments were fully controlled by the Democratic Party. Republicans exercised similar control in just four states: Utah, Arizona, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. Today, the Democratic Party controls the governorship and the legislature only in Hawaii, Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Maryland, while Republicans reign supreme in 15 states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

          The nationwide shift to Republican governors affects the content of the policy debate in at least two ways. First, it intensifies the pressure from the states for more autonomy. In fact, strong lobbying by governors such as Bill Weld of Massachusetts, George Voinovich of Ohio, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, and John Engler of Michigan was crucial to Republicans' efforts in the fall of 1995 to pass their historic budget, designed to give states unprecedented power over welfare and Medicaid programs.

          Second, a Republican Congress is more likely to fulfill its commitment to "devolution" knowing that ideologically sympathetic governors are at the helm in many key states. Despite the Republican Party's dedication to federalism, is it plausible that Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole would have fought so hard to send billions of dollars with few conditions over the next seven years to Ann Richards or Mario Cuomo to run Medicaid, welfare, and other programs? Liberal governors would have gladly spent the money, then denounced Republican policies for ending entitlements. And a conservative party would have been irresponsible to hand billions in unrestricted federal dollars to its political enemies, who could use the money to hire Democratic precinct workers and build political machines to destroy Republican congressmen and senators.

          The historic shift was not just a matter of more Republican governors. The high quality of these governors was also critical. A conservative Congress would have been rightly wary of handing power and money over to yesteryear's generation of Republicans -- including Nelson Rockefeller of New York, Bob Ray of Iowa, Bill Milliken of Michigan, and James Rhodes of Ohio-whose records on spending, taxes, and the role of government were indistinguishable from that of Cuomo or Richards. Newt Gingrich is to Bob Michel as Michigan's John Engler is to Milliken, as New York's George Pataki is to Rockefeller. This profound ideological shift among governors and state legislators has occurred in more than 25 states.

          The emergence of conservative Republican leadership simultaneously at the national and state levels was no coincidence. In the 1980s, Newt Gingrich learned from John Engler, then majority leader of the Michigan state senate, that many state legislators drove to attend legislative sessions. By sending them Republican audio tapes to listen to on these drives, Gingrich began to coordinate a conservative political message across the nation. The reforms that Engler and Tommy Thompson later pushed through their respective legislatures revealed what Republican governance could achieve. Their ideas for welfare reform, which predated the 1994 election, served as a national model for Republicans. The press attacked Engler savagely for ending general welfare for some 80,000 able-bodied men. But his recovery and the victories of Republican state senators running only six months later proved again that voters value effective policy over partisan polemics.

          In Washington, political reform has been frustrated by a recalcitrant Senate and Bill Clinton's veto pen. Of the Contract With America's 10 specific items, Congress has passed only the line-item veto, procedural reforms in the House of Representatives, and the Congressional Accountability Act, which brings Congress somewhat under the same laws it imposes upon business. The House has passed the Balanced Budget Amendment, regulatory reform, and other legislation, only to see them watered down or stopped in the Senate. Bill Clinton has twice vetoed welfare reform, and a relatively narrow tort-reform bill was passed over his veto.

          In the meantime, the states have not stood still. The new generation of Republican governors and state legislators is advancing the Republican reform agenda -- from tax cuts to tort reform. Here are a few of the critical issues raised by the Contract With America and addressed by the states. They provide a blueprint for future work in Washington:


          In 1993, Clinton campaign strategist James Carville announced that the off-year governor's race in New Jersey between incumbent Democrat Jim Florio -- who had raised taxes in 1989 -- and his challenger Christine Todd Whitman -- who called for a 30 percent across-the-board income-tax cut -- would be the burial ground of Republican advocacy of tax reduction.

          Carville misidentified the cadaver. Whitman made the last month of the campaign a clear referendum on her tax-cut proposals, and it worked. Whitman's victory was critical in ensuring that tax cuts would be prominent in the Contract With America a year later.

          In 1995, while Republicans in Congress were debating a $500-per-child tax credit and cutting the capital-gains tax in half, 17 states with Republican governors cut taxes. In addition, Bill Weld in Massachusetts and Kirk Fordice in Mississippi pushed for tax cuts but faced overwhelming opposition by Democratic legislatures. Arizona governor Fife Symington won an income-tax reduction of $130 million in 1994 and $200 million in 1995, and plans to phase out the income tax over the next four years.

          And in New Hampshire, Governor Steve Merrill demonstrated that taking the no-income-tax pledge remains a powerful campaign weapon and effective tool for governing. The Taxpayer-Protection Pledge -- made famous when George Bush won the Republican nomination and presidency because he took the pledge and then lost re-election when he broke it -- was born in New Hampshire in 1972. Since then, no one who has not taken the pledge has ever won the governorship of the state.

          In the 1994 elections, Merrill had the happy idea of extending the pledge against a sales or income tax increase to the campaigns for the state senate. Before the election, there were 13 Republicans in the state senate and 11 Democrats. Merrill led a slate of 23 Republicans who took the pledge as a team (foreshadowing the Contract With America); as a result, the Republicans seized 18 of 25 state senate seats and drove from office two Republicans known in New Hampshire as RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only, who had voted with the other party. In 1996, all 395 members of New Hampshire's house of representatives will be asked to take the pledge, separating the RINOs from the Merrill low-tax Republicans.

          Taxpayer activists in 40 states are now pushing state legislators, governors, and candidates for those offices to take a state taxpayer-protection pledge. Mike Foster won the governorship of Louisiana as a pledge-taker, and Alabama's Fob James signed the pledge in early 1996 to highlight his consistent opposition to tax increases.

          This state emphasis on holding down taxes has already produced results. In Kansas, Governor Bill Graves passed legislation cutting the automobile tax in half over five years and repealing a 2.5 percent sales tax on labor used in new construction and on utilities used in manufacturing. Graves also enacted a two-year moratorium on the collection of unemployment taxes from many Kansas businesses, saving them nearly $275 million. Iowa governor Terry Branstad is pushing legislation to phase out over six years the property tax on machinery and equipment, which is now taxed at 30 percent of its original cost. In New Hampshire, Merrill reduced the tax rate on business profits to its lowest level in 14 years, cut the telecommunications tax and the real estate tax, and abolished the savings-bank tax and the corporate-franchise tax.

          In Massachusetts, Bill Weld has achieved nine tax cuts, including the abolition of the inheritance tax, a rollback of Michael Dukakis's increases in income taxes and sales taxes and-despite an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature -- a cut in the capital-gains tax.

          Weld's position on taxes illuminates the national debate over the flat tax. Massachusetts's constitution requires a single income-tax rate, now set at 5.95 percent. In 1994, the public-employee unions financed an initiative campaign to repeal this tax provision and establish a graduated, or "progressive," income tax. Weld and Citizens for Limited Taxation defeated the campaign, pointing out that a multiple-rate system allows politicians to separate voters into income groups and play them against each other.

          On April 15, 1996, and again on April 15, 1997, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a constitutional amendment to require a two-thirds supermajority vote for any federal tax increase. This idea, too, is drawn from the states. The two-thirds supermajority was part of California's Proposition 13 in 1978, and in 1994, Fife Symington and Arizona taxpayer groups backed a successful ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature for tax hikes.

          The federal and state constitutions require supermajorities for any legislative actions that depend on widespread support for their legitimacy (like overriding vetoes). Tax increases also demand that level of scrutiny. Taxpayer activists in Arizona are now circulating another initiative to require a two-thirds supermajority for any tax hike approved by the voters directly. They fear that public-employee unions will swamp low-turnout elections and force local or state tax hikes. George Voinovich in Ohio is working with taxpayer advocates on a ballot proposal to require a two-thirds supermajority vote for major tax hikes. Just as term limits swept through 23 states and became part of the Contract With America, the drive for supermajority requirements for tax increases has also been moving on parallel paths at the national and state level.

School Choice

          In Washington, Republicans tried to provide parental choice in education for several thousand of the poorest families in Washington, D.C. Led by Republican congressman Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin, the House of Representatives approved the measure in the 1996 appropriations bill for the District. But as of March, the measure was stymied in the Senate by a Democratic filibuster.

          As with many issues, parental choice in education reached the national political agenda via the states. Tommy Thompson led the way in 1990 with a model school-choice program for poor Milwaukee parents. More than 1,000 children have qualified to receive vouchers for tuition at secular private schools. The teachers unions maintained that only public schools could provide good education, but studies have shown that Milwaukee public schools suffer a 79 percent attendance rate and a 48 percent graduation rate. By comparison, the city's private schools boast rates of 96 percent and 88 percent respectively. Growing public support for school choice led Thompson to sign legislation last July that expanded the number of eligible children to 7,000 in the current school year and to 15,000 next year. This expanded program -- now being challenged in court -- would give parents the freedom to send their children to parochial or other religious schools. Pending a court decision, the Bradley Foundation and other private funders are financing vouchers for low-income students accepted to private schools.

          In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Ridge put school choice at the top of his agenda. Although Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature, the governor's KID I program failed last year by six votes. Ridge returned last fall with a more modest program to provide $132 million for scholarships for as many as 50,000 students. To reassure skeptics, this version was designed to expire if not reauthorized and was limited to certain cities and counties. Ridge also added a provision ensuring that no school district in Pennsylvania would lose money as a result of school choice. As of this writing, the legislature has once more refused to follow the governor's lead, but key legislators vow that the battle is far from over. In Minnesota, Governor Arne Carlson wants to provide 65,000 low-income students in Minneapolis-St. Paul and a rural district yet to be named with vouchers of up to $3,000, valid at any school. Governor Carlson does not yet have a Republican majority in both houses, but is moving school choice forward by organizing a Republican Task Force for School Choice to put political muscle behind his vision. By promoting school choice, Carlson unites economic conservatives in the business community --who know that school choice will reduce education costs and raise the quality of high-school graduates -- with social conservatives who want parents, rather than bureaucrats, to control their children's education.

          In Arizona last year, Governor Fife Symington backed a statewide school-choice plan to give all Arizona students up to $1,500 to attend any private school of their choice. Many national figures in the GOP lobbied legislators on behalf of Symington's platform, yet the measure fell three votes short in the state senate, thanks to a handful of Republicans with ties to the National Education Association.

          In California, teachers unions spent $15 million of their members' dues in the fall of 1993 to defeat a school-choice ballot initiative. In his 1996 State of the State address, however, Governor Pete Wilson endorsed a targeted pilot program for school choice. Wilson's proposal would provide 250,000 children in the poorest 5 percent of California's public schools with up to $4,500 each to attend the public, private, or religious school of their choice. Connecticut's Governor John Rowland is also supporting a pilot school-choice program.

          Massachusetts, Michigan, and Arizona have all embarked on extensive charter-school programs, allowing individuals and teachers to create their own public schools, free of many existing regulations. While charter schools are not school choice, they do offer a real opportunity for many teachers and students to scale the wall the NEA has erected to keep "its" children from escaping bad schools.

Tort Reform

          In 1995, 12 Republican governors took on one of the fiercest Democratic special-interest groups -- the trial lawyers -- and won. While Congress was only able to enact a very limited reform of frivolous stockholder lawsuits, Republican governors made significant strides. Walter Olson, the author of The Litigation Explosion, cites tort-reform initiatives by George Bush Jr. in Texas and Jim Edgar in Illinois as two of the most far-reaching.

          Texas now limits punitive damages, requires "clear and convincing" evidence to prove malice, raises the qualifications for expert witnesses, and eliminates joint liability for defendants less than 51 percent at fault.

          The new Illinois law bars any plaintiff found to be more than 50 percent at fault from recovering damages (which should stop drunks from suing after falling in front of trains), prohibits punitive-damage awards except where defendants behave "with an evil motive or with a reckless indifference to the rights of others," abolishes joint liability for economic and noneconomic damages (thus protecting "deep pocket" defendants from the liability of others), and provides the stiffest reform of product liability in the nation. The Illinois law also protects landowners from being sued by trespassers in most cases.

          North Dakota governor Edward T. Schafer passed a product-liability reform package aimed at luring airplane manufacturers to North Dakota. Schafer has pointed out that states need not compete for business by offering subsidies or special tax breaks; instead, they can all lower regulatory and liability costs, and everyone wins.


          The latest Republican anti-crime agenda has made little headway in Washington, where the Senate has failed to act on a package of bills passed by the House. Meanwhile, Republican governors led the way in enacting "truth-in-sentencing" laws that require violent criminals to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, with time off for good behavior but not parole. Governor Fob James of Alabama reintroduced chain gangs -- although the new chains are made of sturdy plastic. He also instituted work and education requirements for inmates to earn television and recreation privileges and banned inmate access to pornography. Mississippi's Kirk Fordice has reestablished the state prison farm, and taken a thousand television sets away from prisoners. Under Pete Wilson, California has carried out its first two executions in 25 years. In New York, after 19 vetoes by Mario Cuomo, Governor George Pataki signed legislation restoring the death penalty and honored Oklahoma's extradition request for murderer Thomas Grasso, who was subsequently executed for murder. Connecticut's John Rowland restored the death penalty there.

          Bucking the pro-gun control trend in Washington, D.C., that as recently as the fall of 1993 saw the "Brady Bill" passed and the so-called assault-weapon ban included in Bill Clinton's "crime" bill, 28 states have passed "concealed-carry" laws that require local officials to grant licenses to qualified adults who wish to carry concealed handguns. Ten states passed concealed-carry laws in 1995, including Oklahoma, which did not blink at liberal efforts to blame gun owners, taxpayers, and/or radio talk show hosts for the terrorist bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Mike Foster, Louisiana's new Republican governor, campaigned on a commitment to sign a concealed-carry law that his Democratic predecessor had vetoed. Ohio, too, with its new Republican majorities, has the votes to pass a concealed-carry law.

          Crime is always a thorny issue for Republicans in Washington, caught between their federalist belief in local responsibility for law enforcement and public pressure for federal action on crime. The success of Republicans at the state level at implementing tough anti-crime measures has the added benefit of taking national Republicans off the hook.


          Although Bill Clinton has vetoed the Republican welfare-reform bill (which embodies concepts that he once embraced), Republican governors continue to experiment with efforts to free individuals from the dependency of welfare. Tommy Thompson began a series of reforms in 1987 that have reduced Wisconsin's welfare caseload by 32 percent while welfare rolls nationwide were increasing by 25 percent. Pete Wilson suspended cost-of-living adjustments for welfare payments, saving taxpayers $6.3 billion over the past four years and keeping welfare costs 27 percent below where they would otherwise have been.

          Fife Symington has cut Arizona welfare rolls by 10 percent. His new "Empower" welfare reform limits able-bodied recipients to no more than 24 months of welfare benefits in a five-year period, ends additional payments for welfare recipients who have additional children, and requires minors to live at home to receive any benefits. Between 1992 and 1995, George Voinovich phased out Ohio's generous general-assistance program, which was paying benefits to 142,000 able-bodied Buckeyes. Bill Weld has pushed a series of reforms that have reduced the Massachusetts welfare caseload for 25 straight months. Almost every Republican governor has passed, introduced, or requested a federal waiver for welfare reform in their state. New Hampshire alone has requested 65 waivers from federal welfare requirements. Faced with a stone wall in Washington, Steve Merrill is now prepared to institute his reforms anyway. Spending Restraint

          The conflict between Congress and the president over the size and cost of government has already shut down the federal government repeatedly. This fight has played itself out in the states as well. Steve Merrill had to fight his own Republican legislature to lower spending, and finally won a budget lower than that passed by either chamber of the legislature. Merrill's veto of legislation that would have doubled state aid to education was upheld. Merrill, George Pataki of New York, and Bill Weld of Massachusetts are the only three governors who have actually shrunk their budgets since the previous year.

          In Ohio, George Voinovich won legislation eliminating two state cabinet agencies. He plans to privatize 78 state liquor stores, saving Ohio taxpayers $20 million annually. Cabinet agencies under the governor's control had 3,162 fewer employees in 1995 than in 1991, a reduction of 8.3 percent. Pete Wilson is asking for an amendment to the California constitution requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote for any new and costly regulation. Kansas governor Bill Graves enacted a six-month moratorium on new government regulations, and then eliminated 530 obsolete rules.

Medical Savings Accounts

          This centerpiece of the Republican reform of Medicare was blocked by Clinton's veto pen, but in 1995, five Republican governors (Fife Symington, Kirk Fordice, Jim Edgar, John Engler, and Idaho's Philip Batt) shepherded medical savings accounts through their state legislatures. These forays into market-based health care will have a significant effect on overall medical costs and insurance premiums, contributing substantially to the debate in Washington, and perhaps eventually ending the impasse. And, when Congress does finally enact reforms in Medicare, the states will already have in place the mechanisms to take full advantage of it.

Property Rights

          In March 1995, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation recognizing that the Takings Clause of the Constitution is invoked when government actions destroy or reduce the value of private property, not just when the property is physically occupied by government. That legislation has not seen final action, of course. The pressures that produced it are growing throughout the country, however, and governors and state legislatures are responding to them.

          Beginning in 1992, the states began passing legislation protecting the property rights of their citizens. To date, 23 states have enacted legislation of varying strength, and more efforts are under way. Most of these involve some form of compensation for land values affected by state restrictions on its use. In 1995, every state but Kentucky and Georgia was considering some form of property-rights legislation.

Color-Blind Society

          California and Pete Wilson give a textbook example of how a state can force action that has been avoided for decades at the national level. Citizens have filed an initiative petition in California, the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), that would prohibit the state from discriminating based on race or sex. It is a ban on racial preferences or quotas. For two decades, Washington politicians were able to say "I oppose quotas, but favor affirmative action," while supporting laws and court decisions that require racial preferences and quotas. The California initiative may force all national politicians, during an election year, to answer the following questions: "Are you for or against the CCRI as written?" They could no longer fudge or evade discussions of affirmative action.

          Meanwhile, a dozen other states are considering measures similar to the California initiative. And on January 15, 1996 -- Martin Luther King Day --the newly elected Louisiana governor, Mike Foster, issued an executive order abolishing all racial preferences as abhorrent to King's vision of a color-blind society.

          As a result, Republican leaders in the Congress have all stated their opposition to quotas and racial preferences. Bob Dole and Representative Charles Canady have introduced federal legislation mirroring California's. Black congressman Gary Franks, a Connecticut Republican was ready to push an amendment to an appropriations bill immediately eliminating contract set-asides for minorities. House leaders persuaded him to postpone it, but this is clearly an issue that will continue to surface at the federal level. There could hardly be a clearer example of state politics forcing an unwanted issue onto the Washington agenda.


          Alabama governor Fob James took his oath of office standing under a banner carrying the words of the Tenth Amendment: "The Powers not delegated to the United States nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Texas Governor George W. Bush has made a mantra of his call to "let Texans run Texas." Arizona's Fife Symington forced the federal government to reopen the Grand Canyon by threatening to operate it with state workers. He has since called on the federal government to cede control of the Grand Canyon to his state, and is working with Newt Gingrich to speed a transfer of power. Symington has also socked away $1 million to finance lawsuits that may be necessary to defend the state's Tenth Amendment rights.

          Utah Governor Mike Leavitt has begun to organize a national movement to promote an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would give states the right to block national laws passed by Congress that violate their autonomy. For instance, two-thirds of the governors or perhaps two-thirds of state legislatures would have the power to overturn a federal law by passing resolutions of disapproval. As with a presidential veto, a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress would reinstate the law.

          It may not be necessary to wait for an amendment. Leavitt is trying to get a commitment from Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole that they will force a second vote on any law or part of a law that draws written opposition from two-thirds of the governors. That would give America an opportunity to get used to the way the amendment would operate.

          Some commentators ask which of the Republican governors is the best or most effective. In fact, the breadth of quality and activism is amazing. Certainly, John Engler of Michigan and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin were early revolutionaries. Bill Weld of Massachusetts and Kirk Fordice of Mississippi demonstrated how much one can accomplish in the face of overwhelming Democratic legislatures. Arne Carlson of Minnesota and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania have bravely challenged the teachers unions in their states, and George Bush of Texas and Jim Edgar of Illinois have taken on the trial-lawyer beast.

          All the Republican governors are traveling in the same direction and showing real courage in tackling the special interests of the old establishment order. This is important in each state, but it is also critical nationally. Republican governors and state legislators are to the new Republican majority in Congress and any future Republican president what the labor unions and corrupt big-city machines are to the Democratic Party: its nationwide infrastructure. They are a second front arrayed against the liberal welfare state. In the last five years -- and most intensely in 1995 -- they have followed Lenin's advice to probe with bayonets, looking for weaknesses. Their triumphs guarantee the ultimate success of the Gingrich Revolution-no matter what happens in Washington.

          Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and the national political correspondent for the American Spectator.

In Welfare Reform, Governors Miss the Point

by Robert Rector

          Congress is now considering a welfare-reform plan recently proposed by the nation's governors. Unfortunately, this plan ignores America's biggest social problem: the catastrophic rise of illegitimacy.

          Nearly a third of the children born in America last year were born out of wedlock. The illegitimacy rate is rising by a percentage point every year. And among blacks the out-of-wedlock birthrate has reached 69 percent. This figure astounds even New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who warned us in the early 1960s of the threat posed to the black community by the collapse of marriage. Moynihan's admonition was dismissed then, but the breakup of the black family and the calamities that have accompanied it are outstripping his most frightful predictions.

          Ominously, the illegitimacy rate for whites is now edging toward 25 percent, almost exactly the rate for blacks when Moynihan first sounded his alarm. The white family now faces the same breakdown that has devastated black communities in the last 30 years.

          Family collapse is the root cause of a host of social problems, including poverty, crime, drug abuse, and academic underachievement. Children born out of wedlock are seven times more likely to be poor than children born to couples who are married. Girls raised in single-parent homes on welfare are five times more likely to give birth out of wedlock than girls from intact, independent families. And a boy from a single-parent household in the inner city is twice as likely to become involved in crime as a similarly poor boy who lives with a father and a mother.

          The nation's governors have responded to this grim reality by ignoring it. In unveiling their welfare reform plan, they have declared that there are three "key elements" to real welfare reform: (1) providing more government-funded day care; (2) increasing child support payments from absent fathers; (3) imposing time limits and work requirements on welfare recipients. Rising illegitimacy and the collapse of marriage do not receive even passing comment.

          This plan represents a radical shift in the focus of the welfare debate -- from combating illegitimacy to providing public-support services to an ever-expanding population of single mothers. Dodging the illegitimacy issue entirely, the governors' plan promises a future in which marriage collapses further and the government must meet the needs of a burgeoning population of single-parent families. The triumph of the Left is complete: Fighting illegitimacy is "out," and funding government-run day care is "in."

          Some argue that federal action on illegitimacy is not needed, that the governors will tackle the problem. But the governors' silence speaks volumes. Few have made reducing illegitimacy a priority; most are reluctant even to mention the topic. But by refusing to acknowledge the dangers of collapsing marriages and rising illegitimacy, they implicitly condone and ultimately promote illegitimacy. The result: Soon, half of all American children will be born out of wedlock and reared in government-run day-care centers. This is not reform -- this is a national disaster.

          The governors' plan borrows heavily from the "reform" schemes of President Clinton and other liberal proposals. It also dovetails with the interests of America's huge welfare bureaucracy, which thrives on social decay. Although the plan will trim the growth rate of welfare spending slightly in the near term, it will lead to an explosion in welfare and social-service spending. In other words, we will have to pay the price for illegitimacy sooner or later.

          Congress seems too willing to join the governors in ignoring illegitimacy. Under recent legislation, Congress will spend nearly a half trillion dollars over the next seven years to subsidize illegitimacy through welfare benefits, day care, job training, and other services. For every dollar spent to reduce illegitimacy, the federal government will spend about a thousand dollars on programs that contribute to it.

          Marriage in America is dying, and the governors have prepared the coffin. Many in Congress seem willing to serve as pall bearers. But "welfare reform" is nonsense so long as the illegitimacy rate continues to rise. Vision and leadership are sorely needed -- and the governors especially seem unable to provide either.