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Matt Singer on March 2, 2006 - 12:26pm
Thursday, March 02, 2006
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The Stateside Dispatch is the official twice weekly newsletter of the Progresssive Legislative Action Network.
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Smart Growth to Protect Rural America
After winning the Governor's seat in New Jersey, Jon Corzine decided to keep a Republican in the position of Agriculture Secretary. It was a good move. Charlie Kuperus has held the position in 2002 and has won broad support from both parties for his support of a number of measures in support of rural New Jersey.
One of Kuperus' best accomplishments has been his role in New Jersey's adoption of an agricultural smart growth plan. According to The New Jersey Herald, the plan has protected 668 farms and over 50,000 acres in the last four years.
The plan involves a number of provisions. The state purchases development rights from some farmers, permanently protecting farms while passing resources to farmers to reinvest in their farms. Where growth is spreading to rural areas, it is channelled into higher density development to prevent farmland encroachment. The state also assists with the selling of farm products, by identifying markets and helping with marketing.
In addition, the state has worked toward agricultural sustainability by assisting with the implementation of riparian buffers, filter strips, contour buffer strips, and grass waterways. New Jersey has also taken a strong lead in fighting exploitation of workers in farm country.
The agenda represents a strong step toward protecting agricultural lands that has been embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Oregon has not fared so well recently in the smart growth game. For year, Oregon's land use planning rules have been envied by many around the country for the extent to which they protected open space and rural character. In 2004, voters passed an initiative -- Measure 37 -- requiring that landowners be compensated for the effects of regulations that lessened the value of the property or that the regulations be waived. That initiative has now withstood a court challenge.
In the aftermath of Measure 37's passage, similar proposals were crafted in Arizona, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma. Measures have also been advanced in Colorado, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. No law in the U.S., though, is as far-reaching as Oregon's, which took that state from one of the leaders in land use planning to an outlier.
Supremes May Undercut State Tax Powers
State governments offer businesses tens of billions in tax incentives each year to invest in their states-- corporate subsidies that many advocates see as wasteful giveways
But the political debate could be irrelevant if the Supreme Court upholds a lower court's decision which declared an Ohio tax subsidy program unconstitutional.
Challengers to the Ohio tax system cite the "negative Commerce Clause" powers of the federal government as preventing states from giving tax preferences to in-state investments. This is part of a constitutional trend that has increasingly gutted state powers to regulate economic activity in their states, whether in the name of federal Commerce Clause powers or under federal laws regulating "free trade." These decisions undercutting state powers come with no real democratic debate at either the state or federal level, instead leaving it to the courts to strike down laws under abstract constitutional or free trade theories.
Progressive advocates are divided on the merits of many specific tax subsidies -- especially since the tax breaks to businesses actually exceed the corporate income taxes paid to the states -- but the larger trend of federal court preemption of state powers is disturbing, especially in the hands of the current conservative Supreme Court majority.
Reforming Three Strikes
Twelve years ago, California led the country in passage of a three strikes law that threatened to lock up repeated offenders and throw away the key. Now, having seen the cost to the state and realizing that 60% of three strike offenders are non-violent, a realization is growing that a different route may be more effective.
Don't take our word for it, listen to some of the prosecutors in California who enforce the law, who are leading a drive to target only serious violent criminals with three strikes penalties:
"Two ballot initiatives - both led by Los Angeles area prosecutors - are aiming to put more flexibility in the three-strikes law, in a bid to address concerns that it is imprisoning too many nonviolent criminals at too great a cost to taxpayers. The measures would come before California voters in November if they qualify for the ballot.
"The public has expressed legitimate concerns about [the law's] use against those who commit new, nonviolent, not serious offenses," says Steve Cooley, L.A. County district attorney and coauthor of one of the initiatives, the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006."
Mr. Cooley notes that 60 percent of the state's 7,700 "third strike" inmates are in prison for a nonviolent or nonserious third strike.
The cost of three strikes has been both human -- in prolonging imprisonment instead of looking to rehabilitation and drug treatment for non-violent criminals -- and financial. At $31,000 annually per prisoner, those are funds that could be used far more effectively in preventing violent crime and investing in programs for youth to prevent crime in the first place.
Protecting Rural America With Smart Growth Measures
Supremes May Undercut State Tax Powers
American Bar Association: SCOTUS Briefs
Reforming Three Strikes
California Secretary of State: "The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2006" and "The Repeat Criminal Offender/Three Strikes Fair Sentencing Act of 2006 (Version 2)"
In Today's Dispatch:
Also In This Issue
Worth Watching: Rep. Phil Lopes - AZ
Phil Lopes is the minority leader in the Arizona House. He represents Tucson, where he has lived for over thirty years since he helped found Pima Community College. Outside the legislature, Lopes works as a health care consultant, seeking to expand coverage to the uninsured, work reflected by legislation he is carrying in the House to provide health care for all Arizonans.
Eye on the Right
A Theocratic Gated Community: In what may be an unprecedented mingling of business, government, and religion, the founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza is building a city that will be governed strictly by conservative Catholic rules, the AP reports. The ACLU is promising to sue.
Three Steps Forward
Two Steps Back
Progressive States' policy department is looking for interns for Summer 2006. We're looking for students interested in public service with experience in policy advocacy or community organizing. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.