04/13/2006 Global Warming: States Act, Some Not

Thursday, April 13, 2006

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Strengthening Communities

State Action on Global Warming, MD Acts as CA Wavers

Last week, the state of Maryland joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of states -- now eight with Maryland's membership -- that have committed to reduce emissions on four pollutants and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2019.

Given the failure of leadership on global warming in D.C., the multi-state "compact" has been adopted by these Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states as a way to set joint goals and establish implementation tools, including a "cap-and-trade" program for administering a system of emission permits. The idea is that as each state sets limits on emissions, companies able to reduce pollution below those levels would be free to sell excess permits to other businesses, thereby encouraging innovation in pollution-reducing technologies.

In California, Governor Schwarzenegger announced this week that he supported action to curb greenhouse gases, but hedged on whether he would sign bills moving through the legislature that would cap the total amount of global warming emissions. Instead, he pushed for waiting until 2010 for more studies to be completed, a position that environmentalists derided as "punting" action down the road.

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Taking on Private Toll Roads

We've written before about the new 75-year lease of an Indiana toll road to a Spanish-Australian partnership, and the bad deal for taxpayers and democracy that it represents. The state's largest consumer group filed a lawsuit yesterday saying that the deal was so bad that it violates the state constitution. The Citizens Action Coalition argues that the state constitution requires lease proceeds to pay down public debt, rather than diverting long-term returns from a lease to immediate public spending. The lawsuit highlights the core problem with this kind of privatization -- it's essentially a theft from future taxpayers and consumers to help pay for government spending today.

Texas is also moving forward on an even larger privatized toll road project, the so-called Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of tens of billions in roads, trains, pipelines and related projects all sold to private corporations. In March 2005, the state contracted with a Spanish-Texas consortium for a 70-year concession to build and manage the first leg of the corridor through Central Texas and is now looking for bids to connect North Texas to Mexico.

Both these projects are part of a disturbing trend in the states. Since 2004, private companies have bid about $35 billion to build and operate toll roads across the country, with 17 states pursuing privatization of highways in some form.

Allowing some private investment in building infrastructure is not the problem -- that's common in countries around the world. The corrupt aspect of many of these new state projects are the extreme long-term leases that undermine democratic control of our transportation infrastructure for multiple generations. And in both Indiana and Texas, not only will private companies control the roads they lease, they will have "noncompete" contracts that allow them to block any new roads in the same area that future governments might decide to build.

The experience of California down in Orange County is illustrative. They sold rights to a private company for $120 million to build a private highway that opened in 1995. But when growth caught up with initial capacity, the government was blocked by a non-compete clause from building other road improvements. So they were forced to buy back the road for $207.5 million -- a hefty increase over what the original company had paid them -- and illustrating the fiscal danger of thinking the easy up-front money from privatization won't have costs down the road.

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MA: Romney Vetoes Good Portions of Health Care Bill

Looks like it's a bad idea to play "Let's Make a Deal" with Mitt Romney. The Massachusetts Governor vetoed the employer assessment yesterday, a move that was expected to happen, but is still deeply disappointing. What makes it even more distressing is that the employer assessment -- a charge for medium and large businesses that choose to not provide insurance coverage to workers -- is that at $295 per employee, it was rather small, especially in comparison to the $1000 fine for individuals who "choose" to not have insurance, often because it is not affordable.

As Progressive States reported last week, Romney's contributions to the bill were largely based on his work with the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank that gets major donations from the medical-industrial complex and big corporations who don't want to contribute their fair share to increasing health costs. With his actions this week, it is clear that while Romney hungers for the limelight with his actions for health care for all, he is also interested in bowing and scraping to the far right.

John McDonough and Health Care for All in Massachusetts are calling for the legislature to overturn this veto and seven others from the bill. Legislators are already moving to do precisely that. They've also noted that the learned of Romney's decision through a press release.

With the legislature expected to override Romney's vetoes -- vetoes that had major effects on a bill that was the result of years of negotiations -- it is clear that Romney's gesture was little more than a symbolic gesture, a symbolic slap in the face for working families in Massachusetts and a symbolic slap on the back for the corporate interests that have long supported Romney's political career.

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Eye on the Right

What a difference a week makes. As noted below, Kentucky's Governor has given a big thumbs up to discrimination against gay employees. He had the heart to make this move during Diversity Week -- meaning that Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher has earned himself an A for Moxie to go with his F in Caring About People (he actually earned that grade by trying to kill unions and the prevailing wage law). Fletcher's move followed the expulsion of a gay student from a private university whose pharmacy school is the recipient of a $11 million legislative earmark. When a progressive legislator had the gall to point out that the university's actions could cost its pharmacy school accreditation, effectively wasting the state's money, the university's backers responding by calling her "embittered" and "liberal." Sounds like the facts are embittered and liberal, too.

Upcoming Events

April 24 | Helena, MT
Reframing the Health Care Debate: A Progressive Health Care Narrative

Join Progressive States, the Center for American Progress, and Working for Equality and Economic Liberation (WEEL), for a conversation about how to frame the progressive message on health care. Registration Required.

May 8 | NYC, NY
Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Fair Share of Employee Health Care Costs

New York's Drum Major Institute for Public Policy hosts Maryland Senator Gloria Gary Lawlah, author of the Fair Share Health Care bill. Join her for breakfast and a discussion of health care reform. RSVP Required.

May 10 | NYC, NY
Campaign '06: The Year of the Hostile Takeover

Author and Progressive States Co-chair David Sirota, a veteran political strategist and Capitol Hill operative, has released a new book called Hostile Takeover showing how political corruption is creating policies that are intensifying America's middle-class squeeze. Co-sponsored by Progressive States and the Drum Major Institute. More details to follow.

May 12 | Concord, NH
Cleaning Up Our Statehouses

Join Progressive States and co-hosts for lunch and a conversation on state legislative strategies for government reform. Registration Required.


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.


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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch