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06/08/2006 Backwards Conservatives: Feds Try to Usurp State Powers



Thursday, June 08, 2006

Increasing-Democracy

Backwards Conservatism: Feds Routinely Move to Limit State Power

A new Congressional report by minority staff in the House found that the House and the Senate have voted 57 times in the last five years to preempt state laws and regulations. These votes, the authors declare, make clear "that there exists a wide gulf between the pro-states rhetoric...and the actual legislative record."

Among the votes the reports highlights:

  • Passing legislation that would preempt states from regulating sources of air pollution
  • Votes to stop states from setting health insurance standards (Progressive States addressed this backwards policy in our May 11th Dispatch.)
  • Preempting states standards on contaminated food
  • Blocking tougher states laws against Internet "spam"

And the list goes on. The report shows that despite a rhetoric around "federalism", the current conservative-dominated Congress has been extremely hostile to state power, especially when state policy challenged the corporate contributors to rightwing politicians.

These preemptive policies are especially destructive given that while they prohibit state action on issues, they rarely put any real federal protections in place. Americans are best off when state policymakers are empowered to solve problems instead of having their hands tied by the federal government.

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Growing-Economy

OH: Spending Cap Shuffle May Indicate Weakening of a Wedge

What political observer is not interested in changes in Ohio's political landscape? The state has a tendency to be decisive in Presidential elections and is gripped by high-profile races for Governor and Senator this year. So it is very interesting that conservatives appear to be edging away from a radical Constitutional spending cap modeled on Colorado's failed TABOR law.

Controversial Governor Bob Taft just signed into law a statutory spending cap -- part of a deal to encourage other conservatives to drop their support for the more far-reaching TABOR proposal once backed by conservative leaders. In fact, only a year ago, conservative schemers sought to move the vote on the spending cap to 2006 in order to influence voters.

Fortunately, it appears that the public is aware of the disastrous impacts that TABOR had on Colorado. Support for the amendment in Ohio became a problem for conservative leaders.

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Increasing-Democracy

CO: Aggressive Lobbying Disclosure Bill Becomes Law

As voters grow increasingly fed up with corruption in public office, a number of courageous legislators are taking the lead on issues like voter-owned elections and lobbying reform. In Colorado, the forces of reform just landed a major victory.

Representative Morgan Carroll has become well-known in Colorado for her strong stands on ethics and lobbying reform. When she recently requested an audit of lobbyist compliance with state law, the Rocky Mountain News noted that she is "known for her policy of refusing to talk to lobbyists on the House floor." (The audit, which would be the first of its kind, is now being considered by the Secretary of State's office.)

Yesterday, Governor Bill Owens signed Carroll's HB 1149 (PDF) into law. The measure, also sponsored by Sen. Ron Tupa, greatly strengthens Colorado's lobbyist disclosure rules, requiring lobbyists to declare their clients, the bills on which they are lobbying, and what position they are taking on those bills.

Rep. Carroll made the bill in priority after noting that Colorado nearly flunked in a recent rating of state lobbying disclosure laws by the Center for Public Integrity.

Governor Owens' signature on the bill comes as a bit of a surprise as he seemed to make it a priority to veto a number of good bills from Colorado's 2006 legislative session, just as he did last year -- not a big surprise for one of America's worst Governors.

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Research-Roundup

Taxpaying Immigrants, Investment Opportunities for Underserved, and Indexing the Minimum Wage

The Urban Institute has analyzed the income and taxes paid by immigrants in the Washington, D.C. area -- and the million immigrants in the region pay $9.8 billion in taxes, about 18% of all taxes paid in the region. Undocumented immigrants paid and estimated $13,000 in taxes per household (19% of household income), which would likely increase substantially if they were given a path to legalization.

In encouraging news, the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Data Project, has found that the CDFI industry, the institutions providing loans and other financial services to people who are underserved by traditional financial outlets, has been growing at a compound rate of 17% per year.  With tens of billions in assets, these institutions helped finance 6,887 businesses, maintained 28,330 jobs, helped build or renovate 43,160 housing units, and helped tens of thousands of vulnerable borrowers avoid predatory lenders.

And as California debates whether to index its minimum wage to the inflation rate, the California Budget Project has a useful study highlighting that just since 2002, when it was last increased, the minimum wage's real value has declined by $0.88 per hour-- highlighting the harsh loss in wages for the working poor when the minimum wage is not indexed to inflation.

Backwards Conservatism: Feds Routinely Move to Limit State Power

Progressive States, Federal Preemption and Federalism
U.S. House -- Minority Staff of Government Reform Committee, "Congressional Preemption of State Laws and Regulations"
Center for American Progress, "Redefining Federalism"
U.S. PIRG, Preemption Watch
Public Citizen, State and Local Governance

OH: Spending Cap Shuffle May Indicate Weakening of a Wedge

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, State Budgets and TABOR
The Bell Policy Center, Taxpayers' Bill of Rights
Center for American Progress, TABOR

CO: Aggressive Lobbying Disclosure Bill Becomes Law

Center for Public Integrity, "Hired Guns: A Comprehensive Look at Lobbying in the 50 States"
Progressive States Network, Lobbying Reform

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Eye on the Right

The Federal Marriage Amendment died in the U.S. Senate earlier this week, after failing to receive even fifty votes. Ironically, it's backers defended the measure as an attempt to protect the will of the voters in individual states from political powers run amok. In reality, the Amendment was yet another ham-handed attempt by feds to stake out a national position on an issue and prevent any wavering on it in the states. It was also just the latest on a series of issues -- from health insurance consumer protections to the minimum wage -- where D.C. politicians have tried to usurp traditional state powers -- and hurt average Americans in the process.

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch