Health care nullification forces scored a symbolic victory in Missouri Tuesday as voters supported a ballot initiative to block the individual mandate portion of the federal health care law. But it was a primary electorate dominated by GOP primary voters -- and the real story is how isolated this victory has been for the repeal forces. 26 states and counting have rejected health care nullification, while even the most right-wing state governments are moving forward on implementing the new law for the benefit of their citizens, as documented at ALECFail.com.
Even as officials announce that the oil leak has finally been capped, residents of the Gulf Coast have only just begun what is sure to be a long, difficult period of renewal following April’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. The catastrophe has wreaked havoc upon communities and businesses along the coast and, while the federal response has been well-coordinated and highly centralized, so far many state governments along the Gulf Coast have done little on their own to mitigate the effects of the spill.
This week, the U.S. Senate finally overcame a filibuster by conservative Senators to move emergency Medicaid funding through the first half of 2011 and provide key funding for education jobs. This action is critical for state budgets and will protect both medical services and education programs in states across the country. Unforuntately, due to over-hyped deficit concerns, the total cost of the package is offset by spending cuts, including an $11 billion cut in Food Stamps, along with closing a tax loophole for multinational corporations.
When state governments make it nearly impossible to raise taxes to pay their bills, their creditors apparently get very nervous and increase their costs to borrow money. Both Arizona and California have seen their bond ratings downgraded -- and their borrowing costs likely increasing -- with analysts citing both states' tax limitation rules that require a two-thirds vote of their legislatures to raise taxes as one reason.
A recent GritTV segment featured Connecticut’s enactment of a law (HB 1570) to protect the civil rights of ex-prisoners and reduce recidivism (repeat offenses) by prohibiting inquiries into the criminal backgrounds of people applying for jobs with the state until an applicant is determined qualified for the position.
Health care nullification forces scored a symbolic victory in Missouri Tuesday as voters supported a ballot initiative to block the individual mandate portion of the federal health care law. But it was a primary electorate dominated by GOP primary voters-- and the real story is how isolated this victory has been for the repeal forces.
Early in the year, groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced that dozens of states were introducing legislation intended to "stop Obamacare at the state line." Yet aside from a handful of states, these measures were defeated across the country, even in conservative regions. In total, 26 states and counting have rejected health care nullification legislation, while at the same time, even the most right-wing state governments are moving forward on implementing the new law for the benefit of their citizens, as documented at ALECFail.com.
While a mere handful of states (colored blue in the graphic) have actually enacted nullification measures, ALEC-style or proposed constitutional amendments similar to Missouri's have failed in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In Louisiana, Gov. Jindal signed into law an admittedly symbolic measure (HB 1474) that specifically stated that "no provision... shall be interpreted or held to supercede any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010... or any other federal law."
In Florida, the conservative-dominated legislature passed a health care nullification amendment earlier this year that was to be voted on in November, but that measure was recently thrown off the ballot by a judge who ruled that the ALEC-inspired language in the amendment was "manifestly misleading." Arizona and Oklahoma are also due to vote on ballot measures this fall.
At the same time the right wing is focused on grandstanding and political gamesmanship, legislators and officials in all 50 states are moving forward with the hard work of planning the effective implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the state level. Many of these efforts began well before the passing and signing of federal reform and will accelerate as responsible leaders in the states focus on delivering quality, affordable health care to their constituents. Even right-wing state governments in states with high opposition to the health care law -- from Utah to Texas -- are working on implementing the new law as they rhetorically oppose it.
ALEC and its allies claimed a goal of defeating Obamacare in the 26 states where they've since been defeated. If they are going to own victory in Missouri, they should own up to defeat in all the other states as well.
Even as officials announce that the oil leak has finally been capped, residents of the Gulf Coast have only just begun what is sure to be a long, difficult period of renewal following April’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. Beyond the tragic loss of life on the rig and the oil spill’s devastating environmental toll, the catastrophe has wreaked havoc upon communities and businesses along the coast that depend on the Gulf’s waters for employment – and they currently lack many of the tools and resources they’ll need to restore the region back to its full potential.
Vacancy on State Leadership: Amidst all this misfortune lies the fact that many public figureheads deny that that there is a role for states to play in the cleanup. Robert Mann, a professor at Louisiana State University, explains, “Everything goes back to looking at BP and the feds to fix the problem. I don’t hear anything, even from [Governor] Jindal. It’s all, ‘How do we force BP to fix it?’” The federal response has been well-coordinated and highly centralized, but so far many state governments along the Gulf Coast have done little on their own to mitigate the effects of the spill.
For example, Louisiana, which has borne the brunt of the spill’s economic fallout, only passed a resolution declaring a statewide day of prayer for those affected by the spill. Passed in isolation, this bill is a slap in the face to those who’ve lost the most from this disaster.
The Mississippi State Legislature, which has been out of session since April, has not reconvened to address the oil spill.
Florida Governor Crist’s proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling in state waters was quickly shot down in a special session.
Job Losses in the Gulf States: Meanwhile, economic conditions along the coast continue to worsen. Recent data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission reveals rising unemployment in Louisiana. In fact, Louisiana was one of only five states nationwide to see an increase in unemployment in June, suggesting that the oil spill has played a role in the state’s employment crisis. More broadly, Moody’s Analytics estimates that up to 100,000 jobs could be lost throughout the coastal region – with up to 17,000 of those lost by the end of this year alone, along with 1.2 billion dollars in output. One study finds that one in five households in Louisiana and Mississippi have seen their income decrease as a result of the oil spill and 8 percent of residents have lost jobs
These economic losses, which have hardest hit the labor-intensive industries of fishing and aquaculture in Louisiana and the tourism industry in Florida, mean that the only thing keeping local workers – many of whom live paycheck to paycheck – solvent is their participation in the cleanup effort. Most fishermen participate by leasing their boats or offering their labor – though BP’s payout policy is itself less than fair. Under current policy, workers who earn money assisting with the cleanup will see that amount deducted from their claim against BP.
Options for State Action: How can states help their coastal regions? One important step is to ensure that the waste contaminated by the spill is disposed of properly. Louisiana’s solid waste response plan for the BP spill was adopted from the Hurricane Katrina plan – except, as Darryl Malek-Wiley, a field organizer for Sierra Club New Orleans, sees it, “an oil spill is not a hurricane, and I feel we’re not disposing of the oil-soaked waste in a proper way.” Not only is the waste toxic, he says, but it is quickly filling up landfills in Mississippi that were meant to last for many more years and will now need to be supplemented at taxpayer expense. Malek-Wiley also suggests that coastal states enact so-called “bounty hunter provisions,” under which citizens are rewarded financially by the state for filing lawsuits against corporations that break environmental laws.
State officials can also support constituents who have experienced property damage by helping them receive proper reimbursement. In Florida, Governor Crist signed an executive order authorizing property appraisers in coastal counties to reassess homes and businesses if a loss of value appears likely. This will help members of coastal communities file claims against BP. If necessary, lawmakers can also consider allowing property taxes to reflect updated (and downsized) property values; under current Florida law, the governor does not have the authority to do this.
To help coastal workers, states can ensure that assistance is available for workers who were paid “under the table” in years past and therefore do not have documentation to show they were working before the oil spill. Without such documentation, it is nearly impossible for them to receive any compensation from BP. Alternatively, states can consider bolstering or emulating local charities, such as Horizon Relief, which do not require documentation.
State Legislators in the Gulf Call for Action: Finally, state lawmakers nationwide can sign the Coastal States Caucus’s letter to President Obama requesting that the federal government:
Ensure responsible parties are held liable;
Lift the cap on liability by drilling companies;
Create a Gulf Coast and Estuaries Restoration Fund that, in the future, can expand its focus to support other coastal, ocean and Great Lakes restoration;
Establish a Dedicated Ocean Trust Fund to support long-term marine and coastal stewardship; and
Finalize and Implement the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Recommendations.
This week, the U.S. Senate finally overcame a filibuster by conservative Senators to move emergency Medicaid funding through the first half of 2011 and provide key funding for education jobs. The legislation will provide a 3.2 percent increase in federal medial assistance percentages (FMAP) paid for Medicaid through the first quarter of next year, a 1.2 percent increase through the second quarter, and $10 billion toward state educational systems. This action is critical for state budgets and will protect both medical services and education programs in states across the country.
Budget Hysteria Pushes Misguided Food Stamp Cuts: Due to over-hyped long-term deficit concerns, the total cost of the package is offset by spending cuts and closing a tax loophole for multinational corporations. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over the next decade.
Unfortunately, the majority of spending cuts in the bill target food stamp benefits. Participation in the food stamp program has reached record highs, making this action an especially harmful approach to budget cutting. Further, the Senate's action is imprudent economic policy as families receiving food stamps readily spend their money on basic necessities, which boosts short-run demand and fosters market activity. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, specifically finds that each federal dollar spent on food stamps creates $1.73 in market demand.
More Recovery Dollars Needed in States: Unemployment remains at 10 percent and according to a new report by the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, local governments may cut up to 500,000 jobs in the next two years, substantially degrading the amount and quality of essential service provision. Misguided and inflated deficit hysteria should not supersede supporting working families and job creation in hard-hit local economies.
When state governments make it nearly impossible to raise taxes to pay their bills, their creditors apparently get very nervous and increase their costs to borrow money. In the case of Arizona, whose dysfunctional tax cuts we've documented in the past, it means that last month, Moody's Investors Services lowered Arizona's debt rating for the second time in less than a year. And as analyst Lee Cokorinos notes:
When Moody's downgraded the state of Arizona's credit rating this past week, it pointed to "voter initiated spending mandates and a requirement for a 2/3 majority vote of the state legislature or vote of the people to increase revenues" as part of the reason. Such measures, Moody's said, "have introduced an above average degree of inflexibility to state finances."
Similarly, when Fitch Ratings cut California's bond rating last month, Reuters blamed the downgrade at least partly on the fact that, "The Golden State is one of just three states that require a two-thirds majority vote from each legislative house to pass budgets."
California and Arizona are not considered to share much beyond terrible current economies-- but the bond markets have noticed both share tax limitation rules that have made balancing their budgets in hard times nearly impossible. And both states are paying for those anti-tax rules with lowered bond ratings and higher costs for taxpayers to borrow money.
Last week, GritTV broadcast an excellent feature on Connecticut’s enactment of a law (HB 1570) to protect the civil rights of ex-prisoners and reduce recidivism (repeat offenses). As we originally reported in April, the so-called “Ban the Box” law prohibits inquiries into the criminal backgrounds of people applying for jobs with the state until an applicant is determined qualified for the position – effectively banning the question about criminal background from job application forms. Although vetoed by the governor in May, legislators and advocates sustained enough votes to override on June 21. "Ban the Box" measures are crucial for enabling community reintegration, reducing crime, and controlling incarceration costs. GritTV’s piece shows the human side of the story behind the issue, with moving testimony by the legislators, advocates and ex-prisoners who fought for years to pass the law.
Problems in Reporting and Distribution of Recovery Act Funds
Jobless rates no factor for stimulus money - States with the highest jobless rates are getting less money per person under the federal stimulus program than states with below-average unemployment, this USA TODAY analysis finds. Because longtime federal spending formulas that consider many things — income, population density, highway fatalities — but usually not unemployment, the combination of spending, tax breaks and cash benefits in the recovery plan has not been concentrated in high-unemployment states.
ARRA Job Reporting Problems Persist - With the fourth round of Recovery Act recipient data (covering the second quarter of 2010) has just been posted on Recovery.gov, Good Jobs First notes that the numbers still fail to capture all job creation since many recipients of funds continue to report zero jobs created because they appear not to understand the rules for job reporting. While state governments receiving funds are clearly creating and retaining jobs with the funds, there is some worry that private employers receiving contracts are not using the funds to put more people to work.
Ballot Integrity: A Broken System in Need of Solutions - This second annual report card on ballot integrity in the 24 states which allow for ballot initiatives by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) found that only five of the 24 states reviewed had systems protective enough to receive a C or better, and only one state (Colorado) earned a score higher than B. Most states are still vulnerable to continued ballot initiative abuse, fraud and deception unless significant legislative changes are made to protect those systems.
Are New Jersey Public Employees Overpaid? - The Economic Policy Institute released this report that examines the compensation of private and public employees in New Jersey. The report finds that, on the whole, public workers are more highly educated and receive 10 percent less in pay than their private sector counterparts. Dr. Jeffrey Keefe, the author of the report, additionally emphasizes that the public and private sector take strikingly different approaches considering compensation and staffing. For instance, state and local government workers in New Jersey receive a greater proportion of their compensation in the form of benefits.
Diplomas Count 2010: Graduation by Numbers: Putting Data to Work for Student Success - Three out of every 10 students in America’s public schools fail to earn a high school diploma and this study by Education Week and Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center argues that in a time of economic instability, this means even more hardship for those dropping out than their peers. The report also investigates how data collection and analysis are being used to boost graduation rates and improve student learning across the country.
The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born Versus The Foreign Born - Technology use among foreign-born Latinos, particularly use of the Internet, continues to lag significantly behind that of their U.S.-born counterparts, according to this Pew Hispanic Center report. While 85% of native-born Latinos ages 16 and older go online, only about half (51%) of foreign-born Latinos do so.
Equity Guide to Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants - This PolicyLink guide helps organizations take advantage of this initiative that coordinates federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and address the challenges of climate change. It is designed to help applicant consortium, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and community advocates submit competitive, equity-focused proposals with the goal of transforming low-income neighborhoods into communities of opportunity, rich with resources for all.
Medicaid Policy and Long-Term Care Spending: An Interactive View - To help improve understand of wide variations in state spending on long-term care under Medicaid, Rockefeller Institute experts have applied an interactive measure — the Long-Term Care Policy Generosity Index — to help evaluate the multiple factors, including coverage policies, nursing home payment rates and others, that may be driving costs.
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