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California Governor Vetoes Transparency Bill


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California Governor Vetoes Transparency Bill

Last month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2666, a strong bill sponsored by Asm. Nancy Skinner that would have required the state's Franchise Tax Board to compile information on corporate tax expenditures and publish the information on California's Reporting Transparency in Government website. The Governor had previously spearheaded accountability reforms and repeatedly emphasized the right of California taxpayers to know where the state directs public funds, especially during an economic downturn. However, his veto reflects right-wing policy priorities: siding with corporations at the expense of sound fiscal policy, middle class interests, and taxpayer protections.

All Eyes on California After Governor Signs Nation's First State Health Insurance Exchange

Last week, California became the first state to bring its state health exchange into law. Known as the California Health Benefit Exchange, the exchange is expected to be operational by 2014 and cover at least 3 million uninsured Californians. Success of the program depends upon the appointment of a powerful five-member health care oversight board. While signing the bills to create the exchange, Gov. Schwarzenegger stressed the critical role states play to implement the national health care law, noting that "for national reform to succeed, it will be up to the states to make it work."

Anti-Oversight Lobbying Coming to a State Near You

A trend is slowly but surely creeping throughout the country: eliminating oversight over phone services. Under the guise of reforming or modernizing regulations, telecommunications companies’ efforts may mean an end to the only access that many have to the outside world. Specifically, some telecommunications providers are seeking to preclude their states’ public utility commissions (PUCs) from exercising their authority to ensure that basic services reach all Americans.

California Governor Vetoes Transparency Bill

Accountable Government * Altaf Rahamatulla

Last month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 2666, a strong bill sponsored by Asm. Nancy Skinner that would have required the state's Franchise Tax Board to compile information on corporate tax expenditures and publish the information on California's Reporting Transparency in Government website. The Governor had previously spearheaded accountability reforms and repeatedly emphasized the right of California taxpayers to know where the state directs public funds, especially during an economic downturn. However, in defense of the veto, the Governor contends that the state already publishes annual reports on certain expenditures and claims the legislation would place an undue burden on business.


Contrary to the Governor's comments, Emily Rusch, the State Director of CALPIRG, a leading organization in the fight for stronger state spending disclosure and accountability, finds, "if this [bill] had passed, taxpayers would have known which specific corporations received tax breaks and how much they received.That information isn’t disclosed now, and doing so would have been step one in making sure companies deliver on the public benefits that justify the cost of the corporate subsidies."

California, dealing with a $17.9 billion shortfall and a budget that is 17 weeks overdue, would have undoubtedly benefited from this bill. Transparency efforts to augment disclosure of subsidies, contracts, corporate tax breaks, and tax expenditures safeguard taxpayers, foster better budgeting practices, promote good jobs, identify spending inefficiencies, reduce potential corruption, and garner savings. As part of our 2010 Shared Multi-State Agenda, the Progressive States Network has been working with lawmakers nationwide to promote Corporate Transparency in State Budget policies.

Interestingly, one of Gov. Schwarzenegger's original recommendations for alleviating the budget gap was to end spending on welfare programs and dramatically reduce social services, such as child care and assitance for the mentally disabled and elderly, while continuing to provide large businesses with lavish and unaccountable tax breaks. In 2009 alone, the state spent $14.5 billion on corporate tax expenditures with no oversight or accountability mechanisms.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's priorities reflect right-wing policy: siding with corporations at the expense of sound fiscal policy, middle class interests, and taxpayer protections.

All Eyes on California After Governor Signs Nation's First State Health Insurance Exchange

Health Care for All * Charles Monaco

Last week, California became the first state to bring its state health exchange into law. Known as the California Health Benefit Exchange, the exchange is expected to be operational by 2014 and cover at least 3 million uninsured Californians. Success of the program depends upon the appointment of a powerful five-member health care oversight board. Board members are politically appointed, serve four-year terms, and are responsible for crafting implementation of the exchanges.
The crucial health care board appointments are made by the Governor (two seats), the Assembly Speaker (one seat) and the Senate President Pro Tem (one seat); the final member will be the incoming governor's Secretary of Health. It remains to be seen whether these appointments are determined by political connections.

Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy for Families USA, a health advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., responded: "What California is doing really sets some standards that could be useful to other states as they plan their own exchanges." "I think there is a lot of debate right now on how independent to make their boards," she continued. "California now provides a starting point, if not a model for other states." Part of the legislation's accountability provision comes in the form of a ban on insurance industry representatives, health care providers and others with a conflict of interest serving on the oversight board.

While signing the bills to create the exchange, Gov. Schwarzenegger stressed the critical role states play to implement the national health care law, noting that "for national reform to succeed, it will be up to the states to make it work."

Anti-Oversight Lobbying Coming to a State Near You

Consumer Protection & Corporate Accountability * Fabiola Carrion

A trend is slowly but surely creeping throughout the country: eliminating oversight over phone services. Under the guise of reforming or modernizing regulations, telecommunications companies’ efforts may mean an end to the only access that many have to the outside world. Specifically, some telecommunications providers are seeking to preclude their states’ public utility commissions (PUCs) from exercising their authority to ensure that basic services reach all Americans. This move is an attempt to undermine PUCs, which not only play a vital role to encourage investments in telecommunications services that protect consumers' interests, but were also established as a public venue to air concerns and address issues involving telecommunications services.

In New Jersey, lobbyists are attempting to convince state legislators to take away the oversight arm of the state’s Public Utility Commission. They seek to completely deregulate landline phone service, consequently harming senior citizens, low-income households, the disabled, rural communities, and other vulnerable residents. One of the steps many lobbyists have taken to pursue this goal is convincing the New Jersey PUC to allow the local incumbent phone provider to stop the distribution of its White Pages directory to customers. While this decision may seem minor at first glance, it limits the ability of many consumers to access basic information via the White Pages. Further, it is the obligation of an incumbent phone carrier who provides a public service.

As we reported in a past Dispatch, telecommunications providers in Illinois convinced the state legislature to deregulate Internet-based phone services. The introduction of Colorado's HB 1281 was an example of another deregulation tactic earlier this year. The bill, thankfully vetoed by Governor Bill Ritter, was intended to exempt providers of Voice-Over-Interconnected Protocol (VoIP) from any form of regulatory oversight by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The proposal was seen as taking the state only one step away from deregulating landline services altogether. In his veto message, the Governor underlined, “VoIP may be the predominant form of basic telephone service… [and the state] cannot be left without the power to regulate such an important technology.” Ritter promised that further commented that any changes to the regulatory framework on utility bills must be accompanied by public hearings either before the legislature or the PUC, particularly when consumer protection is at stake.

What are the dangers of deregulation? Deregulating basic utility services – such as telephones – could lead to steep rate increases that would likely limit access for those who still rely on phone service for basic communications needs. Without any sort of consumer protection, many would stand to lose access to their only means of communication. Historically, states have had regulatory authority and have successfully enacted regulation that has allowed more Americans to access electricity and landline phones. It is undisputed that technology is constantly changing and its regulatory framework must adapt to these changes. However, regulatory reform must occur in a way that protects consumers' interests and access to basic utilities.

Research Roundup

Serving While Sick: High Risks & Low Benefits for the Nation’s Restaurant Workforce, and Their Impact on the Consumer – Improved working conditions in America’s restaurants are necessary to protect employees and patrons alike, according to a survey of over 4,000 workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United. 90% of restaurant workers lack health insurance, nearly 88% have no access to paid sick leave, and 63% indicated they had prepared food or served customers while sick. The report notes that the health risk to customers is closely related to poor working conditions for employees: “workers who experienced high levels of employment law violations in their workplace were more likely to have worked under conditions that have negative consumer health impacts.”

 

One Recession, Two Americas: Those Who Lost Ground Slightly Outnumber Those Who Held Their Own – A survey released by the Pew Research Center confirms that the Great Recession has directly affected the long-term financial security of most families in the country, particularly young people. 55% of those surveyed said they have “lost ground” financially, whereas 45% have remained stable or are doing better. However, 70% of people in the 20-30 years old age bracket have seen a decline in economic footing. And in terms of wages, 83% of those surveyed said their income has stayed the same or declined, with the majority (49%) taking pay cuts.

 

 

How Residents in Five States View Fiscal Priorities for State Government - A survey by Pew Center on the States analyzes public attitudes toward fiscal problems in five diverse states that together comprise almost a third of the nation's population and economic output -- Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and New York. Among other findings showing widespread and troubling distrust in state government, the study reveals that majorities in all five states -- a range of 63% to 71% -- say they would be willing to pay higher taxes to keep K-12 public schools at current funding levels, while majorities in a range of 52%-57% say they would pay higher taxes to preserve funding for health and human services.

 

Lower Taxes, Lower Premiums: The New Health Insurance Tax Credit - New national and state-by-state reports released by Families USA find that over 28 million Americans will benefit from the health care premium tax credits which will go into effect in 2014. The credits will be help those with incomes up to four times the federal poverty level ($88,200 for a family of four in 2010) afford coverage, and will be fully advanceable, meaning that eligible families will not have to wait to file their taxes in order to receive the credit and enroll in coverage.


 

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Full Resources from this Dispatch

California Governor Vetoes Transparency Bill

CALPIRG - Governor Vetoes Bill To Create Transparency In Tax Breaks
Progressive States Network - Corporate Transparency in State Budgets
USPIRG - Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data

All Eyes on California After Governor Signs Nation's First State Health Insurance Exchange

Resources
California Health Line - California in Spotlight as it Works Out Details for Health Benefit Exchange
State of California - California Health Care Reform
Insure the Uninsured Project - Summary of California's Health Benefit Exchange Legislation
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - Insurance Exchange Resources for the States
California Progress Report - Schwarzenegger Signs Key Bills to Move Health Care Reform to Next Level

Anti-Oversight Lobbying Coming to a State Near You

Gov. Ritter’s Veto Message for House Bill 1281
New Jersey SpotlightVerizon, Cable Companies Call for Reform of “Outdated” Telecom Rules
Progressive States Network – Broadband and Technology Investments: Policy Options for 2011
Progressive States Network – Landline Phone Deregulation to Deny Protection to Illinois Consumers

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Nora Ranney, Legislative Director
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Director
Fabiola Carrion, Broadband and Green Jobs Policy Specialist
Cristina Francisco-McGuire, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Tim Judson, Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Suman Raghunathan, Immigration Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax and Budget Policy Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager
Charles Monaco, Press and New MediaSpecialist
Ben Secord, Outreach Associate

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms,or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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