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Pennsylvania

States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage

With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour scheduled to go into effect on July 24th.  Even better, a number of states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:

The New Voter Suppression and the Progressive Response

Voter suppression is growing rapidly in America today.  Over half of states now have voter ID requirements more stringent than that required for first time voters in federal elections.  Several states are clamping down on voter registration drives or are considering proof of citizenship requirements.

Largest Privatization Deal in U.S. History Proposed for Pennsylvania Turnpike

In the largest privatization deal ever proposed in the United States, a consortium led by Spanish company Abertis Infraestructuras offered $12.8 billion to lease operation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 75 years.  The deal would allow the company to immediately hike tolls 25 percent and then increase tolls each year thereafter up to the rate of inflation.

Eliminating Health Disparities, Achieving Equity

In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the US health care system 37th in the world despite spending more than any other country.  In 2007, according to the US Census Bureau, the US ranked 42nd in life expectancy. If you are a person of color, a low-wage worker, non-English speaking, or live in a low-income community, the picture is much worse.  For instance, the life expectancy for African-Americans is 73.3 years, five years shorter than it is for whites.  For African-American men, it is 69.8 years, just above averages in Iran and Syria, but below Nicaragua and Morocco.

Connecticut House Approves Healthcare Partnership

On Wednesday night, the Connecticut House passed a simple, yet far-reaching bill to offer small businesses and municipalities better, more affordable health insurance.  The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, HB 5536, allows small businesses and municipalities to join the state employee health insurance plan.  This is significant because small employers, towns, employees and their families will be able to join forces with and benefit from the bargaining power of the 200,000 member-strong state employee pool.

Focus on Prescription Drug Reform

$287 billion -- that is how much the U.S. spent on pharmaceuticals in 2007, representing a significant driver of health care costs.  While spending on hospital and physician care surpass spending on prescriptions, drugs still account for 14% of all health care expenditures. Combine this with polls that show 70% of Americans believe the drug industry puts profits ahead of people, and it's no wonder that in 2008, at least 540 bills and resolutions are being considered by states across the country to reduce prescription drug prices, ensure the quality of medications covered by public and private health plans, and reduce the undue influence of pharmaceutical industry marketing - which itself tops out at $30 billion each year.

Mapping and Deploying High-Speed Broadband

Despite claims by the Bush administration that most Americans now have access to affordable broadband, many people might disagree and would probably argue that their Internet access is to slow and to expensive.  Most analysts are nowhere near as optimistic as Bush's "Networked Nation: Broadband in America." These analysts highlight that the U.S. has fallen to 15th in world rankings for broadband connectivity and that Americans pay much higher fees for much slower speeds than most of the industrial nations in the world.  Misguided regulatory policies and substandard infrastructure have helped create a sub-parbroadband network in the United States.  

Aiding States to Stimulate the National Economy

As Congress debates a stimulus to the economy in the wake of the housing bust, many economists are urging federal leaders to make aid to state governments a core part of the package. While direct tax rebates for individuals can help, it will not do much for the economy if states are forced to cut back on critical spending on public works, health care, and education at the same time. As Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who was also chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors in the 1990s, wrote this week in the New York Times:

California Upholds Free Speech Access to Malls for Labor Boycotts

On December 24th, the California Supreme Court gave a major Christmas present for labor rights, affirming that under California law, union members in a mall could distribute handbills calling for a consumer boycott of one of the mall's tenants. The decision, Fashion Valley Mall v. NLRB, built on an earlier state high court decision in 1980 that deemed malls to be a "public forum" where the public had free speech rights. The recent decision extended that principle to active labor boycotts -- a critical tool for labor to get its message out to consumers.