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Judicial Elections Public Financing: Balancing Independent Courts and Voter Choice

Once the sleepy backwater of electoral politics, judicial elections have recently become a battleground where right wing and corporate groups spend large sums to fill the courts with jurists who will support their interests.  This is perhaps the most troubling example of money corrupting our politics, because instead of pay-to-play politics it gives us pay-to-win justice.  The independence of the judiciary simply cannot be maintained in an environment where jurists are competing for votes in high-priced, bare-knuckle political brawls. 

Texas may face polling place mishaps

Texans could face major disruptions at polling places on Election Day because of voting machine breakdowns or massive turnouts that overwhelm local authorities.

So says a report by three nonpartisan voter advocacy groups that cited Texas and nine other states as having inadequate contingency plans for using emergency paper ballots.

Left in the Cold — Utility Shut-Offs and State Responses

Working families struggling to make utility payments are feeling the chill as companies shut off their gas and electricity. Shut-offs are up across dozens of states, particularly Michigan where unemployment is high, with a 22 percent increase in the number of families left without heat or electricity. The state's Heating and Warmth Fund, which helps those in need pay delinquent heating bills, has seen a record 42 percent increase in people applying for heating payment assistance.

Making College Affordable for All

The benefits of a post-secondary degree are plentiful.  For example, an employee with a four year college degree earns 60 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Paying for college, however, has become a daunting task and strain for many American students and families.  The cost of higher education across the country is rapidly increasing, at almost double the rate of inflation, outpacing increases in financial aid and many families ability to pay.  The combination of these factors result in too many students being unable to earn or complete their degrees due to financial constraints.

Helping Poor and Working Families Build Financial Assets

By one estimate, the federal government spent over $367 billion in 2005 aloneon subsidizing Americans' retirement savings and tax breaks to build upother assets like buying a home.  Unfortunately, those subsidies gooverwhelmingly to those Americans who already have high-incomes; almostnone of it goes to the poorest Americans who need the most helpbuilding the financial assets that can lead to long-term economicopportunities and security.

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.

Statewide Video Franchising Legislation: Bad Bills in Tennessee & Louisiana, and an Innovative Approach in Minnesota

Legislatorsin both Tennessee and Louisiana have heavily promoted statewide videofranchising legislation this session.  Just this past week the Tennessee House approved HB 1421, the "Competitive Cable and Video Services Act," while Louisiana legislators have introduced multiple statewide franchising bills, with SB 807 having the most momentum.  The common thread between each Louisiana bill is that they are all bad for consumers.  

States Call for Moratorium on Home Foreclosures

Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration's proposal for fixing the subprime lending crisis is an industry-led deal that involves completely voluntary actions to fix the current crisis and will ultimately help only a few of the millions of people who have either lost or are in danger of losing their homes.  With absolute failure at the federal level, it is again up to states to step in.  In two recent editorial pieces, the executive directors of the Progressive States Network and the Drum Major Institute called on New York Governor Spitzer to impose a six-month moratorium on foreclosures to stop the rapidly increasing rate of home loss, a policy all governors should enact. A moratorium would give lenders incentive to restructure loans on fair terms and fight back against the Wall-street backed predatory lenders.