On the eve of its adjournment, New York’s state legislature provided a new opportunity to create thousands of jobs for New Yorkers. The new law, the Power NY Act of 2011 (AB 7006-A), establishes the first statewide “on-bill recovery” program — allowing charges for retrofitting a home or business to be included in a utility bill statement and paid over time, with monthly payments calibrated to include energy savings so that the loan doesn’t increase the bill. The passage of this bill is considered a next step to New York’s Green Jobs/Green NY Act, legislation that was enacted in 2009 to retrofit one million homes in five years and consequently create 14,250 full time jobs. The Power NY Act of 2011 comes at a time when most Americans believe that their government’s number one concern should be the creation of jobs.
Beginning almost immediately with the gaveling-in of sessions in January, newly empowered conservatives unleashed a torrent of attacks aimed directly at workers, women, children, immigrants, historically disenfranchised populations, and the very existence of the middle class. Coordinated multi-state efforts like the assault on collective bargaining, extremist restrictions on reproductive rights, broad Arizona-style attacks on immigrants, and attempts to institute new barriers to voting through Voter ID requirements all repeatedly made national news.
From a non-stop assault on the rights of workers, immigrants, and women, to power grabs making it easier for corporations to influence the political process and harder for historically disenfranchised populations to vote, to balancing state budgets on the backs of children and the vulnerable by cutting schools and health care in order to give millionaires and CEOs even bigger tax cuts, the measures that grabbed headlines in the states this year have been almost uniformly bad news for the economic security of the vast majority of Americans. But dig just a little beneath the headlines, and some glimmers of hope are clearly visible.
New Jersey Governor Christie is joining the conservative wave of scapegoating by proposing to cut the state’s Medicaid program. The Governor is proposing to put critical services for the state’s most vulnerable populations on the chopping block by asking for a waiver from the federal government in order to cut state spending on Medicaid by $300 million. The cuts include long-term care and have the potential to affect up to 1 million people in New Jersey currently receiving Medicaid.
Labeling conservative lawmakers' fiscal priorities as a harbinger of "generational damage," North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the Republican-dominated Legislature's $19.7 billion budget proposal this past week. The Governor became the first in state history to veto a budget bill, finding that the Legislature's proposal "ignores the values of North Carolina’s people." Right-wing state legislators, deciding against extending a temporary one cent sales tax, opted for heinous cuts to several important areas, most notably, health care and K-12 and higher education. Assessing the potential economic impact of such extensive and damaging reductions to essential public programs, the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center concludes that the budget would have extremely deleterious repercussions on the state's economic well-being and prospects for recovery. So much so, that the cuts would lead to the loss of 32,022 jobs, $1.3 billion in lost wages for workers, and $2.8 billion in foregone industry output.
In a last minute amendment to its heavily controversial state budget bill, the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance added a provision that would greatly reduce broadband access for schools, libraries, and university researchers. The target of this harmful proposal is WiscNet, a not-for-profit Internet Service Provider cooperative that offers inexpensive and flexible broadband service to anchor institutions, provides online learning resources for public schools and libraries, and allows university researchers fast, inexpensive data upload services unavailable from private providers. This proposal by Governor Walker would force WiscNet to return $39 million in federal funds that would be used to lay fiber-optic cables across Wisconsin and would sever the relationship between WiscNet and the University of Wisconsin, which founded WiscNet over 20 years ago. In addition to negatively impacting the University’s connectivity and research capacity, the loss of this funding means that fewer rural community members would have immediate access to broadband.
The 2008 early vote proved beneficial to progressives, with self-identified Democrats making up a disproportionate share of the early vote. Barack Obama’s success in engaging the Democratic base and, in particular, targeting early voters was especially evident in the fact that, though 80% of first-time early voters in 2008 had voted at a polling place on previous Election Days, nearly half of the same group had never taken advantage of early voting in any of the previous four federal elections. Certain demographics were more likely to benefit from early voting - for example, urban and African-American voters constituted a larger share of the early vote than the non-early vote, presumably to avoid notoriously long lines that are pervasive in predominantly urban and/or African-American districts on Election Day or to take advantage of the flexibility inherent in early voting by casting a ballot when their work/family schedule permits.
Department of Labor statistics released last week revealed the bad news: unemployment is back to 9.1%, after only 54,000 jobs were added in May. These numbers come as Fortune 500 companies are reporting record profits, still benefiting from the large tax cuts that reckless conservative economic policies have provided them over the past 10 years. Recent studies show why, in order to address a stubborn domestic jobs crisis head-on and to reinvigorate America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, advancing state policies that encourage green job creation is more critical than ever.
As states continue to reject misguided anti-immigrant SB 1070 proposals — sixteen have defeated or tabled broad immigration enforcement bills this session alone — governors are joining the chorus of state lawmakers speaking out against expensive and ineffective immigration enforcement programs. A groundswell of opposition to Secure Communities, the flawed federal immigration enforcement program, is emerging in state after state. In the last month alone, three states — Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts — have withdrawn wholesale from participating the program. Their decisions have been applauded by law enforcement professionals who note police officers' lack of interest in enforcing federal immigration laws and the damage caused to community policing practices when local law enforcement become de facto immigration agents.
As legislative sessions wrap up around the country, so does the first full legislative opportunity for lawmakers to pass a state-based health exchange since the signing of the Affordable Care Act into law. Over the weekend, the state of Connecticut joined nine other states that have already passed legislation to enact state-based marketplaces to improve the health security of families, a key piece of the federal health law. Connecticut’s exchange legislation is an important step in the right direction, giving options to consumers and extending coverage to many who desperately need it, and it is further evidence of the momentum continuing to build behind implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the states.