This week marks the tenth anniversary of the enactment of the first Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Commenting at the time on the surplus his administration inherited and in favor of flawed trickle-down economics, former President George W. Bush remarked upon its passage: "We recognize, loud and clear, the surplus is not the government's money. The surplus is the people's money. And we ought to trust them with their own money." In reality, the Bush tax cuts, along with the economic downturn and the wars in recent years, have proven to be by far the largest contributor to the country's deficit. And just as the most affluent are not contributing their fair share, large corporations are engaging in several tax avoidance schemes by utilizing offshore tax havens and other mechanisms.
Though the state legislature opted against proposals that would have generated revenue, closed or reduced certain corporate tax breaks, or created a more common-sense and effective budget process by allowing voters to re-consider the legislative super-majority required to pass revenue increases, Washington lawmakers did take a sensible step in deciding not to extend an inefficient film tax credit program that would have cost the state $7 million in the coming biennium.
With state legislative sessions across the nation beginning to adjourn at a rapid rate, voters and elected officials alike are taking stock of the economic policies promoted and enacted by conservatives in 2011 – and, in most cases, they are not pleased with the results. Recent polls have shown widespread public disappointment with some of the key planks of a conservative economic agenda that promises more giveaways to corporations and the super-wealthy, and more pain for the rest of us.
Last week, the Connecticut Senate approved landmark legislation (SB 913) to establish paid sick leave as a vital economic and health security measure. The bill is now before the House of Representatives, where it enjoys strong support. Governor Daniel Malloy has advocated the legislation throughout the session, and campaigned as a champion of the policy in both the primary and general elections last year. Enactment of SB 913 would set a precedent as the first state-wide law broadly granting workers the right to accrue paid time off.
After multiple attempts in the past four legislative sessions, large telecommunications providers have finally succeeded at preventing municipalities from facilitating community broadband services in North Carolina. Despite expressing concerns that industry-supported legislation would result in poorer service for communities, Governor Bev Perdue failed to veto House Bill 129, allowing it to become law without her signature. The law is particularly detrimental in rural areas, where the private sector has refused to provide service because they do not see profits.
As another round of state legislatures begin to wrap up their 2011 sessions and a flurry of positive action on immigration continues to gain momentum, it is becoming increasingly clear that anti-immigrant bills have failed to gain much traction at all in state legislatures across the nation. Even Arizona, which led the anti-immigrant charge by passing the now-infamous SB 1070 last year, is now reconsidering the wisdom of its actions and surveying the resulting destruction of its economy. Arizona’s legislature killed numerous additional anti-immigrant proposals earlier this session after a group of sixty CEOs of companies sent a letter to State President Russell Pearce outlining the devastating effect SB 1070 and the resulting boycotts have had on the state, including over 3,000 lost jobs in the tourism industry alone.
This month, the Oregon Legislature unanimously approved a bill to provide increased transparency of state spending on economic development subsidies. The legislation, HB2825, would require the Department of Administrative Services to publish detailed information regarding the amount, purpose, and intent of tax incentives directed to corporate entities on the state's transparency website. State Rep. Phil Barnhart (D), who sponsored the bill along with State Rep. Kim Thatcher (R), commented that “spending on tax breaks should be treated the same as spending on programs,” and that “by putting this information online, as is currently the case with other areas of the budget, we move one step closer to that goal." The bill now awaits Gov. John Kitzhaber's signature.
Last week, lawmakers in Maine enacted the first significant pro-worker law to come out of this year’s session. The Work-Sharing Bill, LD 269, creates a program that will help save thousands of jobs in future economic downturns. It passed with unanimous support in both legislative chambers in a session that has been characterized, like many other states’ sessions, by attacks on workers’ rights and the middle class.
Last weekend, members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, local clergy and labor leaders were joined by Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor to protest attacks on workers’ rights in Ohio similar to those that have sprung up in numerous states this year. The town-hall style gathering in Cleveland focused on the recent passage of Senate Bill 5, which stripped collective bargaining rights for public sector employees in Ohio. Speaking to the breadth of attacks on workers’ across the country, Taylor told those in attendance, “This is not a Wisconsin fight. This is not an Ohio fight. This is a fight for everybody.”
As dozens of publicly traded companies consider shareholder resolutions to increase corporate accountability around political spending, one, in particular, is helping to lead the way. News Corporation, the media company owned by Rupert Murdoch whose holdings including Fox Broadcasting Company, recently announced that it will voluntarily disclose its political contributions on its website once a year. Additionally, all corporate political contributions must be pre-approved by News Corp’s Executive Vice President for Government Affairs. Though News Corp’s new policy is not perfect, it is an encouraging step forward for concerned citizens who want their voices heard.