Budget and Taxes

MI Gov, Lawmakers Spar Over Budget Power: Last month the Michigan State Administrative Board, controlled by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), made $625 million in transfers within the departmental budgets approved by the state’s Legislature. That action only fueled an effort by Republicans who control both legislative chambers to curb the governor’s power to make such administrative transfers.

Whitmer sent a letter to House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) urging them to give up that plan and restart budget negotiations to restore some of the $947 million she line-item voted from the $60 billion budget approved by the Legislature on Sept. 30.

“I urge you to choose a path of negotiation towards a responsible supplemental budget and forgo your attempt to gut state executive authority that’s been around for 98 years and championed by [former Republican] Governor [John] Engler,” she wrote in the letter.

The same day the House introduced bills to bar the administrative board from transferring more than $200,000 for any single line item without legislative approval, a restriction that would have precluded many of the board’s recent transfers.

In a press release, House Appropriations Chairman Shane Hernandez (R) said Whitmer had “orchestrated an unprecedented power grab by abusing the authority” of the administrative board.

“The governor wants to retain this power and use it again next year,” he went on to say. “The Legislature wants to get rid of it. This proposal meets in the middle to resolve this issue, retaining the State Administrative Board but building in protections for taxpayers and residents with proper oversight and accountability.”

If approved by lawmakers, Whitmer could simply veto the legislation. But Republicans have said addressing the board’s power to move money around in the budget is a “make or break” issue for resuming budget negotiations. (DETROIT NEWS)

State, Local Governments in OH Team Up on Opioid Lawsuits: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Attorney General Dave Yost (R) met for over three hours last month with attorneys and elected officials from cities and counties across the state seeking damages from drug makers and distributors over the opioid crisis.

DeWine said the state and local governments were moving toward working together on their legal actions.

“There’s a growing consensus that if we present a united front, we can maximize the [settlement] money and put us in a much better bargaining position,” he said. “The message is, we are fast getting united as we approach these things and future negotiations.”

In related news, four major drug companies - AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, Cardinal Health and Teva Pharmaceuticals - reached a $260 million settlement with the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit over the part they are alleged to have played in the opioid epidemic. The agreement came hours before the first federal opioid trial in the nation was scheduled to begin in Cleveland. (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, CLEVELAND.COM)

Budgets in Brief:

AK Local Governments to Collect Online Sales Taxes: ALASKA cities and boroughs that levy sales taxes have initiated a plan to collect those taxes from online retailers. Under the plan, local governments will join a cooperative agreement creating a statewide sales tax commission that will collect the taxes from companies with at least $100,000 in sales or 100 sales per year in the state and distribute the tax payments back to the local governments. Unlike the 42 states that have started collecting sales taxes from online retailers since the U.S. Supreme Court authorized them to do so in 2018, Alaska has no statewide sales tax. (ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS)

Tax Hike Jeopardizing OR Business Friendliness Reputation: Owing mainly to its lack of a state sales tax, OREGON came in at No. 8 overall in the Tax Foundation’s most recent annual ranking of states’ business tax climates, released last month. But a new $1 billion corporate tax increase taking effect on Jan. 1 could drop the state well down in next year’s rankings. The Tax Foundation’s director of state tax policy, Jared Walczak, said if the tax had gone into effect this year the state would have ranked at No. 15. (OREGONIAN [PORTLAND])

TN Not Spending Federal Funding For Needy Families: TENNESSEE has $732.7 million in unused federal funds for poor working families, according to the conservative Beacon Center of Tennessee. The state receives an annual block grant of $190.9 million under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, of which it spent only $71.1 million, or 37 percent, last year. (NASHVILLE TENNESSEAN)

Revenue Slump Spurs WV Budget Cuts: WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Jim Justice (R) has directed state agencies to cut a total of $100 million from the current year’s budget, as well as reduce spending next year. Tax collections for the first three months of the current budget year were $30 million below estimates, due mainly to a slump in severance tax revenues from coal and natural gas. (WEST VIRGINIA GAZETTE-MAIL)

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

PA Passes Major Election Reforms: Pennsylvania’s General Assembly approved legislation last week that will bring the biggest changes to the state’s election laws in decades.

The election reform bill, negotiated by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Senate over the past four months, will allow voters to register as few as 15 days before an election, half the current 30-day limit, which is the longest of any state.

The measure will also allow voters to mail in their ballots for any reason. Mail-in ballots are currently an option only for “absentee” voters who meet strict requirements.

In addition, the bill provides $90 million in state funding to help counties purchase new voting machines. Republicans dropped their opposition to the new machines in exchange for the elimination of straight party-ticket voting. With Democratic voters outnumbering Republican ones in the state by a 5-4 margin, Republicans were worried that backlash against President Trump from suburban voters might hurt all Republicans on the ballot.

Many Democratic lawmakers voted against the bill, with some saying it didn’t go far enough in expanding voter access and others expressing opposition to the elimination of straight party-ticket voting.

But in a statement, Wolfe said: “It’s a giant leap forward that makes voting more convenient for millions of Pennsylvanians and improves our election security.” (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WI Supreme Court Takes up Separation of Powers Case: The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a case stemming from laws Republicans passed after losing control of the state’s government in last November’s election but before Democrats took office in January. Those laws, which among other things require the state’s attorney general, now Democrat Josh Kaul, to obtain permission from a Republican-controlled legislative committee before settling a lawsuit, were challenged by the Service Employees International Union and others on the grounds that they violate the state Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine.

The National Association of Attorney Generals has identified cases in three states, Colorado, Indiana and New Hampshire, where the governor or legislature challenged the attorney general’s decision either to pursue or forgo a lawsuit. The AG’s authority was affirmed in each of them, and the Supreme Court in the New Hampshire case cited the state’s separation of powers clause in its decision.

But Misha Tseytlin, the attorney for Wisconsin’s Legislature, contends the separation of powers clause in that state’s Constitution is more amorphous than in other states. In court filings, she cited a previous case in which Wisconsin’s Constitution was described as “requiring shared and merged powers of the branches of government rather than an absolute, rigid and segregated political design.”

Howard Schweber, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agreed that the Wisconsin Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine was “fluid” and that the state’s courts had allowed power to flow among the state government’s branches. But he said the laws at issue in this case may go too far even for Wisconsin, because they involve the Legislature’s encroachment of a core role of the executive branch: applying the law.

“To uphold the [Legislature’s] argument, the court would have to find or discover a new and radically unusual idea that the attorney general is not squarely within the executive branch,” he said. (WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL)

Challenge to Third Parties Proposed in NY: New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs is backing a proposal to quintuple the number of votes required for a political party to get its gubernatorial candidate on the ballot from 50,000 to 250,000, a threshold that would shut out virtually all third parties in the state.

Jacobs said the intent of the proposal was to reduce voter confusion and root out “sham” political parties that use their ballot spots to garner political favors.

“A lot of people have been getting away with an awful lot for a long time,” he said. “In my mind, it will be better overall if elections are run with only really credible parties.”

But one of the parties likely to be blocked from the ballot by Jacobs’ proposal is the Working Families Party, a progressive group that has been highly critical of both Jacobs and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who are close allies.

The one third party that has drawn more than 250,000 votes in recent years is the Conservative Party. So Jacobs’ proposal could potentially enable conservative office seekers to run as both Republicans and Conservative Party candidates, giving them a distinct advantage over their liberal opponents.

“I can see that that could be problematic,” Jacobs said.

The group of state commissioners reviewing the state’s election laws to whom Jacobs submitted his proposal are expected to make their recommendations - legally binding barring action by state lawmakers - this month. (NEW YORK TIMES)

Politics in Brief:

SCOTUS Overturns MI Gerrymandering Case: The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling by a three-judge panel in April calling for the redrawing of several MICHIGAN Congressional and legislative districts before the 2020 election on the grounds that they give Republicans an unfair advantage. The decision was expected after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June that policing partisan gerrymandering claims was “beyond the reach of the federal courts.” (MLIVE.COM, NEW YORK TIMES)

Panel Orders New NC Congressional Map: A three-judge panel ruled last week that 13 NORTH CAROLINA U.S. House districts must be redrawn before the state’s 2020 congressional elections. The three judges, one Republican and two Democrats, declared that the state’s congressional district maps, drawn in 2016, showed indications of “extreme partisan gerrymandering.” (RALEIGH NEWS & OBSERVER)

GA Planning Another Big Voter Purge: The GEORGIA secretary of state’s office announced last week that it may be cancelling the registrations of about 300,000 inactive voters, roughly 4 percent of the state’s current 7.4 million total registered voters. The state cancelled 534,119 voter registrations in 2017, the biggest single purge of voters in U.S. history. (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

Newsom Taking Wait and See Stance on NCAA Ruling: Calling it “a step in the right direction," California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the state would closely monitor the NCAA’s decision to move toward allowing college athletes to profit from the use of their likeness, image or name.

The move is a response to first-in-the-nation legislation Newsom signed in September that allows athletes to earn money from that use. Lawmakers in several other states, including New York, Illinois, Florida, have introduced similar measures, and at least two members of Congress have indicated they would file federal legislation as well.

“This is a step in the right direction, and the NCAA deserves credit for finally affirming what has been common sense to so many for so long,” Newsom said in a statement after the NCAA announcement. “California will be closely watching as the NCAA’s process moves forward to ensure the rules ultimately adopted are aligned with the legislation we passed this year.”

With pressure building from the states, the NCAA Board of Governors last week ordered its three separate divisions to immediately begin figuring out how to update their rules to align with the California law, with the caveat any new rule be “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

That last bit sparked skepticism from many observers, who contend it is intentionally ambiguous in order to appear as if the powers that run college sports are acquiescing when in truth they are doing anything but.

In a tweet, former Duke basketball player Jay Bilas, a lawyer and college basketball analyst for ESPN, called the statement “another made-up term with no meaning” and said the NCAA’s real stance is “We’re not allowing ANYTHING.”

The idea of allowing college athletes to get a portion of the money made off their names appears to have bipartisan support. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has indicated his support for two new Sunshine State measures, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo and J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats, have voiced support for bills in their states. Bills are also being planned in Congress by North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker and Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzales, both Republicans. (ESPN, NBC NEWS, CNBC, USA TODAY)

Kemp Unveils GA Reinsurance Proposal: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) unveiled the first part of a two-part plan to overhaul health care in the Peach State. The reinsurance proposal Kemp announced calls for the state and federal governments to pay part of the costs of treating the sickest patients, which he says would allow health insurers to lower monthly premiums for all customers. The proposal would also allow residents to bypass the federal health benefits exchange and sign up for insurance directly through an insurance provider or broker website. Those changes require federal approval. Kemp said he would issue his plan for overhauling the state Medicaid program this week. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Lee Says TN Medicaid Critics ‘Misinformed’: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) says the overwhelmingly negative public comments the state has received regarding his pending Medicaid proposal – which would convert $7.9 billion in federal funding for TennCare, the state’s $12.1 billion Medicaid health insurance program for 1.42 million low-income Tennesseans, into a lump sum “block grant” – are based on “misinformation.”

Much of the commentary has come from enrollees who would be impacted by the changes, but drug companies, hospitals, doctors, and advocates for the poor have also weighed in. To date, only one supporter of the plan has testified during any of the mandatory public hearings. Lee said his administration is already working to address concerns raised by medical providers.

As for the other comments, Lee said state officials will work to address complaints they deem valid. The state has until Nov. 20 to submit its formal waiver request to the federal Department of Health and Human Services. (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, NASHVILLE TENNESSEAN)

Governors in Brief:

Judge Upholds Baker’s MA Vaping Ban: A Suffolk Superior Court judge rejected a plea from vape retailers to overturn upheld MASSACHUSETTS Gov. Charlie Baker’s (R) emergency ban on vaping. The ruling came hours after health officials announced a second Bay State resident had died from a vaping-associated lung injury (BOSTON HERALD, MASSLIVE)

Lujan Grisham Creates NM Crime Task Force: NEW MEXICO Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (d) issued an executive order (EO- 2019-34) to create a task force that will target more than 1,600 fugitives charged with violent crimes who have failed to appear in court. The Fugitive Apprehension Unit will be tasked with locating and arresting those individuals charged with violent crimes who have failed to appear for judicial proceedings or have outstanding bench warrants. (NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, KFOXTV [EL PASO])

Lamont Creates CT Workforce Council: Saying “Our education and training system today is too static and disconnected to meet the needs of Connecticut’s 21st century economy,” CONNECTICUT Gov. Ned Lamont (D) issued and executive order last week to create a working group called the Governor’s Workforce Council that will work to streamline the interactions between state agencies and the Constitution State business community. He made the announcement in conjunction with state business, education officials and labor leaders. (WESTFAIR, CONNECTICUT GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

 -- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: SOUTH DAKOTA agrees to not enforce provisions of a Coyote State law that would allow felony prosecutions and fines against those who encourage but don’t participate in protests against oil and gas pipeline construction. The agreement resolves a lawsuit that claimed the law was unconstitutional (RAPID CITY JOURNAL). NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 4347, which bars non-profit corporations from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or against a candidate running for public office (NEW YORK GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). 

Health & ScienceNEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 5091, a bill that requires pharmacies to inform patients whenever a Class 1 recall has been issued for a prescription drug they're taking. The notification, which can be made by phone or mail, must come within three days of the recall. The law takes effect immediately (TIMES-UNION [ALBANY]). Citing ongoing challenges to similar laws in other states, ARIZONA officials announce they will delay plans to require about 120,000 people to work, volunteer or go to school to receive Medicaid benefits (ASSOCIATED PRESS). MICHIGAN Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signs HB 4325, a law that updates the Public Health Code to specify that licensed professional counselors are allowed to diagnose and treat patients. The law resolves a dispute between counselors and the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs that threatened 150,000 Wolverine State residents with the loss of their mental health care (MLIVE).

Social Policy: An OKLAHOMA judge issues a temporary injunction against an impending state law that would make it a felony for doctors to perform medically induced abortions without informing patients that such an abortion may be reversible, a practice that critics say is medically questionable. The law was set to go into effect on Nov. 1 (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY]). NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 748, which allows breastfeeding mothers to delay jury duty for up to two years, provided they present a note from their doctor. The law takes effect immediately (ASSOCIATED PRESS). A federal judge blocks an ALABAMA law that would have imposed a near-total ban on abortion services in the Heart of Dixie. The bill’s supporters plan an appeal, saying their goal has always been to push the case to the Supreme Court of the United State (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Local Front: The NEW YORK City Council approves an ordinance that would establish at least 20 waste collection zones, with service split up between three companies. Those firms would be selected through a city bidding process. There are currently 90 different companies that collect the three million tons of trash and recycling New Yorkers produce each year (AM NEW YORK). Also in NEW YORK, the City Council endorses a ban on foie gras, the fattened liver of a duck or goose, beginning in 2022. The Big Apple joins CALIFORNIA, Great Britain, Israel and India in banning the delicacy over concerns it is a form of animal cruelty (NEW YORK TIMES).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

 

Once Around the Statehouse Lightly

So, There’s That: With all the hubbub over Ukraine, one can be excused for missing this little nugget. Early last month, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky took time off from his busy schedule to hold a press conference. Big deal, you say. Well, it was if you were the poor souls in the press expected to cover it. That’s because, as AFP reports, dude droned on for 12 hours! At eight hours, the Ukraine National Records Agency declared his gabfest the longest press conference in world history, topping the previous record set by some goober in Belarus a few years back. But setting the record wasn’t enough to satisfy the former comedian-turned-pol, who went on and on and on for another four hours. The kicker is that no official international body has confirmed the marathon is actually a record. But hey, as we’ve seen from our own politics these days, facts are in the eye of the beholder.

President Thrifty: Back in the 1970s much was made of then-California Gov. Jerry Brown living in an unfurnished apartment near the Capitol rather than in the opulent Governor’s Mansion he had occupied for a bit as a kid while his dad was governor the decade before. But the famously...uh, frugal...Brown has nothing on incoming European Union president Ursula von der Leyen. As the AFP reports, von der Leyen said she will forgo the snazzy apartment that comes with the job in favor of converting a 270-square foot room next to her office into a sleeping area where she can stay during the week. The move will save the EU folks the cost of additional security that would be needed at a separate apartment. And in case you think this can’t last, von der Leyen also slept in her office during her time as Germany’s defense minister.

You Don’t Say: If you think political language has become coarser and less dignified over the last few years, you’re right. But what about out there in the real world? An argument could certainly be made that things have always been a little vulgar out on the mean streets, but maybe a little less so if a bill in the Massachusetts statehouse becomes law. As Masslive reports, Rep. Daniel Hunt has authored a bill that would impose a $200 fine on Bay Staters that call someone a word that that officially pertains to a female dog. Hunt carried the bill at the behest of a constituent, but that didn’t stop social media trolls from doing what they do best. And because this is 2019 and dignity is a lost art in politics, it also didn’t stop the state GOP from jumping in an encouraging the trolls pile on. And ain’t that a...you know.

 -- By RICH EHISEN