Budget and Taxes

TX Voters Approve Constitutional Income Tax Ban: Last week Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure making it more difficult to impose an income tax in the state. The measure, Proposition 4, authored by Rep. Jeff Leach (R), asked voters if they supported adding a prohibition against a state income tax to the Texas Constitution. With nearly three quarters of voters responding in the affirmative, imposing a state income tax in Texas will now require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and a statewide vote to amend the state’s Constitution again.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) applauded the result.

“Today’s passage of prop 4 is a victory for taxpayers across the Lone Star State,” he said. “I am grateful to Representative Jeff Leach for his bold leadership on this issue, and for the overwhelming majority of Texans who voted to ensure that our great state will always be free of a state income tax. This ban on such a disastrous tax will keep our economy prosperous, protect taxpayers, and ensure that Texas remains the best state to live, work, and raise a family.”

Other fiscal-related measures on the state’s ballot that also appeared to have won approval include Proposition 3, providing a temporary tax break for property damage in governor-declared disaster areas; Proposition 5, allocating revenue from the sales tax on sporting goods for state parks; and Proposition 8, setting aside $800 million from the state rainy day fund for flood infrastructure. (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN], BALLOTPEDIA)

Mixed Results on Tax Ballot Measures in CO: Democrats who control Colorado’s General Assembly suffered a big defeat last week with the failure of Proposition CC, a ballot measure that would have allowed the state to use revenue surpluses for education and transportation instead of returning that money to taxpayers as required by the 1992 voter-approved Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR).

Democrats, who blame TABOR for the persistent underfunding of the state’s schools and roads, had referred Prop. CC to the ballot. Voters rejected it by a margin of 54.2 percent to 45.8 percent.

The result is in keeping with other proposed tax increases in the state, most of which have been rejected by voters.

“Tonight’s outcome reflects an important and continued trend,” said Michael Fields, executive director of Colorado Rising Action, a conservative advocacy group. “At their core, Coloradans remain fiscally prudent.”

The Democrats shared a victory with Republicans on another ballot measure, Proposition DD, legalizing and providing for the taxation of sports betting in the state. Despite being endorsed by leaders of both parties and facing little organized opposition, the measure passed by only a narrow margin, 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent, possibly because its ballot language characterized it as a tax increase. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, DENVER POST)

Budgets in Brief:

ME Voters Approve Transportation Funding: MAINE voters approved $105 million in bond funding for transportation projects, primarily the overhauling of the state’s roads and bridges. The bond money will be matched by $137 million in federal and other funding. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Public Pensions Can Benefit from Cost-Sharing Mechanisms: Research by The Pew Charitable Trusts has found that state public retirement systems that employ strong cost-sharing mechanisms, like those in TENNESSEE and WISCONSIN, tend to be among the most well-funded. Such mechanisms include cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) that vary with a pension plan’s funding level and variable contribution rates that divide costs between employers and employees.

School Construction Top Priority for MD Dems: Democratic leaders of the MARYLAND General Assembly announced last week that their top priority for next year will be a plan to provide $2.2 billion to local governments to help pay for public school construction, legislation they said will be designated House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1. A similar measure was passed by the House but stalled in Senate this year. (BALTIMORE SUN)

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK


Politics and Leadership

VA General Assembly Turns Blue: Democrats picked up two seats in Virginia’s Senate and six seats in the state’s House in last Tuesday’s election, giving them 21-19 and 55-45 majorities in the two chambers, respectively. With Ralph Northam (D) already occupying the governor’s office, Democrats will now have full control over the state’s government for the first time since 1993.

“I’m here to officially declare today, Nov. 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue,” the governor told supporters in Richmond.

The party was helped by high turnout in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, as well as by new House districts, which were redrawn after federal judges declared several old ones to have been racially gerrymandered.

The shift in party control could lead to big policy changes next year, including gun restrictions, an increase in the state minimum wage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

“It wouldn’t really be an exaggeration to say that we could have the most progressive regime we've had in Virginia’s government history,” said J. Miles Coleman, the associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a newsletter put out by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics that provides nonpartisan election analysis. (FIVETHIRTYEIGHT, USA TODAY)

Blue Wave Misses NJ: Republicans appear likely to have picked up a Senate seat and between two and four Assembly seats in New Jersey in last week’s election. Those gains won’t be enough to dislodge Democrats’ hold on the state’s Legislature, given their 25-15 majority in the upper chamber and 54-25 majority in the lower one going into the election. But the results contradict those in other states like Virginia where Democrats made significant gains.

The Senate contest the Republicans won, in New Jersey’s 1st District, was the only one on the ballot. Although the district leans conservative and voted for Donald Trump in 2016, it was represented by a Democrat, Sen. Bob Andrzejczak, prior to Election Day. Andrzejczak lost his reelection bid to Republican Mike Testa, cochair of President Trump’s reelection campaign in the state.

Republicans reportedly got their base out by focusing on the president’s popularity in the district, as well as residents’ opposition to the congressional impeachment inquiry.

“Impeachment has hardened the partisans,” said Benjamin Dworkin, director of Institute of Public Policy at Rowan University in Glassboro, and “partisanship probably boosted Republican turnout.” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER)

Politics in Brief:

Jersey City Voters Affirm Airbnb Regs: Voters in Jersey City, NEW JERSEY’s second-largest municipality, overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure upholding new regulations on short-term rentals. Nearly 69 percent of voters supported Municipal Question 1, despite the fact that Airbnb spent $3 million trying to defeat it, making it the most expensive municipal referendum in the state’s history. (NJ.COM, BALLOTPEDIA)

NYC Approves Ranked-Choice Voting: New York City will start using ranked-choice voting for primary and special in 2021, as a result of voters overwhelming approval of Ballot Question 1. The city will be the most populous one in the country to use the system, which will allow voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference, instead of choosing just one. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, BALLOTPEDIA)

Affirmative Action Measure Trailing in WA: Two decades after banning affirmative action in the state, WASHINGTON voters appeared to be rejecting the policy again last week. Referendum 88, providing for the implementation of affirmative action in education, public employment and government contracting, was losing 49.4 percent to 50.6 percent late Thursday (Nov. 7) but the margin was narrowing. (SEATTLE TIMES, BALLOTPEDIA)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK



Two Dozen Govs Pledge Support for Paris Climate Accord: A group of more than two dozen governors pledged last week to continue upholding the tenets of the 2015 Paris climate accord even if President Donald Trump successfully pulls the U.S. out of the agreement.

In a statement released by the U.S. Climate Alliance – a coalition of governors and unincorporated self-governing territories committed to battling climate change around the world established in 2017 – the governors called Trump’s pledge to end America’s participation in the Paris agreement “the wrong policy.” They further noted that their states represent “more than half of the U.S. population and an $11.7 trillion economy, collectively equating to what would be the third largest national economy in the world after those of the United States and China.”

The group – comprised of three Republicans and 22 Democrats – urged the Trump administration to reconsider its exit, saying “the United States led the world in forging this strong, historic Agreement, and the United States should support the Agreement, not abandon it.”

The Paris accord’s goal as established in 2015 is to keep the annual global rise in temperature at “well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. Average temperatures have risen by 1.8 degrees since the late 1800s, and scientists expect that trend to worsen, leading to numerous potentially catastrophic environmental problems.

The U.S. had pledged to reduce its production of national greenhouse gas emissions by about a quarter from 2005 levels by 2025. But the U.S. is just one of many major industrialized nations not on track to reach their stated reduction goals.

Although each nation is allowed to set its own emissions reductions goals and determine how it will reach them, Trump has long claimed the accord is unfair to America. He has further claimed it to be a massive transfer of wealth from the U.S. to other nations. 

The withdrawal is not a certainty at this point. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave official notice of intent to leave the agreement last Monday, the first day it was possible to do so under the terms of the accord. That process takes one full year to be considered complete, meaning it would do so on Nov. 4 2020, or one day after the next U.S. presidential election.

To date, 197 countries have signed on to the Paris accord, with only Syria and Nicaragua failing to do so. Thirteen of the those which did sign on – Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, Suriname, Turkey, and Yemen – have not yet ratified the agreement. (NEWSWEEK, NPR, WASHINGTON POST, BALTIMORE SUN, U.S. CLIMATE ALLIANCE)

Kemp Plan Would Conditionally Expand GA Medicaid: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) unveiled a plan to expand Medicaid in the Peach State, on the condition that new recipients pay monthly premiums and spend at least 80 hours a month working, volunteering, training or attending school. The expansion would be open to uninsured adults who earn no more than the federal poverty level of $12,500 a year.

“This is not a free handout. Hardworking Georgians who qualify will have skin in the game,” the governor said of his proposal. “It is a path forward toward higher earnings, better opportunities and a healthier future.”

The Trump administration would need to approve the plan for it to go into effect. But the courts could weigh in first. Similar work requirements have recently been blocked from being implemented in Arkansas, Utah and Kentucky.

The proposal is the second part of a plan Kemp introduced last week. The first part would allow residents to use Affordable Care Act subsidies toward short-term and association health plans, which are usually cheaper than plans found in health benefits exchanges but which also provide much less coverage. The Trump administration would also need to approve that plan. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, PBS, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

Governors in Brief

Stitt Signs Off on Record Number of Commutations: Adhering to recommendations from the state Pardon and Parole Board, OKLAHOMA Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signed off on the release of over 450 Sooner State prisoners, the largest single-day commutation in history. The Board had reviewed the cases of 814 low-level non-violent offenders, sending 527 to Stitt for approval. Stitt agreed to 462, all of whom were released last Monday. The releases are expected to save the state around $12 million a year. (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY], TULSA WORLD)

VA House Flip Boosts Northam Agenda: With Democrats now set to gain control of both legislative chambers, VIRGINIA Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said he would move forward on a number of agenda items previously blocked by Republican control of the Old Dominion, including raising the state minimum wage, greater gun control, and more workforce training. (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, VIRGINIA MERCURY) 

Lee Vows ‘Clarity’ with TN Rural Grants: TENNESSEE Gov. Bill Lee (R) said he is confident that a $4 million grant provision in this year’s $38.55 billion budget will move forward as soon as regulators develop greater transparency guidelines for how groups are awarded those dollars. Democrats have charged that the money is a “slush fund” created by then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R) before his forced resignation over unrelated matters. Lee said he anticipated “that money being spent on rural development grants and opportunities to improve communities.” (GOVERNING)

KY Reeps to Bevin – Show Proof or Concede: Several of KENTUCKY Gov. Matt Bevin’s (R) GOP colleagues urged him to either produce evidence of the voting “irregularities” he has alleged in last Tuesday’s election or concede to Gov.-elect Andy Beshear (D). With 100 percent of the votes in, Beshear holds a 5,189 vote lead over Bevin, who has claimed thousands of absentee ballots were miscounted but who has yet to show any proof to support his claim. “The best thing to do, the right thing to do, is for Governor Bevin to concede the election today so we can move on,” said Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who represents Louisville. (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL)

SD Taxpayers Foot Legal Fees for Noem’s ‘Riot Booster’ Law: SOUTH DAKOTA Gov. Kristi Noem (R) announced that her administration’s failed effort to defend its so-called “riot booster law” – which allowed the state to sue pipeline protestors - will cost taxpayers $145,000. The ACLU challenged the law, and a settlement was reached in October after a U.S. District Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. The settlement included the state paying the ACLU’s legal fees. (ARGUS LEADER [SIOUX FALLS]).

-- Compiled By RICH EHISEN


Hot Issues

Business: Responding to the 2017 amusement park accident that killed one and seriously injured seven more, OHIO Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signs HB 189, which will require Buckeye State officials to adopt an amusement ride classification system to help identify which rides need more comprehensive inspections; set rules governing a minimum number of inspectors and inspections; give hiring preference for inspectors who hold national certifications; require more detailed maintenance and repair records from the ride owner; and mandate that ride operators share any safety warnings with the state’s chief inspector (WHIO [DAYTON]).

Health & Science: The FLORIDA Senate Committee on Innovation, Industry, And Technology approves SB 172, which would block local regulation of over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics, including all sunscreens. The bill, which would grant that power solely to the state, is now in the Senate Rules Committee (ORLANDO SUN-SENTINAL, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Social Policy: The OHIO Senate approves two abortion measures: SB 155, a bill that would require doctors to inform women about the option to reverse a medication abortion, a claim not supported by the medical establishment, and SB 208, which would require doctors to report when a child is born alive after an attempted abortion. Both measures move to the House (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER). The OKLAHOMA Supreme Court grants an injunction barring a law that bans dilation and evacuation abortions after 14 weeks unless a “fetal demise” procedure is performed first. The injunction will stay in effect while a case challenging the law is in the courts (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY]).

Local Front: The City of LOS ANGELES temporarily suspends rideshare company Uber’s permit to rent electric scooters and bicycles on city streets and sidewalks. The suspension comes over a dispute between the city and Uber over a city regulation that requires scooter companies to transmit real-time data on all trips made within the city, including the start point, end point and travel time (LOS ANGELES TIMES).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Once Around the Statehouse Lightly

Fakebook on Steroids: The world’s most popular social network is coming under a lot of criticism these days for, well a lot of things. But top on the list is Facebook leader Mark Zuckerbeg’s response to claims his network fosters and even encourages a daily gusher of lies from politicos around the world. And that response? A yawn and a “so what” shrug. The Vulcan-like Zuckerberg says his platform will not only do nothing to screen out “fake news,” it will also continue to run paid political ads even if they contain outright lies. That sparked a California man named Adriel Hampton to announce a gubernatorial campaign with the sole platform of running outrageously dishonest ads. Hampton figured his plan would force Facebook to change its policy. But as CNN reports, Facebook banned Hampton’s ad instead. Because of course it did. And the rest of the intentionally dishonest ads? The beat goes on.

When in Doubt, Call a Celebrity: Celebrities inserting themselves into political debates is nothing new. And on occasion it even helps! Case in point comes from the Land of LA, where the Hollywood Reporter informs us that a simple-retweet from A-list actor Josh Brolin has helped a Santa Monica councilman to see the light. As the story goes, said council member Ted Winterer has been drawing the ire of a community advocate calling himself Santa Monica Problems, described as a provocative Twitter and Instagram account dedicated to “crime news” and “other issues plaguing the City of Santa Monica.” Winterer responded by blocking SMP, which then had a Twitter fit of its own. Brolin then stepped in, re-posting SMP’s response. That prompted Winterer to unblock the account. In a sit-down with the HR, he conceded he is “somewhat of a klutz” on social media and thought SMP was a troll. To his credit, he was smart enough to realize that blocking such folks is never going to go your way, especially when a famous person appears to be on their side.