Budget and Taxes

NJ Finally Moves Forward on State-Owned Bank: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed an executive order last week providing for the creation of a 14-member board to oversee a state-owned bank, a centerpiece of Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign. The bank would be owned by the state’s taxpayers and invest millions of dollars in New Jersey communities, with any bank profits going to the state budget.

“I still believe in the ability of public banks owned by the people of New Jersey to be a force for good in helping small businesses succeed, in providing student loans at affordable rates and opening lines of credit to municipalities needing long-term infrastructure and affordable housing,” he said before signing the order.

Little progress has been made on the bank since Murphy took office. The governor explained that although the “concept is a simple one, turns out executing it is harder than we like.”

“As you no doubt know, we’ve had a few other issues pressing up against the glass since we took office," he said. “But the time is right — right now — to assess how New Jersey taxpayer dollars can be invested in New Jersey through a public bank.”

If the state does manage to get the bank up and running, it would be only the second state-owned bank in the country and the first to be established in 100 years. North Dakota opened the only existing such bank in 1919. (NJ.COM)

VA, MD Partnering to Address Capital Beltway Bottleneck: Virginia and Maryland have agreed to share the billion-dollar expense of expanding the American Legion Bridge, which spans the Potomac River between Fairfax County, Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland.

The bridge has been one of the Capital Beltway’s worst traffic bottlenecks for years, but nothing has been done about it because Maryland, where most of the bridge resides, has said it didn’t have the money to pay for a renovation, and Virginia has said the bridge is Maryland’s responsibility.

But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced the accord at a regional transportation forum in Washington, D.C. last week.

“Together with our partners in Virginia, we are building a foundation for even greater economic growth, greater opportunity for our citizens and advancing real, lasting, transformative improvements for the entire Washington metropolitan region,” Hogan said.

Both states said the new bridge, which will have eight free lanes like the current bridge but four express toll lanes as well, will be built through public-private partnerships, with toll payers footing the bill rather than taxpayers. Construction is slated to begin in 2022 and be completed within five or six years. (WASHINGTON POST)

Budgets in Brief:

OR Facing Big Wildfire Mitigation Costs: OREGON will have to spend $4 billion now to mitigate its wildfire problems, according to a report from the Council on Wildfire Response appointed by Gov. Kate Brown (D). The report said alternatively the state will be forced to spend billions of dollars a year on the comprehensive costs associated with wildfires, including those from property damage, lost economic productivity, health impacts and harm to ecosystems. Those costs are 11 times higher, on average, than the costs of fighting the fires, which can run about $500 million alone in a big year. (OREGONIAN [PORTLAND])

Federal Healthcare Funding Change Will Cost MN, NY Millions: MINNESOTA and NEW YORK will lose a combined $151 million in 2019 as a result of a change in the formula used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide funding for the Affordable Care Act’s Basic Health Program. The states are the only two that currently receive that funding. (MINNPOST [MINNEAPOLIS])

VT Auditor Slams Remote Worker Incentive Program: VERMONT State Auditor Doug Hoffer (D) issued a report last week critical of the state’s Remote Worker Grant Program, which reimburses workers up to $10,000 to move to the state. Hoffer argues the program has a “serious structural flaw” in that at least some of the grants go to those who were already planning to move to the state and even to those who have already moved there. (SEVEN DAYS [BURLINGTON])

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

New MI Secretary of State Supports Changing Jim Crow-Era Election System: Mississippi Secretary of State-elect Michael Watson (R) said last week he would push to change the state’s Jim Crow-era election process for statewide offices. That process, written into the state’s Constitution in 1890 to help ensure that political power remained in the hands of whites, requires candidates, in order to win a race, to receive not only a majority of the popular vote like most other states do, but also a majority of the state’s 122 House districts. If no candidate in a particular contest manages to do so, the Mississippi House decides the winner.

A federal judge refused to block the system from being used in this month’s election in connection with a legal challenge. And there were concerns that the state’s competitive gubernatorial race between Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who ultimately prevailed in the race, might be competitive enough for the system to come into play.

Still Watson said he was “definitely supportive of moving away from the current system.”

“We’re the only ones that do it [like this], and that’s got to change,” he said.

That change would have to be initiated by the Legislature and approved by voters. (CLARION-LEDGER [JACKSON])

RI Municipalities Sue State Over New Public Employee Contract Law: Mayors and administrators of over a dozen Rhode Island communities have filed a lawsuit challenging a law enacted this year by the state’s Democrat-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) locking in wage and benefit levels in public employee union contracts indefinitely when those contracts expire.

The city and town leaders say the “financially irresponsible lifetime contracts law″ puts them at a disadvantage in contract negotiations.

“Cities and towns across Rhode Island continue their strong opposition to a new law that allows the automatic continuation of municipal contracts for employees, eliminating the need for negotiations,” stated an advisory from the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL)

Politics in Brief:

Women Chosen to Lead VA House For First Time: The VIRGINIA House of Delegates’ newly elected Democratic majority have chosen Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D) as speaker and Delegate Charniele Herring (D) as majority leader. They will be the first women and the first Jewish American and African American, respectively, to hold those posts in the state. (WTVR [RICHMOND])

Lawsuit Could Deactivate 234,000 WI Voters: Over 234,000 WISCONSIN voters identified as possibly having moved could become ineligible to vote in the state’s April presidential primary and November general election, as a result of a lawsuit alleging state law requires the deactivation of those who failed to respond to an October mailing from the Wisconsin Elections Commission within 30 days. Wisconsin is a key swing state that President Trump won in 2016 by less than 23,000 votes. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WA Affirmative Action Ballot Measure Defeated: Supporters of WASHINGTON’s affirmative-action measure, Referendum 88, conceded defeat last week. With nearly all of the ballots counted, the measure was losing by about 15,000 votes, well over the 2,000-vote limit for a mandatory recount. (SEATTLE TIMES)

PA County Resisting Call To Upgrade Voting Machines: Dauphin County, PENNSYLVANIA may not heed Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) call for counties to upgrade their voting systems ahead of the 2020 election. Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries (R) said he likes the county’s current machines, especially given the paper jams and long lines reported in counties that used new machines in this month’s election in the state. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK


SF Also Moving Toward Creating Public Bank: North Dakota is currently the only state to have created a public bank, which it did way back in 1919. But momentum for more is growing at both the state and local level.  

The latest effort was launched last week in New Jersey, where New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) ordered the state to develop a plan for implementing the idea. (See Budget & Taxes in this issue)

But Murphy is just following the lead of California, where in October Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation (AB 857) to allow certain local governments in the Golden State to establish public banks. Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors became the first municipality to take on the task, introducing legislation to create a nine-member public bank task force. Their report on how to get it done is due next June.

Assemblymember David Chiu (D), who co-authored AB 857, cheered on the proposal.

“The vision of public banks is that our public monies should be invested in industries and communities that have a public purpose,” he said, noting that that public funds “should be invested in local communities, local infrastructure, local housing, not be used to line the pockets of the most wealthy Wall Street banks.”

A similar ballot measure failed last year in Los Angeles, but that was before Newsom signed off on AB 857. That measure’s organizers, Public Bank L.A., have since merged with the San Francisco public bank group to form the California Public Banking Alliance, a coalition that includes eight more California cities seeking to form public banks of their own. (NJ.COM, INSIDER NJ, BURLINGTON COUNTY TIMES, SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER)

Remote Location Causing Low Turnout at Abbott’s TX Homeless Camp: A new temporary homeless camp fostered by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is so far not doing much to alleviate the growing homelessness problem in Austin. A week after the camp was opened at a former maintenance yard for TxDOT vehicles in East Austin, advocates for the homeless say barely a dozen people had taken advantage of the facilities. The problem, they say, is that the location requires users to take a bus ride to get there and is too remote and removed from other services often used by the homeless population. The camp is intended to be a stopgap solution until a more permanent solution can be found. (KXAN [AUSTIN])

Governors in Brief:

Cuomo Threatens NYC Utility: NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) threatened to revoke the license of a utility that provides gas to New York City and Long Island unless it begins providing natural gas to new customers on Long Island. Cuomo also vowed to take legal action against the utility National Grid, which placed a moratorium on natural gas hookups earlier this year, claiming it couldn’t keep up with demand for gas service after the state denied a permit for a new pipeline slated to run under New York Harbor from Pennsylvania. (NEW YORK TIMES, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Evers Issues WI Anti-Discrimination Order: WISCONSIN Gov. Toney Evers (D) issued Executive Order No. 59, an order that creates the Governor’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion, tasked with advising the governor on ways to promote equality in the Badger State. The order directs all state agency employees, including the governor, to undergo mandatory training in cultural sensitivity and systemic racism and requires state agencies to set equity goals and review their workplace policies. (WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO, WISCONSIN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Former Govs Re-Enter Political Fray: After over 10 years away from the executive office, former UTAH Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) announced he is running to garner a third term as the Beehive State governor. His announcement came at roughly the same time former MASSACHUSETTS Gov. Deval Patrick (D) revealed he would join the crowded field seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Patrick served as the Bay State governor from 2006 to 2014; Huntsman Jr. served as Utah’s top man from 2004 to 2012 (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)

Newsom Vows No CA High Speed Rail Diversions: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told the Fresno Bee editorial board he would vigorously oppose any attempts by Southern California and Bay Area legislators to take money from the state’s controversial high-speed-rail project and divert it to rail systems in their region. (FRESNO BEE)

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: The Supreme Court of the United States allows a lawsuit filed by parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School victims to move forward at the state level. The suit alleges that the Remington Arms Co. marketed the military-style rifle used in the mass shooting “for use in assaults against human beings.” The ruling upholds a CONNECTICUT Supreme Court ruling from last March that determined Remington can be sued because of the way the AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle was marketed (USA TODAY). 

Education: Reacting to increasing illnesses and deaths related to vaping, the UTAH Board of Education passes emergency regulations allowing schools to ban electronic cigarettes and vaping devices. The measure also permits schools to create rules to confiscate, destroy or turn over vaping supplies to law enforcement when students bring them to campus (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE).

Energy: The CALIFORNIA Public Utilities Commission votes unanimously to order an investigation into the intentional blackouts by Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities that left millions of Golden State residents statewide without power over the course of several days in October. The PUC said the query will “investigate whether California’s investor-owned utilities’ actions to de-energize their electric facilities during hazardous weather conditions properly balance the need to provide reliable service with public safety” (SACRAMENTO BEE).

Health & Science: The MASSACHUSETTS House approves HB 4183, which would make the Bay State the first to completely ban the sale of all flavored vaping and tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. The measure moves to the Senate (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE [BOSTON]). Also in MASSACHUSETTS, the Senate unanimously approves SB 2397, a bill that would limit consumers' out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $25 a month, require pharmacies to notify consumers when a prescription drug is available at a lower price and authorize the state Health Policy Commission to analyze the price of drugs that cost more than $50,000 a year per patient or fall on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. If the HPC determines the value of the drug is lower than its manufacturer price, the agency would be empowered to work with the drug maker privately to lower cost, with the estimated value becoming public if the manufacturer does not cooperate. The measure moves to the House (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE).

Social Policy: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the WISCONSIN Legislature can’t intervene in a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood over laws that prevent Badger State nurses from performing abortions and limit the ability of women to obtain medications that induce abortions. The ruling allows the state attorney general to solely defend the laws (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL).

Local Front: The DENVER City Council approves a regulation that will allow residents to leave a restaurant with an alcoholic beverage during special events. The ordinance applies to events held in pre-determined common areas such as where streets are closed to traffic (CBS [DENVER]).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Once Around the Statehouse Lightly

Not Right Enough: How bad is our current political discourse? Oh, it’s bad. Case in point today comes from California, where Donald Trump Jr. tried to have a promotional stop for his new book. (I know what you’re thinking – wouldn’t it better if he maybe read one? Yes, but that’s a different subject.) As the Washington Post reports, Don the Younger was all prepared to fend off waves of flaming liberals who he says hate him and want him silenced. And he was right – the hecklers were out in force. Alas, the jeers were not from those dreaded libs, but rather a group of folks who are somehow even further to the right than the son of the guy who thinks Nazis are very fine people. And why were they booing him? Because he said he wouldn’t be taking questions. And why not? Fear of being harassed by leftists! You can’t make this stuff up.

Diggity Dank Diplomacy: In his effort to become an American citizen, Canadian-borne rocker Neil Young figured honesty was the best policy. That included answering truthfully about his marijuana usage. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, honesty may not actually have been the best policy. Changes in immigration law enacted under long-gone U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions contend that weed smokers might “lack GMC (Good Moral Character), even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state or foreign laws.” Whether that ultimately nixes Young’s chances at becoming a citizen 60 years after he moved to the U.S. remains to be seen. But wouldn’t it be nice if GMC was a requirement for some of the people currently making these decisions.

Speaking of GMC: One would presume that includes not spending money that isn’t yours to spend, a lesson apparently lost on former California Assemblymember Joe Canciamilla. As the East Bay Times reports, Canciamilla – the county’s top elections official - recently resigned after admitting he spent more than $130,000 in campaign cash on personal needs and wants, including a trip to Asia and some remodeling of a home in Hawaii. Worse, Canciamilla tried to cover it all up by claiming they were all legit political expenses. Uh, no. After giving up the charade, he agreed not only to resign but to repay the money and pay an additional $150,000 penalty. Which ought to be the least we taxpayer types should expect.

East Coast Stupid: For all of its positives, there’s no denying that California also has its share of problems. It’s expensive to live here, the ground moves a lot, water can be scarce and, as the last few years have shown, wildfires are a constant threat. All of which is apparently joyous news to the folks at the Wall Street Journal, who love to push headlines declaring the Golden State unlivable. While that likely pleases California haters, it is also a giant steaming pile of pasture muffins. And while we would never question the WSJ’s understanding of basic civics, a recent claim that Gov. Gavin Newsom “ordered Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate oil companies for allegedly overcharging consumers and price-fixing” is silly at best. As Cal Matters reports, California AGs are independently elected and definitely do not answer to the gov. So maybe we will challenge their civics cred.