Budget and Taxes

COVID-19 Muddles Medicaid Expansion in OK: The coronavirus pandemic has complicated Oklahoma’s plan to expand Medicaid on July 1. With unemployment claims skyrocketing, the expansion could end up costing $100 million more than previously forecast - $250 million in total, roughly 3 percent of the entire state budget - and the state is now projecting a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) says he still intends to cover the state’s 10 percent share of the expansion through an increase in the Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program (SHOPP) fee, a levy - currently of 2.3 percent - on the annual net patient revenue of 65 of the state’s hospitals.

“I maintain I will not raise taxes on Oklahomans,” the governor said. “This is going to have to be a provider tax, and the Legislature’s still kicking around how to fund that.” (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY])

Las Vegas Planning 25 Percent Spending Cut: The Great Recession of 2008-09 forced Las Vegas to slash spending by 20 percent for several years. With the coronavirus pandemic having shuttered the casinos and other businesses that provide much of the city’s revenue while at the same time increasing its expenses, the city is already looking at a 25 percent cut in its $650 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Las Vegas City Manager Scott Adams said no options are off the table for cutting the required $150 million.

“What we’re doing is looking at everything from using cash to cuts in services to cuts in personnel, and our cuts in personnel would include layoffs,” he said. (LAS VEGAS SUN)

Budgets in Brief:

MN Senate Seeks Shared Authority Over Federal COVID Money: The Minnesota Senate passed a bill that would authorize the Legislature and not just Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) to decide how the state’s federal coronavirus funding - $1.86 billion of which the state has already received - is spent. The House hasn’t taken up the issue, however, putting the proposal in doubt. (MPR NEWS)

COVID-19 Jeopardizing LA Public Defender System: The Louisiana Public Defender Board said the coronavirus pandemic is threatening the solvency of the state’s chronically underfunded public defender system. The pandemic has severely limited access to courthouses across the state, restricting the fines and fees the state’s public defender districts largely rely on for revenue. (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE])

NJ Slams Trump Administration Rules on COVID Aid: New Jersey may have to return some of the $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid it has received, as a result of new rules announced last month by the U.S. Treasury Department requiring states to use that money only for coronavirus-related expenses. Gov. Phil Murphy (D), warning of massive public worker layoffs in his state, including those of teachers and first responders, said he would “fight this to the death.” (NJ.COM)

UT Purchases 20K Doses of Hydroxychloroquine: Utah ordered $800,000 worth of the malaria medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, touted by President Trump as potential treatments for COVID-19, and state lawmakers were considering another $8 million order of hydroxychloroquine, enough for 200,000 doses of the drug, according to records made public last month. Health experts said there was “no rationale for the state to expend precious resources” on a drug that hasn’t been proven to help coronavirus patients, but the state said its aim was preventing shortages of the medication, which is often used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE)

OK Expecting $1.3B Budget Hole: Oklahoma is projecting a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall for next fiscal year due to the coronavirus and the collapse of world’s oil markets. The state has about $1 billion in reserve funds and will receive as much as $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 aid, although the latter can only be spent on coronavirus-related expenses. (TULSA WORLD)

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

NY Democratic Presidential Primary Canceled: New York’s Democratic presidential primary, originally scheduled for April 28, but moved to June 23 because of the coronavirus pandemic, has now effectively been cancelled. Election officials in the state achieved that result last week when they removed every Democratic candidate from the primary ballot.

The move is likely to anger supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont). Although Sanders suspended his campaign in early April, his supporters were reportedly hoping to pick up additional delegates in New York to give them more of a say on the party’s platform.

But Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Doug Kellner said there’s a New York statute that specifically says “that if a candidate has announced that they’re suspending their campaign, that they can be removed from the ballot.”

And Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Andy Spano said: “We should minimize the number of people on the ballot, minimize the election for the protection of everybody...and not have everyone on the ballot just for purposes of issues at a convention.” (POLITICO)

Politics in Brief

LA Settles on Emergency Election Plan: After pushback from fellow Republicans against an emergency election plan proposed last month by Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin’s (R) that would have expanded the number of voters eligible to cast absentee ballots in the state’s July and August elections, Ardoin submitted a new plan to state lawmakers that scaled back the number of reasons voters can qualify for a mail-in ballot. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has indicated he supports the new proposal. (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE])

TX Planning for In-Person Elections: With Republicans who control the state government of Texas blocking efforts to expand mail-in voting for the state’s July 14 primary runoff elections and the November general election, election officials there are considering various options for holding those contests safely during the coronavirus pandemic. Possibilities include using closed banks with drive-thru lanes or parking garages to expand curbside voting, installing plexiglass shields at polling locations and providing each voter with their own pencil. (TEXAS TRIBUNE)

MO Sues China Over Coronavirus: Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the Chinese government, alleging Chinese officials are “responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The suit is unlikely to go far, however, since lawsuits against foreign countries are generally prohibited by U.S. law, according to Chimène Keitner, a professor of international law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

AR Democratic Party to Hold Virtual Delegate Selection Convention: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic Party of Arkansas will hold the nation’s first online state convention for selecting presidential delegates. The details for the virtual convention, through which 36 delegates will be chosen to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in August, have yet to be worked out. (ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

Govs Vary Wildly with Reopen Plans: Amidst mounting economic pressure, governors across the country have announced plans for how and when they will lift emergency orders and allow schools and businesses to reopen. But those plans are in many ways as diverse as the states themselves.

The most expansive reopening plans came in Georgia, Alaska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, most of which began allowing businesses previously deemed non-essential to reopen for business in the last weeks of April. 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) led the way, allowing nail salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys and churches to open for business on April 24th. Peach State movie theaters and restaurants followed suit three days later. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) authorized all of those operations, as well as pet groomers and sporting venues. Both, along with governors in Texas, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, also opened retail stores and, in some cases, shopping malls.

Occupancy in most retail operations and restaurants is limited to 25 percent of capacity, and workers will be required to wear masks and keep at least six-feet of social distancing between them and other employees.

Other governors are taking a slower, more incremental approach. Some of those plans include:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced a four-stage reopening plan where Phase 1, which he said is underway, consists entirely of efforts to safeguard the public. Stage 2 would allow lower-risk businesses (some retail, manufacturing) to resume operation, with higher-risk industries (personal care, movie theaters, churches) waiting for Stage 3. The final stage would allow the highest risk operations (sports and entertainment venues with live audiences) to go forward, but only after this statewide emergency order is lifted.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) also has proposed a four-stage plan, with Stage 2 opening up restaurants and fitness centers and Stage 3 allowing bars to resume operation, possibly in June. Her plan estimates a full reopening – Stage 4 – by July 1.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) unveiled a six-point plan that includes widespread contact tracing and at least two consecutive weeks of declining COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations before he loosens his stay-at-home order.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) is taking a regional approach, saying he will open the state up in increments based on how communities are adhering to federal guidelines. He said he also wants to see that hospitalizations for COVID-19 do not exceed 70 percent of available beds and rates of transmission are staying low.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) said the Hoosier State is offering guidance for how businesses can reopen, but has told business owners to determine for themselves if they are ready to reopen. “If you’re not ready to open, don’t,” he said last week.

“Our goal is, when folks can open, it’s how they open — again, safely — we’d like to see that happen,” Holcomb told reporters. “But we’re not telling anyone to open prematurely.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), meanwhile, issued draft guidelines last Wednesday that list proposed conditions under which businesses could reopen. The proposal includes potentially recording customers’ IDs in case health officials need to trace who came in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus and enforcement of strict social distancing requirements.

And in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said he is extending the Bay State shutdown order to May 18, noting "We have not yet seen the downward trend that virtually every analyst, public health expert and CDC official has said is a critical part of moving to reopen.” Baker also created an advisory board tasked with putting together a plan for a phased reopening of businesses. 

Kemp and other governors who have pushed along at the faster pace have been met with both praise and condemnation, often along the usual party lines. But an independently-developed epidemiological model shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Georgia’s per-day COVID-19 death rate would basically double, from the current 32 per day to 63 deaths per day by August 4 under the new rules. That same model estimates approximately 154,000 total deaths in the U.S. from the disease.

The model’s developer, researcher Youyang Gu, cautioned that the numbers are projections based on how well people adhere to social distancing and other strategies aimed at reducing the spread of the disease. (NEW YORK TIMES, CNN, LOS ANGELES TIMES, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, THE ATLANTIC, ASSOCIATED PRESS, TEXAS TRIBUNE, ALBANY TIMES-UNION, NJ.COM, OREGONIAN [PORTLAND], OREGON GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, NBC NEWS)

CO, NV Join Western States Pact: The governors of Colorado and Nevada announced they have joined their counterparts from California, Oregon and Washington in the newly-formed Western States Pact, a coalition of governors that have pledged to coordinate how their states reopen their economies. The Western States Pact is one of three such coalitions formed by governors around the country. Governors from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Delaware announced their joint effort on April 13, followed a few days later by governors from Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky forming their coalition. (CNN, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, HILL, NEW YORK TIMES)

Governors in Brief:

AZ Order Makes COVID-19 Lawsuits Harder: An executive order issued by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) in April (EO 2020-27) that limits liability for health care workers who care for COVID-19 patients also makes it harder for families to sue health care institutions for COVID 19-related care. Health and legal officials say the order sets a higher bar for civil lawsuits related to COVID-19 care, raising the bar from negligence to “gross negligence or reckless or willful misconduct.” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX])

MA Gov Rejects Trump Immigration Quid Pro Quo: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) pushed back against President Donald Trump’s statement that states will need to make “sanctuary city adjustments” to receive emergency COVID-19 federal relief. Baker said the federal relief to states is supposed to be determined only by the COVID-19 impact on those states, and is not supposed to be tied to immigration policies. “I don’t think it should be driven by something that in the grand scheme of things really doesn’t have much of a relationship to the question at hand here,” Baker told reporters last Wednesday. (BOSTON HERALD)

Whitmer Orders MI Workplace Precautions: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an executive order that requires Wolverine State retail stores to set aside special shopping hours for people over 60, pregnant women and people with health conditions at higher risk if infected by the virus. Employers must also provide workers with face masks, while eateries are prohibited from offering salad bars and self-serve food stations. (MICHIGAN PUBLIC RADIO)

IN Gov Okays Elective Surgeries: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) issued Executive Order 20-24, which allows the resumption of elective surgical procedures in the Hoosier State as long as the health facility has “adopted policies and best practices that protect patients, physicians, and staff.” (INDIANA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

NV Gov Extends Stay at Home Order, Loosens Some Business Restrictions: Saying “Nevadans have done an incredible job at staying home for our state,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) announce he is extending his stay-at-home order to mid-May but is loosening some current restrictions on businesses, including allowing drive-in services at some churches and retail businesses to operate using curbside pickup similar to the kind of pickup systems allowed for restaurants and other eateries across the Silver State. (MYNEWS4 [LAS VEGAS])

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: The WEST VIRGINIA Supreme Court upholds the state’s so-called “right to work” law that bars mandatory union membership as a condition of employment. The ruling overturns a lower court ruling that had struck down the law (ASSOCIATED PRESS). The Supreme Court of the United States rules that the federal government must pay health insurers $12 billion in payments owed to them via the Affordable Care Act’s “risk corridors” program, which aimed to limit the risk insurance companies faced when signing onto online health-care exchanges in their first years of operation (CNBC). KENTUCKY Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signs SB 55, which will create a six-person working group to focus on implementing blockchain technologies in the operation of Bluegrass State services like wastewater treatment, the electrical grid and drinking water supply (YAHOO FINANCE).

Health & Science: MICHIGAN Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issues Executive Order 2020-64, which requires Wolverine State health care facilities to develop protocols that ensure non-discrimination in the event demands for critical health care resources exceed availability. The order also requires facilities to provide sign language interpreters if requested, and to provide those interpreters with appropriate personal protective equipment (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). VIRGINIA Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signs Executive Order 60, which clarifies that health care providers responding to a public health disaster by delivering health care are immune from civil liability for any injury or wrongful death caused by abandonment due to a state of emergency in which the provider is unable to provide requisite care (WHSV [HARRISBURG]).

Social Policy: NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy (D) issues Executive Order No. 128, which allows renters to have their landlords use their security deposits to offset rent or back rent. Tenants will not be obligated to make any further security deposit relating to their current lease agreement, but would still be responsible for any costs landlords face that would have been reimbursable via the security deposit such as property damages (NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). MASSACHUSETTS Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signs HB 4647, a measure that imposes a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in the Bay State until after the COVID-19 shutdown is over. The moratorium runs for 120 days or 45 days until after Baker lifts his statewide emergency declaration (WBUR [BOSTON]). 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Other News, Views & a Riff or Two

CA DOI Issues Order on Biz Interruption Claims: California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (D) issued a memo last month to insurance companies and other California Department of Insurance licensees reminding them they need to comply with their obligations to fairly investigate all pandemic-related business interruption claims. Lara was responding to a wave of lawsuits and complaints from business owners claiming their insurers are wrongfully rejecting claims for losses accrued from the COVID-19 shutdown.

Congressional Bulls and Bears: An analysis by a nonpartisan watchdog group found that Congressional members of both parties have made thousands of lucrative stock trades since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis conducted by the Campaign Legal Center focused on transactions made between Feb. 2 and April 8 of this year. According to that study, a dozen senators made a combined 127 purchases or sales, while 37 House representatives made at least 1,358 transactions. The group did not accuse any members of malfeasance, but said the ongoing trading by senators and representatives in companies that stand to profit from producing treatments, products or technologies related to COVID-19 shows the need for greater transparency.

Governor Bobblehead: If getting your own bobblehead is a sign you’ve made it, then New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers have definitely hit it big. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum announced last week it has added the quartet to its collection, with $5 from each sale going to a fund that supports health care workers. Whether any of them outsell bobbleheads of Drs. Anthony Fauci or Deborah Birx, two of the most recognizable administration figures involved in fighting the COVI-19 pandemic, is to be determined.

Tupac Lives! Few people not named Elvis Presley have lived as long or as big in death as they did in life as has the late Tupac Shakur. But nobody likely ever imagined the late rapper would be the subject of an unemployment beef in Kentucky. But that is exactly what happened recently when Gov. Andy Beshear (D) cited an unemployment claim filed under that name as an example of fraud attempts that are slowing down the system and preventing truly deserving people from receiving their benefits. There was just one problem – the person filing the claim was real, and his name really is Tupac Shakur. The confusion was quickly resolved and Beshear personally apologized to Mr. Shakur, who goes by his middle name, Malik.

- By RICH EHISEN