Budget and Taxes

CA Considering Novel Pandemic Relief Proposals: Last week California’s Senate unveiled a pair of unconventional proposals for helping the state get through the coronavirus pandemic without incurring the huge debts or resorting to the severe spending cuts that were part of the state’s response to the Great Recession over a decade ago.

One of the proposals is a renter-assistance program that would provide landlords who forgive the rent payments of tenants with pandemic-related financial hardships tax credits equal to the amount of the rent they forfeited. The tax credits would be transferrable, allowing property owners to sell them for cash at any time, and the rental payments made by the state would be reimbursed within 10 years by the tenants who made use of the program.

“This is a substantive proposal that protects those who are struggling to afford their rent and also keeps rental properties from going into foreclosure,” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D). “This equitable strategy will keep people housed.”

The other proposal is a plan that would create a $25 billion economic recovery fund by allowing individual or corporate taxpayers to prepay 10 years’ worth of income taxes at a slightly reduced rate. Participating taxpayers would also receive vouchers to lower their tax burdens from 2024 to 2033.

“It’s really a 21st-century New Deal,” state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D) said. “We’ve got to get money into the system.”

It was unknown how the proposals would fare with the Assembly or Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), but they will be deliberated at the same time that the state is addressing a budget deficit of over $54 billion. (GOVERNING, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)

Small Business Loan Program Boon for Community Banks: One of the elements of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress at the end of March was a program providing forgivable loans of up to $10 million to help small businesses pay their employees and cover other expenses like rent and utilities. Once the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) launched on April 3 - while big banks like Wells Fargo and Citigroup were setting up web portals for the loans - community banks across Wyoming were accepting applications and working long hours to get them processed.

“That first day that the money opened up, we knew we had a long road ahead of us and a lot of work, but it felt good to be able to serve the small businesses in our community,” said Lexi Leckemby, assistant vice president of Platte Valley Bank in Cheyenne.

The trend in Wyoming evidently played out in other states too. In the first round of PPP funding, about 60 percent of the loans approved nationwide went through community banks with less than $10 billion in assets, while 20 percent went through banks with under $1 billion in assets, which account for only 6 percent of total U.S. banking assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. (WYOMING BUSINESS REPORT, WALL STREET JOURNAL)

Budgets in Brief:

Pandemic May Trigger Big Automatic Revenue Cut in CO: Colorado lawmakers may have to cut residential property taxes by almost 18 percent next year - which would make it the second largest tax cut in the state’s history - due to the Gallagher Act, a voter-approved constitutional amendment prohibiting residential property taxes from constituting more than 45 percent of the state’s total property tax revenues. Based on current projections, commercial property values will be down 20 percent in this year’s assessment cycle and oil and gas values will be 36 percent lower because of the coronavirus pandemic, while residential property values will be relatively unchanged. (COLORADO SUN [DENVER])

OK Lawmakers Override Gov’s Budget Vetoes: Oklahoma’s GOP-controlled Legislature overrode the vetoes of multiple budget-related bills (SB 1922, HB 2741, HB 2742 and HB 2743) by fellow Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. Lawmakers were reportedly put off by what they perceived as disdain for the budget process on the part of the governor, as well as major inaccuracies in his veto messages. (TULSA WORLD)

KY Gov’s Office Calls for 12.5 Percent State Agency Budget Cuts: The administration of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has instructed state agencies to prepare for a 12.5 percent reduction in spending the rest of the current fiscal year. The administration did not indicate which specific programs or services would be impacted. (LEXINGTON HERALD LEADER)

Tax Collections Fall 60 Percent in NJ: April tax collections in New Jersey were down $3.5 billion, or 60 percent, from last year, due to impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he expected next month’s result to be equally bad or even worse. (NJ.COM)

Revenues Plunge 46 Percent in IN: State revenues in Indiana fell 46 percent, over $1 billion, last month, compared to April 2019. That’s a significant change from last month, when revenues were down 6 percent, or $70 million, compared to the same month last year. (INDIANAPOLIS STAR)

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

MO Legislature Aims to Do Away With Nonpartisan Redistricting: Missouri’s GOP-controlled General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment for the ballot that would abolish a legislative redistricting process approved by voters in 2018, handing that process over to a nonpartisan demographer, selected by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate.

Republicans said voters were misled when they passed the “Clean Missouri” initiative, which they contend was an effort to increase Democrats’ numbers in the General Assembly that could result in districts that divide communities.

Under the proposed amendment, redistricting duties would be returned to a bipartisan commission that would favor district compactness over “competitiveness and “partisan fairness.”

“Missourians should have a choice,” said Rep. Dean Plocher (R), who sponsored the measure. “Communities must be kept together.”

Some Democrats accused Republicans of playing partisan politics instead of focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s shameful. It’s a disgrace,” said Rep. LaDonna Appelbaum (D). (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH)

Politics in Brief

TX AG Seeks to Block Pandemic-Related Expansion of Absentee Voting: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed a motion with the state Supreme Court seeking to block county election officials from expanding eligibility for mail-in voting to those concerned about their coronavirus risk. Some of the state’s largest and Democratic-leaning counties, including Harris, Dallas and El Paso, are planning to take that action, which Paxton said constitutes an “incorrect reading” of state law. (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN])

SC High Court Considering Absentee Voting Expansion: South Carolina’s Supreme Court heard arguments last week about whether to expand absentee voting there to anyone who feared catching COVID-19, with Democrats favoring that action and Republicans opposed to changing the state’s existing absentee voting requirements. The court hearing was conducted online. (STATE [COLUMBIA])

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

WI Tells Lawmakers to Come Up with COVID Plan: Saying the state Supreme Court has “thrown our state into chaos,” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to end “months of unproductive posturing” and develop a plan to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Evers’ comments came in the wake of the state high court ruling his stay-at-home order was unenforceable and therefore invalid. Republican leaders had challenged an extension of the order issued last month by state Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm, arguing it should have been done through a process that allows them veto powers.

Evers contends his administration’s directives were made in an effort to act as quickly as possible to stem the spread of the virus and were all done at the suggestion of health officials.

“Now we have no plan and no protections for the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said in an appearance on CNN after the court’s ruling.

Republicans who brought the suit asked the court to stay their order for a week in the hope they could work with Evers on an appropriate replacement plan. But the court rejected that plea, meaning that all restrictions on businesses and gatherings imposed by the administration’s order were nullified, with the exception of the closure of schools, which remain in effect until fall.

Evers was expected to unveil a new plan this week. Republicans have to date not announced any plan of their own, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who brought the lawsuit, have given no indication they are working on one.

The 4-3 decision was written by four of the court’s five conservative members - Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, and Justices Rebecca Bradley, Daniel Kelly and Annette Ziegler. The remaining conservative, Justice Brian Hagedorn, sided with the court’s liberal justices, Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet, in opposing the decision.

Hagedorn wrote a highly critical dissent, saying “We are a court of law. We are not here to do freewheeling constitutional theory. We are not here to step in and referee every intractable political stalemate. In striking down most of [the order], this court has strayed from its charge and turned this case into something quite different than the case brought to us.”

The ruling also came one month after Kelly was soundly beaten in his re-election bid by liberal Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky, who doesn’t take her seat on the court until August. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL, CNN, WQOW [EAU CLAIRE])

Noem Jousts with SD Tribes over COVID Checkpoints: After threatening to sue, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appeared more amenable to reaching a compromise with two Native American tribes that put up roadblocks in an attempt to screen out people who might carry the coronavirus into reservation lands. In a letter sent to tribal leaders last week, Noem said she does not oppose roadblocks being set up on tribal lands or Bureau of Indian Affairs roads, but asked the Cheyenne River Sioux, in northern South Dakota, and the Oglala Lakota Sioux, in the southwest corner of the state, to remove those set up on state highways. Tribal leaders said they are considering the governor’s proposal. (SIOUX FALLS ARGUS LEADER, CNN)

Governors in Brief:

Baker Announces MA Reopening Plan: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) unveiled a four-stage plan for reopening the Bay State economy, with Phase 1 set to begin on May 18. The governor said he would reveal which businesses can reopen on that date, with decisions “based on the trajectory of public health data.” The Bay State has seen a slowing of new COVID-19 infections, but its death total essentially doubled in the last two weeks, topping 5,100 as of last Monday. (NEW YORK TIMES, BOSTON GLOBE)

Wolf Threatens Sanctions Against PA Lockdown Violators: Calling them “selfish and unsafe,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) threatened to block emergency funds from counties and businesses that choose to open up in violation of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. “Discretionary funding will go to those places that are doing everything they ought to do to keep their citizens safe,” Wolf said. (TRIBLIVE, SPOTLIGHT PA)

Cuomo Ordered to Offer Sign Language in NY Briefings: U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni ordered New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to feature live “in-frame” American Sign Language interpretation at his daily coronavirus briefings that are broadcast on cable television networks and live-streamed on the internet. Advocates for the deaf filed suit in April, arguing that Cuomo was the only governor not providing interpretation during their COVID-19 updates. (ALBANY TIMES-UNION)

Herbert Signs UT Emergency Action Bill: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs HB 3005, a bill that requires the governor to give at least 24 hours-notice to lawmakers ahead of an emergency declaration or order. The measure also gives lawmakers the power to terminate a gubernatorial order or declaration. (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE)

Scott to Poll VT Businesses on Masks: In the face of complaints from grocery workers, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) said he will ask the Vermont Retail and Grocery Association to survey their members to see if they would like to see masks be mandatory for customers. Workers have complained that they are required to wear masks but customers are not. (VERMONT DIGGER)

NM Gov Makes Masks Mandatory: New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced new health orders that require all residents to wear masks when out in public. The governor also announced a “slight reopening” of businesses in some regions of the state, with those allowed to resume operation required to limit customer occupancy to 20-25 percent. (LAS CRUCES SUN NEWS)

Reeves to End MS Eviction Moratorium: Saying “We need to recognize that housing doesn’t just grow on trees,” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said he is lifting the moratorium on residential evictions as of June 1. He said the moratorium could be reimposed if there is a new wave of COVID-19 infections. (BILOXI SUN-HERALD)

Ige Rejects HI Loan Proposal: Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) rejected a lawmaker’s proposal to create an emergency, repayable state loan program to allow unemployment applicants to get expected payments upfront. The plan was offered as a way to help more than 90,000 unemployed Aloha State residents to receive assistance while their claims are bogged down in a bureaucratic backlog. Ige rejected the proposal, saying “All of our efforts and resources are focused on clearing up the backlog of unemployment claims.” (HONOLULU CIVIL BEAT)

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: The MINNESOTA Senate endorses SB 4511, a bill that would allow Gopher State businesses to re-open as long as they follow specific safety guidelines. The measure moves to the House (ASSOCIATED PRESS). MICHIGAN Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issues EO 2020-79, which allows teenagers to mail, email, fax or submit their work permits online rather than submitting them in person as previously required(MLIVE). NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy (D) issues EO No. 142, which will allow nonessential retail businesses to reopen for curbside pickup and the resumption of nonessential construction (NJ.COM). IOWA Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) issues a proclamation that allows salons, barbershops, and massage and tattoo parlors to re-open. The order also extends partial reopenings of restaurants, libraries and fitness centers to the entire state (DES MOINES REGISTER).

Education: MINNESOTA Gov. Tim Walz (D) issues Executive Order 20-52, a directive that allows higher education students studying for critical industry sectors and in their final semester to return to their campuses for necessary in-person exams.

Health & Science: NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announces that Empire State hospitals will no longer be allowed to discharge patients to nursing homes unless the patients test negative for COVID-19 and the staff of the facility they are going to is also being tested at least twice a week. Cuomo said any facility that cannot care for someone sick with the coronavirus for any reason – including a lack of supplies or an inability to maintain social distancing – must transfer that person to another facility or hospital, or risk losing their license (ALBANY TIMES-UNION). NORTH CAROLINA Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signs SB 704, which greatly limits liability for all acts and omissions by all health care employees, providers, and facilities during the COVID-19 emergency declaration period (JD SUPRA). The MASSACHUSETTS Senate approves HB 4672, which would require the state Department of Health to report daily data on resident and staff COVID-19 cases at facilities licensed by state agencies. It returns to the House (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE). MINNESOTA Gov. Tim Walz (D) signs SF 1098, which requires drug makers to provide a detailed rationale to the state for any large price increases on drugs that cost $100 or more for a 30-day supply (MINNESOTA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Social Policy: MINNESOTA Gov. Tim Walz (D) signs HF 745, which sets the legal age for marriage at 18 (MINNESOTA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Local Front: The NEW YORK CITY Council approves four measures aimed at supporting the struggling Big Apple restaurant industry: a 20 percent fee cap on third-party delivery services; suspension of the city’s ability to collect sidewalk licensing fees for restaurants through February 28, 2021; temporary suspension of personal liability clauses in restaurant leases; and a ban on delivery platforms charging restaurants for phone calls that don’t result in a delivery order. The quartet of measures move to Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) for consideration (EATER [NEW YORK]). LOS ANGELES Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) announces that all residents will be required to wear a face mask when they leave their homes. The mayor’s order exempts children and people with certain disabilities (LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS). WASHINGTON D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser extends her stay-at-home order for the District to June 8. She also reiterates that all residents need to wear a mask when outside unless they can maintain adequate social distancing (WTOP [D.C.])

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Other News, Views & a Riff or Two

AGs Want COVID Info from Amazon: Thirteen state attorneys general have asked Amazon to supply them with information on the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths among its workers. The AGs also pressed the retailer for details of health and safety measures Amazon and Whole Foods Market have implemented, and evidence that the companies have complied with state paid sick leave laws. Amazon has approximately 935,000 employees worldwide. The AGs of Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania want the company to provide state-by-state information on infections in those states. (SEATTLE TIMES, FORBES)

NV Gig Workers Sue for CARES Funds: Two self-employed workers in Nevada have filed suit seeking to be able to receive federal coronavirus relief payments made available to gig workers in the federal CARES Act. The Silver State is the only one which has not been accepting applications from its gig workers for those payments. The state said it is working on the issue and hopes to have a website where workers can file applications up and running by Memorial Day. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Kemp Polling Badly in GA: A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows only 39 percent of Peach State residents approve of how Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has handled the COVID-19 crisis. Sixty one percent disapproved. The highest marks were earned by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who are at 86 and 81 percent approval respectively. 

NCSL Summit Cancelled: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of every kind of large public gathering, and this week the axe fell on the National Conference of State Legislatures Annual Summit, the nation’s largest yearly gathering of elected officials, staff, consultants and other political figures. The Summit was scheduled for Aug. 10-13 in Indianapolis, and NCSL Executive Director Tim Storey said he had held out hope for months things could go on as planned. But with no end in sight to mandated social distancing restrictions, it became clear that holding an event which regularly attracts several thousand people would be untenable. It marks the first time in 45 years that NCSL will not hold the Summit. It is also a heavy fiscal blow to both NCSL and the city of Indianapolis, but Storey said the group is already planning to return to Circle City in 2023.

And Then There’s This Guy: There’s gotta be one in every crowd. In the giant coronavirus pool that is America, that guy appears to be Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. As AL.com reports, Marsh wants to take federal coronavirus relief funds – money the feds sent the states to help them with the unprecedented expenses of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic – to...wait for it...refurbish or replace the Heart of Dixie State House. Because there’s nothing quite as fun as taking free money meant to deal with an emergency and using it on something totally unrelated! But to be fair, he conceded that a new statehouse is actually a lower priority than using the money to expand broadband around the state. Because what a guy.

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN