Budget and Taxes

Cuomo Blocking NY Dems Push for Taxing Rich: Progressive Democrats in the New York Legislature have been pushing for years to raise taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents, but they’ve been blocked from doing so by Republicans, who until recently controlled the state’s Senate. Now, with Democrats in command of both chambers and the coronavirus only exacerbating the state’s fiscal problems, the biggest obstacle to taxing the rich may be the state’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

A growing number of Democratic lawmakers say the state must tax the wealthy to protect services for its neediest citizens.

“We are playing with fire: These are people’s lives,” said Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D), cosponsor of a bill (SB 8277) that would tax the capital gains of residents with $1 billion or more in net assets. “It is not OK to not act.”

Cuomo, however, said such a tax would increase the already high burden on the state’s highest earners without solving the state’s fiscal crisis. The state is facing a $14.5 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year, and the governor has asked congressional leaders for $59 billion to cover deficits projected for the next two years.

“I don’t care what you increase taxes to, you couldn’t make up that deficit,” he said. “We need the federal government to assist in doing that.” (NEW YORK TIMES, STATE NET)

Budgets in Brief:

Last Fiscal Year Better Than Expected in MD: Maryland took in $18.6 billion in general fund revenues last fiscal year, 2.4 percent more than the year before and just half a percent, or $102.2 million, less than projected for fiscal 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic hit. In May state officials predicted a shortfall of as much as $1 billion. (BALTIMORE SUN)

ID Revenue Collections Beat Forecast Again: For the second month in a row, Idaho took in more revenue than expected, with collections 13 percent, or $37 million, above forecast for August. Gov. Brad Little (R) attributed the positive results in part to conservative budgeting and the loosening of regulations. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Pandemic Not Increasing Bankruptcies in HI: The shutdown of Hawaii’s economy due to the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t led to an increase in bankruptcies, according to data from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Hawaii. The number of cases filed in August (109) was 22.7 percent lower than the number filed in the same month of last year (141). (HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER)

 --Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

TX Doctors Push for Insurance Payment Reform: With many people avoiding visits to their primary care physicians and specialists during the coronavirus pandemic, doctors’ office revenues have plunged. Meanwhile, some large health insurers have posted big profits. Now a physician trade group in Texas is asking state lawmakers to change the way state-governed health plans pay doctors.

“Multiple insurers have made record profits, and their good fortune with corona[virus] is done on my back, in a sense,” said Dr. Erica Swegler, an Austin-based family physician.

Under the current “fee-for-service” system, doctors bill insurers for each service they provide, like an office visit or an immunization. Under the terms of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians’ “Primary Care Marshall Plan” - an allusion to the massive spending program undertaken by the United States after World War II to help rebuild Europe - insurers would pay doctors a set monthly “prospective payment” for each of their patients.

“Just as the aftermath of war offers an opportunity to rebuild, the devastation COVID-19 wrought on our health care system and our economy gives us the opportunity to rebuild a better, more cost-effective system of care,” the physician group’s plan states.

The group, which has almost 10,000 members, wants other changes as well, including new state laws making it easier for doctors to be paid for telemedicine visits and expanding the state’s Medicaid program to lower the state’s uninsured rate and raise the number of paying patients. (TEXAS TRIBUNE (AUSTIN), TEXAS ACADEMY OF FAMILY PHYSICIANS)

Politics in Brief

GA Appeals Extension of Absentee Ballot Deadline: Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has appealed the recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross requiring absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted, nullifying a Georgia law allowing ballots to be counted only if they are received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. The case will be heard by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION)

Trump Campaign Narrows Challenge to NV Mail-In Voting Law: The reelection campaign of President Trump has narrowed its focus in a lawsuit challenging a new Nevada law expanding mail-in voting for the November election. The Trump campaign is now specifically targeting a provision of the law (AB 4) allowing ballots received up to three days after Election Day to be counted if their postmark isn’t clear. (NEVADA INDEPENDENT [LAS VEGAS])

AZ High Court Rebuffs Online Signatures for Ballot Measures: The Arizona Supreme Court ruled this month that ballot measure petitions must be signed with a pen and paper. Four ballot measure campaigns had filed suit earlier in the year seeking the authority to collect voter signatures online due to the coronavirus pandemic. (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX])

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK


What Now for CA Gig Workers? California employers have a new set of employee classification rules to adapt to after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation that greatly expands exceptions to the state’s rules for determining independent contractors.

The bill Newsom signed, AB 2257, modifies legislation the governor signed last year (AB 5) that implemented the so-called “ABC test” for determining a worker’s employment status. Under that law, employers could consider a worker an independent contractor only if

  1. The worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact;
  2. The worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
  3. The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

The measure sparked a furious pushback from those seeking to be included in the many exemptions the law granted to a wide range of workers and industries. Those initial exceptions included several health care practitioners – including doctors, dentists, and psychologists – as well as insurance agents, stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and real estate agents.

The new bill adds a plethora of occupations to the exempted list, including insurance underwriters, fine artists, real estate appraisers, home inspectors, freelance journalists, recording artists, and songwriters. Musicians were added for single-show events, unless those events are of a certain size.  

It also significantly alters the law’s business-to-business exemptions, growing it to include employers who are a public agency or a quasi-public corporation. There are also exemptions now in place for single-event B2B engagements and businesses that refer a contractor to their clients.

Noticeably absent from the new set of exemptions is anything to preclude a requirement that rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers as employees. The companies have joined together with other gig companies to fund a ballot measure (Prop 22) to specifically exempt them from the law. (JD SUPRA, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, STATE NET, BALLOTPEDIA)

Ige Unveils $100 Million HI Rent Relief Plan: Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) announced a $100 million program to help Aloha State renters harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic from being evicted from their homes. Under the federally-funded proposal, renters at certain income levels who became fully or partially unemployed due to the pandemic could be eligible for up to $2,000 per month in rental assistance.

Eligible people would have to have an income at or below the median income for their area. In Honolulu, for instance, the median annual income for a family of four is $125,900.

The program is funded by a portion of the Federal CARES Act. Rental payments will be made directly to landlords. (HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER, HAWAII GOVERNOR’S OFFICE) 

Noem Pitches Tourism Campaign Amid SD COVID Spike: Ignoring a major spike in COVID-19 infections, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said she will use $5 million in federal CARES money to fund a tourism ad campaign to attract visitors to the Coyote State. The campaign, which uses Noem’s voiceover, comes as the state has experienced a 126 percent increase in COVID-19 cases. Noem also disputed a new study that said the annul Sturgis motorcycle rally that went off last month could lead to over 250,000 new cases, saying the study’s authors “made up some numbers and published them.” (CBS NEWS, SOUTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH)

Governors in Brief:

MI Gov Amping Up Security: Citing “an explosion” of threats against her, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said the state-owned residence she and her family live in will get a $1.1 million security upgrade. Although a Whitmer spokesperson called the work “routine maintenance and upgrades,” they will also include a new eight foot tall fence around the property’s perimeter. (FOX NEWS)

Cuomo Okays Resumption of Limited NYC Indoor Dining: Citing the city’s ongoing reduction in positive coronavirus cases, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said New York City restaurants would be able to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity at the end of this month. Cuomo said he is hoping to increase the allowance to 50 percent by November. The plan drew criticism from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, who wanted assurances those eateries could be shut down again if virus cases increase. (REUTERS, POLITICO)

OR Gov Recall Fails: Oregon Republicans failed for the second time in two years to gather enough signatures to put a recall measure against Gov. Kate Brown (D) before Beaver State voters. (STATESMAN-JOURNAL [SALEM])

Scott Issues VT Police Reform Order: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) issued Executive Order No. 03-20, which calls for a wide-ranging number of policing reforms in the Green Mountain State. Among several things, Scott called for police to work with communities to improve hiring and training practices, develop a statewide policy on the use of police body cameras and limit the use of surveillance technology to only that which has already been explicitly approved under state law.(VERMONT GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, MILTON INDEPENDENT)

Baker to Let MA Arcades Open: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced he would issue an executive order allowing the opening of indoor and outdoor arcades as soon as next week. Arcade owners have threatened litigation over Baker’s requirement that they stay closed while Bay State gambling casinos have been allowed to resume operations. (MASSLIVE.COM).

 - Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: U.S. District Court Judge Gregory H. Woods rejects a recently-adopted rule by the U.S. Department of Labor that raised the bar for employees of franchisees and contractors to win a judgment against the parent company if the establishments violated minimum-wage or overtime laws. The ruling came in a suit brought by a coalition of 18 state attorneys general. Woods said the rule was arbitrary and capricious (NEW YORK TIMES). FLORIDA Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vetoes SB 810, legislation that would have banned flavored vape products, raised the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products to 21 and created some regulations around the sale of vape products through the mail (ORLANDO SENTINEL). NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 8617b, which requires all public employers to create plans to adequately protect workers in the event of another state disaster emergency involving a communicable disease (NEW YORK GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs AB 1867, a budget trailer bill that extends paid sick leave to workers at companies with 500 or more employees and public and private employers of first responders and health care employees who opted not to cover their employees under federal law (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Education: NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announces that Empire State colleges will be required to report coronavirus cases to the state Department of Health if they have more than 100 COVID-19 cases in a two-week period. His directive further requires primary school districts to report COVID-19 testing results daily (ALBANY TIMES-UNION). CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs AB 736, which exempts “an employee employed to provide instruction for a course or laboratory at an independent institution of higher education” from age and hours provisions of Golden State employment law (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Environment: The VERMONT House and Senate each endorse HB 688, a bill that would legally mandate the state meet carbon emission reductions targets in the coming years and allow individuals to sue the government if it fails to do so. The measure, which would require the state to achieve a 26 percent reduction from 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, moves to Gov. Phil Scott (R) for consideration (BURLINGTON FREE PRESS).

Health & Science: The OHIO Senate approves SB 348, a bill that would allow local boards of health to reject state Department of Health orders during periods of emergency. The measure, which would require that rejection to come via a two-thirds vote, moves to the House (MORGAN COUNTY HERALD).

Social Policy: The VIRGINIA Senate gives initial approval to SB 5030a, a major police reform bill that would, among several things, prohibit law enforcement officers from using choke holds or any deadly force  “unless it is “immediately necessary to protect the law enforcement officer or another person...from the threat of serious bodily injury or death.” It must survive one more vote to move to the House (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH). The VIRGINIA Senate rejects HB 5013, a House-approved measure that would have allowed lawsuits by people who claim police have violated their constitutional rights to move forward in state court, ending the qualified immunity that often protects police from liability (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Local Front: The PORTLAND, OREGON City Council unanimously approves an ordinance barring the use of facial-recognition technology by all city departments — including local police — as well as public-facing businesses such as stores, restaurants and hotels (CNN). CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs AB 2782, which allows for local rent control regulations to apply to long-term space leases in mobile home parks (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

News by the Number

$12.2 billion: The estimated spike in COVID-related public health costs due to the Sturgis, South Dakota motorcycle rally held in August.

$1.1 trillion: The dollar figure of home loans issued in the U.S. between April and June, according to mortgage-data firm Black Knight Inc.

55 percent: The percentage of social media users who say they are “worn out” by political discussions on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

52 percent: The percentage of U.S. 18-to 29-year-olds reported to be living with their parents in July, the highest percentage since the Great Depression.

772: The number of James Madison University students and faculty who tested positive for the coronavirus just nine days after the university started in-person classes.

191,802: Total COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. as of September 11, 2020, over 60,000 more than the next hardest hit nation, Brazil.

2.5 million: The number of acres lost to wildfires so far this season in California, almost 20 times the acreage lost at this time last year.

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN