Budget and Taxes

Airline Job Cuts Increase Pressure for More COVID-19 Relief: Last week, American Airlines and United Airlines announced they would be laying off a combined 32,400 employees. Their decisions have placed more pressure on congressional lawmakers to reach a deal on another aid package for industries and businesses that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines received $25 billion in federal aid under the broad relief package approved by Congress in March. And although they’re in no immediate danger of financial collapse, with air travel down about 70 percent from a year ago and analysts projecting losses of $30 billion for the industry this year, the airlines say they can’t afford to keep paying workers they don’t currently need.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress support additional aid to the industry, but they remain divided on a number of other issues, including how much should be spent overall. The House delayed a vote last week on a $2.2 trillion relief package that had no chance of being passed by the Senate in order to keep negotiations going.

The airlines said they would bring back their laid-off workers if lawmakers reached an agreement within a few days.

“We implore our elected leaders to reach a compromise, get a deal done now, and save jobs,” United said. (WALL STREET JOURNAL)

Budgets in Brief:

Tax Hikes, Borrowing in $32.7B NJ Budget: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a $32.7 billion state budget last week that relies heavily on new taxes and borrowing to plug budget holes created by the coronavirus pandemic. The spending plan includes an income tax increase of between 9.97 percent and 10.75 percent on residents with incomes over $1 million, a 2.5 percent surcharge until the end of 2023 on corporations with incomes over $1 million, an increase in the assessment on HMO’s net written premiums from 3 percent to 5 percent and $4.5 billion in new borrowing. (NORTHJERSEY.COM, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MD Revenue Forecast Looking Rosier: The Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates has revised its May revenue forecasts for the current fiscal year and next fiscal year upward by $1.4 billion and $2.1 billion, respectively, thanks to stronger than expected consumer spending and income tax revenues. But officials said those projections are dependent on the future course of the pandemic and the federal response to it. (WBAL TV [BALTIMORE])

VT Gets Outsized Share of CARES Money: Vermont’s share of the $2 trillion in federal CARES Act money approved in March was $1.25 billion, or about $2,000 for each of its 625,000 residents, second only to Wyoming, at $2,160 apiece for its 578,000 residents. States with populations of 7 million or more received only about $388 per capita. (VTDIGGER [MONTPELIER])

LA Gov, Treasurer Clash Over Small Business Assistance Funds: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has asked legislative leaders to use $150 million from a fund for assisting small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic to bolster the state’s unemployment fund and help local governments. State Treasurer John Schroder (R), who oversees the Main Street Recovery Grant Program and who has clashed with the governor on more than one occasion in the past, said he planned to use all of the $275 million authorized for the program. (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE])

TX Spending $171 to Assist Renters: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced last month the state would be using $171 million in federal coronavirus relief money to assist renters facing eviction due to the pandemic. All but about $4 million of the money will be used to provide rental assistance, with the rest going toward legal services. (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN])

NV Launches Small Business Assistance Program: Nevada has announced a new $20 million Emergency Small Business Recovery Grant Program to help small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The news comes after the state managed to award only $8.5 million of the $20 million allocated for its Commercial Rental Assistance Recovery Grant Program. (NEVADA INDEPENDENT [LAS VEGAS])

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

GOP Remarks About Presidential Election Spur Controversy in PA: Last month the Atlantic reported that a trio of Republican leaders in Pennsylvania, including Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R) and state Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Tabas, indicated that they’d discussed the possibility of appointing their own presidential electors if any uncertainty arose over the validity of the popular vote. The publication also said Tabas had spoken to President Trump’s reelection campaign about the idea.

“I’ve mentioned it to them, and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” he said, according to the article. “I just don’t think this is the right time for me to be discussing those strategies and approaches, but [direct appointment of electors] is one of the options. It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution.”

The remarks only fueled Democrats’ existing fears about Republicans trying to steal the election.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D) called the idea of directly appointing electors “an affront to all voters and our democracy as a whole.”

“Voters must determine our next president,” he said, “not a few Trump loyalists handpicked by Republican legislative leaders.”

State GOP officials released a statement saying Tabas’ comments had been taken out of context in order to manufacture a “pre-emptive farce that projects conspiracy, delay, and even violence onto Republicans.”

And in a series of tweets, Corman said his remarks about the state’s legislature having the authority to appoint electors if the validity of the popular vote was in question were “pure conjecture.”

“I have had zero contact with the Trump campaign or others about changing Pennsylvania’s long-standing tradition of appointing electors consistent with the popular vote,” he said. “The General Assembly is obligated to follow the law and the law is the Election Code, which clearly defines how electors are chosen and does not involve the legislature.”

Dan Baer, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that in 1876 three states sent competing slates of presidential electors to Congress, precipitating a constitutional crisis “because there was no way to deal with it.”

“I don’t think that’s likely but we’re in a moment where if we don’t think through what might happen — part of being responsible is trying to think through the scenarios that could happen even if they aren’t likely,” he said. (PATRIOT-NEWS [HARRISBURG])

Politics in Brief

Judge Rejects Mail-In Voting Challenge in MT: U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen rejected the allegation by President Trump’s reelection campaign and other Republican groups that holding Montana’s November election mostly by mail would lead to widespread fraud. Christensen wrote that the plaintiffs were unable to “point to a single instance of voter fraud in Montana in any election during the last 20 years” and that the use of mail-in ballots in the state’s recent primary hadn’t resulted in “a single report of voter fraud.” (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Appeals Court Hands WI GOP Two Defeats on Absentee Voting in 24 Hours: A panel of three federal judges appointed by Republican presidents ruled last week that GOP lawmakers and parts of the state Republican Party in Wisconsin lacked the authority to appeal a lower court decision allowing the extension of deadlines for absentee voting in the state. The following day the same panel of U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judges blocked the Wisconsin Republicans’ effort to appeal the case to their state’s Supreme Court. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)

Judge Reinstates Straight-Ticket Voting in TX: Last month, just 18 days before early voting for the November election was set to begin in Texas, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo granted a preliminary injunction blocking a Texas law that took effect on Sept. 1 ending straight-ticket voting. The judge said avoiding the long lines that the elimination of straight-ticket voting would cause and thereby reducing voters’ exposure to COVID-19 “outweighed” the “inconvenience” for election officials of having to reprogram the state’s voting machines. (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

Newsom Signs Several First-In-Nation CA Bills: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ended the 2019-2020 legislative session by signing a measure that makes The Golden State the first in the country to require public companies headquartered in the state to have at least one director from an underrepresented community.  The measure (AB 979) requires boards of four or less to have at least one person from an underrepresented community, defined as those who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native by the end of 2021. Boards of four to nine must have at least two such members by the end of 2022, while larger boards must have at least three. Violators face fines of up to $100,000.

It is not the first time California has tried to force corporate boards to become more diverse. In 2018, Newsom signed SB 926, which mandates that boards have at least one woman. That measure is now being challenged in the courts.

The diversity bill was not the only first-in-the-nation measure to garner Newsom’s support. Others included:

SB 852, a bill that pushes the state closer to its stated goal of being the first to have its own line of generic and biosimilar prescription drugs.

AB 793, which requires companies that make bottled beverages to use at least 15 percent recycled plastic in their bottles by 2022.

AB 2043, which calls on the state to conduct an outreach campaign to inform farmworkers on best practices to prevent COVID-19 infection provide information on paid sick leave, workers’ compensation and other coronavirus-related services. The bill was part of a package of bills intended to address the health and well being of agricultural workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AB 2762, which bans the use of 24 toxic chemicals linked to negative long-term health impacts in cosmetics, particularly in women and children

SB 312, a bill that requires companies selling beauty or personal care products in California to report the presence of hazardous fragrance and flavor ingredients in their products to the California Department of Public Health.

Newsom also issued an executive order on September 23rd that requires by 2035 all new cars and trucks sold in California be zero-emissions vehicles. The order applies only to new vehicle sales, and does not bar anyone from owning or operating a gasoline-powered vehicle. California is the first state to adopt such a policy, but at least 15 nations - including Germany and France – have also done so. (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, SACRAMENTO BEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Abbott Shuts TX Voting Drop Off Sites: Saying the state “has a duty to voters to maintain the integrity of our election,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an order declaring that counties can designate only one location to collect completed mail ballots from voters.

The order drew swift condemnation from Democrats, who called it a nakedly transparent effort by Abbott to suppress the vote in large urban areas, which have increasingly trended toward Democrats in recent years. It will, for example, force the closure of 11 of the 12 drop-off sites set up in Harris County, which encompasses 1,777 square miles, including Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Democrat who represents Houston, said Abbott’s action was “about as good an example as we’ll get” for why Texas should again be subject to supervision under the Voting Rights Act.

Officials in Travis County, which had established four sites – said they plan to fight the order. (TEXAS TRIBUNE, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, AUSTIN STATESMAN-AMERICAN)

Governors in Brief

Hutchinson Promises Faster AR Broadband: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced the state is making approximately $200,000 in upgrades to the state’s existing web infrastructure, which will increase broadband speed by five times from 200 kilobits per second to 1 megabit per second by July. He also announced a deal with T-Mobile to provide 18,000 mobile hot spots to Razorback State schools and students. Usage is free for five years and includes 100 gigabits of data per year for eligible households. The state plans to make them available by November. (ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE [LITTLE ROCK], KATV [LITTLE ROCK])

CO Gov Mass Pardons Weed Convictions: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) issued a mass pardon to 2,732 people convicted of low-level marijuana possession in the Centennial State. The pardons were granted to those convicted in state courts through 2012 of up to 1 ounce for recreational use, which is consistent with the law legalizing marijuana use approved by voters in 2012. It will not apply to convictions in municipal court or from other states. (DENVER POST)

MO, VA Govs Test Positive for COVID: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) each tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Both of their wives, Teresa Parson and Pamela Northam, also tested positive. Both governors said they were asymptomatic, while both First Ladies were exhibiting mild symptoms. Parson claimed to have recovered in full by last Wednesday and planned to resume a full schedule on Monday. (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, KSHB [KANSAS CITY])

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs: AB 2149, a bill that bars food delivery apps from arranging deliveries without getting permission from the restaurant or store to take orders from there (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE); AB 1874, which creates the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, which will focus on rooting out unfair, deceptive and abusive financial practices. It authorizes the department to partner with the California Department of Justice to pursue civil penalties and issue cease and desist orders when pertinent (COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICES); AB 2113, which expedites professional licensing for refugees, asylees and special immigrant visa holders by allowing them to apply for expedited professional licensure (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE); SB 1079, which bars sellers of foreclosed homes from bundling them at auction for sale to a single buyer, and allows tenants, families, local governments, affordable housing nonprofits and community land trusts 45 days to beat the best auction bid to buy the property (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE); SB 908, which allows the state to license and regulate debt collectors and debt collection attorneys (STATE NET); SB 1159, which allows there to be a presumption that essential workers who contract COVID-19 were infected on the job and qualify for workers’ compensation. Employers are allowed to contest the workers’ claims (STATE NET); AB 323, which gives newspapers an extra year to evolve their carriers from independent contractors to employees (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE); AB 3075, which bars companies which have committed wage theft from reorganizing as a new entity or hiding their assets to avoid paying fines and their workers (EAST COUNTY TODAY); and AB 2017, which provides that the designation of sick leave taken by an employee to attend to the illness of a family member is at the sole discretion of the employee (STATE NET). Also in CALIFORNIA, Gov. Newsom vetoes SB 980, which would have stablished opt-in privacy rights for customers of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies. Newsom said the measure would have “unintended consequences” (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Education: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs AB 376, a bill that creates the Student Borrower Bill of Rights and provides borrowers with enforceable protections against abusive lending practices, and AB 70 which prevents for-profit colleges from using shell non-profit corporations to skirt state student protections and state regulations. He also vetoes AB 331, which would have made passing an ethnic studies course mandatory for graduating from high school (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE). The PENNSYLVANIA General Assembly fails to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) veto of HB 2787, a bill that would have given Keystone State school boards the ability to make decisions on sports and extracurricular activities, including whether and how many spectators to allow (WTAE [PITTSBURGH]).

Environment: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs AB 1788, which bans the use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, which are known to poison mountain lions and other wildlife, and SB 288, which exempts from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) transit prioritization projects, projects by a public transit agency to construct or maintain infrastructure to charge or refuel zero emission transit buses, and projects carried out by a city or county to reduce minimum parking requirements (STATE NET).

Health & Science: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs SB 852, which requires the state Health and Human Services Agency (CHHSA) to partner with drug manufactures to produce and/or distribute generic prescription drugs – including insulin – under the label Cal Rx; SB 855, which requires commercial health plans and insurers to provide full coverage for the treatment of all mental health conditions and substance use disorders and establishes specific standards for what constitutes medically necessary treatment and criteria for the use of clinical guidelines, and AB 713, which exempts personal information gathered for medical research or information stripped of identifiers linking it to individuals from being regulated by the state’s encompassing data privacy law (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Immigration: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs AB 2788, which bars electric and gas utilities from disclosing a customer's electric or gas consumption data with immigration authorities without a subpoena or judicial warrant. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021 (KPBS [SAN DIEGO]).

Social Policy: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs SB 132, which allows transgender inmates to be placed in prisons based on their gender identity; AB 3228, which requires private detention facilities, including private immigration detention centers, to comply with standards of care and confinement for public detention centers; AB 2655, which prohibits police, firefighters and paramedics from taking unauthorized pictures of dead bodies; AB 1196, which bans the use by police of the carotid restraint; SB 592, which attempts to broaden the demographic makeup of juries by drawing candidates from among everyone who files income tax returns rather than from just registered voters or driver’s license holders; AB 1506, which requires the state Attorney General to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians; and AB 3121, which will establish a nine-member task force to inform Californians about slavery and recommend ways the state can provide reparations (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Local Front: The BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA City Council approves an ordinance that bars grocery stores from selling junk food and beverages at check-out counters and requires them to replace those items with healthy ones instead. It goes into effect on March 1, 2021 (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

News by the Number

1 million: The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 worldwide as of September 28th.

65: Iowa counties with new COVID-19 case rates so high they have been moved into the state’s red zone, meaning they should be closed to all in-class instruction. 

8,100: The number of wildfires in California this year. Those fires have burned 3.9 million acres, taken 40 lives and burned over 7,200 structures.

32,400: The number of employees cumulatively furloughed by United Airlines and American Airlines as federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) funding expired on Oct. 1. American furloughed 19,000 workers, while United furloughed 13,400.

28,000: The number of employees being laid off by the Walt Disney Company at its theme parks in California and Florida. The company cited revenue loss due to shutdowns forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

63 percent: The percentage of U.S. adults who say the government has the responsibility to provide health care coverage for all. That marks a slight increase over last year (59 percent).

92 percent: The percentage of bills deemed “job killers” by the California Chamber of Commerce that have failed since the group began such designations in 1997. In that time, the Chamber has labeled 761 bills that way; only 62 have become law.

46 percent: The percentage of misinformation articles about COVID-19 dedicated to conspiracy theories, according to a new study by researchers from Cornell University. The study also showed the most common thread between COVID-19 misinformation mentions around the English-speaking world was President Donald Trump, noting “Trump mentions comprised 37.9% of the overall misinformation conversation, well ahead of any other topics.”

56 percent: The percentage of Catholics in the U.S. who believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up from 45 percent in 2009.

$1.50: The price of a Costco hot dog and soda combo, which has stayed the same since 1984. The company sold a whopping 151 million such combos in 2019, grossing $226 million. CEO and President W. Craig Jelinek said recently that the company has no plans to raise the price, “End of story.”

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN