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Updated: 5 hours 19 min ago

Minnesota ramps up job production, but some see its economy as underperforming

11 hours 20 min ago

Recent rosy statistics paint Minnesota as outpacing its neighbors in job production over the past year and bearing down on unemployment, but others see a sputtering economy that’s beset by troubling tax policies.

Minnesota in 2016 added more than 32,000 people to its workforce, according to newly released data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is more than double the performance of similarly sized Wisconsin, which added 15,420 to its employment rolls over the same time period.

And Minnesota’s unemployment rate decreased to 3.7 percent in May, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) reported last week. Minnesota also saw the number of jobs in the state cut by 7,200 in May, but this follows gains of more than 28,000 jobs in the three previous months.

Dave Senf, a projections analyst with DEED, credited the state’s jobs performance to a highly diversified economy, a well-educated workforce and a strong performance by the farming sector before a recent agricultural price drops. And he downplayed the elimination of 7,200 jobs last month.

“It’s not a concern unless it occurs for six months straight,” Senf told Illinois News Network. “It bounces around.”

Other observers, however, say the recent numbers mask troubling trends and public policies in the state.

John Phelan, an economist with the Center for the American Experience in Golden Valley, views the state drifting toward less productive employment as fewer people enter high-tech industries. In addition, less investment capital is flowing into the state, Phelan said.

“Labor forces are becoming more and more weighted to these less productive jobs,” he told Illinois News Network, pointing to expansion in the state’s health and education sectors, which tend to generate less gross domestic product growth overall.

And although some in Minnesota credit the state’s education system with helping to provide a skilled workforce, Phelan sees the possibility of skill shortages in the future due to a mismatch between the labor supply and the labor demand.

“We have an awful lot of people going off to liberal arts colleges,” he said, adding that there are more liberal arts students than there are jobs available for them.

But Phelan acknowledged than manufacturing was a bright spot in the state economy. The May figures from DEED showed that manufacturing jobs were up by 800, while mining and logging jobs increased by 100.

“Minnesota taxes its manufacturing sector quite lightly,” he said.

Much of the mining and logging activities take place in the northern part of the state, which is one of the most economically depressed areas of Minnesota, and past federal policy decisions have limited those types of economic activities, Phelan said.

“The Obama administration effectively outlawed mining in the north of Minnesota,” he said, adding that the Trump administration may reverse those restrictions.

Mike Hickey, Minnesota state director for the National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB), also doesn’t see the state as a business paradise. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers published in 2016 showed Minnesota at No. 30 in job growth and No. 32 in personal income growth, he said.

“Those are pretty bad stats,” Hickey told Illinois News Network.

NFIB members in the state complain that Minnesota’s overall tax structure is actually slowing job growth, he said. At 9.85 percent, the state’s personal income tax rate – which most small businesses pay – is the fourth highest in the nation, according to Hickey, and the state’s estate tax has also pushed residents to move elsewhere.

In addition, the commercial property tax is not competitive with other states, he said, and many business owners express concerns about being able to find qualified employees to fill positions.

Small businesses are also bracing for a vote by the Minneapolis City Council to increase the minimum wage there to $15, as compared to the statewide minimum of $9.50 an hour, according to Hickey. The result might be an increase in business labor costs that will hurt small restaurants in the city, he said.

“A lot of them may go out of businesses,” Hickey said.

Another concern in the state’s labor market is racial disparity, according to Oriane Casale, assistant director of DEED’s Labor Market Information Office. Employers need to be more conscious of the problem and lead by example, Casale said.

“If they are not hiring a diverse workforce, that is impacting the state overall,” she told Illinois News Network.

Some labor shortages are also occurring as the unemployment rate moves downward, Casale said. But the workforce has been buoyed by immigrants from other nations coming into the state and filling in-demand positions, such as personal care aides.

“Our real hope is not necessarily migration from other states but migration from other countries,” she said.

 

Colorado in focus: Banning kids from smartphones is a truly dangerous idea (column)

11 hours 24 min ago

The Denver Post column: Banning kids from smartphones is a truly dangerous idea

As a childless adult, I sometimes poke fun at those of my friends and colleagues who took the procreation plunge. A favorite (and admittedly silly) line of attack involves suggesting that childrearing does something horrible to their brains.

Even freedom-loving nonconformists can become some of the biggest worriers and nannyists once they’re on the hook for making sure the little buggers grow up safe and proper.

Look, I get it. Raising children in our high-tech, super-connected world presents a host of challenges. I bow in respect to those who manage it well.

But still. This nannyist thing. We’re seeing it now big time in Colorado. Tim Farnum, an anesthesiologist and father of five, seeks to give voters the chance in 2018 to ban children 13 and younger from using smartphones. I do not question that Farnum is sincerely trying to help. The man is so good-hearted he grew concerned — after already raising older children — that smartphones were making his preteens surly.

The Daily Camera: Supreme Court takes on Colorado same-sex couple wedding case

The case asks the high court to balance the religious rights of the baker against the couple’s right to equal treatment under the law. Similar disputes have popped up across the United States.The justices said Monday they will consider whether a baker who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds can refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.The Supreme Court is taking on a new clash between gay rights and religion in a case about a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in Colorado.

The decision to take on the case reflects renewed energy among the court’s conservative justices, whose ranks have recently been bolstered by the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the high court.

The court will review a Colorado court decision that found baker Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminated against the gay couple under Colorado law.

Denver Post: Colorado is home to 4 of the 15 best small vacation towns in the country

If you think Colorado’s mountain towns make ideal weekend getaways, you’re in good company.

Four Colorado mountain towns made U.S. News & World Report’s list of the 15 Best Small Towns to visit in the USA. The magazine’s travel rankings are based on an analysis of expert and user opinions. Each town on the list includes information about best hotels, airfare deals and things to do.

Sonoma, in the heart of one of America’s best wine-making regions, tops the list.

ABC 7: Donor to GOP: No cash until action on health care, taxes

At least one influential donor has informed congressional Republicans that the “Dallas piggy bank” is closed until he sees major action on health care and taxes.

Texas-based donor Doug Deason has already refused to host a fundraiser for two members of Congress and informed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his checkbook is closed as well.

“Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed,” Deason said in a pointed message to GOP leaders. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”

Indeed, there was a sense of frustration and urgency inside the private receptions and closed-door briefings at the Koch brothers’ donor retreat this weekend in Colorado Springs, where the billionaire conservatives and their chief lieutenants warned of a rapidly shrinking window to push their agenda through Congress and get legislation to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Pennsylvania in focus: In towns already hit by steel mill closings, a new casualty: retail jobs

11 hours 25 min ago

New York Times: In towns already hit by steel mill closings, a new casualty: retail jobs

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Dawn Nasewicz comes from a family of steelworkers, with jobs that once dominated the local Pennsylvania economy. She found her niche in retail.

She manages a store, Ooh La La, that sells prom dresses and embroidered jeans at a local mall. But just as the jobs making automobile springs and rail anchors disappeared, local retail jobs are now vanishing.

“I need my income,” said Ms. Nasewicz, who was told that her store will close as early as August. “I’m 53. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Ms. Nasewicz is another retail casualty, one of tens of thousands of workers facing unemployment nationwide as the industry struggles to adapt to online shopping.

Philadelphia Inquirer: More talk, but no Pa. budget deal

It’s crunch time in the state Capitol.

Pennsylvania legislators returned Monday facing a race against the clock to strike a deal on a state budget for the fiscal year that begins this Saturday. Nothing much was moving.

Disagreements over how much to expand gambling continue to dominate talks, with a top Senate Republican on Monday saying the key sticking point is whether the state should allow up to 40,000 bars, restaurants and other establishments with a liquor license to legally install “video gaming terminals” (VGTs), or slots-like machines.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre) said Republicans who control the House of Representatives are insisting that any gambling expansion proposal include VGTs, but that there is still resistance in his caucus to such a move.

Patriot News column: Pa. needs stronger regulation of the regulators

Rather than have an honest conversation about Pennsylvania’s regulatory landscape and my legislation (SB561), the Rev, Mitchell Hescox chose polarization and hyperbole in his recent PennLive Opinion piece “Wolf, state House should reject this illegitimate power grab.”

Hescox opposes holding unelected state regulators accountable to the consent of the governed, through their elected representatives, for imposing major rules and regulations. He invokes God and the Bible to mislead and frighten, shamefully raising the preposterous specter of acid rain and birth defects to convey his radical objection to my bill.

The legislation simply says that no regulation with an economic impact to state and local taxpayers and the private sector exceeding $1 million could be imposed without approval of the General Assembly and Governor.

My bill is not retroactive nor does it repeal any existing regulations. Instead, the legislation provides a way to move forward with increased oversight of the regulatory process while better protecting Pennsylvania residents from burdensome regulations that no citizen, or their elected representative, voted to enact.

Florida in focus: Marco Rubio has the president’s ear on Latin America

11 hours 26 min ago

Miami Herald: Marco Rubio has the president’s ear on Latin America

Donald Trump has a distaste for the State Department and its legions of diplomats tasked with crafting the nation’s foreign policy.

So when it comes to Latin America, the CEO-turned-president is listening to a man he derided on the campaign trail a year ago: Marco Rubio.

It was Rubio who set up a White House meeting with Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez. After the meeting Trump tweeted his support for Lopez, a public rebuke of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

It was Rubio who helped draft a changed Cuba policy in recent weeks, culminating in Trump’s first presidential visit to Miami to fulfill a campaign promise to the conservative Cubans who helped him win the White House.

Tampa Bay Times editorial: Tampa Bay’s Disciples of Darkness

They are Tampa Bay’s Disciples of Darkness. These 12 Florida House members consistently voted this year to keep more public records secret and allow public officials to discuss the public’s business in private. They all received D’s in a legislative scorecard on open government produced by the Florida Society of News Editors. Even those low grades are generous, because Florida’s government-in-the-sunshine laws would have been gutted if all of the terrible bills they voted for would have become law.

These 12 Tampa Bay legislators, who happen to be all Republicans, aren’t alone. The FSNE scorecard handed out three F’s (none in Tampa Bay), 77 D’s, 71 C’s and 9 B’s. But these 12 shared the same disappointing voting records. They all voted to allow two members of any school board, county commission or city council to meet in secret to discuss public business without any public notice or record of what was said. That is illegal now, and it would have taken government into the dark back rooms of 50 years ago.

These lawmakers also voted to take searches for university and college presidents out of the sunshine and keep them secret until the very end, which would have made it impossible to evaluate whether the best candidate was selected. And they voted to keep secret all criminal records in any case where no charges are filed, prosecutors drop the case or the defendants are found not guilty in court. That would mean families could not find out if child abuse charges against their babysitter were dropped, or if their accountant was found not guilty of fraud charges.

The House failed to get the required two-thirds vote to allow public officials to meet in secret, but it passed the bill concerning searches for college presidents.

NBC News: Florida’s billion-dollar drug treatment industry is plagued by overdoses, fraud

For the first responders who found her lifeless body one October morning, 24-year-old Alison Flory was yet another casualty of addiction here on the front line of Florida’s opioid crisis.

To her family, she was a daughter, a beloved sister, a goofy bookworm who made them laugh and a young woman they desperately hoped would get help. She had arrived in South Florida from Illinois just more than a year before she died, seeking treatment for her addiction. Her parents believe it is that treatment, paid for by her family’s excellent insurance, that ultimately got her killed.

“It haunts me,” said Scott Weber, Alison’s stepfather. “She trusted in people that she shouldn’t have trusted in.”

“And we told her to trust those people,” said her mother, Jennifer Flory.

Thousands of addicts arrive here each year from Ohio and West Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, hoping that at one of South Florida’s many drug treatment centers, they’ll find recovery. And some do.

But an investigation by NBC News has found that many of these vulnerable patients have become grist in an insurance fraud mill.

Haupt: Only we can cure D.C.’s swine flu

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:53

 “It is interesting back in 2011, shortly after the swine-flu epidemic broke out; Congress enacted an earmark moratorium that would supposedly put an end to pork-barrel spending.”

– Jenny Reed

The phrase “pork-barrel spending” derives from the antebellum period. Plantation owners would give barrels of salt pork to their slaves, who fought with each other for a share. The term acquired its derogatory connotation after the American Civil War. References to “pork” became common in Congress as representatives competed for Reconstruction dollars. By 1919 the National Municipal Review started scolding Congress for passing legislative acts and referencing them as “pork barrel bills.” And today it is common practice in Congress. Pork-barrel coupling is politely called earmarks added to the federal budget as “appropriations.”

“Being willing to donate the taxpayers’ money is not the same as being willing to put your own money where your mouth is.”

– Thomas Sowell

Due to an influenza epidemic in 2009, referred to as “swine flu,” people worldwide stopped eating pork. Although this merging of human and animal strains proved non-transmissible by consuming pork, sales tanked. By the end of 2009, the pork industry suffered a $98 million loss, and was forced to hit back. Through costly advertising, they revealed facts to disprove this fiction. They convinced The Center for Disease Control to inform the public they were erroneously informed. The CDC issued an obsequious retort: “We have concluded pork has no relationship to this influenza. We’ll refer to it as H1N1 from now on.” Pork industry spokesman Bill Brier cried foul! “Calling this influenza ‘Swine flu’ damaged us needlessly. We’ve spent millions to convince people these claims were bogus.”

Unlike Congress’ 2011 earmark moratorium on pork-barreling, the pork industry’s reputation was deceptively damaged. But consumers found out “facts” out-weighed fables and this was not just lip service to regain loyalty. On the other hand, Congress has been preaching for years about cutting back on ear-marked favors for everyone. Yet, their claims are shallow promises made to impress a disenchanted electorate. Each year as session opens, they chant the same redundant song. This makes fiscal conservative voters furious for not dropping the hammer on them. But every time their state requests more money to bail them out in a trade for votes, those freeloading off federal dollars cry foul. It’s easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.

“American government has turned into a cow that gives more milk the more it’s kicked in the flanks by special interests.”

– Drew Rusk

Everyone blasts Congress for their inability to control spending. They are more reckless with our tax dollars than a driver is at the local demolition derby. But far few discern the federal government operates from a reactionary podium. They jump higher than a kite flies in an Oklahoma tornado when those most influential to their benefit desire more tax dollars. Their actions reflect the will of special interests and those most venerable to treasury favors. In 2016, there were over 200 earmarks, an increase of almost 50 percent over 2015. This was disconcerting, hitting voters far below the belt!

“Who is in charge? Is it taxpayers or is it the special interest groups?”

– Scott Walker

Pork-barrel spending is alive and well in Washington, D.C., despite their fabled claims of denial. The most frequent argument in favor of earmarks is they help pass critical spending bills. However, in the past, many members of Congress have voted for excessively costly legislation because they have received an earmark for their constituents or an avid party supporter. Don’t let anybody fool you. Congress takes their marching orders from those closest to them. That does not exclude the states eager to endorse federalism in trade for their votes.

“Balanced budget requirements seem more likely to produce accounting ingenuity than genuinely balanced budgets.”

– Thomas Sowell

“Porking-out” on American tax dollars creates more losers than winners. The losers are the public taxpayers while the winners hide in the halls of chamber. This increases the deficit, with additional funding, by attracting votes for costly legislation that barely passes the scrutiny of the CBO. This interferes with democracy by eclipsing the wishes of the voters and fuels distrust in government. It’s hard for voters to determine which legislators benefit and the ones that don’t in a system that openly incorporates “earmarks” referred to as “appropriations.”

“The problem with earmarks is Congress does not tell you the ear they are marking it from is the innocent porker.”

– John Pope

Nothing is more abused than the U.S. Transportation Authority and our states infrastructure. Donald Rumsfeld told us, “you go to war with the transportation system you have, not the system you might want.” We are currently committed to funding highways, light rail train lines, rural roadways, and even monorails that will be obsolete before they are completed. Yet last year, Americans traveled over 4 trillion miles by car, 700 billion by air, and more than 400 billion on the good old-fashioned bus. Passenger rail was a distant last with only 7 billion miles! Yet the transportation lobbyists are chomping at the bit for federal money for state projects nobody wants or will ever use.

“Wishful thinking is not idealism. It is self-indulgence at best and self-exaltation at worst.”

– Thomas Sowell

American taxpayers have great hopes in President Trump, who promised to “trump” the spending of the previous administration. And his new transportation bill demonstrates he is serious despite the wieners and criers in the states. Barack Obama blew over $150 billion in tax dollars on his green energy hoax that netted us a negative energy output. He subsidized solar and windmills, like the ones lying in the sand in the California desert with taxpayer money to the tune of a $40 billion average a year during his rocky tenure. These massive subsidies did nothing to increase the use of solar power or energy production but it sure made Al Gore ecstatic. Blasé taxpayers watched his pet projects fail as 88 percent went belly up.

“Never waste a crisis when it can impact climate change.”

– Hillary Clinton

Pork-barrel spending is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig and calling it “appropriations.” It will never be contained; just masqueraded and renamed. And while we are preoccupied blaming Congress for not being able to live within their means, they are only reflecting the requests from those who whimper the loudest and do the most for them. Special interest groups and above all state lobbyists are eager to bury us in debt. Today, legislation is so laden with unrelated political handouts that many members of Congress don’t know what they are voting for. And those that do defend this secretive splurging claiming it is for the benefit of the general population.

“You can never bail someone out of trouble without putting someone else into trouble.”

– Dr. Arthur Laffer

Magic Johnson said, “The best doctors and medicine can’t save you if you don’t do what they tell you.” We have witnessed many medial miracles such as vaccinations for ailments like polio and pneumonia. And every year scientists develop new inoculations against influenza. But none have conjured up a cure for government swine flu. Even the best witch doctors and voodoo chiefs are clueless. This is beyond their wisdom. The only cure for swine flu is Election Day. We must elect healthy politicians instead of those infected with swine flu or susceptible to it. Congress’ manifestos to cure swine flu are like putting a Band-Aid on a malignant melanoma. James Madison warned us in 1782 : “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

 

 

 

Pennsylvania in focus: What you need to know about Pa.’s budget deadline talks

Mon, 2017-06-26 07:35

Patriot News: Cigarettes, gambling and jobs: What you need to know about Pa.’s budget deadline talks

OK Pennsylvania. You did your part to pay for prisons, state universities, a safety net for the poor, that state trooper who just clocked your speed on the interstate.

Now, it’s up to your elected representatives to decide how to spend all that largesse, re: your tax dollars. And in some cases, raise some more.

If all goes well, we are one week and $2.2 billion away from a new budget deal for fiscal 2017-18, which starts on July 1.

That means lots of wheeling and dealing ahead. So, if you care about school funding, the spread of legalized gambling, quality of life issues for the poor, or just the general level of state spending, this would be a good week to pay attention.

WFMZ 69: Protesters, labor leaders want gas drillers to pay extraction tax in Pa.

Rain didn’t stop protesters, labor leaders and elected officials from holding a rally outside of the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown on Friday.

They’re pushing for an extraction tax on natural gas drilling operations across the state. Protesters said it happens in most, if not all, states besides Pennsylvania.

They want revenue generated from the tax to go toward the state’s budget gap to prevent cuts to pre-kindergarten, long-term care, and veterans programs.

State Republican leaders told 69 News they disagree.

York Dispatch: Dallastown district raises taxes to limit

he Dallastown Area school board approved a final 2017-18 budget that includes the highest tax increase possible under a cap set by the state.

The board voted 5-3 on June 15 to adopt the $104.3 million budget that will hike property taxes by 3.2 percent.

The increase will raise the millage rate from 22.93 mills to 23.66 mills, adding about $110 in taxes annually for a home assessed at $150,510 — the average assessment in the district.

The budget includes several position changes, including shifting some full-time positions to part time.

Several paraprofessional positions were either reduced or eliminated, saving the district approximately $148,000, according to a list of budget highlights.

 

Florida in focus: Half of Florida’s legislators rate ‘F’ or ‘D’ in their support for open records

Mon, 2017-06-26 07:34

Miami Herald: Half of Florida’s legislators rate ‘F’ or ‘D’ in their support for open records

Half of Florida’s legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year’s legislative sessions.

In a “scorecard” produced by the Florida Society of News Editors and based on information provided by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation — which tracked a priority list of public records exemptions — the 160 legislators totaled three Fs, 77 Ds, 71 Cs, and 9 Bs.

Each year FSNE completes a project devoted to Sunshine Week, a nationwide initiative to educate the public about the importance of transparent government. This year FSNE members created a scoring system to grade legislators on their introduction of bills and their final votes.

“As an advocate for open government, the grades of course, are disappointing,” said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit supported mostly by newspapers and broadcasters.

 Tampa Bay Times column: Florida Democrats surging with grass roots enthusiasm, but 2018 reality is grim

After Donald Trump’s election, so many people started showing up at monthly Pinellas County Democratic Party meetings, the group had to start forking out more money for a bigger room.

The Orange County Democratic Executive Committee changed venues to accommodate bigger crowds of fired-up Democrats. And within the fast-growing Hillsborough Democratic Party, activists have launched New Tampa and Temple Terrace clubs, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Tampa Bay and Labor and Caribbean caucuses.

“People are coming out of the woodwork,” said Palm Beach County Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, a Democratic National Committee member.

The unprecedented surge in grass roots energy and activity should bode well for downtrodden Florida Democrats heading into the 2018 midterms, but it belies a grimmer reality: The state party that won one of the past 13 Florida Cabinet races and zero of the past five governor’s races, remains as much of a dark horse as ever, with fundamental questions about resources and competence.

Florida Times-Union: Local officials to consider toll for Florida Keys highway

Local officials in the Florida Keys are launching a study into whether a toll could be placed on the highway that connects the chain of islands to the Florida mainland.

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that Monroe County Commissioners have endorsed a resolution calling for a study. The resolution says the tolls would apply to non-residents only.

U.S. 1 is the primary road that runs from the peninsula all the way to Key West.

One county commissioner said the idea of putting a toll on U.S. 1 has been around for 30 years. The paper reported some residents and businesses are fearful tolls could scare away tourists.

Wisconsin in focus: Tourism, hospitality, manufacturing groups bristle at highway tolling talk

Mon, 2017-06-26 07:33

Wisconsin State Journal: Tourism, hospitality, manufacturing groups bristle at highway tolling talk

Some Wisconsin business leaders say introducing highway tolling in the state could harm its economy, even as top lawmakers cite the idea as a possible linchpin to negotiations over the state’s next budget.

The opposition from the state’s business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and other groups illustrate part of the challenge facing lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker if they want to introduce tolling to pay for road construction and repairs.

Lawmakers and Walker aim to pass the state’s next two-year budget in coming weeks. Their disagreement on how to address a lack of revenue for roads and bridges is the biggest hurdle to the budget’s passage in the face of a July 1 deadline.

Supporters of tolling say it would create a long-term revenue source for Wisconsin’s interstates. Many were built in the 1960s and have outlived their original lifespans, meaning they must be fully rebuilt at a cost of billions of dollars.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin lawmakers will miss budget deadline as talks slow

State officials have already missed their deadline to pass a budget — it’s just that not everyone has realized it yet.

GOP lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker can still make a respectable showing compared to the budgets passed by previous Legislatures and governors. But it’s too late to pass a bill and get Walker to sign it before the state’s current budget runs out on June 30 — a mere five days hence.

Senate and Assembly leaders have reached a general agreement on increasing funding for rural school districts with small budgets. But there’s still no deal yet on other key disagreements such as transportation and taxes.

“It’s an artificial deadline,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who readily acknowledges that the budget will be late. “I’m not worried about it.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: U.S. Supreme Court rules against Wisconsin cottage owners

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday upheld Wisconsin court rulings that the owners of a family cottage on Lake St. Croix were not entitled to compensation over development regulations that bar the sale of the family’s adjacent lot.

The Murrs wanted to sell the lot to finance an upgrade to the cottage their parents built 56 years ago, and argued that  St. Croix County has essentially taken their land through strict shoreline development and conservation rules and should pay just compensation for that loss under the Fifth Amendment.

But the county and the state say the family’s two adjacent parcels, taken together, would easily accommodate a single modern home, and so they have not really lost any value. The government also noted that the original owners were aware of the development restrictions when they sold the lots to their children.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, agreed that the Wisconsin courts correctly analyzed the issue as one concerning a single parcel. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was not on the court during arguments in the case, did not participate.

Colorado in focus: DaVita CEO for governor? Candidacy would trigger a flood of cash, controversy

Mon, 2017-06-26 07:32

Denver Post: DaVita CEO for governor? Candidacy would trigger a flood of cash and controversy

One of the most feared names in Colorado’s early race for governor is a celebrity CEO with a cheerleader’s disposition and a love of “The Three Musketeers.”

But the well-documented quirks of Kent Thiry, who leads the Denver-based dialysis giant DaVita Inc., belie the tools the 61-year-old multimillionaire from Englewood has at his disposal if he chooses to join the crowded field as a Republican candidate.

The most powerful of them: a small fortune and a cache of valuable voter data he helped collect last year during a successful push to pass two Colorado ballot initiatives.

The prospect has worried strategists in both parties, because rich candidates have a big advantage in Colorado races, where they can give unlimited money to their own campaigns to overcome strict donation limits for others.

Daily Camera: In the heated fracking world, a Boulder company’s new chemistry may help cool the waters

Clean Chemistry, a Boulder-based chemical technology company, has spent five years developing a way to clean frack water in the oil fields that it believes will slash costs enough to make re-using water affordable, a key challenge in an industry that uses thousands of gallons of the precious resource daily.

Water is a key ingredient in oil and gas production and there is growing pressure to reuse it.

But it’s an expensive proposition, so expensive that most Colorado companies simply inject used frack water into the ground, a practice some consider dangerous and potentially damaging to groundwater resources.

Clean Chemistry CEO Damon Waters hopes to change that. “Our chemistry is enabling reuse in the oil field, instead of sourcing water out of a river to frack a well and then disposing of the waste water way down in the geology, never to be seen again.”

ABC 7: Changes in policies regarding Cuba already having an impact on business here in Colorado

“What it does is put a cloud over Cuba.”

That’s how Anna Alejo, Colorado Director of the 10x10K Cuba technology competition describes President Trump’s decision to roll back Obama-era policies regarding Cuba.

“The fear is that by using such harsh language in his approach with Cuba last week that the hard line within the communist party is going to prevail when Raul (Castro) leaves next year,” Alejo told Anne Trujillo on this week’s Politics Unplugged.

Alejo is working to bring more Cuban software engineers to the Colorado, and send more technology experts to Cuba to trade ideas and encourage investment.

Labor shortages pose challenge for humming New Hampshire economy

Sun, 2017-06-25 13:42

New Hampshire’s jobless rate remained one of the lowest in the nation in May, continuing a steady pace of job creation and moderate wage gains, but some economists see potential labor shortages taking the wind out of the state’s sails.

The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate last month came in at 2.9 percent, a 0.1-point increase from the previous month and about the same as it was a year ago, the New Hampshire Employment Security agency reported. Over the past year, however, the state has added 5,300 jobs, the agency said.

But Russ Thibeault, president of Applied Economic Research in Laconia, said employers at all levels have been expressing concerns about not being able to find workers to fill positions.

“It is the major economic issue in the state,” Thibeault told Watchdog.org. “The labor shortage is on top of everyone’s list of economic problems the state is facing.”

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, echoed some of those sentiments, noting that Oracle just bought a company in Manchester and now needs 100 workers. Many companies around the state are sounding the drumbeat for a more educated workforce, D’Allesandro said.

“It’s extremely important because we have such a low unemployment rate,” he told Watchdog.org.

The senator has been an advocate of the state spending more money on educating and retraining its workforce, but the state budget passed by the legislature on Wednesday does not contain funding for workforce training. Republicans have been opposed to such spending initiatives, the senator said.

But this year’s capital budget contains $2.5 billion for affordable housing, according to D’Allesandro, and these funds will help to provide the type of housing needed to keep skilled younger people living and working in New Hampshire. One way to help alleviate worker shortages is to encourage college-age people not to migrate to other states, he said.

Although the senator described the state’s economy as in good shape, he said there are “help wanted” signs everywhere and ongoing difficulties finding skilled workers in professions such as nursing.

“There’s plenty of work,” D’Allesandro said. “The issue is finding the people. [The economy] is steady and moving in the right direction and will continue to do so.”

A legitimate concern for policymakers is that if businesses in the state can’t find skilled workers to expand their operations, they could relocate to other states or outsource projects, according to Greg Bird, an economist at the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies in Concord.

“If you look at the data in charts or tabular format, I don’t think the data will guarantee you have a labor shortage,” Bird told Watchdog.org

“They all say that one of their biggest problems is that they can’t find qualified labor,” he said.

And high school graduates often go to out-of-state universities because New Hampshire’s university systems is among the most expensive in the nation, according to Bird.

“That’s talent out the door,” he said.

One option for the state would be to retrain workers in lower-paying industries, such as hospitality, so they could move a few steps up the economic ladder and work in areas such as advanced manufacturing, Bird said.

Economic growth rates around the state remain uneven, he said, with the counties close to Boston experiencing the most expansion and other parts of the state struggling.

“Most of our rural areas are still in tough times,” Bird said.

Wages have been inching up in recent years as the economy strengthened, he said. They dropped off after the 2008 recession hit, and they haven’t seen real upward movement until 2014-15, according to Bird. Still, the wage gains have been moderate, he said.

“We are seeing wage gains, and we are seeing wage gains throughout the distribution of income,” Bird said.

Overall, the state’s economy is doing well, rivaling Massachusetts in terms of private sector economic growth, the economist said. The unemployment rate should hold steady or continue to move downward in the near future, according to Bird.

“My poker bet is that we will stay there [at 2.9 percent] or go lower,” he said.

One thing that might limit in-migration to New Hampshire is that a number of local communities have growth controls in place, so it’s difficult to build new housing in many areas, Thibeault said.

“Most development controls in New Hampshire are at the community levels,” he said.

But one possibility that might stave off future labor shortages involves the 85,000 people per day who commute from New Hampshire into Massachusetts to work. With upward pressure on wages in New Hampshire, those commuters might opt to say good-bye to their commutes and take some of the higher-paying jobs available in New Hampshire, Thibeault said.

Meanwhile, the state’s overall economic growth looks positive in the near future, he said, suggesting productive times for anybody who wants to work.

“Right now, unless the nation dips into a recession, we will continue to have a tight labor situation,” Thibeault said.

Op-Ed: Minnesota over-reaches on new broadband standards

Fri, 2017-06-23 09:04

In a quest to boost the state’s broadband coverage, Minnesota has overstepped by reaching for too-high standards that may actually hurt rural broadband expansion.

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband has set ambitious goals for high-speed internet coverage in Minnesota following near-successful implementation of the previous standard. That initial goal of wireline download speeds of 10 megabits per second and upload speeds of 5 mbps by 2015 was achieved for 90 percent of residents, 98 percent if you count wireless services.

Now, by 2022, the task force would like to see all Minnesota residents able to access speeds of 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload, the current standard set by the Federal Communications Commission for broadband.

But the wrinkle is the task force’s stretch goal of 100 mbps download and 20 mbps upload by 2026 has become the de facto standard when it comes to state broadband funding. In fact, a member of that task force who wished to speak only on background said there likely would have been more pushback on that stretch goal if committee members had realized lawmakers would tie grant funds to that number.

The state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program not only considers an area receiving less than 100 mbps/20 mbps as underserved, it absurdly deems an area receiving less than 25 mbps/3 mbps as unserved.

To quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Minnesota Legislature allocated $20 million to that grant program during the 2017 session, down from $35 million the previous year, although some pushed for an increase to $50 million per year – including Gov. Mark Dayton, who wanted to spend 20 percent of his supplemental budget plan on broadband. Recipients can get up to 50 percent of project development costs, with a maximum award of $5 million.

Raising the standards for the grant program in theory helps push Minnesota toward its stretch goal, but in some ways it’s actually having the opposite effect. That’s because some areas that have sufficient internet speeds that wouldn’t be grant eligible if the standards were lower can now get money under the program. That means applicants in rural areas that are truly unserved or underserved now have more competition for the grants.

“Some of us felt broadband grants should be targeted first to unserved areas,” said the task force member. “I don’t think you can reasonably say that someone who is getting 50 megabits per second is underserved.”

Annette Meeks, founder and CEO of Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, which advocates for free-market principles, calls the state’s broadband standards “a moving target.”

“As more and more communities have access to higher speed internet service, they continue to raise the bar on what was should consider ‘acceptable,’ meaning that there is a never-ending appetite for higher speeds and more government spending on broadband infrastructure,” she said.

Despite the FCC increasing the broadband standard from 10 mbps to 25 mbps in 2015, a user can comfortably stream video for less than the old standard. While more data-hogging devices means faster speeds will continue to be integral to internet usage, Minnesota jumped the gun by setting a standard four times that of the federal bureaucracy. And while state broadband spending surprisingly decreased this year, look for a movement to boost it again to better meet that new higher speed standard.

It would take an estimated $3 billion to achieve Dayton’s 2010 campaign pledge of border-to-border broadband, but private providers are quickly working to implement new technologies such as 5G wireless, white-space channels and satellite internet to help close that gap. The state would be wise to lower its speed standards to FCC levels so it can focus on funding high-speed internet projects in locations that are truly underserved.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and 3 other Republicans withhold support from Senate health care bill

Fri, 2017-06-23 08:16

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and 3 other Republicans withhold support from Senate health care bill

Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin joined three other conservatives in the U.S. Senate in withholding their support for the Obamacare replacement bill their party unveiled Thursday.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Johnson, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky said in a joint statement.

“There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs,” they said.

Of the four, Johnson’s dissent may be the most surprising, since it has been widely assumed in Washington he would ultimately vote for the bill. And he may still.

Wisconsin State Journal: Assembly GOP slips pre-existing condition protection into late-night bill

Assembly Republicans introduced and passed a bill early Thursday that provides some protections for those with pre-existing conditions should Congress roll back protections under the Affordable Care Act.

The bill caught Democrats by surprise — it was introduced as an amendment to their own bill prohibiting lifetime caps on health insurance coverage, something the ACA, also known as Obamacare, also prohibits. The Democrats used a procedural maneuver to bring the bill to the floor, where it would most likely fail, to force Republicans to debate and vote on a contentious topic.

In a surprise move, Republicans stripped out the Democrats’ language and inserted their own, passing the bill 62-35 along party lines. It still must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before becoming law.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Senate Republicans were still reviewing the bill Thursday.

NBC News: Wisconsin Lawmakers Push Bill That Would Expel Campus Hecklers

The battle for free speech continues to wage on college campuses.

The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a Republican-backed bill on Wednesday that would allow college administrators to expel students for “disrupting” campus speakers — a controversial piece of legislation that may be at odds with First Amendment rights, many lawmakers and legal experts argue.

The Campus Free Speech Act, which came out of the Assembly without a single Democratic vote, will clamp down on University of Wisconsin students who “materially and substantially disrupt the free expression of others” by imposing punitive measures on hecklers.

The bill still has the hurdles of getting past the state Senate as well as Governor Scott Walker, who has already signaled that he will sign it.

“Thanks to the Assembly for their commitment to free speech on UW campuses,” posted Walker on Twitter on Thursday morning.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee is on the move, but still not a great city to live in, according to rankings

Here’s a conundrum: Milwaukee has been ranked the fifth fastest-growing city in the country while also earning a spot on a list of the 50 worst American cities to live in.

The growth ranking was compiled by Our Town America, a new move marketing franchise (a company that mails you stuff about local businesses when you move in somewhere). The company looked at the cities with the highest moving-in activity in the last 12 months, and compared that to the previous 12 months to determine the fastest-growing cities.

San Antonio topped the list. Ten of 45 (22%) cities on the list are based in the Midwest, including Chicago at No. 10.

Compare that to 24/7 Wall Street’s rankings, which put Milwaukee as the sixth-worst city in the country to live in.

Those rankings were based on a variety of factors including crime rate, employment and housing affordability.

Detroit was ranked as the worst U.S. city to live in.

Florida in focus: In your 20s and living with mom and dad? In Florida, you’re not alone.

Fri, 2017-06-23 07:52

Tampa Tribune: In your 20s and living with mom and dad? In Florida, you’re not alone.

After graduating from the University of Florida in 2015, Gabrielle Piloto jumped on the highway and headed south to Tampa.

She had landed a marketing job at a law firm and envisioned renting an apartment downtown or in Seminole Heights. But the rents of $1,000 a month and more were out of her reach. She toyed with the idea of buying a house, thinking the mortgage payments might be more affordable.

In the end, she moved back in with her grandparents in West Tampa.

Piloto unloaded her boxes into the same room she slept in during high school. She thought of it as temporary. The next year she’d save money. She’d move out. She was excited to start her life.

“I was initially thinking maybe I’d be here for a year,” she said, now 22.

You may already know that millennials — the massive generation born between 1982 and 2004 — are more likely to live with their parents or grandparents than young adults have been in decades. But did you know Florida is leading the trend?

Sun Sentinel: Federal authorities launch probe into city of Tallahassee

In a move that could shake-up next year’s race for Florida governor, the FBI has launched an investigation into redevelopment deals involving prominent business owners and developers in the state capital.

Federal grand jury subpoenas this month seek five years of records from the city of Tallahassee and a local redevelopment agency that involve high profile projects and developers including an ally of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Gillum, one of several Democrats in the 2018 governor’s race, is not named in the subpoenas to the city and agency, which were provided Thursday to The Associated Press in response to a public records request.

“We expect the city to respond fully and completely to the subpoena and we hope the situation is resolved quickly,” Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum’s campaign, told the AP.

Tampa Bay Times: U.S. mayors meet in Florida, focus on immigration, climate change

More than 250 U.S. mayors are meeting in Florida at a time when many cities are pushing back against Trump administration policies on climate change and immigration.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors opens its annual meeting Friday in Miami Beach. Mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more will discuss plans to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and protect immigrant families.

City leaders will also consider efforts to curb gun violence and safeguard local government and public school funds that face cuts under President Donald Trump’s policies.

The event will feature special guests such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State moves up in performance rankings; FAMU slips

Florida State University moved up two spots to place fourth among the state’s 11 public institutions in performance-based funding, according to a report Thursday from the Board of Governors.

Last year, FSU ranked sixth on the chart.

Florida A&M University, on the other hand, lost gains it made last year by placing 10th this year, dropping from its eighth-place position.

The University of Florida was No. 1 in the SUS rankings.

This means that FSU could receive an additional $38.5 million of the state’s allocation, along with the $43.2 million it contributed to the state’s total pot of $520 million.

 

Pennsylvania in focus: Auditor General faults Penn State for transparency, Big Ten’s highest tuition costs

Fri, 2017-06-23 07:37

ABC 27: Auditor General faults Penn State for transparency, Big Ten’s highest tuition costs

Penn State University is number one in the Big Ten Conference when it comes to tuition costs among public universities.

That was one of the more troubling findings in an audit of the school by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and released on Thursday.

PSU costs in-state residents more than $20,000 a year. The University of Nebraska, by comparison, has the lowest in-state tuition at just over $8,600.

In the past 30 years, PSU tuition has increased a whopping 535 percent which DePasquale calls outrageous.

The university acknowledges the problem but mostly blames funding cuts by the state legislature for driving tuition costs through the roof. Officials insist they are doing their best to keep costs down.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Days from the deadline, budget indecision in Pa.

With less than 10 days to the deadline for a new state budget, there is talk but little action — and even less agreement — on how to close a steep budget deficit and fix the state’s fiscal problems.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on Wednesday strongly signaled skepticism over a plan being discussed by Republicans who control the state Senate to borrow money to ease the state’s $1.5 billion shortfall.

Top Republicans in both chambers in turn have dismissed many of Mr. Wolf’s proposals to generate new dollars, including a new tax on natural gas drilling and an expansion of the state sales tax to items that are currently exempt.

And no one involved in budget talks appeared to be anywhere near figuring out a plan to expand gambling — one of the proposals that until now all sides indicated would likely be part of any final budget plan.

Patriot-News: Who is Pennsylvania’s wealthiest resident?

Pennsylvania’s wealthiest resident isn’t an oil baron or an owner of the country’s oldest operating brewery.

She’s the heiress to the Campbell Soup Company fortune, Mary Alice Dorrance Malone.

Malone ranked no. 32 on Forbes’ list of the wealthiest person in every state. Her net worth is estimated at $3.8 billion. According to Forbes, it was Malone’s grandfather who invented the soup formula in 1897.

With 17 percent of Campbell Soup’s shares, Malone is the company’s largest stakeholder. Malone isn’t the only billionaire in the family. According to a list released last year, her cousin Dorrance Hamilton was worth $1.1 billion in 2016.

According to Forbes, Malone breeds horses on a 1,000-acre property named Iron Spring Farm about an hour west of Philadelphia.

Colorado in focus: Vice President Pence to be in Colorado Springs to speak at Focus on the Family

Fri, 2017-06-23 07:19

Colorado Springs Gazette: Vice President Pence to be in Colorado Springs to speak at Focus on the Family

Vice President Mike Pence will be in Colorado Springs Friday to speak at Focus on the Family’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“As a ministry, we’ve long cared about life and having a public official of his stature address the organization is quite an honor,” spokesman Paul Batura said.

Pence is expected to address the Christian nonprofit around 10:30 a.m. but the time is subject to change.

“He’s a Christian like we are and stands for a lot of the same values that we do,” said the group’s senior publicist, Allison Meggers. “We’re excited to have him.”

Denver Post: Cory Gardner wants to slow Senate GOP’s push for quick health care vote

For the moment, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner isn’t backing the health care plan that fellow Republicans in his chamber unveiled Thursday — a caution that could spell trouble for the long-awaited legislation.

Hours after its release, Gardner said in a statement that he was “carefully reviewing” the 142-page proposal. In an interview later that day, the Colorado Republican said he wasn’t sure whether he would vote for it, and he suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, consider abandoning his goal of holding a vote next week on the legislation.

“If we can have opportunities to make the bill better, then by all means let’s take every chance and (all the) time we can,” said Gardner, who threw out of the idea of lawmakers working through the upcoming July 4 break. “I would be OK with spending our entire recess here.”

Gardner’s hesitancy is notable for several reasons. As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he is one of the top GOP officials in the Senate — a position that puts him alongside McConnell during weekly Republican news conferences outside the chamber.

Denver Post: Pew survey finds sharp drop in overall support for gun control

Americans have long had a complex relationship with guns.

Now, a new study shows that the country’s deep political divide is reflected in attitudes toward gun control. The Pew survey released Thursday found a sharp drop since 2000 in overall support for gun control despite common ground on some key issues.

For example, when people were asked whether it was more important to protect gun rights or control gun ownership, 51 percent favored gun control and 47 percent favored gun rights. Compare that with responses in 2000, when two-thirds of those surveyed said they supported gun control measures.

People in the new survey were in broad agreement when asked about specific gun control measures.

Fox 31: Toll hikes being considered

Express lane tolls on US 36 and I-25 may be changing.

The private company that manages the lanes is proposing raising tolls on US 36 by 15 to 35 cents. In some places it would drop between 10 and 60 cents.

The new rates will not be set until a July meeting with public comment.

The High Performance Transportation Enterprise Board meeting is July 19th, starting at 11:30 a.m.

Denver Post: Koch brothers’ conservative network to hold retreat in Colorado Springs this weekend

The conservative Koch network will host a three-day retreat starting Saturday in Colorado Springs as the organization develops a strategy ahead of the 2018 election.

The exclusive event will draw hundreds of the nation’s top conservative donors to the Broadmoor resort as part of the Seminar Network, one of the umbrella organizations by the billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch.

A number of major Republican politicians also will attend. A year ago, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan was the featured guest at the Koch event in Colorado Springs.

Earlier this year, at another Koch retreat in California, the network outlined a plan to spend $300 million to $400 million in the 2017-18 election cycle, an increase from the $250 million spent in the 2016 campaign.

With school pension reform, Michigans big pension liabilities contained

Thu, 2017-06-22 15:59

The Michigan Legislature took a major step toward ensuring the state’s fiscal sustainability last week, passing legislation that creates a new public school employee pension system with safeguards against adding to the $29.1 billion in unfunded liabilities accumulated by the old system.

Anthony Randazzo, of the Pension Integrity Project at the Reason Foundation, called the legislation one of the most innovative pension reforms in the country. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which publishes Michigan Capitol Confidential, was also heavily engaged and has been pressing for reform for more than a decade.

In addition to working with Michigan legislators on public employee pension reform, the Pension Integrity Project at Reason has been involved in pension reform in states throughout the country, such as Arizona.

Randazzo believes the legislation is innovative because unlike other pension-reform concepts, the new law will automatically close the system to new employees if it falls behind in pre-funding promised benefits. The old system fell behind though this is prohibited by the Michigan Constitution.

If the assets in the new system’s pension fund fall below 85 percent of the amount actuaries determine it should have for two years in a row, the system will be closed to new employees. This virtually guarantees that managers of new system won’t repeat errors that allowed the old system to fall $29.1 billion behind the amount it should hold.

Under the new system, school employees hired after Feb. 1, 2018, can choose to receive employer contributions to an employee-owned, tax-deferred 401(k) account. Everyone will get an amount equal to 4 percent of salary, and the state will also match up to 3 percent of employee contributions.

Alternatively, new employees can enroll for lifetime pension benefits but with substantial cost-sharing requirements. Moreover, if state pension managers fail to fully fund the new system, employees in the plan would be responsible for paying for half the shortfall.

Current school employees remain in the old pension system and are unaffected by these changes.

Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the legislation into law, making Michigan one of a few states that have acted to contain the growth of long-term retirement system debt. Michigan got a head start in 1996 when it closed the defined benefit pension system for state employees. Since 1997, all new employees of the state have received defined contribution 401(k) account benefits instead of pensions.

According to Randazzo, virtually every state in the country needs substantive pension reform. And Michigan isn’t the only state making progress, with Arizona, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina also passing reform measures within the past year.

Opposing the reform were Democrats and government employee unions including the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Opponents said that the legislation does nothing to pay down the state’s $29.1 billion pension debt.

“We’re going to be taking more money out of schools, we haven’t solved the long-term problem for the teacher pension program and unfortunately it doesn’t solve the problem,” said House Minority Leader Sam Singh D-East Lansing. “[Democrats] wanted to make sure that money was coming in from the state to these communities and in the end what we’re doing is we’re robbing from today’s children to pay for this.”

Christine Lucas and Sue Charron, two teachers from Fowlerville who were in Lansing to lobby against pension reform, expressed their concern that the legislation was introduced and pushed through committee before its positive and negative aspects could fully be discussed.

“We want the outcome to be good for education in the future, both for teachers and students,” Lucas said.

Charles Owens is the director of Michigan’s branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, and he praised the bill.

“We commend the Legislature and the governor for standing up to the teachers’ unions and those who continue to stick their head in the sand when it comes to addressing the unfunded liabilities of the teachers’ pension fund,” Owens said.

Richard C. Dreyfuss, an actuary and adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, called the pension reform fantastic and believes it will ensure pension debts aren’t transferred to the next generation.

“I think it’s a very good and timely set of changes that are being considered,” he said.

Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, who was the main sponsor of the House bill, said that pension reform is the responsible choice moving forward.

“Government must not write checks and expect the next generation to pick up the tab,” Albert said. “This alone will not deal with our pension issues, but it’s a start.”

With the new system’s safeguards against underfunding and the 1996 reform that contained liabilities in the system for state employees, the largest state pension plans are on a path toward zero taxpayer liabilities in the very long term. (The system for State Police is still open but it is a fraction of the size of either the state or school employee system.) The one remaining large and unresolved government legacy cost issue in Michigan is the scores of municipal pension systems, but there too some progress has been made.

This column originally published at michigancapitolconfidential.com.

Florida in focus: Democrat governor candidate wants state law so women can maintain no-cost birth control if Obamacare is repealed

Thu, 2017-06-22 08:15

Tampa Bay Times: Democrat governor candidate wants state law so women can maintain no-cost birth control if Obamacare is repealed

 Criticizing President Donald Trump’s administration for wanting to “turn back the clock and take essential healthcare away from women” by rolling back parts of Obamacare, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Thursday will propose protecting women’s access to free birth control through a new state law instead.

“As governor, I’m going to stand with women and ensure that neither the government nor their employer stand between a woman and her doctor in making the critical health decisions that affect her life. This is an essential part of providing better quality care and economic security and stability to more Floridians,” Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, said in a statement.

Enacting such a measure would require earning support from Florida’s Republican-led Legislature, which would prove challenging — particularly in the more conservative-minded House.

The proposal is an addition to a health care platform Gillum first unveiled last month in Tallahassee.

The Gainseville Sun editorial: Prevent misuse of public funds

It shouldn’t take the misuse of public funds on a Brazilian butt lift for city employees to take seriously their responsibility as stewards of taxpayer money.

A report released last week found former city of Gainesville employee Natwaina Clark, 33, used her city-issued credit card and those of her bosses for more than $93,000 in unauthorized charges between November 2015 and March 2017. Clark allegedly funneled $41,000 of that money to her personal PayPal account, spending $8,500 on the butt lift procedure.

The report, conducted by City Auditor Carlos Holt, found that officials in the city’s parks, recreation and cultural affairs department were negligent in allowing Clark access to their cards and failed to properly review expense reports. Clark was fired in March and arrested on felony larceny and fraud charges, while one department official this week received a seven-day suspension.

Problems with employees stealing are hardly unique to the city, as two other recent stories show. A University of Florida employee is accused of stealing $351,000 by creating at least 1,155 fraudulent checks over four years, while the Gainesville Regional Airport is investigating how about $49,000 went missing from its parking system.

Fox News: Florida sheriff delivers strong message to county: ‘If you’re not afraid of a gun, get one’

Polk County’s sheriff is sending out a call to arms. He says people should be armed and prepared just in case they are faced with an active shooter.

“The armed assailant doesn’t plan on you fighting back,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.  “He plans on having a gun, doing all the shooting, and you’re just a sitting duck. Well, the ducks need to shoot back.”

Judd says citizens should have a concealed weapons permit and carry their gun with them whenever they can. He also says gun owners should keep their skills sharp.

And if a gun is not your thing, he says, you might consider another kind of weapon, like pepper spray or a Taser.

“If you’re not afraid of a gun, get one,” said the sheriff. “And if you need to shoot somebody, shoot ‘em a lot.”

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Conflict over charter schools at board meeting

Nearly a week after Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will require local school districts to share funds with charter schools in neighborhoods with low-performing public schools, tensions flared at a Sarasota County School Board work session Tuesday afternoon as longtime board members worried how these changes would affect next year’s budget.

The district will now have to distribute almost $9.3 million in capital funds from property taxes to charter schools, up $5.5 million from this year’s budgeted amount that Sarasota County voluntarily gave out. Conflict erupted throughout the work session between board members who opposed House Bill 7069 and those who felt it could bring about positive changes. At the board’s first meeting in June, Board member Shirley Brown had proposed sending a letter to Gov. Scott from the board asking him to veto the bill, but that request ended in disagreement.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the remaining feelings from that discussion were clear, as board members attempted to skirt their differences on the bill to discuss the budget.

Superintendent Todd Bowden presented the board with a list of possible budget priorities, including a behavioral support and intervention program, hiring more cafeteria monitors and school nurses and creating an “innovation fund” to award individual schools money for various projects.

Pennsylvania in focus: New Pennsylvania law eliminates Keystone Exam requirement for career and technical education students

Thu, 2017-06-22 07:54

Lancaster Online: New Pennsylvania law eliminates Keystone Exam requirement for career and technical education students

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Wednesday a bill creating an alternate pathway to high school graduation for students in career and technology education — one without Keystone Exams.

The new law eliminates the statutory requirement for Keystone Exams and replaces it with new ways for vocational students to prove they’re ready for the next step, whether it be the workforce, college or a trade school.

“Whether they are working and learning in the classroom, in the lab, in the shop, in the field or in the garage, young people are always striving and succeeding across a wide variety of fields,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. “With this measure, Pennsylvania will recognize diversity and will no longer hold all students to the standard of a Keystone Examination, which too often doesn’t reflect the reality of a large sector (of) students’ educational experience.”

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Reps. Mike Turzai and Mike Tobash, garnered bipartisan support through its five-month journey from committee to the governor’s desk.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pittsburgh plans to spend $5 million to simplify building permit approval process

The city of Pittsburgh plans to spend more than $5 million in a bid to simplify and speed up its system for approving permits, an issue that has been the topic of growing complaints from developers and others — including a local attorney who went to court because of frustration over delays.

The permits are key to anyone doing construction in the city, from the big developers doing work Downtown, in the Strip District and other hot neighborhoods, to the resident who wants to build an addition to a home. Without the permit, projects sit and money can be lost.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Mayor Bill Peduto, said the goal is to untangle the “Gordian Knot” of a system that he conceded must be improved if the city is to prevent development-killing delays.

“I would agree there’s a sense of frustration about the time it takes [to get permits],” he said. “The data shows we’re actually improving those times, but we still have to get better.”

The Patriot News: Pennsylvania patients would be shielded from surprise ‘balance bills’

A pair of bills receiving bi-partisan support would protect patients from so-called “balance-billing” — when a patient receives an extra bill because someone involved in their medical care wasn’t part of their health insurance network.

One bill, introduced by Republican House members Matt Baker and Tina Pickett, has 31 co-sponsors including Democrats, according to the state insurance department, which has pushed for such protections.

A Senate bill has been introduced by Democratic Sen. Judy Schwank of Berks County and Republican Don White, who is head of the Senate insurance committee.

The bills would apply to situations where the patient unknowingly receives care from an out-of-network provider in both emergency and non-emergency situations.

ABC 6: State-run panel approves new Philadelphia teachers’ contract

The state-run panel that oversees the Philadelphia School District has signed off on a new contract agreement with the city’s public school teachers, but not without some members expressing concern about its financial impact.

The School Reform Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday in favor of the pact, which runs through August 2020. Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers earlier approved the deal, which was reached Friday after more than four years of negotiation.

Superintendent William Hite said the deal recognizes the hard work of teachers and staff and brings stability to the district.

Pennsylvania debate: Should state offer subsidies to keep nuclear plants afloat?

Thu, 2017-06-22 07:37

Pennsylvania state lawmakers are wading into a policy dispute that pits two groups of energy behemoths in the state against each other and raises the possibility of ratepayer subsidies going to struggling nuclear power plants.

More than 60 Pennsylvania state lawmakers formed a bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus to foster discussions about the future of the state’s nuclear plants. Those nine plants, which supply 35 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity, have been facing tough times due to the current production of low-cost natural gas in the state and relatively low power demand in the years after the 2008 recession, according to energy industry observers.

And the issue gained some urgency recently when Chicago-based Exelon Corp. gave notice that it plans to close the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Middletown prematurely in the fall of 2019, unless Pennsylvania comes up with a policy shift to keep the plant economically viable.

“Like New York and Illinois before it, the Commonwealth has an opportunity to take a leadership role by implementing a policy solution to preserve its nuclear energy facilities and the clean, reliable energy and good-paying jobs they provide,” Exelon President and CEO Chris Crane said in a prepared statement.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law last December that allows an Exelon subsidiary to collect up to $235 million from ratepayers annually to keep unprofitable Illinois nuclear plants operating.  Similar debates involving nuclear energy plants have taken place in Ohio, Connecticut and New York.

But both the petroleum industry and some consumer groups are vowing to fight efforts to grant subsidies to Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry, arguing that such subsidies would sock consumers with higher utility bills and distort competitive energy markets.

“A bailout will cost Pennsylvania consumers and businesses billions in surcharges over a long period of time and an untold cost for an unwarranted interference in the competitive markets,” Michael Messer, president of Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, said in an opinion article this month.

But John Keeley, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute in Washington, said there’s much more to the debate than simply the cost of nuclear power vs. natural gas. The state also must take into account the reliability of nuclear power, its lack of carbon emissions and its ability to avoid disruptions even during extreme weather.

“What you do not want to do is make a rash decision based solely on the price today,” Keeley told Watchdog.org. A diverse range of electricity suppliers – nuclear, renewable sources such as solar and wind, natural gas – creates a more dependable electricity grid, he said.

And Keeley stressed that closing down a nuclear plant is a permanent, irrevocable decision, spelling the end of hundreds of high-paying jobs and the resulting economic benefits that help sustain communities.

“What you see in Pennsylvania is that policy makers are trying to act to preserve key assets on the grid before they lose them,” he said.

Creating a zero-emissions nuclear credit that’s funded by a small surcharge on utility bills provides a good long-term investment in clean air and a balanced energy grid, according to Keeley. Allowing nuclear plants to close when they are still safe and operational can backfire on consumers, he said, noting that when the San Onofre nuclear plant in California shut down, electricity rates rose by 35 percent.

“The downstream impact is significant and catastrophic,” Keeley said.

At the core of the debate is whether Pennsylvania residents will see their aging nuclear plants as albatrosses or assets. Messer argues that having ratepayers prop up high-cost nuclear energy simply promotes inefficiency.

“The expansion of the Marcellus [natural] gas industry and lower energy costs create a new opportunity to expand business and generate new high-paying jobs for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians,” he said.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which has an affiliate in Pennsylvania, opposes bailouts or subsidies of any kind for the nuclear industry.

“We would like the energy markets to do the work they’ve been doing to protect consumers,” API spokesman Michael Tadeo told Watchdog.org.

Although no legislative proposal to help the nuclear industry in Pennsylvania has surfaced so far, Tadeo said such discussions have become common  in statehouses.  A similar effort is under way in Ohio, but recent polling showed 79 percent of that state’s residents oppose bailing out the nuclear industry, he said.

Although leaders of Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Energy Caucus did not respond to Watchdog.org’s request for comment, their past statements mirror many of the arguments of the nuclear industry.

“The nuclear power sector is generating much more than electricity,” said Rep. Rob Matzie, D-Allegheny, in a prepared statement in March. “It is producing economic growth through employment at the plants, indirect employment through vendors and contracted labor, as well as civil and philanthropic engagement and the taxes paid by the industry’s workforce and businesses.”

PJM Interconnection, which operates the regional energy grid running from the East Coast through the Midwest and oversees wholesale energy markets, doesn’t take a position on what states should do relating to nuclear energy. But PJM has previously expressed concerns that state subsidies can interfere with the design of wholesale energy markets.

“Our position is not whether a state should or shouldn’t do whatever it is they want to do,” PJM spokeswoman Paula DuPont said in an email to Watchdog.org, “but it is PJM’s responsibility to make sure the regional market remains competitive.”

One way to do this would be for states to work together to create regional carbon markets that place a value on zero-emission energy generation or a value on fuel security, DuPont said.

“These alternatives could be implemented within the next few years with support from policy makers and regulators at the state and federal level,” she said.

 

Colorado in focus: Colorado teachers’ active-shooter training shows them how to fire back

Thu, 2017-06-22 07:32

Fox News: Colorado teachers’ active-shooter training shows them how to fire back

More than a dozen Colorado teachers received training on how to fire back at active shooters in schools, in a program that gun-rights advocates call essential.

Laura Carno, the founder of Coloradoans for Civil Liberties, described its program “in a nutshell” as “training for teachers and other school staff who are armed first responders in their school.”

Carno described the training as necessary for rural school districts, who have “law enforcement that is 30-45 minutes away” according to KUSA. “They are their own first responders,” says Carno.

One of the teachers participating, Ronnie Wilson, says he hopes to open a K-12 charter school in Colorado Springs. He said he gets questions in equal numbers about school safety and academics from parents. “I’m looking for every possible venue and avenue to ensure the safety of students.”

ABC 7: Nude Hiking Day: CPAW warns against shedding clothes in public spaces

The name of the holiday may elicit a chuckle from some, but others plan to celebrate National Nude Hiking Day in earnest on June 21.

Those who enjoy hiking in the nude call the experience an opportunity to bond with nature, but authorities on many of Colorado trails say it’s more of an opportunity to be ticketed.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPAW), their parks and trails are off limits for those seeking a nude experience.

Lauren Truitt, a spokesperson for CPAW, the family atmosphere comes first for parkgoers and guests. Truitt said nobody has made a request to conduct a nude hike and warned that anybody who embarks upon such a journey could be ticketed for indecent exposure.

“We would ask them to leave or put on clothing,” Truitt said, noting park rangers and district wildlife managers could choose to issue a warning or a ticket.

Denver Post: Colorado Energy Office, a lightning rod in the renewable energy debate, set to run out of funds despite last-ditch effort

A Colorado government agency that has become a lightning rod in the debate over renewable energy and fossil fuels is poised to see its state funding expire July 1 after a last-ditch attempt to save it Tuesday ended in a partisan impasse.

A six-lawmaker panel rejected an emergency funding request for the Colorado Energy Office from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper that sought to extend the office’s $3.1 million budget for another year. The move would have kept the agency intact while lawmakers continue their own negotiations on the future of an office that both sides agree is needed.

But the Joint Budget Committee vote deadlocked 3-3 along party lines, with Republicans saying they wanted to wait for more guidance from the full legislature, which last year failed to reach a compromise to avert the office’s looming funding deadline.

“I hope that there’s some way we can come to an agreement over the next few months over what the mission of the office would be and that we could get bipartisan acceptance of that,” said Rep. Bob Rankin, a Republican budget writer from Carbondale. “We’re not there.”

The Daily Camera: Neil Gorsuch lists his Boulder County home for sale for $1.7 million

New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is selling his Boulder County home. The four-bedroom, five-bath property on three acres — with room for horses — is listed for $1.675 million.

The listing was first reported by Fox 31 in Denver.

The 5,983-square-foot home has a heated pool, media room, home gym, billiards room and three-stall barn with attached paddock. It is described in the listing as a “horse lover’s paradise” and is adjacent to a 71-acre equestrian center.

Gorsuch purchased the property in 2007 for $1.03 million, according to Boulder County property records. Deborah Read Fowler with Colorado Landmark Realtors is the listing agent for 5373 Lookout Ridge Dr., just north of Gunbarrel.

Homes in the million-dollar plus range are selling quickly, according to luxury broker David Carner with Liv Sotheby’s International Realty. The average time on market for homes over $1 million in Boulder was 60 days in 2016, the lowest in eight years, Carner said.

The Gorsuch home “is a nice-looking house with great views,” he said. “I think it will sell.”

 

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