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Statehouse Belt Tightening
Everyone is cost cutting these days, even state legislators.
In Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan has introduced H.B. 4445 - legislation that would eliminate raises for representatives and top state officials, including the newly seated Governor, and force lawmaker furloughs. Cutting raises is expected to save $1.1 million.
Not to be left out of lawmaker haircuts, California is one-upping Illinois with a proposal to slash elected official's salaries by 10%. The proposal quickly drew support from Gov. Schwarzenegger who said, "state government needs to cut back just like every California family and business is doing."
One state not in on the trimming is North Dakota where a bill sent to Gov. Hoeven would raise legislator's pay $6 per day to $141 daily during the legislative session. Lawmakers would get another $7 per day bump next year.
ARS Award Applications Due
The annual award recognizes the work of an innovative region or exemplary regional organizations that has made measurable progress towards implementing the Principles of Regional Stewardship. Past winners represent some of the best regional leaders from across the country.
This year the awards will be presented on July 29 at the ARS Regional Strategies Forum in Raleigh, NC.
There is still time to apply, if you are preparing an application or have any questions, please call Ian Scott, ACCE's Director of Community Advancement, at (703) 998-3530.
Cali Biz Groups Back Budget
More on state budgets. Perhaps the most highly publicized budget struggle this year has been the effort to bridge California's $41.6 billion gap. Governor Schwarzenegger and the California budget have made headlines since last November.
Proposed solution to the massive deficit has come in the form of 6 proposals (Propositions 1A-1F) that will go before voters in a special election on May 19. The proposals include tax increases as well as spending cuts and efficient measures. The Los Angeles Area Chamber, along with other business groups from across the state, has endorsed the the proposed budget fixes. Here's how the LA Chamber describes the measures:
Props 1A-1F is a package of budget reforms designed to aid short-term economic recovery and enact long-term solutions to the budget crisis. They address many of the guiding principles for reform that the L.A. Area Chamber developed in June 2008. Props 1A and 1B will help put an end to the “boom-and-bust” budget cycle that has failed the state by creating a rainy-day fund, establishing a spending cap and restoring the Proposition 98 funding for K-12 education that has been loaned to the General Fund. Props 1C, 1D and 1E will more fully utilize the potential of the state lottery and reallocate a portion of the dedicated funds generated by Proposition 10 and Proposition 63. Prop 1F will prevent salary increases for state elected officials when a deficit is expected.
Gary Toebben, President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, had this to say about the measures:
"The passage of Props 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E and 1F are the necessary final steps we all must take to balance the $42 billion state budget deficit. These propositions, while not perfect, are the best available solution to reform the broken budget process that has crippled California for far too long and will help restore fiscal health to our state."
Toebben was also quoted as saying:
"We're concerned that if this doesn't pass, the Legislature will come back and pass taxes that are more targeted towards business."
Click HERE for the LA Chamber's position on the proposed budget solution.
For a recap of the struggle over the California budget and this proposed solution, check out this article from the LA Business Journal.
For more info on California's budget issues, check out the state's budget website.
Specter Switches Sides
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced today that he is switching from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, and will run for the senate in 2010 as a Democrat. Specter faced a heated race in the Republican primary.
Sen. Specter released a statement today on www.politicspa.com. Here is an excerpt:
I have been a Republican since 1966. I have been working extremely hard for the Party, for its candidates and for the ideals of a Republican Party whose tent is big enough to welcome diverse points of view. While I have been comfortable being a Republican, my Party has not defined who I am. I have taken each issue one at a time and have exercised independent judgment to do what I thought was best for Pennsylvania and the nation.
Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.
When I supported the stimulus package, I knew that it would not be popular with the Republican Party. But, I saw the stimulus as necessary to lessen the risk of a far more serious recession than we are now experiencing.
Specter did mention Card Check in his statement, saying:
My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords' switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.
To read the full statement, click:
Stimulus = State Budget 'Cliff'
What longer term effect will the stimulus have on state budgets? This question, which has been floating since the stimulus was originally proposed, is now getting some attention.
In a post to its Vote4Biz Blog last week, the Detroit Chamber wrote:
"...stimulus funds can help balance the Michigan budget in Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010, they also create a real possibility of aggravating the ongoing structural deficit by permitting policy makers to postpone actions to bring long-term revenues and expenditures into balance."
The post goes on to claim that the stimulus will: "cause a revenue 'cliff' when the additional federal funding expires."
The term "cliff" when applied to budgetary consequences of the stimulus is getting some traction. Photos last week show Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels addressing reporters in front of a chart simply titled "The Cliff." Choosing another metaphor, Iowa State Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Waterloo) described the Iowa's portion of the stimulus as: "$529 million Band-Aid."
Cliff or Band-Aid, state legislatures are using the stimulus to delay hard budgetary decisions for another year.
Stem Cell Debate in Oklahoma
Oklahoma House Bill 1326 would prohibit research using human embryos. Both Chambers oppose the bill because they fear it would drive away medical research facilities, and discourage research based industries from locating in Oklahoma. Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce addressed some concerns of the bill's proponents:
"This is about using embryos that are currently frozen in banks that are going to be destroyed and thrown away," said . "It's not about harvesting embryos. It's not about creating embryos for research."
HB 1326 passed the House and Senate, but was vetoed late Wednesday night by Democratic Governor Brad Henry. The House is currently trying to override the veto.
For more on this issue, check out this article from The Oklahoman.
Regionalism Forum in Detroit
The challenges inherent in forging broad based regional cooperation were on full display today at the Pancakes and Politics Breakfast in Detroit. Economy, Regionalism and Race Relations was the topic for the morning's panel, but according to the Detroit Free Press, lack of cooperation between the city and suburbs was the prevailing theme.
According to panelist Phil Power, president and founder of the Center for Michigan, citizens understand the problems with thinking and acting inside jurisdictional boundaries:
"Uniformly people tell us we have to recognize that this is an entire region. And if Detroit puts a moat around the city, it hurts everyone."
Demographer Kurt Metzger, another panelist at the breakfast, summed up the opportunities and challenges of solving problems as a region:
"Detroit can be the laboratory for radical redevelopment... But we have suburbs against suburbs, nobody has any money and financially we’re all suffering."
Click HERE to check out the full article.
If you are tackling the challenge of pulling together diverse stakeholders from across your region to solve problems, ACCE and our affiliate - The Alliance for Regional Stewardship (ARS) - have resources, programming, and contacts that can help. Check out www.regionalstewardship.org, and consider joining us on July 29th in Raleigh, NC for the ARS Regional Strategies Forum.
What's Up With Card Check?
What's going on with Card Check these days? Is it dead, dormant, or poised to make a comeback?
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal's pro-labor leaning columnist Thomas Frank declared in his headline - Card Check is Dead. He attributes the bill's demise to Democratic lobbyists, naming names and basically labeling them turncoats.
I'm not sure he has it right, and I think many out there agree with me.
In an article on Tuesday, The Hill reported that the US Chamber is not ready to consider Card Check buried. The US Chamber's Steven Law, a regular ACCE speaker, is concerned that a modified version of the bill could resurface this year or come back after the next Senatorial elections. He described Card Check as "little bit of a jump ball at this point."
Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown is also not ready to say card check is 6 feet under. In an article in yesterday's Cleveland Plain Dealer Sen. Brown indicated that compromise discussions are currently underway between, "Republicans and Democrats who were not supportive of the bill in its original form."
That is probably why Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign continues to sound the warning bell on Card Check. The Las Vegas Review Journal quoted the Senator saying:
"It (Card Check) definitely has lost support, but there's a caveat," Ensign said. "They say they can't support the bill 'as it stands now.' I get nervous when I hear that saying. This bill is a terrible bill no matter how you write it."
Ensign was in Nevada to speak at an informational session on Card Check hosted by the Las Vegas Chamber. That session drew 200 attendees. Other chambers are also keeping up the pressure on Card Check. The Montgomery (AL) Area Chamber has a Card Check seminar planned for May 4th, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce is also speaking out in opposition.
Card Check may not be in the headlines every day anymore, but the issue is still very much alive. Be sure to remind elected representatives where the business community stands on this important issue.
Member Profile - Bernie Koch
Bernie is a longstanding member of ACCE and has been active in the Government Relations Division since its inception. He has spoken at several ACCE events including a workshop on issue selection at the 2008 ACCE Convention in Pittsburgh. Bernie recently took over the policy and government relations program for the Tulsa (OK) Metro Chamber, a 2008 ACCE Chamber of the Year Award Winner.
ACCE: How did you get started in chamber work, and what keeps you in the profession?
Bernie: I was a political and government television reporter for many years at stations in Kansas and Missouri. In 1988 there was an opening for Government Relations Director at the Wichita Chamber. I knew the state, I knew the issues, and so I applied and got the job.
I've stayed in the chamber business for more than 20 years now because I like the variety of work; there are always different issues. I also really like chamber people, they are some of my favorite people to be around, and that's why I love ACCE.
ACCE: What policy issues are currently occupying most of your time?
Bernie: We're spending a lot of time on regional development issues; particularly funding for infrastructure projects like roads and dams. These are local projects working with local governments, but we're also working to understand the federal stimulus package, trying to find out if "shovel ready" applies to our projects.
ACCE: What are the biggest challenges your chamber/community currently face?
Bernie: Our biggest challenge is trying to get everyone on the same page. It's always a struggle to get local and state elected officials working together. Public/private partnerships are a particularly divisive issue in this community.
ACCE: Finish this sentence. Never again will I...
Bernie: Never again will I allow myself to be in a position to fight a guy with a gun. Almost 11 years ago, while I was working at the Wichita Chamber, I was staying at an apartment in Topeka during the legislative session. It was late at night and I was heading out to make copies. As I was getting into my car I was approached by a man wielding a gun. We fought basically to a draw; I was fortunate to walk away from the encounter. Since then I have actually earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I was the oldest guy at my school ever to reach that level.
More on High Speed Rail
I'm a bit of a train aficionado. I don't have a scale model of the B&O line in my basement or anything, but I do like trains (and subways and trolleys). I frequently take the Virginia Railway Express from my home in Fredericksburg to the ACCE office in Alexandria, and I'll ride the rails in your city if I visit. I've actually been on several of the world's fastest trains including the 268 mph Shanghai Maglev.
For all the train lovers out there - or just the folks who want to brush up on the topic since President Obama announced his proposed high speed rail corridor project - here is an good article from Time Magazine: A Brief History High-Speed Rail