Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why the Future Doesn't Look Good for Republicans

National Labor Caucus of State Legislators.

Sen. Spencer Coggs (Wi), President of the National Labor Caucus of State Legislators stated the group has close to 1,000 members. The organization has model legislation on workers’ rights. He sees many workers families facing tough economic times. The economy is a critical issue in every state

Progressive Policies for an Economic Downtown.
David Sirota, an author formerly from Pennsylvania, sees voter anger revolving around economic issues emerging towards the forefront of politics today. Both the political left and right are attempting to organize around that anger. While he sees the views of most these angry voters are tiled toward progressives, the message needs to be given that progressive strategies are what will work best. The political right has been successful in the past in hijacking this anger for their agenda. Most of these issues are state issues and state legislative races will revolve around these issues. The political right has been organizing from the bottom up, from School Boards to state legislative races and then statewide elections. Progressives need to work with state legislators and state officials on a progressive agenda. He also urges that people organize around issues rather than political party. It is the issues that are motivating angry voters, according to Mr. Sirota. He claims that solutions are what the public seeks, not serving a particular political party to win elections.
Sen. Nan Orrock (Ga) observes that many state made cuts during the 2002 to 2004 recession that have never been restored. States are now considering further cuts. These cuts have come in social programs but not in aid to corporations and business loans.
Georgia attempted to eliminate property taxes and shift to a larger sales taxes, which would have been very regressive, according to Sen. Orrock. 16 states and Puerto Rico had to close budget gaps this year, making this one of the most severe budget crunches in six decades. Meanwhile, many long term unemployed are losing benefits, more people have lost Medicare and health care benefits, and mortgage foreclosures are shot up.
Progressives need to organize with other legislators, build networks, set agendas, and work toward legislative successes, according to Sen. Orrocck.
Jerome Ringo, President of the Apollo Alliance, explains that the Apollo Alliance seeks to develop clean energy technologies and to create good paying employment in producing environmental products. This alliance includes business, labor, environmental groups, and community groups. He urges for a national dedicated effort to create an economic future with a cleaner environment and for the US to take the lead in producing clean energy products. National policies could include tax credits and infrastructure investments that he believe could create over three million jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, and technology fields using clean environment standards. He also sees employment growth on the renewable energy field.
Mr. Ringo believes we need to work towards energy independence within ten years. The US is 5% of the world's population, 25% of its energy use, and 35% of world pollution. 27 states have passed renewable energy standards. He praised Pennsylvania for setting renewable standards.
Energy and environmental conservation can create jobs, Jerome Ringo advises. We need to increase domestic productive of renewable products and materials needed in conservation efforts. He believes there could be 3.5 million new jobs created in environmental futures.
We have to act now, according to Jerome Ringo. The problem is here and we are running out of time. He believes we should use more mass transit. We can reduce energy use in most buildings by 30%. We should have been making energy efficient cars, and we allowed Toyota to develop them first and become the world's largest car manufacturer.
President Bush would not ratify the Kyoto environmental agreement. But the National Governors Association did. States are taking the lead on many of these issues, Mr. Ringo notes.
Rep. Diane Rosenbaum (Or) states the economy is the top issue, replacing the war. Unions have to be part of the economic solution. States are attacking budget crises by taking funds from employee pensions and reducing positions in many good social programs. Union jobs earn 18% more than comparable non-union jobs and union jobs are more apt to have pensions. We need to protect the rights of employees, she advised.

Rick Bloomingdale of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO in discussion mentioned how an old steel mill in Bucks County now makes wind energy turbines.

Tax and Budget Reform.

Nick Johnson of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities observes that 29 states face budget shortfalls totally $48 billion next year. Meanwhile state governments are cutting taxes and raiding pension funds which are not addressing the underlying issues of economic problems. States instead should close corporate tax loopholes that could raise revenues.
Ed Muir of the American Federation of Teachers notes the rise of anti-tax organizing. Much of it is led by Americans for Tax Reform and Americans for Prosperity. Cutting taxes is a political mantra for Republicans. Progressives instead need to point out the importance of services, and need to take the message directly to the public from firefighters, teachers, police, etc.
Chris Fox of the AFSCME, speaks of the need for greater budget transparency in business assistance. If business loans and grants result in those businesses receiving them then failing to create the number of jobs or other standards set in the loan or grant agreements, there need to be clawbacks to get the funds returned to the states. He also calls for contract disclosures so the public knows what the standards are in government contracts.
Rep. Garnet Colman (Tx) tells how Texas contracted a private company to make decisions determining eligibility for TANF and disability benefits. This private company slashed the number of children, seniors, and people with mental illnesses from receiving assistance. Texas also turned to a private company from Spain to operate a road corridor. He also tells how Texas took funds from the Rainy Day Fund for business enterprise funds. Cuts are being made to public services with increases are being made to businesses.

Building a Progressive Majority in the States.

Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, states that President Obama will only be as good as progressive make him, as he will be swarmed by both progressive and business interests. He states progressives need to be ready to point out how "tinkle down" economic policies have not been working. The problem is low wages, as jobs are being created, but in low paying sectors.

The Federal government should be able to negotiate prescription drug rates in Medicare, Jim Hightower urges. We need to have stricter environmental regulations. He calls for public financing of campaign to take corporate interests out of the political process. The public are populists and want economic fairness. We urges that progressives transmit their economic policies to a public that already agrees with their ideas. As he put it, those who claim it is hard to herd cats never heard of a can opener.

Jim Hightower notes that that a group of citizen activists can successfully fight corporate interests. He mentions how a group of people in Oregon produce reform for the public good and defeated better funded business interests.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Substance Abuse and Child Welfare.

Nancy K. Young, Director of the National Center of Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACS), notes the National Survey of Drug Use and Health proclaims that methamphetamine abuse has surpassed crack abuse. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department further warns that anywhere from one third to two thirds of all children probably all child welfare programs have been affected by drug abuse, either by their parents, guardians, or themselves. It has been recognized that the sharp increase in children being placed in foster care since the late 1980s previously was largely attributed to the rapid increase in crack use. It is time for policy makers to recognize the emergence of the now more prevalent problems of meth abusers.

Ms. Young sees a new for directions in child welfare personnel training. She observes that many child welfare personnel have been trained primarily to handle alcohol abuse, which indeed exists in 40% of their cases. Yet many are unprepared for the new challenges that meth abuse presents.

There has been a large increase in the numbers of young women using meth. Hospital treatments of females aged 12 through 14 for meth use has increased by 70%. A related issue is the noticeable increase in hospital admissions of pregnant women for meth abuse. These type problems require specialized assistance. There is a shortage of staff able to handle these growing types of problems.

There are problems with women using drugs and alcohol during pregnancies, according to Ms. Young. During their first trimesters, 20.6% of pregnant women use alcohol, 7.5% binge drink alcohol (which has been shown can harm the fetus), and 7.0% use illicit drugs. During their second trimesters, 10.2% of pregnant women use alcohol, 2.6% binge drink, and 3.2% use illicit drugs. During their third trimesters, 6.7% of pregnant women use alcohol, 1.6% binge drink, and 2.3% use illicit drugs.

The encouraging news is that treatment of women with meth addictions have proven as effective as treatment for other types of substance abuse. 30% of those who complete treatment do not reuse meth over the following two years, which is consistent with reuse rates for other types of addictive abuses, according to Ms. Young.

John Smyrni, a consumer advocate who has been through the system as a drug abuser with children, tells how he got off meth at age 42 even while raising six children. He lost his children to the system, and explains that even though he loved his children he found that he needed the meth even after losing his children. His children were taken away with ten minutes notice after his wife tested positive for drugs after giving birth to their sixth child. He finally was able to admit drug use that he had been hiding from a counselor. It took him seven months to go through the system to kick his addiction and get his children back.

Ken DeCerchio, Project Director of the Regional Partnership Grantee Technical Assistance Program, observes the time is essential. From 50% to 70% of people in the criminal justice system require substance abuse treatment. 44% of cases in one study (and from one thirds to two thirds in other studies) of the child welfare system discover at least one and often both parents need substance abuse treatment. Policy makers need to respond immediately to these existing and growing problems. Family intervention specialists are effective in getting people into treatment and getting cases closed due to success more rapidly.

Ken Deibert, Deputy Director of the Division of Children, Youth, and Families in the Arizona Department of Economic Security, faults delays within the managed care system that is reducing access to drug treatment programs while simultaneously the number of drug abuse cases amongst parents has exploded. He also criticizes the lack of flexibility that current funding streams place on child welfare services. The main source of child welfare is Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. This law places a priority on removing children from their families and placing them into out-of-home care programs such as foster care. There are approximately 500,000 children in foster care at all times. Yet, there are times when it may be more appropriate for a program other than foster care. Since the funds exist only if the child is placed in foster care, the incentive decision makers is to decide is to follow the funding stream and place the child in foster care. Deibert suggests instead that states should be rewarded for reducing their foster care caseloads. He also recommends that the unexpended funds then be used for prevention efforts, for more rapid response efforts to troubled children, and for more post-permanency services.

The Uprising in the States.

David Sirota notes the public disapproval of political institutions has reached historic highs. He sees a public uprising demanding more populist reform against the coalition between big business and government. He notes that a conservative populist revolution was led by supporters of Ronald Reagan who orchestrated the movement at the state legislative level so that it would last into a new generation as young conservatives made their way up the government ranks. He believes it is time for a progressive populist uprising.

Mr. Sirota notes that progressives need to discuss tax issues in progressive terms. When they did so in Montana, there followed a stunning collapse of the conservative uprising on taxes. A Democratic majority state legislature was elected afterwards.

Fusion voting, which is legal in eight states, should occur in more states, according to Mr. Sirota. This allows candidates to run as nominees of multiple political parties. He observes how the Working Families Party often nominates Democratic candidates and keeps their mutual candidates to work for progressive labor and environment policies. This was useful in getting legislators to override a Republican Governor’s veto of increasing the minimum wage.

The labor movement needs to organize high tech employees, Mr. Sirota notes. High tech employees are realizing their jobs are being offshore to foreign countries. He faults Microsoft and amazon.com for being as anti-labor as is Walmart.

Shareholder activism is also becoming part of the angry progressive uprising, according to Mr. Sirota. This is because victory is not required. A 25% shareholder vote in favor of an issue sends shockwaves through management that often results in policy changes.

Linking Budgets and Performance.

Sen. Richard Devlin (Or) tells how Oregon has been a leader is performance management analysis of state government operations. They first set over 300 benchmarks of performance. Many legislators had wanted performance measures that sounded good but were unrealistic in practice. The number of benchmarks underwent refinement and there are now 97 benchmarks. Sen. Devlin notes that one should look at outcomes put than outputs. In tough budget years, this helps legislators better determine how to allocate discretionary funds.

Jerry LeBlanc of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette notes that performance management gives the public more confidence in its government operations. He sees the budget process as akin to buying and selling the state over and over again. Louisiana has had to use excess revenues in order to balance its state budget. In 1997, Louisiana passed the Government Accountability Act that institutionalized the accountability process, developed strategic plans, and created performance standards. These reviews are useful both to legislators and for internal management decisions.

There are fears that revenues are declining in a state still needing more resources for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, Professor LeBlanc notes. In the four months following the hurricane devastations, Louisiana had to cut $1 billion in the middle of a fiscal year from a $6.8 billion General Fund.

Manu Patel, Deputy Director for Program Evaluation for the New Mexico legislature, notes that performance measures and targets are included within the New Mexico’s General Appropriations Act. That data is displayed on agency report cards. He finds challenges with performance based budgeting in creating the required level of collaboration with the Executive branch, properly training performance measurers and addressing questions of variation in agency data, and confirming the quality of the data.

Steering Committee.

The Agriculture, Environment, and Energy Committee is considering policies on climate change, wave energy, and states’ roles in global warming.

The Budgets and Revenue Committee is considering the issues of sales tax fairness and tax simplification.

The Communications, Financial Services, and Interstate Committee is considering polices opposing government mandated arbitration for program carriage disputes, state video tax fairness, opposing the National Insurance Act, supporting Federal VoIP Communications Servicing, and opposing Federal mandates to use FRID in state documents.

The Health Committee is considering e-prescribing.

The Labor and Economic Development Committee is considering resolutions in favor of state laws on lead and hazardous materials content in toys or laws for recycling electronic waste despite objections from the Chinese government, adjusting total benefits caps placed on people collecting both social security and workers compensation benefits, providing for adequate funding and state legislative involvement in the administering unemployment compensation programs, opposing means testing for social security benefits, support free trade with Columbia, support tourism promotion programs, support free trade agreements that respect state sovereignty and state government functions, that state legislatures be engaged in Western Hemisphere Travel Initiatives decisions, and that state legislators be involved in GATS policies.

The Law and Criminal Justice Committee is considering policies on off reservation land acquisition for gaming purposes.

The Transportation Committee is exploring the Real ID issue.

John Roberts, Special Assistant for Intergovernmental Affairs for the White House, stated he could be contacted should one need a briefing on where the Administration stands on particular state and local issues.

A motion placing a resolution concerning China in both the Labor Committee and the Communications Committee passed without dissent. If this resolution were defeated in either committee, it would be killed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Post November Political Landscape.

Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report complemented Louisiana for its Governor Bobby Jindal, noting that Louisiana has tried honest and has tried competent and now is trying both honesty and competency at the same time. He joked that politicians like to speak standing up because it maximizes the distance between their brains and their rear ends.

Mr. Cook claims one has to go back to 1968 to find a Presidential campaign that has had so many twists and turns. He notes that a year ago the McCain candidacy was politically dead and the rise of Barack Obama seemed implausible.

He notes that 75% of those surveyed believe the country is going in the wrong direction, that they agree with Democrats more than Republicans in eight of ten major issues, and that a generic Democrat runs 9 points ahead of a generic Republican. He believes this may help Democrats win five to seven Senate seats and 12 to 17 House seats. Surprisingly, Obama leads McCain by only 45% to 42%,

The typical Democrat supported Hilllary Clinton. 57% to 60% of Democratic voters were women, who tended to support Hillary Clinton. The average Democrat was over age 50, and this group tended to support Hillary Clinton. On education and income levels, the average Democrat supported Hillary Clinton. Obama, according to Charlie Cook ran a campaign echoing those of Gary Hart and Bill Bradley where he ran on future change and the environment. This message appealed to young voters and to independents who supported vote for Obama. Cook says that the young do not see gender bias as females are a majority of those in college and graduate schools, but they do see a racial bias in the is country and they believe Obama can address that bias. Cook says the Obama nomination was as simple as Obama offered when voters wanted.

As for the Republicans, McCain won by default. Guiliani, although the front runner a year ago, was prolife, pro-gay rights, and skeptical of gun control and was perfectly position to win the Democratic nomination but not the Republican nomination, according to Mr. Cook. A Republican has to pass at least two and more likely three of the litmus test, not fail all three, in order to gain the nomination.

Fred Thompson ran a really bad campaign. One cannot “mosey” into the nomination. He may have had the conservative credentials that Republicans wanted, but his campaign style killed his candidacy.

Charlie Cook thought Mitt Romney would have done better. Republicans like competency and Romney should have run as a competent former Governor. Yet, the Romney campaign downplayed Romney’s competency and created his as a new conservative, what Mr. Cook believes was the wrong message.

Mike Huckabee was likeable yet he never demonstrated much support beyond the evangelical community, according to Mr. Cook. One by one, the Republicans turned to a new front runner, and one by one, they all auditioned and flopped until McCain was able to fill the vacuum.

It is too early to tell who will win in November. Charlie Cook notes that at this point in the previous campaign John Kerry appeared to be a certain winner. The election will turn on events that have yet to happen. Obama has a slight lead but has been unable to reach 50%, indicating this race is wide open. Obama has not yet presented a narrative appealing to white middle class voters. They still may vote for Obama, but they have not yet reached that point. Charlie Cook does note that one narrative that Obama has downplayed that may connect with middle class voters is his being raised by a single parent in economic disparity. Reagan did not achieve a comfort level with voters until after his debate, at which point he was able to win by 10 percentage points. The debates may again be key in determining who achieves a comfort level with voters.

Obama needs to win every state Kerry won, and to hold only Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania where McCain is threatening, and pick up Ohio or Florida or failing that, win Colorado and Virginia. McCain has the reverse challenge. He needs to hold onto every state Bush won, pay attention to not losing Ohio and Florida, and see if he can pick up Michigan or Pennsylvania. A particular irony is that, early polling shows it is possible this election can end up in a 269 to 269 electoral vote tie.

Charlie Cook suggested that McCain would be looking at picking a Governor such as Jindal, Crist, or Pawlenty, or a foreign policy expert such as former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio. Obama may prefer someone with more experience and he may be looking at Sam Nunn, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, or possibly even crossing party lines and pick Chuck Hagel or Dick Lugar. He does not believe Obama will pick Hillary Clinton as they would divert the press attention to analyzing every aspect of their working relationship.

Energy, Economic, and Environmental Sustainability.

New Jersey Senate President Richard Codey was presented with the State Legislative Leadership Award. When Governor McGreevey resigned, Senator Codey held both the office of Senate President and Governor for 14 months. When told he only had two minutes to speak, he asked what he should speak about, and was told “why don’t you list your accomplishments as Governor?” His wife has gone into surgery before the unexpected resignation, and she came out of surgery, Senator Codey asked his wife if, in her wildest dreams, she ever expected he would become Governor. She replied “you’re never in my wildest dreams.”

Rep. Steve Sviggum of Minnesota also received the State Legislative Leadership Award, where he was recognized for his ability to get along and work with leaders in the other political party. He recommends that people seek and find balance in their lives and decision, and to find the common ground that holds us all together.

William Jenkins, Louisiana State Chancellor, states we need to ensure the sustainability of the environment and our energy resources. We to need to protect our commercial assets, including our seafood harvest. He moderated discussions between Fred Krupp and William Odum.

Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund, recommends that the solutions to the global warming and other environmental problems is that emissions standards should be set and that companies that exceed the standards should be able to sell credits for their extra efforts to companies that are unable to meet the standards. This is a solution that encourages the free market to reward companies that figure out means to surpass goals and be rewarded for doing so. He notes that the standards may be required to be set high. Worldwide, we may need to cut in half all emissions over the next half century. Over the next fifty years, we may need to cut emissions within the United States by 80%
Similar strategies have worked well in the past, according to Krupp. He notes that allowing companies to sell sulfur dioxide emissions reductions beyond set standards resulted, in total, for sulfur dioxide emissions to be cut 30% more than the standards sought to achieve.

A benefit to this is the means to achieve these goals are not dictated, Krupp argues. Instead, it encourages companies to find innovate means to achieve emissions deductions. Fortunately, there are numerous promising research efforts that should improve the environment.

Solar energy is among the fastest growing alternative energy industries, Krupp explains. The industry is being held back by the high costs of photovoltais. Nanotechnology research is finding means to use sulfur in this process. Sulfur, which composes 15% of the Earth’s surface crust, is readily and more cheaply available. Other researchers are exploring the use of copper, iridium, gallium, and selenium in semiconductors.

Solar thermal energy research is finding ways to reduce its costs. Recent developments should soon make it competitive to coal prices, according to Krupp.

Biofuel research is looking into numerous sources, from yeast (which can be sent through pipelines and pumped into cars), cane sugar (which is the easiest to turn into fuel and will assist low income countries), palm oil (which harms the Rain Forest which is a good source), and ethanol (which is strongly supported by Archer Daniels Midland yet requires almost as much energy to harvest and produce the corn and make it into fuel as it produces). According to a global warming index, the most favorable fuel would be cellulosic ethanol (given the best rating of 4), followed by sugar caned based ethanol with a rating of 36, corn ethanol with a rating of 76, and gasoline the worst rating of 92. Recent research is looking into making biofuels from mixed prairie grasses who have the potential that it may be carbon negative.

Algae is a potential source of producing biofuels. Algae has the advantage that it multiples rapidly and thus can be harvested daily as opposing to soybeans and corn which at most can be harvested twice a year. Algae is an efficient source of biofuels. One acre of algae can yield 5,000 gallons of biofuels compares to one acre of oil palms which yields 800 gallons of biofules compared to one acre of soybeans which yields 70 gallons of biofuels.

Other research is looking into alternative energy from tidal waves, coal plants using supercritical temperatures that recues emissions, nuclear fusion, and sky winds (where winds at 35,000 feet are one hundred times stronger than ground level winds).

Krupp believes that nuclear energy will be a part of our energy future. The nuclear power industry has to first resolve several issues that will ensure their safety. He notes most of the nuclear power plants face being retired due to their old ages.

Krupp warns there may be initial short term higher consumer costs due to undertaking actions needed to protect the environment. Yet there will be a long term savings to consumers for taking these actions.

The key to making strides on increasing environmental protections is to overcome entrenched interest which are powerful and wish to avoid having to make changes that may be costly to them. The interests have created a political divide that has to be overcome in order for needed environmental changes to be approved.

Marvin Odum, President of Shell Oil, states that sustainability is meeting the world’s energy needs in a socially and economically responsible way. The oil industry has to be positive in working with the community where they are, and if the people do not want them somewhere, then they don’t want to be there. He believes that the supply of oil will reach its peak within seven years. He observes there is a rapidly increasing demand for energy sources especially in Asia. The world will soon need twice the amount of energy as it uses now. He sees a need for more drilling for oil to meet long term needs. He states tar, oil shale, and biomass will be required to be produced in order to make up for the shortfall in future energy demand.

State Budget Update.

Corina Eckl, NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Director, states that state revenues gew an average of 2.2% this past year. 33 states face budget deficits totaling $40.3 billion, of which $15 billion belongs to California. She notes that California’s budget deficit of $15 billion is larger than many other states’ total budgets. This is a sharp contrast to last year when nearly every state had a balanced budget. Sales tax receipts are less than expected in most states. Still, this downturn is not as bad as in 2004 when 42 states had an all time high deficit of $84 billion.

Ten states made budget cuts and seven states raised taxes. Many other states delayed planned expenditures, according to Ms. Eckl. Many fiscal analysts believe their states’ budget situation will be worse this coming year.

Florida has had a three year decline in state revenues, something that has never happened before in Florida history.

Tax Facts-Fast Talk.

Bert Waisanen of NCSL notes that fewer states changed their tax codes this past year than in most other years. Many Mountain states experienced average net decreases in revenues of around 1%. Indiana increased its sales tax to offset a decrease in property taxes. Minnesota dedicated some gas tax funds for specific transportation projects.

In 2008, 43 states reported raising $1,676,700,000 in state taxes, $492,200,000 in state fees. Of the $1,676 million raised in state taxes, $754.9 million were from sales and use taxes, $440.0 million were from cigarette and tobacco taxes, $175.1 million were from motor fuel taxes, $154.3 million were from corporate income taxes, $15.1 million were from alcohol taxes, $12.7 million were from health taxes, and a negative $63.7 million were from personal income tax rebates.

William Fox, Professor of Economics at the University of Tennessee observes that sales taxes have risen over recent years as a percent of state revenues raised. Sales taxes thus are becoming more important to states. Sales tax revenues are very vulnerable during economic slowdowns. States need more predictable revenue sources and sales tax revenues decrease when consumers spend less. He believes states should consider more sales tax exemptions and holidays and that tax systems should move more towards a consumption tax. In Tennessee, sales tax revenues for this fiscal year are $117 million less than anticipated.

Professor Fox notes that states often respond financially after disaster by decoupling from Federal policies. They do this by allowing filing extensions for affected taxpayers and allowing non-coupling tax adjustments permitted at the Federal level. Non-disaster state responses included Arkansas, which allowing purchases with FEMA assistance cards to be exempt from the sales tax. Texas exempted people displaced by disasters to be exempt from hotel and motel sales taxes. The Federal government responded with the $9 billion Gulf Opportunities Zone Act and the $6 billion Katrina Emergency Tax Relief. He notes this compares with the $5.5 billion in Federal and state disaster relief provided to New York after the September 11 attack. In addition, the IRS allowed casualty losses from Katrina to be filed against 2000 as well as 2001 tax filings. Individuals were allowed to take early withdrawals from retirement plans for disaster relief. Bonus depreciations and low carrying forwards were expanded for businesses hurt by hurricanes. Increased scholarships were provided to affected families.

Professor Fox advised states to keep 40% of the Rainy Day Funds available for disaster relief. He notes most states only allocate 10% of such funds for disaster relief. He notes states need to be prepared for disaster relief from unemployment services, Medicaid accounts, and numerous other government functions.

Overseeing Public-Private Partnerships.

Rep Linda Harper-Brown (Tx) notes that PPI (public-private partnerships) are sometimes called the pick pocket projects. She urges legislatures maintain oversight to see that the public interest is served. States need to know who is controlling their assets, especially when the assets are placed under control of foreign companies. She warns that many PPIs place “no competitive clauses” within their contracts that restrict anyone from ever competing with the PPI. This clause can prevent the state from building new roads that would divert traffic from a PPI toll road. She believes that most state Transportation Departments know their roads than so outside contractors. She also notes that contracts need to consider even small details such as whether emergency vehicles would be required to pay tolls.

Jeffrey Buxbaum of Cambridge Systematics Inc. states the infrastructure is aging and requires rehabilitation. The costs of rehabilitation are escalating. Gas tax revenues are flat and decreasing for some states. Tolls or mileage based fees are difficult and costly to collect. Congestion pricing is proving to be difficult to get the public to understand and accept. States are looking at congestion prices and PPIs as means to afford rehabilitation. He notes Chicago has contracted a road for 99 years in return for $1.8 billion while Indiana has contracted a toll road in 75 years in return for $3.8 billion. He states many states do not have the political will to increase tolls and that tolls need to be increased to pay for roads, so they prefer to turn the toll increasing to a PPI.

Mr. Buxbaum notes there are several kinds of PPIs. Some are design build partnerships. A PPI does not mean that a road has to be tolled.

Betsey Daley, Staff Director of the Virginia Senate Finance Committee, notes states are looking to public-private partnerships, especially in areas where the public sector cannot afford to engage in the activity alone. Virginia passed its first public private transportation act in 1995. She notes the legislature has no traditional role in the PPI approval process. She warns the legislature may lose budget flexibility if there are large long term commitments made to the private sector. She fears state government will begin to rely on PPIs for basic maintenance needs.

Harold Green of the Virginal Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, tells how Northrup Gumman put capital upfront for a ten year $2 billion PPI. The Virginia government needed large scale costly projects to be done in a quick manner. This was an option that allows these projects to be done. He is critical that there is a lack of data regarding the cost effectiveness of PPIs.

Steering Committee.

Actions that have been moved by committees to the Action Calendar include policies on global warming and emissions standards, Federal chemical policies, stales tax fairness and simplification, government mandated arbitration for carriage disputes, state video tax fairness, the National Insurance Act, Federal VoiP serves, and FRID use requirements in state documents.

The Labor Committee passed a resolution on China.

A Real ID proposal failed in the Transportation Committee. The current NCSL policy on Real ID thus remains in effect.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Higher Education’s Role in Meeting Emerging STEM Workforce Needs.

Eleanor Babco, of the Council of Graduate Schools, notes that computer science is drawing many students who are using what they learn for a variety of new occupations, including architecture design, automobile design, film graphics, and game designing. She states that this masters degree program, first developed in 1997, combines business skills with technical competencies in Science and Math. Most graduates work for non-profits and the government. Even some for-profit firms are seeing value in these graduates. This degree attracts students wishing to further study Math or Science in graduate school yet do not wish to spend several indeterminate years getting a Ph.D. Many employers believe a bachelors degree is insufficient for Science and Math graduates. Only 20% of Math and Science graduates continue on to graduate school in Math and Science. This degree program, by combining business skills, such as Marketing, Management, and Statistics with further Math and Science studies, produces graduates capable both of working on laboratory projects while also understanding how to bring projects in time and on budget. Employers appreciate these combined skills. Students also like that this masters degree takes a set two years, includes real world internships that often lead to jobs, and require a capstone projects instead of a written thesis

There are 150 programs of this nature in 55 institutions in 25 states (including Temple University). These programs graduated 344 in 2006. 47% of graduates are female. 85% are American citizens, which compares to half of Science graduate students being citizens. Starting salaries are mostly in the $55,000 to $62,000 range, with private industry paying higher salaries on average than non-profits or the government. Two thirds of graduates remain in the same state where they received this degree, which compares to one fourth of Science graduates remaining in the same state from where they graduated. Congress authorized the National Science Foundation to create more of these programs, but there were no funds provided in this authorization.

Dan Peters, Senior Manager for BD-Bioscience, told about his company and how he wants to hire employees who can be productive for the day they begin work. He needs employees who understand both research and development and business needs. He finds students with PSM degrees very useful. He also believes industry should provide more internships to give PMS students experience and preparations for their careers.

Becoming Resilient Change Masters.

Eileen McDargh observes that companies are more successful when its employees feel interconnected and motivate to support their companies. When leaders and subordinates better interact such that company goals are properly understood, as well as allowing that feedback is considered and adopted when appropriate, company functions improve. Employees will then feel more involved in their work. This can be intensified when they receive direct positive feedback from superiors.

Companies often work better when their meetings allow for candid discussions and focus on how desired results should be achieved. She warns that too many company meetings are boring presentations of data to each others. Such meetings makes many feel they are wasting their time participating. Instead, employees should feel they are actively engaged in work discussions. Disconnected employees tend to perform less efficiently, when can seriously effect customer relations who directly deal with these inefficient employees.

Good leaders need to learn how to use naïve listening, which is the ability to hear something without showing an opinion on what is being said, even if the listener already has an opinion. There is often a need to let others get their viewpoints across and allow for necessary feedback. Good leaders often use story telling effectively, as listeners generally listen better and comprehend story analogies better than they do a speaker presenting endless facts and data. She also recommends that good leaders seek to encourage people by telling them what they are supposed to do instead of concentrating on telling what they shouldn’t do.

The attributes of changer masters, according to Ms. McDargh, are adaptability and discovering multiple options for self. She warns against always looking at the feared future instead of aiming for the preferred future. Analyze what one is holding onto that is preventing changes for the better. Try to see what trends one is ignoring.

Within companies, Ms. Dargh advises, one should ask the front line people what they are thinking. Sometimes the newest employees bring in new ideas and are able to see things that others do not. Act when appropriate, she advises as action is the antidote for anxiety.
Align to leave a legacy, she recommends. Legislators are the guardians of institutions that are at the heart of American democracies. She advises, though, that when the laughter in your work had died, you’re in the wrong business.

Millennial Makeover.

Mike Hais, former Vice President of Frank N. Magid Associates, describes how the Millennial generation should change politics. He bases this on historic generational patterns and surveys of Millennials. Each generation has a general behavioral pattern reflected in its reactions to the generations before it and its upbringing by parents that affects its own political leanings. Each generation dominates political elections for approximately 22 years until its preferences usually are overshadowed by the political leanings of the following generation.

There is first an “idealist” generation followed by a “reactive” generation. There is then a “civic” generation, followed by an “adaptive” generation. It must be noted that many of these generations overlap each other, although in differing strengths, while the younger emerging generation gains in influence through sheer numbers in each subsequent election. Every 88 to 89 years, there is a political realignment. The realignment usually occurs along with a technological change where the political party that responds best to using a new technology to reach voters obtains an electoral advantage.
The four types of generations tend to have certain characteristics onto each such generation. These similarities are”
The “idealist” generation is the generation that accepts new policies and actively seeks to enact them. .
A “reactive” generation follows, having grown up with idealistic and permissive parents. They tend to react and rebel against their parent’s idealism by becoming more pragmatic. They also are prone to risk taking and being entrepreneurial. The contrary reaction to the previous generation often creates a political realignment where some new ideas are indeed enacted.
The “civic” generation tends to see the problems that emerge from the risk taking and ambitions of their parents. This generation tends to seek solutions to problems and supports creating institutions that solve problems.
An “adaptive” generation follows. They are more apt to have had overprotective, civic-minded parents. The adapters react by seeking to reduce risks, conform to society, and seek compromises. This often creates a political realignment.

The first political era of 1788 to 1824 was of a new country and political parties were becoming defined. The Democrat-Republican Party won six elections and a candidate professing to belong to no political party won four elections.

The second political era lasted from 1826 through 1856. During this period, Democrats won 6 of the 8, or 75%, of the Presidential elections. This was an idealist generational realignment.
Realignment elections tend to see an increase in the participation in politics. In 1824, 51% of the voting age voted compared to 66% in 1828.
Southern state voters tended to be idealists for an agrarian society and were predominately Democratic. New England state voters tended to be idealists for an industrial society and were predominately Republican.
Income disparities tend to increase during idealist periods. During this period, the gap between rich and poor in incomes continuously increased until the 1850s.
Social and racial unrest is more of an issue during this type of era. The anti-immigration American or Know Nothing Party elected 51 House members in 1854. The issue of slavery tore the nation apart.

The third political era lasted from 1860 through 1892. During this period, the Republicans won 7 of 9, or 78%, of the Presidential elections. This was a civic generation realignment.
The Civil War was a major catalyst for this realignment. The use of the telegraph changed the nature of newspapers and how the reported politics. This allowed the Lincoln and Douglas debates to be published for voters across the country to read. Lincoln and the Republicans gained more from this new technology. This period also saw an increase in the number of newspapers that openly supported positions of one political party over the other.
Realignment elections tend to see an increase in the participation in politics. In 1852, 70% of the voting age voted compared to 81% in 1860.
This civic minded generation supported its political institutions, as the same political party that controlled the Presidency also controlled the majority in Congress in 12 of 18 Congresses from 1860 to 1895.
The disparity in incomes between rich and poor lessened during this period. The post Civil War period accomplished some of this by reducing the wealth of southern plantation owners.
The Civil War would address much of the social and racial unrest from the previous period.
Major government programs tend to be created during civic periods. During this period, the Homestead Act, the Morrill Land Grand Act, and the Pacific Railway Act leading to population shifts to the western part of the country were created.

The fourth political era lasted from 1892 through 1928. During this period, the Republicans won 7 of 9, or 78%, of the Presidential elections. This was an idealist generation realignment.
The Great Depression of 1893 was a major catalyst for this realignment.
Realignment elections tend to see an increase in the participation in politics. In 1892, 75% of the voting age voted compared to 79% in 1896.
Democratic leader William Jennings Bryan’s attack on Republican leading economic institutions drew several previous Republican-leaning states in the Plains and Rocky Mountains into voting more Democrat, yet much of the rest of the more adaptive voters in the rest of the country supported these institutions and tended to vote Republican.
Income disparities tend to increase during idealist periods. The gap in wealth between the rich and poor reached its greatest historic amounts from 1896 through the following three decades.
Social unrest is more of an issue during this type of era. Many racial and ethnic conflicts were noted to have occurred during this period.
The introduction of political leaflets changed the nature of politics during this period. The McKinley campaign of 1896 was the first to successfully use and distribute campaign pamphlets, canvass voters, and use get out the vote efforts.

The fifth political era lasted from 1932 through 1964. During this period, Democrats won 7 of 9, or 78%, of the Presidential elections. This was a civic generation alignment.
The Depression of 1929 was a major catalyst for this realignment.
The use of radio and television changed the nature of politics during this era. President Roosevelt became noted for his “fireside chats” to the public over radio. John Kennedy’s better use of television as a campaign tool helped elect him President in 1960.
Realignment elections tend to see an increase in the participation in politics. In 1924, 46% of the voting age voted compared to 53% in 1932 and 57% in 1936.
This civic minded generation supported its political institutions, as the same political party had the majority in both chambers of Congress in 15 of 19 Congresses from 1933 through 1969.
Major government programs tend to be created during civic periods. During this period, the New Deal programs and the Great Society programs, such as social security and Medicare, were created to resolve the economic problems facing the country. This also tended to make blue collar voters vote for Democrats while white collar voters who were less apt to support these programs tended vote for Republicans.
The disparity in incomes between rich and poor lessened during this period. Many of the programs mentioned prior helped achieve this.
The New Deal and early civil rights measures addressed much of the social and racial unrest from the previous period.

The sixth political era lasted from 1968 through 2004. During this period, the Republicans won seven of 10, or 70%, or the Presidential elections. This was an idealist generation realignment.
The civil rights movement was a major factor in this realignment. Many Democratic leaning states in the South and West that were less favorable to the civil rights movement favored mostly by Democratic leaders began voting more for Republicans.
Idealists tend to favor issues over parties. It is noted there was an increase in ticket splitting voting during this generation, from about one third of voters splitting their tickets in 1960 to two thirds in 1972.
Income disparities tend to increase during idealist periods. This disparity grew during this period to where, in 2001, the wealthiest 1% in America held 40% of our nation’s wealth and the top one fifth wealthiest people hold 90% of the nation’s wealth.
Social unrest is more of an issue during this type of era. Many urban riots, which were happened in greater number in 1968, occurred during this period.

We are now entering the seventh political era with the Millennial generation emerging as the future controlling generation. Each generation has always been larger in numbers than the previous generation, and this generation will be no exception. This should be an adaptive generation that will outnumber the reactive Generation Xers. Generation Xers tend to be more materialistic, individualistic, and more Republican. Millennials by a five to two ratio are more Democrat than Republican.
The defining date for Millennials is September 11, 2001. Millenials grew up fearful of school shootings and terrorist attacks. They are very conscious of security issues and are more willing to allow some civil liberties to be relaxed in return for increased security.
The use of the Internet will change the nature of politics. Millennials are twice more likely to obtain their news over the Internet than by reading a newspaper. Candidates will use the Internet to advance themselves, and to hurt their opponents, as noted how George Allen’s campaign for Senator was severely harmed after his use of a racial word was put on YouTube. Jim Webb was elected instead. Senator Conrad Burns was seen on You Tube joking about his Hispanic gardener. Joe Tester was elected instead.
80% of Millennials over age 14 have a personal profile on an Internet social networking page and three fourths of them update their sites at least once a week. Political candidates already are reaching voters on these social networks.
43% of Millennials old enough to register to vote have registered as Democrats compared to 31% who have registered as Republicans.
The Millennials generation should be more supportive of government institutions. Previous idealist generations tend not to produce many new government programs, and the most recent seven Presidents not only have not created any major new programs yet most sought to reduce the role of the government. Polling data of the Millennial generation indicates they tend to support institutions, including government. 66% of Millennials surveyed state they support increasing the size of government and creating more services, compared to 39% of the rest of the population surveyed who agreed with this. 64% of Millennials surveyed disagreed with a statement that the Federal government is wasteful and inefficient, compared to 58% of the rest of the population who disagreed with that statement. Millennials supported the government even in war, as Millennials were the generation that most supported going to war in Iraq. 60% of Millennials initially supported the war in Iraq.
This generation will likely be more prone to deal with issues of wealth disparity. As they tend to support existing institutions, they are more apt to support these institutions in efforts to reduce wealth disparities. 73% of Millennials surveyed state that government should help those who can’t help themselves, compared to 68% of the rest of the population who agreed with this statement. 59% of Millennials surveyed state taking care of the needy should occur even it increases the national debt, compared to 54% of the rest of the population. 73% of Millennials state they support national health insurance even if it means increasing taxes, compared to 66% of the rest of the country.
This generation seeks to handle racial and social unrest. 52% of Millennials surveyed display positive attitudes towards immigrants compared to 39% of the rest of the population surveyed. 65% of Millennials surveyed oppose building a fence along the Mexican border compared to 48% of the rest of the population surveyed.
This generation will be less persuaded by Christian Coalition type organizations. 19% of Millennials describe themselves as agnostic or atheist, compared to 15% of Generation Xers, 10% of Baby Boomers, and 5% of those belonging to the GI and Silent Generations.
This generation appears to be the most gender neutral generation in history and it is predicted the women’s rights movement will decrease in prominence. Millennials do not observe discrimination against women. In fact, the majority of college students and graduate students are female and female Millennials on average earn more than male Millennials.
Gay rights should increase as 61% of Millennials surveyed support gay marriage.
The Obama campaign is representative of the first Millennial uprising. During the Iowa caucuses, Obama was surrounded by hundreds of young Millennials. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, was surrounded by elderly politicians such as Wesley Clark, Madeline Albright, and Bill Clinton. Plus, the women’s rights issues projected by the Clinton campaign does not resonate with Millenials, but the civil rights issues projected by the Obama campaign are better understood by Millenials.

Bridging the Transportation Funding Gap.

Governor Ed Rendell observes that state and local governments bear 73% of the costs of maintaining transportation. No other government in the world places such a burden on its governmental subunits.

Governor Rendell states it will take $1.6 trillion to repair all the nation’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports, and schools. Pennsylvania requires $80 billion. This is not a cost the state can afford.

Pennsylvania recently spent $700 million in 55 structurally deficient bridges, but there are 7,000 structurally deficient bridges remain. The average age of Pennsylvania bridge is 50 years old and each passing year the deterioration escalates. The costs of repairing them escalates upwards with each passing year. In addition, the costs of repairs themselves are increasing at rates above the cost of living with costs recently increasing by 33%. The more we wait, the higher the costs will be.

In 1961, the U.S. spent 11% of non-military spending on infrastructure, and today that percent is 2%, according to Governor Rendell. China, India, and the European Union all spend up to seven times more than we do on infrastructure.

Governor Rendell proposes changing tax codes for encourage more Public Private Partnerships on infrastructure. He also proposes the Federal government to create a Capitol budget. He states this will be costly, but observes what is needed equals what we spend on the war in Iraq.

In response to a question, Governor Rendell stated the Port of Philadelphia cannot be sustained on government debt. There are not enough public funds to move the port forward. It needs to find a private sector operator.

Mayor Rendell advises that if the public would check their tire pressure, air filter, and drive 60 rather than 75, that they could save more than they would save if the gas tax were suspended for three months.

Sen. Bruce Starr (Or) believes a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax may replace the gas tax. This method means that users of roads are taxed directly for the amount of roads they travel. He believes alternative means of financing road repairs is necessary due to their growing costs. The costs of asphalt, steel, and concrete have been increasing up to five times larger than the cost of inflation. The gas tax is not keeping up in revenues, and in several states has been producing lower revenues. Ironically, the rise of electric vehicles is part of the problem as this reduces the amount of gas used and gas taxes paid. A VMT tax has been used successfully in Portland, Oregon.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg notes that American transportation policy is a hodgepodge of grants and programs that don’t fit together. He criticizes that there is no fresh thinking on transportation policies. He warns there are not enough Federal funds coming to maintain our current transportation systems, much less sustain future systems. He warns that transportation construction costs are increasing at a rate of 2 ½ per month. He joins with Governor Rendell is calling for Federal action on our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Mayor Bloomberg states he doesn’t understand people who challenge giving road operations over to foreign countries. He states the alternative is to remain reliant on oil to foreign countries that hate America.

NCSL warns that transportation construction costs are increasing at a faster rate than our state revenues to pay for them. At this rate, it is estimated that states face a $1 trillion gap in being able to pay for transportation needs by 2015. States can increase fuels excise taxes (a.k.a. gas taxes). Only 14 states have increased gas taxes in the last decade. It would take on average a 20 cent increase in gas taxes just to keep up with inflation. Tolling is another option. Tolls currently raise 5$ of revenues needed for roads. Several states are looking at public-private partnerships for road projects. Oregon has instituted a vehicle miles traveled tax using computers and GPS system to fee according to actual road use. Some states use development taxes and sales tax for roads.

A Conversation on Solving America’s Challenges.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin states New Orleans is improving from the hurricanes and will be better than before.

Speaker Dennis O’Brien and the Philadelphia Phanatic encourage attendance at next year’s conference in Philadelphia.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich believes the vast majority of Americans are on general agreement on most major political issues. The problem he sees is the two political parties represent opposite views on the extreme ends of opinions. He believes many Democrats focus on what they see is wrong with government and many Republicans focus on their philosophy that government should be reduced. He instead argues that the discussions should be on how to make government more efficient. He sees Democrats as unable to do this because they are beholden to union and bureaucratic interests whose interests would be harmed by efficiency efforts. He sees Republicans as unable to do this because they focus primarily on cutting government without considering making government more efficient once it has been cut.

Reagan cut programs but failed to create a permanent culture where the cuts were made to operate efficiently and permanently, according to Gingrich. The Republican Party lacked a commitment to maintaining long term government cuts and keeping taxes low. Instead, George H.W. Bush raised taxes two years after Reagan left office. Gingrich argues that Republicans need create a permanent goal of achieving smaller, more efficient government with lower taxes.

Gingrich warns that candidates and elected official rely too much on what political consultants and pollsters tell them is the more politically viable course of action. He calls instead for acting according to what is the most proper course of action. This is especially bad, according to Gingrich, because these short term policy decisions that are being made fail to consider creating what is best in the long term. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily the most popular policies and short term views in politics are rejecting the correct choices, Gingrich believes.

Republicans pander too much to their activist base, which often has extreme positions, Gingrich warns. This fails to connect with the larger body of voters. He argues that the Republican Party would be more successful if it became the permanent pro-good government, pro-limited government political party.

Republicans should attack Democrats who advocate raising taxes because doing so will make us less competitive in the global market, Gingrich advises. The U.S. needs to focus on increasing productivity and increasing income to make our nation more able to compete against other foreign producers. Gingrich believes Republicans can win on making lower taxes an economic development argument before the electorate,

Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton warns of problems resulting from the tradition that Presidents rarely consult with Congress on foreign policy matters. When Presidents do meet on international relations, they do so with only a few members of Congress. This has caused our nation to be unable to create a national foreign policy.

Gingrich observes that American is the world’s wealthiest country in energy resources. Our nation has 27% of the world’s supply of coal in addition to wind and solar resources.

Gingrich claims that 40% of the health budget care is waste. He believes we need to reduce Medicaid spending and to end waste and fraud in health care spending.

Gingrich states we need to change how we govern. He points out that we won World War II in three years and two months and wonders why it takes 22 years to get a new runway approved and built.

Former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton also laments the declining civility between members of Congress. He urges Congress to work more towards the public good and less towards partisan goals. He sees Congress as under considerable distress. It is easier to blow up a discussion than it is to bring people together. Congress had been too timid and it needs more people with the political skills require to bring people working together.

Among the issues Rep. Hamilton states we need to get right is immigration. He notes that half of engineers in America are from foreign countries. We need to expand our labor force to keep our nation’s productivity rising and that skilled foreign labor needs to be attracted to come to the U.S. He also urges for more research and investment that will help our economy grow.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg states our nation’s infrastructure is faltering. America will fall behind the rest of the world if we do not upkeep our infrastructure.

Governor Ed Rendell states that the challenges to our infrastructure are challenges to our very quality of life. We need a world class infrastructure to compete with the rest of the world. Infrastructure jobs will help revitalize our economy. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced.

What Reporters Want.

Adam Schrager of KUSA encourages legislators and the public to watch their hometown newspaper’s editorial meetings. If a paper will not let people watch their meetings, he states you then have a lot of worry about.

He advises the best times to release news is from early to mid morning. He notes that most newspaper reporters and photographers work in shifts from 4 am to 1 pm, 9 am to 6:30 pm, and from 2 pm into the night. A bad time to catch reporters and photographers is just before shift changes.

He advises office holders to spend time talking to reporters. They should realize that reporters don’t want to make mistakes and will appreciate when someone times the time to make certain they have their facts correct. Yet, office holders have to realize that reporters have a job to do. He asks if one can’t answer a reporter’s question, how do they expect to answer the public when they ask the same question in a chance meeting in a grocery store?

Mr. Schrager states there are ways to become more quotable. Keep your statements simple. He recalls that Mark Twain stated if he had more time he would have written less. Take complex issues and make them simple to understand. Talk the talk of your neighborhood. Be on top of what is going on and be current.

He advises people not to take anything for granted, and don’t presume that a reporter understands all that one is talking about. He realizes that legislators handle complicated issues, and reporters can’t possibly understand it all.

Never say “no comment”, Mr. Schrager advises. If one doesn’t wish to give an interview, a written statement is better than nothing. He also recommends that people giving interviews tape their own interviews. That way they can guarantee they are being quoted accurately. In addition, he advises people to then play their interviews back and see how well they are at explaining things.

He notes that Capitol reporters often prefer to find people outside the Capitol to see how they will be impacted by what is happening at the Capitol.

Adam Schrager advises that the truly successful politicians shoot for the front page, not for the editorial page. Editorials are the least read section of the paper. He notes that many politicians sweat over what is in the editorial page when they should be focusing on what is one page one.

He advises that many reporters look at legislators with skepticism. They do not like politicians who play them, and he advises against doing so.

He also advises against using “off the record”. He states he refuses to listen to off the record comments. He states that if one does state something off the record that it can still come back and bite you.

Most fundamentally, Adam Schrager advises, is: Be truthful.

Congressional Voting Rights for the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia seeks state legislatures to pass resolution encouraging the granting D.C. the right to Congressional and Senatorial representation.
States Night

Friday, July 25, 2008

Walk for Wellness,

Walking is good for one’s health and NCSL encourages it. I walked the 6 K in 50 minutes and 29 seconds even though I had not prepared to bring walking clothes and shoes.

Controlling Prison Populations and Price Tags.

Adam Gelb of the Public Performance Project of the Pew Center Charitable Trusts Center on the States, notes that 1% of the population is behind bars. While there has been an increase in prison population, the crime rate has also increased. An average prison cell takes $65,000 to build and $24,000 a year to operate.

There were 585,084 imprisoned in 1987 and 1, 596,127 imprisoned in 2007, according to Mr. Gelb. One in nine Black males ages 18 to 34 are behind bars. Black females are the ethnic group with the fastest rising incarceration rate, even older Black females. 1 in 100 Black female in her last 30s is behind bars.

$10.6 billion was spent on prisons in 1997. $49.6 billion was spent on prisons in 2007, according to Mr. Gelb. One in 15 of every state General Fund money is spent on corrections.

Adam Gelb states there are ways to reduce the costs of corrections. Prison admissions could be reduced by diversion programs, drug courts, reforming sentencing guidelines, and increasing intermediate sanctions. The length of stay in prisons could be reduced by allowing early release credit for completing job training programs and drug use rehabilitation programs.

New Jersey is using community corrections program to lower the number of people imprisoned and keep costs down, according to Mr. Gelb. Texas is expanding residential and community diversion programs in response to an additional required $523 million in corrections spending. Arizona offers financial incentives to counties if their probation officers use more positive reinforcement to decrease recidivism. Mississippi passed a law reducing most prison sentences by certain percentages North Carolina had a comprehensive readjustment where it increased prison terms for violence crime and for repeat offenders while also placing greater numbers of lower level criminals into county level community programs. North Carolina estimates they have saved two billion in costs through this strategy.

Speaker Dennis O’Brien would require people convicted of serious crimes to be sentenced to state prison and never to county jail. This will significantly reduce the costs to county jail systems. He would also provide incentives for inmates to compete drug and alcohol treatment, literary classes, and job training programs. Inmates who are seriously ill would be permitted to be moved out of prison into hospitals.

Speaker O’Brien states no state has the financial resources to incarcerate everyone who deserves to be imprisoned. Judges in Pennsylvania can sentence someone up to five years into county jails that are not designed for more violent long term prisoners. Philadelphia was required to operate under a prison cap. The mass released prisoners went on to commit 79 murders and 10,000 crimes.

Speaker O’Brien explains how a bipartisan working group can successfully study the problem, work with statewide organizations including prosecutors, Sheriffs, corrections official, and the ACLU, and find common ground to create legislation to solve many of the corrections problems. Under the legislation, anyone sentenced to two or more years would be sent to state prison, parole guidelines were established, prison transportations were streamlined, and victims were involved in every step of the process.

Sen. Kwame Raoul (Il) claims that a quarter of Illinois inmates have been imprisoned for drug offenses. He calls for more treatment programs. He notes that a drug court in one country has brought more addicts into treatment programs earlier and this has cut the rate of recidivism.

The Changing Face of America.

Lt. Gov, Mitch Landrieu (La) states we need to build at home as well as abroad. The inability of the infrastructure to withstand hurricanes should have been a wake-up call to America that there are major infrastructure problems. Hurricane Katrina was the canary in the gold mine, according to Lt. Gov. Landrieu. Our national security and energy industry depends on the Gulf Coast, and it is deteriorating rapidly.

Dr. Gordon Nueller, Director of the World War II Museum, states the museum has raised $80 million to date. The museum seeks $50 million from Congress to expand the museum.

James Johnson, Director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center, warns that the global economy is changing the shape of the American workforce. He notes we need to find many new employees to remain competitive. He urges that former young offenders need to be brought into the workforce. Many of these offenders lost several years in the workforce while imprisoned for petty drug offenses. While in prison, they fell behind in learning the current job skills many employers now require. He notes that former drug dealers actually have entrepreneurial skills and that job training programs can refocus these talents into lawful employment.

James Johnson sees the “graying of America” due to the aging of our non-Hispanic white native born population. A large part of our labor market, which is most of the 82 million baby boomers born 1946 through 1962, will be retiring in the next few years. There are only 67 Americans that will be available to replace the 82 million that are retiring. Even with increased efficiencies, there will likely be a 10 million workforce shortage. Most organizations do not have a knowledge succession plan of how organizational knowledge will be passed down from retiring employees to new employees.

We are a global economy, Mr. Johnson observes. Surgeries can be performed at less cost in India than the United States. Indian operations are conducted by Board certified doctors, many of whom were trained in the United States, and their surgeries have a lower death rate than American surgeries. India is developing a medical tourism industry. Indian hospitals are creating diagnostic centers in the United States where patients are flown to India for any needed surgeries.

Many foreign countries have more rigorous high school programs than our graduate programs, according to Mr. Johnson. We are falling behind the rest of world in educational output and economic competitiveness. Young immigrants may be the salvation of our country, he believes.

Population increases will be driven by foreign born and by Hispanics. Native born Americans have 61.5 lives births annually per 1,000 of native born Americans. This compared to 85 live births annually per 1,000 of foreign born residents and 112.3 live births per 1,000 of Hispanics. Population forecasts projects that in 2050 the United States will be 52.8% white, 24.5% Hispanic, and 13.5% Black and 9% Asian.

The foreign born (predominately Hispanics) are moving mostly to agricultural jobs in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas where they are jobs involving hogs, turkeys, and chickens and in Nebraska, Colorado, and Iowa for beef processing jobs. Raleigh, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Kansas City are becoming melting pot cities full of recent immigrants.

The decade of 1990-2000 was the first time since the Civil War there has been a net Black migration into the South. This net migration was 6,588,000. Many Blacks are moving to the South due to greater economic opportunities, for the climate, and to be with elderly family members.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (La) states he is very interested in the discussion on infrastructure. He expresses concern that Congress appears to be more interested in seeing the other political party loses rather than if their issues win or in working together to create legislation. He states Louisiana legislative leaders of both parties are willing to work together and with him on legislation.

Leadership Staff Section.

There was a discussion of the future of the Leadership Staff Section. Future conference will provide speakers and sessions that will assist leadership staff members.

American’s Autism Challenge.

Lee Shaffer of Drexel University notes that the rate of people with autism has been increasing in recent years while rates for mental disorders have been steady. Nearly half a million people have autism. About 1 of 150 people has autism. Research Is attempting to discover what is causing this increase in autism. It is important to diagnose and treat autism as early in life as possible. He states that a diagnosis after less than two hours of observation is impractical. Autism creates behavioral changes within the brain. There are no drugs targeted at the core symptoms but they are available for related behaviors.

Speaker Dennis O’Brien tell how he proposed legislation that has become law that requires Pennsylvania insurers to cover up to $36,000 of autism services annually for all who are under 21 years old. He achieved success by creating a Task Force where over 300 participated. Over half of those participating were parents of autistic children. Florida has passed similar legislation, only theirs included Down syndrome.

Rep. Sheila Klinker (In) tells how Indiana also mandates insurers to cover autism. Indiana seeks to coordinate services. The Indiana House has passed legislation providing scholarships to autistic children to attend private schools. This legislation is now before the Indiana Senate.

Kim Mucheno, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities is upset that the Federal government passed a bill that would increase research on treating autism and then provided it with no funds. She states there needs to be new demonstration projects on autism interventions. Her group is working with the Center for Disease Control to educate the public on learning the signs of autism.

This Land is Your Land.

The National D Day Museum commemorates World War II and the Allied invasion of Normandy specifically. It is located in New Orleans because the Higgins boats that could land soldiers onto shores were built in New Orleans. Eisenhower states the war could not have been won without Higgins boats. The location of the museum in New Orleans pay respect to those who labored at home for the war effort.

The museum shows artifacts, photographs, and provides written and videotaped descriptions of World War II. It follows the war from where our nation stood before the war through mobilization to descriptions of the various locations of military actions. It also shows how the war affected people at home, and how Americans and Japanese viewed each other.

The museum presents a tribute to the fateful decision on when and where the Allied invasion should occur. Presented are the instruments and charts used to predict the best weather conditions and how the decision to invade was delayed one day due to poor weather. There was a meeting of Generals to debate the timing of the invasion. General Eisenhower, based on a hopeful forecast for a break in the bad weather, made the final decision and gave the order to invade. This was the largest single invasion in history, with over 130,000 troops landing on the French shore at five major locations.

Ironically, the Germans had presumed there would be no invasion during the bad weather. They also had predicted that the invasion would occur further south where the distance between England and France was much closer. They had wrongly predicted that the Allies would not attempt the longer and more difficult invasion. Further, when the D Day invasion began, the Germans initially presumed it was a diversionary attack to throw them off from where they thought the attack would occur. This caused a belated German response which helped the Allied invaders.

Allied victory was never presumed. Eisenhower had prepared remarks in case of defeat. The Allies had a tremendous aerial advantage, the German units were too dispersed and too slow to mount an effective defense, and the Allies began its military push into France and then Germany which ended with war with Germany.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Election 2008.

Pennsylvania received the Superior (highest) level in this year’s Project Citizen competition.

Jay Dick of the Americans for the Arts states that state expenditures of $400 million on the arts assists in returning over $9 billion in tax revenues, including increased tourism.

Rep. Peter Lewis (RI) was honored for his work for the arts. He notes there are as many people employed in the arts in Rhode Island as are employed in financial services. Arts contributes 12 times more to the Rhode Island state budget than it takes out, he claims.

Kellyanne Conway, President of The Polling Company, whose clients are mostly Republicans, states her polling shows the economy is the top issue followed by Iraq. She finds most Americans fell the nation is moving in the wrong direction but they are very skeptical that the government can solve the enormous challenges of the day. 78% surveyed in her polls recently stated they believe the nation is on the wrong track compared to 45% in 2002, and only 15% believe the nation is on the right track compared to 40% in 2002. Generic Democrats have a wide advantage in surveys yet neither Obama nor McCain have been able to go over 50% in any polls, indicating the election is wide open. McCain is viewed as more knowledgeable, experienced, more consistent, and having more leadership abilities. Obama is need as likeable and optimistic about the future.

Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, whose clients are mostly Democrats, states her polling shows 56% of those surveyed believe the economy is poor, 30% find it fair, and 14% rate the economy as excellent or good. 75% state they believe we are in a recession. 39% think the economy will be worse in two year, 31% believe it will be about the same, and 24% believe it will be better. She sees this election as a “pocketbook” election rather than one based on jobs or the recession. People are concerned about their ability to pay their bills and the voters are very sensitive about tax issues. Many believe they cannot afford a tax increase. 62% state they have trouble paying their bills. She sees men are worried about gas prices and women are worried about food prices. Health care affordability is much more of an issue than health care accessibility. 85% of Americans surveyed like the quality of their health care, yet 44% state the costs of health care affect them “a great deal”, 13% state the costs affect them “quite a bit”, 19% state the costs affect them “just some”, 10% state the costs affect them “very little”.

Most Americans see themselves as middle class. 20% earning less than $20,000 describe themselves as “middle class” and 30% earning more than $150,000 describe themselves as “middle class”. Voter attitudes concerning the war are very negative, especially the costs. 25% of those surveyed state they wish to withdraw the troops right away, 43% wish to withdraw them with a year, and 26% wish the troops to remain as long as it takes.

Healthy Community Design.
Healthy community design is that which allows for human activity that encourages good health, such as walking and bicycling. Thus a healthy community design would include bike paths, side sidewalks that are accessible to people with disabilities, parks, recreation, and shops that can be reached by walking.

The “corner store” initiative in New Orleans is convincing local grocers to carry healthy food such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and low fat dairy products rather than just snacks, alcohol, soda, and cigarettes. Storms destroyed many food stores and more residents depend upon corner stores for their food.

$15 million was spent on restoring Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. Curb extensions were created. Palm trees replaced the oak trees. Most upper floors of downtown businesses are vacant. It is too costly for most businesses to retrofit those floors to bring them within the fire code.

The first public bike rack was placed on Canal Street. There are now 90 bike racks in New Orleans to encourage people to bicycle to work or to visit downtown. 1.2% of New Orleans residents bicycle to work. This is four times the national average. Bike paths were created along many streets when they were rebuilt over the hurricane. A three mile bike lane was built in the Ninth Ward.

Louis Armstrong Park, the largest urban park in New Orleans, has remained closed since Hurricane Katrina due to liability issues. Some believe this is an overreaction as it is depriving residents their access to a park they could use.
“The World We Want” documentary produced by NCSL’s “Project Citizen” showed examples of high school students in different countries organizing to get local and state/provincial governments to take actions they sought. The students would study issues, pick a topic, research it thoroughly, and engage in activities such as meeting with officials, circulating petitions, marching, etc. to get their views across. Among the examples shown were students in Bosnia and Herzegovina working to allow special needs students to be integrated with other students, students in Columbia getting their local town to adopt a town constitution, students in India attempting to get neglected monuments restored, students in Jordan organizing to reduce school violence, students in Russia seeking to stop teenagers from gambling, students in Senegal working for clean water for their community, and students in the United States seeking to remove trans fats from school meals.

Dan Griffin of the Minnesota Judicial Branch’s State Court Administrator’s Office, told how drug courts can more rapidly adjudicate cases of non-violent drug offenders and get drug abusers placed into treatment programs rather than prison. The drug court attempts to decide what is best for each person brought before it.

A few months ago, the Cook Political Report saw McCain leading in states with 240 electoral votes (130 solid, 38 likely, and 72 leaning) and Obama leading in states with 219 electoral votes (150 solid, 33 likely, and 36 leaning

Rakeesh Mohan, Director of the Idaho’s legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations, notes Idaho has adopted performance evaluations for its transportation system that are more relevant to their daily performance and are more measurable. They seek greater efficiency. Idaho seeks to attract more residents and sees new roads as an important component of attracting people to move to Idaho.

Carla Perez of the Colorado Governor’s office states Colorado’s transportation system is in a quiet crisis. Colorado seeks ways to fund its system and is considering several alternatives including raising taxes and fees. It is important there be transparency is transportation projects.

Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners notes her polling finds the top issues are the economy, energy prices, and the war in Iraq. Health care has risen in importance as an issue in this election. 56% of those surveyed agree with a statement that the war in Iraq is not worth fighting. A generic Democrat is preferred over a generic Republican for President by 49% to 41% while Obama leads McCain by 49% to 47%. A general Democrat is preferred for Congress by 49% to 40%.