Saturday, August 01, 2009

Noted Notes

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A BOLD NEW VISION FOR EDUCATION

The meeting began with a Benjamin Franklin character walking to the microphone, announcing “excuse me while I update my Twitter”, watching his Twitter update on a screen, and then he walked off stage.

Mary Wilson, formerly of the Supremes, sang the National Anthem.

It was announced there were 200 international delegates. Among the international delegates I met was a legislative aide from Algeria who discussed the multiparty legislative process and coalition building process that exists in Algeria.

Speaker Keith McCall (Pa) welcomed the delegates by video.

Sen. Richard Moore (Ma) discussed NCSL’s program where legislatures speak at schools. Moore sees this as means to allow young people to feel involved in public affairs. He cited a survey where students who participated in these discussions have higher voter turnover rates later in life. Over two million school children have heard state legislators in classrooms over the past decade. NCSL has materials available to help legislators make presentations. Some legislators encourage research and classroom debate on issues. Your National Popular Vote bill strikes me as a non-partisan issue that would be very suitable for classroom discussions.

Sen. Earl Ray Tomblin (WV) was honored. Tomblin described serving in the Senate as “the pay is not good but, boy, the abuse is great.”

Bill Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, declared we’ve been in a budget crisis for a decade. American educational achievements levels have been declining relative to the rest of the world. We used to be the nation with the highest educational achievement. Today, we have fallen from first to tenth in college graduate rate. In addition, many countries are providing far more highly accomplished graduates in science and technical areas than we are producing. This has been, and likely will continue, be a reason for our relative economic decline in this global market.

We need to provide more educational opportunities for low income students, Gates argued. We need to have students attain greater levels of achievement that they are reaching. He urges we find ways to measure educational success, find what colleges are doing best, discover what innovations are working, and move towards improving education.

There need to be incentives for schools to improve, Gates believes. Teachers should be better trained. This should include financial incentives. We need more enthusiastic and energetic teachers. Successful schools should be allowed to grow and poorly achieving schools allowed to be replaced by better schools. There needs to be common data on measuring school achievement in all states. This data should be easy to use. He recommends there be evaluation of what students are learning and what areas they are not getting correct answers. Incentives should be based on this data. Gates warned that some states don’t want this data to be used in evaluating teachers. Gates proposed there be more classroom observation and that videos be placed in classrooms for evaluation purposes. Parents should participate in evaluation surveys.

The nature of school is changing, Gates observes. The Internet allows for more online classes. They will enable students with different schedules to listen to lectures online and engage in discussions with teachers and fellow students online at various times. Many students work, or have schedules, or are unable to travel to classes offered at set locations at set times.

Secondary schools should have more computers and training in information systems, according to Gates. Gates warned states against cutting education spending. Education should be a sustained investment, he argues.

Gates called for students spending more time in laboratories, argued that good teachers can teach to large classes and that classroom size isn’t as important a factor as some claim, that there needs to be better ways to identify good curriculum content on the Internet, that schools under Mayoral control appear to be improving under their guidance, that China and Korea are rapidly advancing their education systems, that many of the top American scientists are from other countries who migrated here, that many other countries have longer school days than do American schools, that many low grades from students are because the teachers fail to make the topics interesting, there needs to be more emphasis on Math and Science in American schools, and that students will do better if they understand that there are better jobs and a future associated with their schoolwork.

The Perfect Storm: States Grapple With Unemployment

Linda Bussell, Staff Administrator for the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, notes Kentucky has a 10.9% unemployment rate which is 4.5 percentage points higher than a year ago. 129,469 are receiving unemployment compensation benefits out of the 226,000 who are unemployed. The average unemployment compensation received is $390 per week and the maximum that can be obtained is $415 per week.

Kentucky has paid out over $629 million in initial unemployment compensation benefits, over $97 million in emergency unemployment compensation benefits, over $15 million in extended unemployment compensation benefits, and over $4.5 million in Federal Additional Compensation for a total of over $788 million.

These payments have placed the Kentucky Trust Fund into debt. The Fund has had to borrow $300 million from the Federal government. This is only the second time in Kentucky’s history that it has needed to borrow such funds. Kentucky became the sixth state needing to borrow money to make unemployment compensation payments from the Federal government.

The Kentucky Trust Fund was healthy from 1985 through 2008. It had the most money on hand in 1999-2000. Benefits were increased and taxes were decreased to amounts comparable to other states. This caused the Fund to decrease its balance. Today, the Fund is in debt by $298,497,000.

The tax to raise funds for the Trust Fund fluctuates according to a wage index. The tax does not increase as unemployment increases. This structural imbalance has led to a high debt.

Doug Holmes, President of UWC-Strategic Services on Unemployment, notes many states are forming task forces to consider their crises concerning unemployment compensation. Ohio has frozen its maximum benefits, increased taxes, and allowed older companies to pay fewer taxes in order to pay off its debt.

Holmes explained that unemployment is reaching levels not seen since 1982 when the manufacturing base lost half of its employment. Few thought such a degree of unemployment could occur ever occur again. Few planned for this contingency,

Sixteen states have already borrowed $11 billion for unemployment compensation from the Federal government. Unemployment funds may need an additional $16 billion in 2010, Holmes projects. States will have to continue borrowing more money, raise taxes, or raise the tax base. Holmes notes that taxes for unemployment may double by 2012.

An economic turnaround won’t immediately solve the problem, Holmes predicts. He notes that employment tends to begin improving about a half year after a turnaround. States are also seeing record numbers of people exhaust benefits without finding employment. Many unemployed are not monetarily eligible for benefits. These people are mostly adding to the demand for food stamps, TANF, SCHIP, Medicaid, subsidized housing, and earned income tax credits. This may be a long term problem facing states.

Holmes recommends state ask Congress to provide states with funds that are offering for modernizing unemployment compensation systems even to states who do not modernize.

Andrew Stettner, Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project, notes that 29.0% of unemployment compensation recipients are using all their benefits up after their maximum six months of benefits without becoming employed. This is an all time record which indicates the high degree to which it has become difficult to find jobs. There are five unemployed people for every job opening.

The Federal government is providing $8.5 billion in funds to states that modernizing their unemployment compensation system to provide greater benefits. $7 billion has already been delivered. 15 states have created alternative base periods, 13 have adopted compelling family reasons that prevent return to work, 8 have expanded access to job training for recipients, 7 have allowed more part time workers to receive benefits, and 2 have fixed dependent allowances.

State unemployment taxes have been decreasing. In the 1970s they averaged 1.05%, in the 1980s they averaged 1.10%, in the 1990s, they averaged 0.76%, and in the 2000s they averaged 0.67%.

The interests on Federal loans for unemployment compensation are waived until 2011.

The U.S. Labor Department recommends that unemployment taxes produce enough benefits to include a one year cushion. A problem states face is wage base erosion. A decreasing percentage of wages have been taxable. States now tax an average of $11,000 of wages per employee than it did in 1980.

Investing in the Arts to Jump Start the Economy

Jeremy Nowak of The Reinvestment Fund observes that 83% of block groups seeing improvements within Philadelphia have two or more arts and cultural groups. He admits it is difficult to prove that arts and culture cause the economic turnarounds but the data appears to support this.

Real estate markets improve when there are arts and culture in the neighborhood. This contributes to urban renewal. In underinvested areas, arts can be created by something relatively inexpensive such as a grassroots mural project. People now look at Philadelphia and see murals rather than graffiti. These murals represent a social contract within the community that neighbors are working towards revitalization. They also unite the young and old and strengthen neighborhood ties, according to Nowack.

A jazz festival in Rep. Dwight Evans’s district drew half a million attendees. This helps notify investors, merchants, and real estate developers that such a community has the capacity to organize and is strong.

The Reinvestment Fund has turned several old buildings, including an old factory, into 21st century needs. Commercial offices including spaces for design work companies, theaters sets, and arts marketing have settled in these refurbished establishments.

Jay Dick, Director of State and Local Government Affairs for the Americans for the Arts, claims the arts have created 5.7 million jobs. There are over 100,000 nonprofit local arts groups. The National Economic Recovery Package had placed $50 million for use for the arts. It is important these funds be quickly used for economic revitalization.

Nonprofit arts organizations receive 50% of their revenues from earned income, 35.5% from individual contributors or endowments, 5% from foundations, 3% from local governments, 2% from the Federal government, and 2% from state governments, according to Dick.

State governments provided $451 million to the arts in 2008 and $343 million in 2009. The National Endowment for the Arts has not kept support for the arts above the inflation rate. Government support for the arts is diminishing.

Business support for the arts is also decreasing, Dick notes. The economic downturn is restricting their operating budgets. Similarly, the bad economy is causing decreases in private donations.

A nonprofit arts and cultural event attracts attendees who spend an average of $27.79 per person (in addition to the ticket price), including an average of $13 for meals, $5 for lodging, and $3.90 for gifts.

A person who travels to an arts event spends an average of $40.19 per person (in addition to the ticket price).

There is a 7:1 return on the $4.0 billion that government invests in the arts compared to the $29.6 billion in revenue arts creates for government, according to Dick.

There are 686,076 businesses in the creative industry.

A survey of Fortune 500 corporation managers notes that among the most important characteristics those surveyed list as being important to working in their companies is the ability to be creative (mentioned by 96% of those surveyed). 85% also stated they have difficulty finding applicants possessing this creativity. Arts and cultural education helps students develop the creativity that business require.

Students who have high levels of arts programs are four times less likely to drop out of school than students who have little access to arts, according to Dick. Students with a strong arts education also score better on average on their SATs.

Arts programs are a part of most hospitals. 73% have visual arts exhibits, 55% have arts activities for staff, 48% in hospital performances, and 36% have bedside arts activities.

Kelly Barsdale of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies calls for policies that include the arts in their plans for economic development. Maryland includes the arts in its Smart Growth plans. When arts are added to a community, it has been found that retail and housing vacancies decline and property values increase. 30 states offer tax credits to rehabilitee historic properties. Preserving history and building the arts can promote economic investment.

Several states have statewide arts districts. Some offer incentives for private and/or business contributions to the arts. New Mexico has provided for training of over 1,000 artist entrepreneurs, which in turn has increased retail sales. Many of these artists are in low income areas. This both helps artists and brings more customers into these communities.

Assisting artists also help many sole proprietors obtain health care.

Export Promotion: Keeping Trade Channels Open

Paul Snow of NCSL explains that states focus their export promotion efforts on small and medium enterprises. Larger corporations usually handle their own trade matters.

State export promotion efforts help companies develop market strategies, identify leads on sales, operate booths at trade shows, engage in trade missions, and advocate for state products in foreign countries.

There are 245 state offices worldwide, including 43 in China. Ohio and Pennsylvania have multiple offices in China.

Some states pool their resources and create regional efforts on trade promotion. These often exist in emerging markets that are hard than usual to attract interest, such as China, Brazil, and India.

Several states have created private-public enterprises on export promotion.

Anne Grey, a National Field Director at the U.S. Commerce Department, claims exports have created six million jobs. International travelers to the U.S. helps keep another 1.5 million employed.

The trade events inform foreign markets about American products of which they might not otherwise have discovered.

Geoffrey Kelley, an Assembly Member from the Quebec national Assembly, declares it is important that the U.S. and Canada have their trade border open. Over a billion dollars a day in goods cross that border every day. The U.S. is Canada’s largest trading partner, and vice versa. 74% of Quebec’s foreign trade is with the U.S. Quebec has six offices in the U.S.

Buy American provisions are likely going to increase overall costs by 25%, Kelley believes. It could lead to trade repercussions. It also sends a protectionist message through the world. The U.S. instead should be leading by example.

Many goods are integrated products with both partial manufacturing of inputs into a final product from both the U.S. and Canada.

Albert Louie, a Trade Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, states trade is 13% of the U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product), with trade being three times that to Canada’s GDP and four times that to Ontario’s GDP.

Ontario provides general trade advice primarily to small and medium sized businesses. Advice is provided on every step of the trade process. Ontario participates in trade missions, including virtual trade missions that appear on the Internet.

The economic downturn has caused Ontario’s trade promotion efforts to look for cost reducing alternatives such as promoting more on the Internet.

International Best Legislative Practices

Raghsuvir Singh Kadian, Speaker of the Haryana State Legislative Assembly in India, tells how the presiding officer has crucial responsibilities on seeing that rules are observed. This is often difficult, especially when people dispute how they see the rules. A presiding officer needs to be one who ends doubt as to what the rules are.

The Haryana Legislative Assembly studies democratic principles to find the best practices. Many best practices have been implemented.

Vasilis Koulolias, Executive Director of Gov2U in Greece, states many European Parliaments are demanding new technologies in their operations. Several Parliaments have improved legislative research tools and have developed cross border exchanges of information and practices, including Hungary, Lithuania, Space, Holland, and Ireland.

Many international legislative assemblies are seeking new means to provide the public with greater transparency to legislative proposals. In addition, they seek new ways in which the public can provide their opinions. Several place all bills online and allow public comment. Performance measures are being established to monitor how well the public is responding and understanding issues. It is important there be trust between the public and their legislative branches.

Ladi Hamalia, Policy Analysis and Research Project (PARP) Coordinator for the House Assembly of Nigeria, tells how PARP was established in 2002. This office has significantly helped improve legislative knowledge. Bill drafting has improved. New employees receive useful training from PARP. Many existing staff members have received refresher training. PARP is a resource base for National Assembly members and staff.

There is a growing demand for bill analysis and reports. PARP is responding to these needs. This is happening not only in Nigeria but in most emerging legislatures in Africa. Nigeria has to comply with World Bank procedures of appraisals. This can lead to much tension among stakeholders. PARP has found procedures to reduce these tensions.

PARP has six expert research staff members and 20 interns.

Russell Grove, Clerk to the New South Wales Parliament in Australia, notes that societies have to determine what sort of government they desire. Some wish to be lazy when it comes to seeking input in legislative affairs and others wish to be very involved. The Australian government is slow to implement governmental input innovations.

Australian legislative bodies have strong political party representation. All Austrian state legislative bodies, except Queensland and two territories, have lower and upper chambers. These bodies are known for their accountability.

Citizens can petition their legislatures in Australia. Parliament has regional meetings where they travel to different locations, introduce bills, answer questions from the public, and visit schools.

Public Relations

The Medical Marijuana Project and the, Law Enforcement for the End of Prohibition against legalized marijuana were in attendance and actively lobbying Delegates. They indicate the reactions were mostly positive. It was noted their booths had among the most interest.

The Military Families coalition is advocating for several issues including the Military School Children Compact. The Compact has approval from sufficient states and it is hoped Pennsylvania will join.

The Arts Coalition supports funding for Arts Commission, including Pennsylvania’s, to which you belong. They fear the arts are being significantly cut in a number of states. This could irreparably damage many long term projects and discourage people from engaging in arts projects.

The National Popular Vote organization was giving out information including their 716 page book. It seems to be an issue that takes time for people to understand but once they comprehend it they are likely to support it.

Kentucky Promotion

The Governor of Kentucky, Senate President Pro Tem, and House Speaker all urged people to travel to Kentucky. Last year, Speaker Dennis O’Brien was in attendance boosting Pennsylvania tourism.

July 22, 2009

The Reinvestment Fund: Building Communities

Jeremy Nowak of The Reinvestment Fund explains that his Fund’s lending has to be profitable but they don’t have to be profit maximizing. This Fund seeks to develop communities and engage in civic responsibility. It raises capital for public goals. It does so in a manner to maintain credibility in both public and private areas.

The Fund looks at neighborhoods with high poverty rates, meets with residents, and plans with them. Different planning scenarios are presented to residents. High risk acquisition funds are created to demolish blighted buildings, buy liquor stores with drug dealing reputations, and organize neighborhood economic and housing revitalizations.

Rep. Dwight Evans asked the Fund to help provide residents with access to fresh and healthy food. The Fund discovered there was an economic demand for this that wasn’t being met. Fund representatives met with people operating grocery stores in this part of Philadelphia. They discovered these businesses had high fixed costs that had to be passed on to consumer, that many operate with 1 to 2% profit margins, and that the only way to be profitable was to offer low quality, low cost food. In addition, it is costly to recruit and train labor, an expense that can range from $75,000 to $400,000.

The Fund found the barriers to the entry of high quality food stores in these communities and put together packages that allow these stores to operate. There are now 40 such high quality, fresh food markets supported by the Fund across Pennsylvania with 20 more opening with the next six months.

The Fund has also provided 58 real estate loans to charter schools in Philadelphia, Newark, and Washington, D.C. The Fund goes into school districts, offers to take their worst school, and then creates a charter school out of it. This charter school keeps some children and replaces nearly all adults (they can request to stay but most opt to leave). At a West Philadelphia school the Fund operates, union labor was hired to refurbish a deteriorating school building that still cost 70% less than if the School District had done it. The School District procedures lead to increased costs that the charter school avoided. The School District bought the school with a capitol loan and leases the school to the Fund.

The Fund’s charter school does not let a student who didn’t do homework leave until the owed homework is completed. No student is promoted to the next grade until the current level is mastered.

General Session

Jim Kelly of Hunter’s Hope Foundation told how New York tested babies for 11 diseases. His son had a disease that was not among those tested. He thought his son was healthy until he later discovered he had a fatal disease. He urges states to test babies for more diseases. These diseases can be discovered sooner, treatment provided more quickly, and lives saved. Kelly met with some interested parties such as Governor Rendell. Pennsylvania now tests for 31 diseases.

David Wyss, Chief Economist for Standards and Poors, declares the economy is no longer in free fall, that the parachute has opened, but warns we have yet to hit the ground. There will likely be further economic declines. There are positive signs that resident construction is increasing and automobile sales are higher. He predicts there will be a sluggish return once the economy hits bottom.

Wyss believes too much stimulus money was targeted to states that were slow to decide how to use it. It should have been applied to projects sooner to have helped improve the economy.

Wyss states the state revenues tend to lag behind economic recoveries. Even if the economy improves, states may not see increases in their revenue for about half a year afterwards.

Wyss believes spending on education is the best long term stimulus to the economy. Computers are becoming an important part of the learning process. More people in libraries used computer than are reading books. He calls for an increase in the capacity of state universities.

The U.S. goods overall imports much from Asia and exports many much to Europe. It would be better for us if the European economy improved first so they would increase purchases of American goods. Unfortunately, the housing bubble and loan losses were worse in Europe than in the U.S. and the European recovery is likely to lag behind the rest of the world, according to Wyss.

State governments deserve some blame for the economic crisis, according to Wyss. Large national insurance companies can’t be regulated at the state level, he argues. There were 230 regulatory authorities overseeing AIG and not one was looking at their books and detecting problems. Wyss supports the regulation of national institutions at the national level.

Inflation will become a problem, Wyss predicts. He sees the Federal debt remaining high and interest rates being high.

Simon Johnson, an economist at MIT, declares the unemployment situation is in a crisis. This is the second largest economic downturn in our history. Jobs are not being created which indicates this may be a long and difficult recession. He believes stimulus funds weren’t targeted properly to state governments. He also believes states will need more funds for unemployment compensation. He also believes state regulations of businesses are inadequate. The firms that caused the recent economic troubles represented 3% of GDP. These companies are too large because when they fail they cause devastation around them. He believes insurance needs to be regulated at the national level. Failure to do this could lead to another economic crash. He fears that an economic upturn may lull people out of a sense of urgency and the important economic problems will be let unsolved.

David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast, notes the economic crisis is decreasing revenues to state and local governments. The decline in the real estate market hurts property tax revenues and the general decline hurts income and sales tax revenues. He notes these revenues tend to lag and will remain low even after the economy has hit bottom. He warns that state budgets face even tougher crises next year than in this year.

Cohen calls for more broadband adoption, noting that many people have access to broadband but they are not subscribing.

Leading in Turbulent Times

Jim Kelly of Hunter’s Hope Foundation spoke about his son Hunter, who was born in New York, tested at birth for diseases, and was given a clean bill of health. Yet his son cried 22 of 24 hours. Doctors had difficulty determining what the problem was. It was later discovered he had a terminal disease. It was also a disease for which babies are not tested. While the disease was fatal, Kelly wishes he could have provided better care for his son earlier.

There are 54 diseases for which babies can be tested. The number of diseases required to be tested varies from state to state. He is working to have all states test for all 54 diseases. This will save many lives if diseases can be detected earlier.

Lessons of Political Leadership

Richard Beeman, History Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told about the gathering of 55 Delegates in 1787 that drafted the Constitution. There were from a diverse cultural background and most arrived with allegiances primarily to the state legislatures that had elected them to a conference to amend the Articles of Confederation.

A key component of these meetings was they were held in secret. This allowed discussions to be open knowing they were secret. Delegates would vehemently disagree during the day. They would then go to a local tavern, drink into the night, and try to find agreements to what they were debating.

Beeman believes such a convention could not happen today. Public leaders adapt strong public posturing, engage in sound bits, and the press dissects every word spoken. Compromises are better achieved when those in disagreements can freely express themselves and seek mutually agreeable compromises without having to explain and defend each and every step in the process to a scrutinizing press and public.

The room in which they met was physically small for so many people which helped keep discussions civil. This physical intimacy helped form consensus. Beeman notes the Wyoming legislature recently successfully tried something similar to this. All legislators met in a small hotel until they could forge an agreement. An attendee from Wyoming confirmed this.

Beeman describes many of the figures of the convention. Luther Martin was the most bombast and drank throughout the convention. Eldridge Gerry hated the process and the result and was the strongest critic, as he felt Massachusetts was not getting enough out of the process. James Madison was awkward and mumbled when he spoke yet he was aware of what was needed to be accomplished and helped forge agreements. George Washington presided yet as the presumptive future leader he seldom spoke. James Wilson and Gouvernour Morris, both from Pennsylvania, arrived early and met with Madison to plan strategies.

Wilson had the idea of direct popular vote for the President, yet this was never put to a vote. The Electoral vote process was a best alternative compromise after numerous other proposals were voted down. The Electoral proposal had the advantage that it was beholden to neither Congress nor the state legislatures, which were the primary alternative proposals for choosing the President. It has to be remembered that electing a leader was a unique idea at this time.

The convention was helped because opponents chose to stay away. Patrick Henry was elected to the convention yet did not attend as was a critic of the idea. Had he known what would result, he possibly would have attended and fought these ideas.

Thomas Jefferson was Ambassador to France. He trusted James Madison to carry similar views at the convention. Jefferson was upset the Constitution had no Bill of Rights.

Alexander Hamilton created many of the financial systems that kept the nation intact. He favored lifelong terms for the President and Senators and once gave a 5 ½ hour speech.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

National Popular Vote

The National Popular Vote campaign is organizing. Pennsylvania is a rare state where the issue so far appears to be cutting along partisan lines. The fact that Republicans are pushing an alternative that Electors be awarded by Congressional district is a sign the Republicans recognize the Electoral College has faults. Their proposal has no chance of passage. It is hoped that Republicans will realize this is a reform that can be passed.

It should be noted, as mentioned by Richard Beeman, at his session, that there is nothing sacred to the Constitution. The drafters were all humans with their own doubts as to the wisdom of what they were writing. That is why they created a mechanism that it could be altered. It should be noted that the National Popular Vote does not amend the Constitution. Indeed, it respects the Constitution. The Constitution allows the selection of Electors up to the state legislatures. Granted, all state legislatures now allow Electors to be chosen by a public vote. Yet, Constitutional scholars note state legislatures could amend this at any time. As late of 1876, there was a state (Colorado) where the Electors who chosen by the state legislatures. It is perfectly within the current Constitutional framework for state legislatures to select their Electors as those who will vote for the winner of the national popular vote upon agreement to also do so from states holding a majority of Electors.

General Session

Gary Locke, U.S. Commerce Secretary, observes how he served in the Washington state legislature for 11 years. One of his bills that passed was a predecessor for what became Americorps. He notes that states are laboratories for innovations in democracy and the successful innovative policies often then are adopted nationally.

President Obama seeks to create jobs that pay a family wage. He wants workers and businesses to prosper and the economy to be strong. The $780 billion spent on the Economic Recovery Act has stabilized several economic conditions within 150 days. It has created a bridge to shovel ready projects that is creating many new jobs.

The Obama Administration is investing in numerous areas including constructing high speed rail systems, creating a national smart electric grid, rewarding smart growth, providing broadband into underserved areas, and increasing automobile production. The economic problems won’t be resolved within a few months.

The 2010 census will be the greatest peacetime government mobilization since World War II, according to Secretary Locke.

A nationalization ceremony was held.

Sen. Richard Cohen (Mn) told how he got hunters and artists working together by creating a ballot question creating dedicated funding for both the arts and increasing and improving hunting areas. This helps parks, trails, and arts. It passed with 60% voting in favor of it.

Annual Business Meeting

The NCSL Executive Committee was elected by a unanimous vote. Rep. Curtis Thomas is the only Pennsylvanian on this committee.

The NCSL Staff Executive Committee was elected by a unanimous vote. No Pennsylvanian is on this committee.

There was debate on supporting the streamlined sales tax. Supporters seek to allow states to collect state sales taxes owed them on Internet purchasers. Opponents are mostly from states such as New Hampshire where there is no sales tax who wish to preserve the right of their businesses to sell to people out of state without collecting sales taxes. The resolution passed.

There was much debate on a proposal endorsing health care reform. One Delegate claims to have calculated there were 579 Democrats, 255 Republicans, and 29 others (mostly non-partisans from Nebraska) present. The proposal required support from three fourths of states present. A motion to table passed by majority vote yet lacked the three fourths vote anticipated to pass the motion. The motion though passed 38-11 when two states that opposed tabling the motion voted to pass. This will make health care reform a formal policy of NSCL. It will allow NCSL to testify and lobby Congress on behalf of state legislatures for health care reform.

Children and Disasters: How Can States Meet Their Unique Needs?

Mark Shriver, Chairperson of the National Commission on Children and Disasters, warns that most child care centers have no plans for evacuation in case of disaster. In addition, they have provided no foresight to reunifying children with parents after any evacuation nor have they made preparations for transporting and handling special needs children. He believes government need to require facilities handling children to have such plans prepared in advance.

Assembly member Sheila Leslie (Nv) urges local, state, and national emergency planners to meet and make basic preparations for any evacuation of school children. Most school district employees have not been trained for emergency situations. These plans should increase a psychological first aid as part of the overall care for children moved due to disaster.

26 states have not purchased their allocation of antivirals for H1N1 (the “swine flu”. In these budget crises, these states are gambling that the swine flu will not be a major concern. Should it prove to be an epidemic, these states will then be forced to bid for vaccines on a global market that will be very expensive and will likely have an inadequate supply available.

Cancer Tales

Andy Miller of the Lance Armstrong Foundation introduced a dramatic presentation where every word is taken from interviews of people dealing with cancer or a family member dealing with cancer. There was discussion afterwards of the difficulties of coping with surviving cancer, how to best work with others with cancer, and whether we are doing enough to prevent cancer, if research on cancer can be better supported, and whether we are doing enough for cancer patients.

District of Columbia Statehood

Delegates from the District of Columbia are asking for support to urge Congress to approve statehood for Washington, D.C. This proposal has always died because Republican members of Congress fear D.C. is prone to elect two Democratic Senators and one Democratic member of Congress. There are more people in D.C. than in several states. They believe the lack of statehood slows the approval of services and policies that residents seek. There is also a sense that this is the Congressional session where this can happen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Election, A New Direction, and the Politics of Change

Sen. Richard Moore announced the awards to Project Citizen. Two million students and 30,000 teachers in every state engaged in preparing project displays concerning researching and becoming involved in policy issues. The submission from Pennsylvania received an “exceptional” award designation.

Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush White House speechwriter and author, joked how her first book came out the same time as Millie the Dog’s book and while the dog’s book sold four times as many copies as hers, she never held this against Millie and every time she went to the White House she would make it a point to go over and pet the bitch.

Reagan was capable of speaking while showing emotions. Ironically, he had problems showing emotions in his personal life. His career was built on his speech delivering abilities. He gave a speech spelling out his philosophical ideals in 1962 that was refined through 1964 when it was given and heralded by conservatives at the 1964 Republican Convention.

George H.W. Bush was, in contrast, someone who dealt well with personal relationships yet was not as good a public speaker. He even declined to speak when the Berlin Wall fell. He was concerned about keeping his growing international coalition and “didn’t want to rub it in” by commenting too strongly against the Russians. Noonan believes Bush should have spoken and given thanks to those who opposed Communism in Russia, who were sent to Gulags, and made a statement on how a nation of freedom fluctuates.

A great political leader has more in common with an artist than with an economist, Noonan observes. Great leaders have imaginations and inspire others.

Clinton was a great actor, according to Noonan, which she states she means as a complement. He was a gifted speaker who was articulate and sincere. Yet his words were not eloquent and they don’t read well. He said them well. Hillary Clinton is also a good speaker but shyer. Noonan notes that Bill Clinton enters exuberantly and points around the room before speaker, while Hillary Clinton more quietly applauds back at the audience.

Bill Clinton’s speeches were not memorable except for his “age of big government is over” speech, according to Noonan. She notes Clinton could be too clever. She believes his speech at during his impeachment crisis at the National Prayer Service talking about forgiveness was received as too self-serving.

Noonan notes that every political leader is criticized. Lincoln was called an idiot and a baboon. Yet, she notes, just because someone calls you an idiot and a baboon doesn’t mean you’re Lincoln.

Obama impresses people worldwide. He is sleek and eloquent, according to Noonan. She criticized his stimulus bill that was passed without any Republican support. She believes he needs to work more with Republicans. She predicts the public mood is dynamic and quite changeable. If Obama can state he “kept America safe”, he will be a successful President. Otherwise, he may lose much popularity.

Restoring America’s Legacy: Achieving Better Results in Government

Bill Eggers, Executive Director of Deloitt’s Public Sector Institute, and John O’Leary, Chairman of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission, gave a tag team presentation where one would state the first sentences of an overall idea and the other would conclude.

President Kennedy issued a challenge at a time with the Soviet Union was ahead of us in the space rate. The Soviets launched the first satellite into space and had the first dog and humans to circle the Earth in space. After the Bay of Pigs disaster, the world was debating whether democracy could execute better than communism. John Kennedy pledged an American would land on the moon by the end of the decade at a time it was not even known if this was possible. Kennedy issued a challenge to find a solution, and provided a deadline. We as a nation took the challenge and met it.

A young boy, Barack Obama, watched as the astronauts returned from the moon and came ashore on Hawaii. At that moment, his grandfather told him anyone can do anything they set their mind on. The moon mission is an ongoing inspiration.

Since then, people and even public administrators have lost faith in government. 60% of senior government executives surveyed state they believe government is less capable than it was 30 years ago. Only 16% of senior government executives surveyed state the Federal government designs programs that can be implemented. If our leading government managers don’t have faith in government, something must be wrong.

The speakers studied 75 major public policy enterprises from the Marshall Plan to current immigration policies to find out what works and what doesn’t. They in particular wanted to identify the common paths that each successful program implemented. They then broke this process into component steps and found each had a similar style.

Most programs began with an idea, a design for the idea was created, the program was launched, it was implemented, and then results occurred. Results are then looked at to determine success.

There are potential reasons for failure at every stage. The most common pitfall is something unexpected happening. Successful programs tend to evaluate in advance would could be encountered and have strategies in advance for handling potential problems.

An idea has to be a good idea. Ideas should be tested before outside critics. Too many bad ideas are implemented due to confirmation bias where internal staff tends to feel a need to agree with each other. In political discussions, people are found to use the emotional part of their brains more than they use their thinking part of their brains. We are all blind to our own blind spots.

The acid rain was a problem to which they appeared to be no solution. The acid rain from coal production was killing fish and polluting beaches. It fell from coal producers from other states. The environmentalists wanted to save ecologies and beaches. The coal producers weren’t going to lose their businesses and employment. Senators Heinz and Wirth decided to find a solution from outside the political, business, and environment communities where dialogue had stagnated to no solution. They turned to economist Robert Stavins, who found a way to please all sides. It was the amount of acid rain that concerned the environmentalists. He had the coal industry accept a cap on emissions that would prevent the acid rain devastation. He then allowed the industry to meet the cap any manner they feel, which meant that coal production could continue if they could reduce dangerous emissions elsewhere. There was a 40% decline in the amount of sulfur dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, beaches returned to normal.

Flawed designs can create problems. The energy generation plan adopted by California is an example of this. It created a system of low cost energy with increased purchases of outside electricity. This plan was designed to prevent brownouts. Yet it created loopholes that Enron grasped. Enron was able to buy low cost energy from California, ship it through the Mid West, and then sell it back to California at a profit. California was actually repurchasing its own electricity back at 30 times the price for which it sold it. This made California’s electricity problems worse and created rolling blackouts and left Silicon Valley with a third world electricity system. This was an example of legislation where every party received a bit of what they sought yet all the pieces did not fit together. It wound up costing California $40 billion.

An idea has to be designed for execution. It then needs to receive stargate, or commitment.

The Federal government has yet to resolve the energy crisis issue. President Ford signed an energy independence bill only to find us importing an additional 400,000 barrels daily in 1980. President Carter signed legislation creating solar energy yet today solar represents .007% of our energy. President George W. Bush signed legislation creating energy independence, and the speakers claim this is beginning to look like “Ground Hog Day” with Bill Murray.

The idea needs to be properly launched. This implementation phase is critical. Congestion pricing appeared to be something that would be extremely hard to implement. Yet the Lord Mayor of London ran tests and took precautionary steps to make sure everything would work properly. They considered what could go wrong and how to resolve potential problems. When London launched congestion pricing, which was on a scale never before attempted, everything ran smoothly. It was a success because the Mayor knew it could have a tragic ending. The most important thing for success is to consider the possibility of failure seriously.

Dwight Ink is heralded as Mr. Implementation. He has worked as a civil servant for seven Presidents and was the person many turned to at the senior level to get things implemented.

Implementation requires many wise choices and serious execution. Leaders are needed who encourage alternative viewpoints. One needs to consider unintended consequences. A good leader asks for perspectives on how programs can fail.

Electoral Leadership in Crisis Times

Bill Purcell of Harvard University and former Mayor of Nashville notes the NCSL website speaks of “legislators facing doom and gloom” and that Revelations cites reporting to Philadelphia. Hopefully this is not a sign of a political apocalypse.

Purcell tells of when he was in the legislature and how there was persistent debate over a snack bar that was removed to preserve historical accuracy. He also recalls Governor Marvin Griffin of Georgia describing legislators as similar to a group of bean pickers without a foreman.

The Tennessee legislature had spirited debates on whether the state butterfly should be the monarch or the zebra swallowtail. He remembers Jay Leno recommending the state bird be the middle finger.

The most phone calls he received as a legislator concerned a proposal that a person could kill a dog that is going to kill the person. He notes that issues like this can distract a legislator from which is important yet legislators should not let this happen.

Leadership requires knowing where things have been, Purcell declares. He urges people to keep their commitment to their beliefs and to maintain optimism. He notes that Iceland has a statute commemorating the unknown bureaucrat.

Purcell encourages young people to become interested and involved in politics. Legislators can conduct outreach to young people.

America’s Changing Demographics-What It Means to Policymakers

Paul Taylor, Executive Vice President of the Pew Research Center, notes the migration of people from Mexico, observing that 90% of this migration is to the United States, was (in thousands) 1,026 in 2006-7, 814 in 2007-8, and 636 in 2008-9. Meanwhile, net immigration into Mexico (mostly Mexicans returning to Mexico) was (in thousands) 479 in 2006-7, 440 in 2007-8, and 433 in 2008-9. What is observed is, while the return flow back into Mexico has been stable, there has been a sharp decline in the numbers of Mexicans coming into the U.S. U.S. Census Bureau and Mexican census figures confirm this. This is also seen in a sharp reduction in the number of border patrol apprehensions, which were 1,636,000 in 2000 and were 602,000 in 2008.

The number of Mexican born living in the United States were 13,000 in 1880, 760,000 in 1970, 4,500,000 in 1990, and 9,752,000 in 2000.

Mexico accounts for 66% of immigration into the United States.

There are an estimated 11.9 million unauthorized residents in the United States. This number has been mostly flat for the past three years.

Nearly half, 47%, of unauthorized immigrants are a couple with children. This compares to 35% of legal immigrants being part of a couple with children and 21% of American-born being part of a couple with children.

There has been a dramatic dispersion of the Mexican population within the U.S. There has been a dramatic increase of Mexican population into Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Based on current population trends (which are not predictions), the American population in 2050 will be between 384 million people (considering a low immigration rate) and 496 million (considering a high immigration rate) and a main projection of 438 million. 82% of the population between now and 2050 is projected to be due to immigration and their offspring. 19% of Americans are projected to be foreign born in the U.S. in 2050, the highest percentage ever. This compared to 13% being foreign born in 2009, 4.7% in 1965, and 14.8% in 1840 (which was the beginning of a historic backlash against immigration).

A fertility rate of 2.1 is required to maintain a current population. This is close to the current American fertility rate of 2.05. The population increase is projected to come from immigration and a slightly higher Hispanic fertility rate.

The worldwide fertility rate is 2.58. The fertility rate in some other countries is 2.73 in India, 2.34 in Mexico, and 1.79 in China. The fertility rate in Germany is 1.41, in Italy is 1.31, and Japan is 1.21, which statistically are rates that are leading to the population demise of these countries.

There were 59 dependants (children and elderly) per 100 people in 2005. This is projected to increase to 72 in 2050 (40 children and 32 elderly). This still is less than 1950 when there were 81 dependants per 100 people. Immigration is not projected to be a major factor in the dependency rate.

The suburbs are changing. In suburban Philadelphia schools in 1993-94, the student population was 72% White, 12% Black, 11% Hispanic, and 5% Asian. In 2006-07, the student population was 59% White, 15% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 6% Asian. Little change in racial composition in rural schools was detected.

The 2008 elections were the most racially diverse election ever. 76.3% of voters were White (which ranged from 79.2% in 2004 to 84.9% in 1988) and 12.1% were Black (ranging from 12.1% in 2008 to 1988 to 9.8% in 1988).

Hispanics are overrepresented in swing voting states. Hispanics voted 67% for Obama and 31% for McCain.

There was a historic gap in voting by age categories. Voters age 18 to 29 voted 66% for Obama and 32% for McCain. Voters over age 65 voted 53% for McCain and 45% for Obama.

57% of college students are female.

37% of Americans have never moved out of their hometown except for college or the military.

20% of the population changed their residences in 1946. This 20% figure was fairly steady until recently when it declined sharply to 11.9% in 2006.

86% of Nevada residents were born in another state, making it the state with the highest percentage of out of state born residents. 75% of Texans were born in Texas, making it the state with the most residents born in the state.

The entire 2010 census will be a short form census for reapportionment and redistricting purposes. The Census Bureau has increased its annual long form surveys.

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