For a road warrior, there really is no place like home for the Holidays. Home is where we can enjoy family and neighbors, but increasingly, it is also the place FROM which we connect. Between email, texting and social media outlets, our laptops and cell phones are almost as busy @ home as they are @acce.org.
Rather than stifling conversation across a coffee table, the messages we receive and send provide our family with MORE to talk about. We comment on e-photos of new babies, messages from folks en route, FaceBook postings from former co-workers and, inevitably, office concerns. Many people lament the modern world's loss of genuine family time, balance and peace. I find more of all three BECAUSE I am linked thru modern COM.
It's going to be a great Christmas. Yes, the 20-somethings will be texting instead of watching ancient home movies, but that's okay because the new dads we know will be posting pictures on FaceBook we want to see. I actually LIKE to get holiday messages and posts from members in late December. Also, the new recipe for stuffing we get from a website won't be as bland as Aunt Edna's and the video call we place on Christmas Eve through Skype to my Buffalo family will put us in their home and them in ours.
It's all good and it all makes us even more . . . "In This Together." Merry Christmas
Me and Bobby McGee
Busted flat in Baton Rouge . . . feelin' almost faded as my jeans . . . all the way to New Orleans."
I can't pretend that I flagged a diesel down, but my recent trip from Houston to New Orleans -- with numerous stops along I-10 -- did allow me to sing out just about every song I knew, including the Kristofferson /Joplin classic.
Observations? Refining is still big business. Casinos are hurting everywhere, not just Vegas. Texas has more regional economies than most of the countries in the world. Houston alone seems to have a dozen distinct economic drivers to go along with its half dozen dominant ethnic cultures. Louisiana in general is doing pretty damn well and the New Orleans' recovery impressive real traction. If someone along our south coast mentions "the corps" everybody knows which organization they're talking about -- and it's not the Marines. Fried pig ears aren't bad.
The chamber boards I visited with in Beaumont and Lake Charles were extremely proud of their chamber and staff leadership. The staffs, in turn, are mighty ambitious along that Gulf corridor.
Final note -- I never expected that New Orleans would be a "new frontier" kind of talent magnet. Young, smart, eager people are flocking there for a chance to be part of rebuilding the region and venturing into the "next" Louisiana economy. Very cool.
Courts Overturn San Jose PAC Cap
Santa Clara County Court Judge James Emerson has ruled that limits imposed on by the City of San Jose on individual contributions to the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber's PAC are unconstitutional. The ruling is a big win for the politically active chamber.
"Today's victory is a victory for all who wish to participate in the democratic process in San Jose and the state of California," said chamber President Pat Dando.
Click to read coverage of the ruling from the San Jose Mercury News.
State Green Economy Profiles
We've all heard a lot about the current and potential impact of green jobs and the green economy - it is campaign trail gold. But how to define green jobs and the green economy has been problematic. A new set of reports released by the National Governors Association (www.nga.org) helps solve that problem.
NGA's State Green Economy Profiles, prepared by Collaborative Economics (www.coecon.com), are designed to provide a detailed, empirical account of each state's current green economy. The reports apply a common definition to green economic activity - defining a green business as one that provides products and services that do one of the following:
- Provide alternatives to carbon-based energy sources
- Conserve the use of energy and all natural resources
- Reduce pollution and re-purpose waste.
These reports can serve as a foundation for identifying your state’s competitive advantage and future growth areas.
Click HERE to access the report on your state.
Pittsburgh Tuition Tax Proposal
Like most American cities, Pittsburgh faces a budget deficit. Howver, their mayor's proposed solution to the budget gap is much less common - he plans to tax college tuition.
The Wall Street Journal says the proposed 1% tuition tax on college tuition, "appears to be a one-of-a-kind." It would bring in $16 million in new revenue.
The city has argued that the 1% tax, which would cost $409 a year for Carnegie Mellon undergrads, isn't much for students who receive a great deal of city services. The city has also pointed out that, due to the large number of non-profit and charitable organizations, 40% of city property is tax exempt, thus leaving few options for raising new funds.
The proposal, announced by Mayor Ravenstahl last month, has created a lot of controversy. The plan has made headlines nationwide, and the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education is lobbying state lawmakers to prohibit taxing students.
Talk about Town-Gown relations!
Click HERE to read more from the Wall Street Journal.
Gas Tax on the Table
Increasing the Federal gas tax is very much on the discussion table in Washington these days. Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is pushing for a $550 billion federal transportation program that would include a 5-cent federal gas tax increase. Speaking in relation to the gas tax, Congressman Oberstar said:
"The maintenance and improvement of our transportation infrastructure has fallen well behind our needs...An increase in the tax that funds these projects is long overdue." Click HERE for more.
Currently the Federal Gas Tax is set at a fixed rate of 18.4 cents per gallon. It hasn't increased since 1993, and overall revenue from the tax has declined as automobile efficiency has improved.
Transportation Secretary LaHood has mentioned indexing the federal gas tax, along with tolling, bonds, and a miles traveled tax, as a possible revenue stream to fund transportation infrastructure projects. At a summit in Texas this week LaHood said:
"Congress wants to pass a very robust transportation bill in the neighborhood of $400 billion or $500 billion, and we know the highway trust fund is just deficient in its ability to fund those kinds of projects."
The Feds aren't the only ones looking to increase revenue per gallon of fuel, states leaders are also looking at gas tax hikes. Some legislators in West Virginia are at odds with the Governor over his plan to keep a 5 cent fixed portion of the state's gas tax in place past its original expiration date in 2013. In Texas, Governor Perry has rebuffed State Senate Transportation Committee Chair and fellow Republican John Corona's proposal to raise the state's gas tax by $.10 per gallon.
Every community has a lane expansion, interchange improvement, or light rail project in planning that would improve mobility and quality of life, how to pay for them is the question. State bond ratings and public opinion may preclude more debt, and force government at all levels to look at alternative sources of revenue. Please share comments about gas tax proposals in your city, county or state.
Teacher Truancy, Open Lunch Periods and Charter Funding
Below are a few interesting education related articles for everyone interested in the quality and results of our K-12 system.
Student absenteeism has long been an issue for educators, but under Arne Duncan's leadership the Department of Education is now tracking teacher attendance. Teacher truancy has an impact on student performance, it is also a major expense for school districts. Now teacher attendance will be tracked as part of the federal funding formula for low performing schools.
- Check out this article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Learning Curve: Teachers too often MIA
A Maryland high school is betting that simply reorganizing the day (a no cost school reform) can help improve student engagement and test scores. Patuxent High School is joining others in the state by getting rid of rotating 30 minute lunch periods and implementing an hour-long school-wide lunch. The open time allows clubs to meet and students to get extra help and mentoring from teachers.
- Check out this article from the Washington Post: Calvert high turns them loose at lunch
Despite facing a serious budget deficit, Rhode Island is proposing an increase in funding for charter schools in their next budget. The move is drawing criticism from teacher's unions in the state.
- Check out this article from the Providence Journal: Charter school budget raised by educators
The beauty of travel
As you can imagine, and have heard/read from my communications, this job comes with a lot of travel. Being gone 90 nights a year and hanging out in commuter airline concourses may not be appealing, but other aspects of the travel is rewarding and exciting. It can also be beautiful.
Unforeseen vistas and touching small scenes have stuck with me throughout these eight years of wandering. Because it's Thanksgiving, I'm especially grateful for the opportunity you've provided me to see some wonderful and wonderous sights. This is a little long -- hope you'll indulge me.
From over the flat plains of the west, I drove toward the unexpectedly luminous skyline of Tulsa in twilight. I don't know what I was anticipating on this first trip there, but it wasn't the Oz I saw in the distance that night. The city rising up from the flat plain, lit by a nearly-set orange sun. Stunning.
Another surprisingly beautiful road experience occurred in the Rio Grande Valley. Thousands of yellow flowering cacti speckled the roadside for 100 miles, standing out in what would otherwise be a monochromatic desert scene.
Urban art forms -- Mickey's Diner in St Paul has been placed on the national registry for its historic authenticity. I just think it's beautiful.
Golden Gate, Centennial, Olympic, Stanley and Central Parks . . . the Commons in Boston . . . the Grassy Knoll in Dallas . . . Temple of Heaven in Beijing . . . the botanical garden in the Bronx . . . the olive tree canopies on the campus in Tucson . . . the Arch. Iconic city green spaces with pasts and presents and presence. I've been able to enjoy the landscape/topographic artistry and life of all of them.
I've seen a hundred sunsets through plane windows -- over the snow covered Rockies, the impossibly blue Pacific, white-capped Lake Michigan, Red Rocks of Utah, the swollen banks of the Mississippi and endless wheat fields of Saskatchewan. The view from up there gets old.
Getting lost in small towns on the way to chamber offices has presented me with chances to see beautiful neighborhoods in small towns across North America. A tulip filled Victorian street scene in Holland Michigan and a snow lined college avenue in Mankato. I've seen the glorious homes facing the surf in Carmel and the cobblestone lanes overlooking Gloucester's harbor. If I didn't miss my turns, I would have missed the white fenced front lawns in Niagara on the Lake and the canal nieghborhoods of Fort Lauderdale. From Glens Falls to Cedar Falls, you live in some Rockwellian places.
I have also been privileged to see an endless tapestry of people in space -- scenes I'll never forget. Amish kids bouncing on a backyard trampoline (yes, it's allowed). The sea of hats in the grandstand at the Derby. Solitary runners on a Sanibel beach. A million Chinese in the lights of Tiananmen Square for the centennial's final night. 500 proud smiling faces looking back at me in Nashville when I delivered their Chamber of the Year Award. Dejected young ballplayers walking beside the road after being eliminated from the Little League World Series in Williamsport. Fiesta on the street in New Mexico, art show in Waterloo, election demonstration in Istanbul, inauguration in DC. Wow.
The travel sometimes seems hard, but there are so many rewards -- among them the chances to see and feel the beauty of countries, cities, towns, panoramas and neighborhoods. I am very thankful that you're still inviting me to visit. Onward.
Early Childhood Investment Pays Off
Is early childhood education an item on your 'soft stuff' list? You know, that list of nice but non-essential programs that we can strive for some day. If so, you may want to rethink its designation.
According to University of Chicago economist and Noble Prize laureate James Heckman society receives better return on educational investment made earlier in life. Speaking to a business crowd at the St. Louis Federal Reserve last week, Heckman said, "We really spend more money later in the life cycle, and the real return comes from spending more in the early years. The way we are going to make schools more efficient is by making the children that come into school more efficient."
He added, "Before, the case that was made for early childhood was that it is a good and fair thing for children, the current thinking is, it's a fair thing to do, but it's also an economically efficient thing to do."
For details, check out this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Early childhood education called a smart investment
For more information and in-depth resources about early childhood education, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children at www.naeyc.org
Chambers Suggest Budget Solutions
Monday I blogged about the Pew Center study on State budgets. The underlying message - we've got a mess to contend with. But chambers can do more than join the hand wringing, they can (and should) suggest smart cuts and budgetary solutions. Here are two recent examples:
The Salt Lake Chamber has proposed a strategy to close the budget gap by cutting spending and tapping rainy day funds. Their plan preserves spending for K-12 and higher education and stops short of calling for any new taxes. Chamber chief operating officer Natalie Gochnour was quoted as saying:
"We believe that balancing the budget is easy. The hard part is doing it in a way that enables our economy to grow long term. So we tried to outline budget recommendations that would sustain our economy."
Read more in this article from the Salt Lake Tribune: Chamber outlines ways to cut state deficit
The Kentucky Chamber has also been an active proponent of closing the budget gap through smart spendingcuts and structural changes. They recently called for a re-examination of state employee health benefits as an opportunity for cost savings. David Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber and Chair of ACCE said:
"The budget outlook is grim, and we believe reasonable changes in public employee health benefits could generate nearly $200 million in savings in the 2010-12 budget."
Read more about the Kentucky Chamber's proposal in this article from the Lexington Herald-Leader - Chamber: State workers should pay higher premiums
What proactive steps is your organization making to identify smart state budget solutions? Leave a comment below.