Card Check Still Hot Topic
After a two week recess, the Senate is back in session today. The House comes back tomorrow. Despite the break, the fight over Card Check hasn't cooled one degree.
On their blog last Friday the AFL-CIO headline was: Two Busy Weeks in the Fight for Employee Free Choice. The blog post touts grassroots engagement stating claiming, "Nearly 100,000 phone calls to Congress. More than 27,000 letters to Congress. More than 400 community events."
Headlines from across the country last week attest to the activity level on both sides of the Card Check debate:
- Pittsburgh, PA - Union Members Rally Downtown For Employee Free Choice Act
- Roanoke, VA - Groups rally for, against union proposal
- Bismark, ND - Employee Free Choice Act Supporters at Capitol
- Las Vegas, NV - Senator Ensign Rallies Support Against Union Bill
Indeed, over the weekend TheHill.com headline read: Both business, labor claim recess victories.
The truth is that Card Check is not gone. Unions continue to push their agenda, therefore business organizations can not sit back.
High Speed Rail Plans
President Obama shed some light on his transportation infrastructure priorities last week with the announcement of plans for a high speed rail network to connect several regions across the country. In his remarks the President said:
"What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century, ... a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates job. ...There's no reason why we can't do this."
The administration's proposal includes 10 rail corridors, and plans to use $8 billion in stimulus funds marked for high speed rail to jump start the projects.
Click HERE for more info.
Family Medical Leave Insurance
House Democrats have proposed an amendment to the Family Medical Leave act that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for medical or family issues. The proposed amendment calls for the creation of a Family Medical Leave Insurance fund to cover those 12 weeks of paid leave. Employees would contribute .02% of their annual income to the fund with employers matching that amount.
This is another cost of business issue for chambers to be aware of. For more details check out this update from SESCO Management Consultants.
Stimulus Roads Under Construction
Stimulus funds are starting to flow and infrastructure projects are underway. The White House announced this week that stimulus projects are ahead of schedule and under budget. But is money flowing out fast enough to have an impact? And is it funding the right projects?
Here are a few articles from this week that may help shed some light:
Stimulus Aid Being Doled Out, Slowly - Washington Post
Stimulus bridges some gaps: Projects picked more for speed than need - Tulsa World.com
Road project using stimulus $$ under way - Deseret News, Utah
Declining Statehouse Coverage = Role for Chambers
According to a study conducted by the American Journalism Review, professional reporting from state legislatures is falling precipitously as more newspapers face dire financial straits. The organization's census of statehouse reporters (the first since 2003) uncovered a startling decrease in coverage.
"The tally found only 355 full-time newspaper reporters at the nation's state capitols, a 32 percent decrease from just six years ago. It discovered that 44 statehouses have fewer full-time reporters than they did six years ago."
This means citizens in your community have fewer opportunities to learn about important state policy issues and a harder time staying informed about their elected representatives. An uninformed electorate is a bad sign for vibrant democracy.
Chambers of commerce are in a good position to help fill this void in statehouse coverage. You know your elected representatives and state officials, you are watching the budget and tracking key pieces of legislation, and you have connections to a large group of civic-minded citizens. Make sure your communications help spread the word about what's happening in state government.
Social media platforms can help. The Maryland Chamber and the Birmingham (AL) Chamber both have blogs that focus on state policy issues. Government relations staff at the Charlotte (NC) Chamber and the Detroit (MI) Chamber use Twitter regularly to update their followers about goings on in Raleigh and Lansing.
Want to learn more about social media applications for advocacy and issue awareness? ACCE will have a workshop on this very topic at the Annual Convention in Raleigh on July 30. Call Ian at ACCE for more info.
A tip o' the hat to The Thicket- the National Conference of State Legislatures blog - for a link to the AJR article.
DIALogue Date Change
Don't misss this chance to hear a seasoned DC veteran discuss the most pressing federal issues of the day - stimulus funds, future appropriations, and business/government relations. Expect candid insight and plenty of opportunity for interaction and questions.
For more information and to register, click HERE.
Seattle to Vote on Plastic Bag Tax
This August, voters in Seattle will decide whether or not to impose a 20 cent tax on plastic shopping bags. The city council had already passed the tax to discourage plastic bag use last summer, it was set to go into effect on Jan 1, 2009. But a petition drive led by the American Chemistry Council forced a public referendum on the issue.
Click HERE to read more about the debate in Seattle.
We've addressed the issue of plastic bag bans/taxes before on this blog. It is a big issue, particularly for smaller retailers. Other city councils have proposed bans on plastic bags, and I know of at least one that is watching the public vote in Seattle before they decide to propose a similar tax.
Stimulus Dollars at Work
I'm seeing more news articles from across the country that highlight stimulus projects in action. Here are just a few examples:
- Florida - Crist sees progress in turning stimulus into jobs
- Kentucky - City plans transit center for bicyclists, Stimulus program providing funds
- New York - More stimulus-funded projects announced
- Colorado - Ritter certifies RTD, Fastracks projects for stimulus funding
- New Jersey - Stimulus money funding $47.6 million NJ project
There is value in the positive press (who couldn't use some good news!) but the real economic impact remains to be seen. If you've secured stimulus funding for a major infrastructure project in your community, please tell me about it.
Lincoln Says NO to Card Check
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) declared yesterday that she doesn't support the Employee Free Choice Act in its current form. Her remarks come two weeks after Sen. Specter (R-PA) announced that he would not vote for cloture on Card Check and a week after Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) signaled mixed feelings about the measure.
In her remarks Sen. Lincoln reportedly said:
"The two groups we need at the table more than anybody right now are business and workers, and (card check) is keeping them apart...It is divisive and distracting."
While these announcements don't mean that Card Check is dead, it does show that the efforts of local chambers and national organizations to drive debate about this critical issue are paying off.
ED Funds on the Chopping Block
Just as they are in many states, the legislature in Maryland is struggling to pass a balanced budget before this session wraps up next week. One item set to get chopped is economic development funds.
Maryland's Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund is likely to be cut by $10 million in 2009 and at least $9.5 million in 2010. Regarding the State's ED fund The Hagerstown (MD) Herald-Mail reported:
"Since mid-2000, the fund has been tapped for nearly $160 million... this money has helped retain 16,171 jobs, create 13,609 and spark private investment totaling $1.6 billion in buildings and equipment."
Unfortunately, economic development funds, those monies that keep and create jobs, are a likely suspect for cuts.
Is ED funding under attack in your state? Is it directly threatening your chamber? Leave a comment and tell us about it.