A much discussed provision in the House version of the economic stimulus bill (section 3901 - paragraph J) obligates school districts to use US produced steel for any modernization or renovation projects funded through the stimulus package. This kind of language suggests a crawl toward protectionist sentiments that could hurt international trade.
The "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus package have not gone unnoticed by our trading partners. Last week the EU threatened retaliation if the US adopted protectionist policies. As the entire world comes to grips with a sputtering economy, I doubt anyone wants a trade war. (read the account from the UK's Times Online)
To combat the isolationist sentiment, a host of industry associations (including the US Chamber) sent a letter to the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate urging lawmakers to guard against "Buy American" mandates. To read that letter: Download 09 Letter to Congress on Intl Trade
Hard Budget Choices for Michigan
Leaders from several of Michigan's top business organizations - including the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Michigan Chamber, and the Grand Rapids Chamber - have issued a public call for budget reform.
Yesterday, following last week's State of the State Address by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, the Detroit Free Press ran an editorial co-authored by Detroit ChamberCEO Dick Blouse and Doug Rothwell, president of Detroit Renaissance. The letter praises Gov. Granholm for acknowledging the state's budgetary and economic woes, but calls for real action to help improve the situation.
"The path to economic recovery runs through immediate and meaningful budget reforms that get Michigan's fiscal house in order. Only then can our state truly be a destination for sustained job creation and business investment.
In short, Michigan's economic viability hinges on our elected leaders' commitment to implement long-term, structural budget reforms that break the cycle of deficits and emergency measures to balance the state budget each year."
The group has documented $1.5 billion in possible savings, and suggests looking at reforms to corrections, schools and Medicaid. A comprehensive list of suggestions is available at www.thecenterformichigan.net.
For the dozens of state budgets in the red, a one time infusion of federal dollars from the economic stimulus package is not a long term solution to fiscal insolvency. This call for hard choices in Michigan is a step many others may soon need to make.
To read the full editorial, click HERE.
Boston Bans Cig Sales
Effective today, pharmacies in Boston can no longer sale tobacco products. They join San Francisco as the first two cities to ban sales for pharmacies. San Francisco baned pharmacy sales in September 2008 (click here for the post from this blog).
Last fall, Walgreens challenged the San Francisco ordinance, alleging that it unfairly singled out stand alone pharmacies from other retailers that sell medicines and tobacco products. That challenge was dismissed (click here for more info), opening the door for today's ordinance in Boston.
Click HERE for more on the Boston tobacco sales ban.
Stimulus Funds Flow Through State DOTs
A Reuters story from last Friday confirms that state transportation departments will be the primary drivers for allocating transportation project funds from the economic stimulus package. The article quotes Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as saying:
"Our feeling is the best way to get this money out is through state departments of transportation."
"If (cities) work closely with the state and with the governor they're going to get some roads built in their communities."
Many mayors, city governments and regional organizations were holding out hope that they may receive project funding directly from the federal DOT.
Click HERE to read the full article.
Card Check Impact Study
Stanford University's Hoover Institution has just released "The Case Against the Employee Free Choice Act," a 125 page study the builds a strong legal and economic case against Card Check. This is a great resource to share with your members and elected representatives.
For the full report - click to Download Case Against EFCA.
ASCE Issues 2009 Infrastructure Report Card
Last week the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued their 2009 Infrastructure Report Card. Overall America's infrastructure urned a 'D,' hardly a score you'd want to bring home to mother.
The study, conducted every four years, grades 15 areas of national infrastructure from aviation to roads to waste water. The 2009 scores are very similar to grades from 2005. On their website, ASCE explains the rationale behind the grades. They also offer "5 Key Solutions" to improve our infrastructure capacity; the first solution - increased federal leadership.
For more information about the Infrastructure Report Card, click HERE.
LaHood to Meet with State Tranport Bosses
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has announced that he will meet with the heads of all the state departments of transportation sometime in the coming weeks. On the agenda - the economic stimulus package and specifically its lack of earmarks.
The former Republican Congressman from Peoria, IL also stressed that transparency will be a top priority:
"What I'm saying is that when money goes out the door, it'll be on the Web site," he said. "I've been in public service for 30 years ... I've read all the horror stories (about misspent government money) and we're going to avoid that."
Click HERE to read the full article from the Chicago Tribune.
This announcement reinforces the influence that Governors and state department heads will have over the allocationof stimulus package funds. Local chambers should make sure they are communicating their infrastructure priorities to the appropriate state officials.
Card Check Op-Eds
Here are two good examples of editorials about the Employee Free Choice Act, one from the Washington Times and one from the Raleigh News and Observer. The N&O piece is authored by North Carolina Chamber President Lew Ebert. The Times piece references a 2001 letter from Congressional Democrats to Mexico stressing the importance of the secret ballot for union elections, and Sen. George McGovern's indictment of Card Check. We have covered both of those items here on the Clearinghouse Blog.
Card Check Timing
I've recently caught some speculation in the news about when Congress may bring up the Employee Free Choice Act. Right now it seems like Card Check is not atop the agenda.
The Las Vegas Sun reported last Tuesday that Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid said of Card Check, "We're going to get that, we're hoping to get to it sometime this summer." Click HERE to read the article. Reid's comments were made at the official signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Vice President Joe Biden has also indicated that movement on the EFCA is not imminent. When asked about Card Check in an interview with CNBC last Thursday, said:
"...there's only so much on the plate these first couple months. Everyone understands - I think both of us thought 10 months ago that this would be a top-priority item in terms of immediate action. We know there's probably going to be some compromise here."
Click HERE for the article from Politico.com.
Member Profiles: Jake Cashion
ACCE: How did you get started in chamber work, and what keeps you in the profession?
Jake: Before coming to the chamber, I owned a local real estate firm. After three years of consecutive growth and year or so of negotiations, my company was bought out. I had volunteered for political campaigns for years, and worked full-time on the election campaign for Rep. Virginia Foxx. Although I found politics to be fun, I wanted to get deeper into policy issues. There was an opening at the Greater Winston-Salem Chamber at just the right time, and I have been at the Chamber for over a year now.
It hasn't always been easy making the transition from private sector business owner to non-profit staffer, but I love working the issues. I also appreciate that I spend my days promoting a strong economy, efficient government, and the overall health and safety of my community.
ACCE: What policy issues are currently occupying your time?
Jake: Transportation funding is a big issue for us right now. A beltway around Winston-Salem was partially funded in the late 80s, but is still not complete. We are working to get that finished. I am also busy with our newly launched HILL (healthcare, immigration, and labor law) Committee. The role of the HILL Committee is primarily to educate our members about issues like Card Check and local immigration proposals. We want to arm members with talking points to help make our case to elected officials.
Related to health care, the Triad region of North Carolina has 22 chambers of commerce representing over 11,000 businesses, many of which have trouble affording health insurance for their employees. We would like to create a pool to allow our members to spread risk and bargain for lower cost health insurance. To create the group, however, we need to get the state to pass enabling legislation to allow this pilot affinity group program.
ACCE: What are the biggest challenges your chamber/community currently face?
Jake: Of course we are in job creation mode, just like everyone else in this economy. Overall, though, we are in pretty good shape. We have a low cost of living, relatively low taxes, good schools and a good quality of life. When the economy rebounds, we will be in a good position to attract expanding companies.
Aside from helping our members weather the economic storm, we are taking proactive steps to improve high school drop out rates. I've seen estimates that suggest every high school drop out costs society over $1 million. To address the issue locally, the Chamber partnered with the county school district to pair high risk seniors with mentors from the business community. Last year 24 out of 25 seniors in the program graduated on time. The North Carolina General Assembly is looking at this as a potential statewide model, and we hope to win funding to expand the program.
ACCE: Finish this sentence. Never again will I...
Jake: Never again will I attempt to do my own electrical work. I'm a man of many talents, but wiring is not one of them. Also, I've learned over time never to shy away from new opportunities.