Here are some interesting transportation related headlines from the past several days.
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Calls to bring high-speed rail to Texas grow louder
- With congestion on the rise and the "mood of the moment in Washington is decidedly pro-rail," transportation planners and rail advocates in Texas are exploring high speed rail possibilities.
From the Denver Post - Fee hike may fuel road fixes
- The Colorado Senate hopes to secure $500 million in bonds to repair roads and bridges by increasing car registration fees. The FASTER bill also has an interesting provision allowing for local toll collection on state highways.
From the St. Louis Post Dispatch - States consider mileage tax
- An Oregon task force is considering using GPS to tax drivers based on their miles driven. What are the challenges and is this idea on the drawing board in other states?
Health Care Headlines
Here are some health care issues making headlines over the past few days:
From The Washington Post - At Wal-Mart, a Health-Care Turnaround
- By offering multiple options including high deductible and emergency plans, utilizing electronic medical records, and negotiating affordable prescriptions, Wal-Mart is drastically reducing the number of uninsured among its employees. Is it a model for states to follow?
From The Asheville (NC) Citizen Times - Telemedicine to provide health care to rural schools
- A school-based health project, funded with foundation and charitable support, is using teleconferencing and other technology to boost access to acute, chronic, and mental health services for school children in some of western North Carolina's most under served communities.
From Staunton, VA's The News Leader - Gubernatorial candidate unveils health-care plan
- Brian Moran, a Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, has released a plan to provide health care for every child in the Commonwealth. He plans to leverage federal funds to achieve his goal.
Enough with the negative stuff already!
January retail sales in our city are UP 13.9 percent over same time last year!
Boo to the recession and gloom/doom crowd!
- Dennis Lauver, President and CEO, Salina (KS) Area Chamber
Chair, ACCE Government Relations Division
Immigration Proposals are Back in States
If you've been distracted over the past few weeks by the stimulus package and other belt-loop drama (e.g., Sen. Gregg's withdrawal from Commerce) you are not alone. It seems all eyes are intently watching for Washington's next move, and for good reason. But with nearly every state legislature in session, there are dozens of state and local issues in play too. Immigration is a prime example.
Already this year, legislatures in at least four states - Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and Wyoming - are considering bills that would put the onus on local businesses to enforce immigration laws. The bills are modeled on the Arizona Fair and Legal Employment Act and the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, both passed in 2007. The Arizona bill mandates use of the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify program and establishes stiff penalties, including business license suspension, for employers who employ an illegal immigrant. The Oklahoma bill, which is currently under injunction in federal court, makes it a felony to provide shelter, employment or transportation to an illegal immigrant.
There are numerous problems with state and local immigration legislation. Primary among them is that state-by-state immigration regulation is not comprehensive national immigration reform. Individual state laws can not address the national security and workforce issues that are inextricably linked with immigration. Furthermore, cities and states that pass punitive immigration bills can damage their reputation as diverse, inclusive places that are open to foreign trade and investment. There are other concerns, such as E-Verify's estimated 10% error, opening the potential for litigation by legal workers who are denied employment. Also, overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, state immigration regulations create a compliance minefield for companies operating in multiple states.
These days it is important to pay attention daily (hourly?) to everything going on in Washington DC. But it is equally important to keep a close eye on your state house.
For more information on state level immigration proposals, see the links below.
For more information on state level immigration bills check out ImmigrationWorksUSA.org
Reflections on a trip to Washington DC
This past Friday, we finished a small and short trip to Washington DC. Eight community leaders were able to meet with two Senators and two Congressmen. We felt like our time there was well spent.
It was kind of a suprise that much of what we had to talk about wasn't involved in the economic stimulus legislation. NCLB, Card Check, Corps of Engineers specific to our community were among the topics.
We also focused on FY 09 and FY 2010 appropriation requests knowing that (for better and for worse) the decisions about where to spend stimulus money were out of the hands of elected representatives.
Now is certainly not the time to retreat from advocating our community needs - and I would guess the same statement can be made for every city.
We continue to work on making sure our local partners and the community at large understand that working with the federal government is a marathon and not a sprint.
At some point, I might share the story of how my city manager and I went jogging at 5:15 am with a former boss of mine, US Senator Charles Grassley. A taxi ride to his house for the ages! The low point of a taxi ride is when one of the passengers has to get out of the cab and ask a police officer for directions!
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.