Politico: "Card check battle starts tomorrow "
Politico reported today that Democrats in the House and Senate are expected to formally introduce the Employee Free Choice Act tomorrow. The article predicts a "high-decibel, high-stakes brawl between business and labor."
Regardless how loud the fighting gets in Washington, opposition to Card Check will need support from local chambers and local businesses across the country to be successful . It increasingly seems like the window of opportunity to influence the outcome of this game-changing legislation is narrowing.
Click to read the full article: Card check battle starts tomorrow
Governors Leery of Stimulus Unemployment Funds
Several Governors have expressed concern over accepting some stimulus funds because they are worried about strings attached. One particular area of concern is unemployment compensation.
Taking economic stimulus funds targeted at helping states cover unemployment compensation will force many states to expand eligibility and increase benefit levels. Governors are worried that the expansions will amount to an unfunded mandate after the stimulus package funding expires and force increases in unemployment insurance premiums paid by businesses.
Discussing stimulus mandates, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons said:
"Let me give you just one; it's the unemployment insurance level. It's just four weeks of assistance that they are giving us, but it requires mandatory, permanent, irrevocable changes to our tax system and to how we decide who qualifies for receiving unemployment."
Arizona is also debating whether or not to accept unemployment funds:
"We're still analyzing what the impact would be to see if it's feasible," said Paul Senseman, a spokesman for (Arizona Governor Jan) Brewer. He said Brewer worries that accepting the money could leave Arizona on the hook for benefits it cannot afford after the stimulus money is gone. "
After first questioning the funds, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has decided to take the unemployment funds:
"I'd wanted to take a little time to look at it, to make sure we weren't biting off more than we could chew," Bredesen told reporters Friday. "This is certainly a good thing to do. It's also something that we can afford."
In Mississippi, the legislature is trying to overrule Governor Haley Barbour's decision to reject unemployment stimulus funds. But the bill has not passed the Senate, and is receiving stiff criticism from the Governor's office. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said last week:
"We understand how important that stimulus money is," Bryant said in a short video sent to supporters Wednesday. "But we also understand there's part of it we don't want that's going to tie strings to the state of Mississippi that make us pay people who don't work, and we're just not going to take that."
Are you concerned that stimulus funds will end up causing unemployment insurance increases in your state? Leave a comment..
Biden and the AFL-CIO to Tango
Vice President Biden was in Miami last week to speak to the AFL-CIO executive council. His Thursday speech followed an address and meeting with new Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on Monday and a video taped greeting from President Obama on Tuesday. The high profile meetings all served to underscore the administration's support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
Biden, probably the most outspoken in his support for Card Check, was quoted as saying, "You all brought me to the dance a long time ago. And it's time we start dancing." According to John Sweeny, President of the AFL-CIO "(Biden) gave a strong statement of support for workers, their wages ... collective bargaining and the Employee Free Choice Act."
Business leaders around the country can take last week's meetings as a clear signal that Card Check is on the agenda and has support at the highest levels of the Obama administration. Law makers in Washington need to hear from their constituents on this important issue, and they need to hear from them now.
Click HERE an AP story about Biden's meeting with the AFL-CIO.
Click HERE for the New York Times' coverage.
For several months now we've all had lots of questions about the economic stimulus package. How will funds be allocated? What role will state governments play? How do I make sure my local project is considered for funding?
It seems that there aren't many clear cut answers to most of these questions. Some money is allocated through existing formulas, other money in block grants to states, and still other money directly through federal agencies. Governors, mayors and state agencies all play a role, and those roles are differ from state to state. How do you insure your community's projects get funded? If you've found the answer to that one, please leave a comment and let us all know.
But there are some other important questions about the stimulus that I wasn't thinking about until I read this article by Washington Post Writers Group Columnist Neal Peirce: Stimulus Controls Vital, But What About Results?
In the article, Peirce brings up two big questions:
- How do we ensure that stimulus funds create not only jobs, but also long term benefits for our communities?
- Will stimulus funds create jobs and opportunities for local businesses?
The answers to both questions are vitally important for local chambers of commerce. Click HERE to read Peirce's article that probes for answers.
States Already Spending Stimulus $
Whether spent on a few big projects to expand capacity or spread over dozens of smaller 'upkeep' efforts, transportation stimulus funds are already getting spent in many states. States are making haste because a provision of the stimulus bill makes them start spending within four months or risk having their portion of the package reallocated to a state that is spending.
Has your state issued stimulus spending plans? How are local communities providing input? Share your insight by leaving a comment below.
For more information about how different states are spending the comparativelysmall pot of transportation dollars, check out this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.
LED Lighting the Way
Cities from Milwaukee, WI to Glendale, AZ plan to tap stimulus funds to convert traditional streetlights to LED streetlights. They hope to reap two-fold benefits from the conversion - savings and jobs.
First, long term cost savings. LED streetlights use about half the electricity of traditional incandescent lights. The energy savings quickly add up to taxpayer dollar savings while reducing overall energy consumption. LED lights are initially more expensive, however they last up to 7 times longer than traditional street lights, reducing long term maintenance costs.
Second, LED lights represent a potentially high growth new green industry. Not only are there potential new businesses and jobs in producing and installing LED lights, the streetlights could be powered by solar panels and power usage could be monitored and controlled remotely with transmitters. Both technologies represent potential new businesses. Cities who leverage stimulus funds to convert to LED streetlights could spur demand that would create new jobs.
Check out the recent article on stimulus funding for LED streetlights from USA Today.
For a more in-depth look at the potential for the cost savings potential of LED and monitored streetlights, check out the Energy Efficient Steetlights Whitepaper authored by Robert Grow from the Greater Washington (DC) Board of Trade. Grow is a graduate of the ACCE/Ford Foundation Regional Sustainable Development Fellowship. He conducted the streetlight study while going through the year long program.
Card Check Media Coverage
Public debate over the imminent Card Check proposal is heating up. Over the past few days I've seen more than a dozen Card Check related articles and op-eds from local newspapers across the country. If you're local paper isn't covering this vitally important issue, perhaps you owe the editorial board a phone call.
Here are a few recent Card Check related articles and editorials with a choice quote from each:
Greenville News: "Card Check" unfairly favors unions
"American workers have the right to organize, and no one should deny them that liberty. But there is a fair and proper way for that to happen, and it includes a secret-ballot vote away from potential coercion of both employer and union. The current system allows for that. The Senate should reject this bill."
Detroit Free Press: Will the Employee Free Choice Act aid or undo labor's gains?
"Passing EFCA might placate the unions and large portions of the Democratic caucus but it will impede recovery, retard economic prosperity in the future, and further alienate President Obama from the mainstream. On all counts, the EFCA fails as a pragmatic reform that works for the betterment of the economy."
Montgomery Advertiser: Bill mere payoff for union support
"The "Employee Free Choice Act" before the U.S. Congress is an oxymoron. The unions want to do away with secret ballots in elections to form a union at a place of employment"
Las Vegas Sun: Past friends of card check still weighing bill
"...As the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act heats up as labor's top priority, Berkley has yet to offer her support. Why? "That's a good question," Berkley said recently in discussing a bill vigorously opposed by business. "I'm not comfortable enough to sign on to it yet. I suspect that I will. I'm just not there yet."
Gas Tax Hike on the Way for Mass?
A group of business leaders in Massachusetts is advocating for an increase in the state's gas tax. Their rationale: "without investments in roads , bridges, trains, and subways, the state risks losing companies that are hemmed in by bad access and risks hindering workers’ ability to get to paying jobs."
To find out more about the proposal, click HERE to read an article from the Boston Globe.
You could also check out this post from the Boston Chamber's Blog.
The Man in the Middle of Card Check
If you had to name one person as being 'at the center' of the legislative debate about Card Check, you'd have to pick Arlen Specter. The 5 term US Senator from Pennsylvania was the only Republican to vote for The Employee Free Choice Act back in 2007. He is also the only Republican identified who is not stronglyy opposed to the bill this year. So far he has been silent regarding his stance.
His position (or rather non-position) has certainly made him the subject of much attention and speculation from organizations and individuals on both sides of the card check debate. The AP addressed this issue and the possible primary and election implications for Specter (whose term is up in 2010) in an article yesterday.
Click HERE to read the story.
Obama Taking on Health Care
Health care is a perennial issue for chambers. Ever rising insurance premiums put a huge burden on businesses, large numbers of uninsured add cost to the entire system. Well-intentioned state coverage level mandates exacerbate the problem by raising the price floor for insurance. In a nation full of tough policy issues, this one is right up there among the most challenging.
Since the Democratic primaries, President Obama has made health care one of his bailiwick issues (you may remember debates during which Obama and now Sec. of State Clinton squabbled over whose health plan would cover more uninsured Americans). As of last week, following the address to Congress and the release of his 2010 budget, the president is signaling that he isn't waiting to tackle health care.
With several billions in stimulus funds already slated to help digitize medical records and a budget that includes a $630 billion reserve fund to finance health care reform, the money is starting to line up. Following today's nomination of Kansas Governor and former state insurance commissioner Kathleen Sebelius to take over the Department of Health and Human Services (and barring another tax scandal) it seems the leadership is lining up. What remains is a detailed plan. For an interesting look at what an Obama health care plan will look like, check out this article from today's LA Times.
So is health care reform in the next year or two a reality? Or just a big diversion? Weigh in with your thoughts, leave a comment below.