Lessons Learned Pay Off for Houston
Hurricane Ike slammed directly into Galveston and Houston last Saturday, the latest in a parade of severe storms this busy hurricane season. This storm, with a near record 80 mile wide eye, brought category 2 sustained winds and a 13 foot storm surge to one of the nation's largest metropolitan areas. Communities on the Texas coast are still cleaning up and it is still far from business-as-usual, however, there are some bright spots.
Jeff Moseley, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, sent this interesting anecdote about lessons learned in the wake of natural disasters that I thought I would share.
"In 1983 (Hurricane) Alicia's winds carried gravel from downtown roofs and caused a cascade of broken glass to fill downtown streets. A city ordinance was then passed banning gravel as a roofing material and making those towers with gravel switch. Fast forward 25 years--Ike's winds only impacted 1/2% of the 400,000 windows in downtown. "
Our thoughts remain with the folks in Texas who are still without power, water, food and gasoline. Click HERE to learn how you can help.
Prepaid College in Texas
Last week Texas unveiled a new plan to help parents parents pay for their children's college education. The Texas Tuition Promise Fund allows families to lock-in current tuition and fee rates at state universities and community colleges for future attendance.
The new plan replaces the similar Texas Tomorrow Fund which ceased offering prepaid college tuition contracts to Texans in 2003. That program has left the state with huge deficits because state university tuition in Texas has increased over 40% since deregulation in 2003.
A year at the University of Texas - Austin currently costs $9,850 for in-state students. When it launched in 1996, the Texas Tomorrow Fund was selling 4 years at UT-Austin for $8,800.
To read more about the Texas Tuition Promise Fund, check out this article from the Dallas Morning News.
Card Check Info Session
The US Chamber has scheduled a conference call for next Thursday (Sept 25) at 2pm to discuss the Employee Free Choice Act, better known as Card Check. The proposed federal legislation -- blocked in 2007 but likely to resurface in 2009 -- would essentially abolish private ballot elections in union organizing drives.
If you are not plugged-in to this issue, try to find time to join this call. Card check is destined to be a major issue next year that will impact many of your members.
The call features two US Chamber speakers, Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Chamber's Workforce Freedom Initiative, and Mike Eastman, executive director of labor policy. It is free for US Chamber members, email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
For background info on Card Check, visit PolicyClearinghouse.org.
Tobacco Sales Ban in the Golden Gate City
Walgreens is suing the city of San Francisco over a law that bans tobacco sales in pharmacies. The law, which was passed in late July and is set to go into effect October 1, is being challenged because it singles out drug stores. The tobacco sales ban doesn't apply to grocery stores or big-box retailers that also have pharmacies.
If San Francisco is the nation's coal mine canary, and issues from mandatory paid sick leave to plastic bag bans suggest that it is, then other cities may soon attempt to impose regulations on where tobacco products can be sold.
For background information about this ordinance, check out this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.
Mandatory Sick Leave Off the Ballot in Ohio
Business leaders in Ohio are celebrating the removal of Issue 4 from this November's ballot. The proposal would have mandated that all companies offer paid sick leave to all employees and imposed restrictions on companies that already offer forms of paid leave.
In a letter today, Steve Millard, President and CEO of COSE (the Council of Smaller Enterprises, a division of the Greater Cleveland Partnership), explained why the measure was removed.
"Their proposal - poorly crafted and designed to create major havoc on Ohio's economy - was simply refused by legislators, the Governor, House and Senate leadership, most other sects of organized labor, the business community and a quickly growing percentage of Ohio's voters. As our efforts and the efforts of others in the state began to make the voting public become more aware of exactly what this issue would do to our state, the support for the issue started to turn.'
'This was a victory for us and all of our efforts. We knew from the start that small businesses were not against the idea of paid leave - research has shown that almost 90% of employers in our state provide some type of paid leave. What drew our concern and our opposition was the poorly drafted initiative that put many requirements on businesses that already provided leave and reduced the flexibility of our states employees and the attractiveness of our state as a place to grow and locate jobs. That opposition was able to stop this issue for November."
To read the full text of Steve's letter to COSE members, click HERE.
Climate Change Litigation
Climate change has quickly become one of America's most emotionally charged political issues. Regardless of where you may fall on the global warming spectrum from true believer to ardent skeptic, one issue that most business leaders can agree on is the treat posed by climate change lawsuits.
Energy, automotive, and all sorts of manufacturing companies may soon face a wave of class action lawsuits siting nuisance and damages for their contribution to global warming. Think tobacco on a much bigger scale.
The American Justice Partnership recently presented a seminar on this topic titled: "New Threat to Business: Class Action Global Warming Litigation.” The AJP has made video of this seminar available on-line. Speakers include Shannon Goessling, Director of Southeastern Legal Foundation and Dr. John Christy professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Goessling underscores the potential for global warming litigation in the near future and refers to a continuing education program of the American Bar Association that she describes as a “litigation primer in the area of global warming. She then turns the podium over to Alabama State Climatologist John Christy whose presentation refutes the claim that humans have impacted global temperature.
Click HERE to watch the video.
Bad Air Days, Perhaps Not So Bad
How many days during the summer do you open the paper to find warning about your region's air quality? Scanning today's headlines I saw ozone and air pollution alerts posted for Raleigh, Richmond and Pittsburgh.
While these reports are certainly important information for people who need to take precautions, what effect do they have on the image (or self-image) of your city? The average citizen probably doesn't know specifics about fine particulate matter or EPA attainment, however, they will likely draw conclusions about how dirty their city is from the frequency of air quality warnings in the daily paper. Thousands of individual conclusions could lead to an image problem for a city in which business and government leaders are cooperating successfully to improve air quality. That is why I was so heartened by a short article I read in last Friday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The story explains in simple English that while the region is on pace to top last year's number of bad air days, the actual air quality may have improved because federal standards have tightened. If your city is facing an air pollution image problem that undercuts the efforts made to improve, articles like this could help sway public perception.
Energy Prices on the Rise in the Southeast
According to Raleigh, NC based utility Progress Energy, electricity rates are set to rise substantially in 2009. An article in today's News and Observer indicates that rates for Progress customers in Florida will go up by 31% while North Carolina customers will see an increase of 16%. The company attributes increases to higher fuel cost, investment in nuclear, and clean-air technology updates at existing coal plants.
In ACCE surveys, energy consistently ranks at the top on a list priority policy issues. If you are concerned about the impact that supply and price of energy will have on your local economy, join us for ACCE's upcoming Energy Issue Jam on September 25. Issue Jams are an interactive web and phone based teleseminar. Speaker and registration details about the Energy Issue Jam will be available soon.
Plastic Bag Ban On Hold in Arizona
Kingman, AZ, a city 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas, recently postponed a decision on whether to impose a tax or outright ban on plastic bags. The Kingman Clean City Commission decided to wait another year after the managers of several area grocery retailers explained their "Bag Central Station" education campaign to promote reusable bags and plastic bag recycling. Click to read Tax on Bags Trashed for Now from the Kingman Daily Miner.
For an interesting analysis of the plastic bag issue check out Bootleggers, Baptists, and the Irish Plastic Bag Tax, a 2005 blog entry from the Tax Foundation.
Frequent readers of Chamber Executive, ACCE's authoritative journal for and about chambers of commerce, may recall that the plastic bag ban issue was a featured example in Lisa Itamura's article Catching and Tracking Contagious Issues, the cover story for the Fall 2007 issue.
Arizona Sales Tax Fails to Make the Ballot
One of the most frequent conversation topics on ACCE's Government Relations Division Policy Forum conference calls is transportation funding. It seems that everyone is looking for money to pay for road expansion or commuter rail.
Citizens in Arizona lost a chance this November to vote whether or not to fund transportation projects in the state through a 1 percent sales tax increase.
Supporters of the Transportation and Infrastructure Moving Arizona's Economy (TIME) measure collected well over the requisite 153,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot. However, many signatures were invalided by the Maricopa County Superior Court because of incorrect addresses, dates and other issues. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the decision and the tax proposal will not be on the ballot in November.
Click HERE to read the article from the Phoenix Business Journal.