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You're not in Kansas -- No, not THAT Albany

Mick Fleming on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 8:29:15 am 

Okay, spending most of two days in Lawrence makes the saying "blue dot in a red state" make sense.  When wandering through one of this prototypical college towns in America, the feel is more like Berkeley and Ithaca than it is like towns in the rest of Kansas.  A couple of times, following gaggles of students in jeans and T-shirts along the sidewalk, I had terrible bouts of deja vous, or was it a pharmaceutical flashback?

After having spent 15 years working in Albany, NY, I didn't know what I would expect in Albany, GA.  Trip proved interesting and rewarding.  Both cities have a river and near proximity to pristine country-side -- that's pretty much where the similarities end.  The chambers in both towns actually share a lot: programming, priorities, volunteer engagement level, CEOs with New England roots, talented teams and "interesting" relationships with elected officials.  Thanks for the hospitality Catherine and Wendy!

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Memorial Day 2010

Mick Fleming on Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 8:13:11 am 

Holiday greetings to everyone on the "MickMet" roster, as well as those viewing my blog. To newbies and long-time pals, have a great Memorial Day weekend!  After the rollercoaster we've been on the last five (19?) months, you deserve a long weekend.

This is now the ninth consecutive Memorial Day that I have felt compelled to send a wartime Memorial Day message.  Living in northern VA, with so many neighbors in uniform, some in harm's way, we know that new heroes are at work around the world today who would just as soon not be part of a future Arlington ceremony.

 Maybe as you're grabbing a kielbasa off the grill or a MGD out of the cooler you'll think of some young lady in a funny looking jacket driving along a hot street in Kandahar this weekend, or a former cornerback on the local team breathing stale air in a sub off the coast of Korea.  Maybe you'll wonder about the newly re-assigned reservists joining a long thin line along our border, or those who are plying USCG cruisers through an oil slick the size of Maryland.  That's all they want … to know we think of them from time to time.

Be safe.  Be well.  Be good.  Onward.

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How to Pay for Roads?

Ian Scott on Friday, May 28, 2010 at 2:07:24 pm 

2034_01_34---Interstate-95--Boston--MA_web Memorial Day weekend is here and thousands of Americans are hitting the highways. I'll know it's a holiday weekend for sure when I see half the residents of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts as I crawl my way along I-95 south in Virginia this afternoon.  As I'm sitting in line to get home today, I will join our Congressional Representatives in thinking about transportation funding.

According to the Journal of Commerce,a transportation industry publication, bipartisan consensus is emerging around a comprehensive transportation bill, but there are wide differences of opinion on how to fund it.  Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., called a proposed gas tax hike political suicide for Democrats saying:  "If they passed a gas tax now, not only would I be (transportation committee) chairman, there would be no minority members."

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the highways and transit subcommittee, favors a multi-pronged approach to funding, but notes the need for substantial new revenue. "Public-private partnerships, infrastructure banks - those are all nice side things, but the problem is we need a substantial increase in direct investment in our national transportation system on a multimodal basis. That means the T-word."

Read more at:  Lawmakers Bare Partisan Divide On Highway Taxes

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is also thinking about transportation funding.  He was in Washington this week stumping for a new highway bill.  Here's what he said about the public's willingness to support infrastructure spending:

"The most fascinating thing about the polls is the public is willing to pay for infrastructure improvements but they want them to be transparent, they want them to be accountable and they want them to be subject to some sort of merit-based cost-benefit analysis," Rendell said.

Transportation legislation suffers from a poor reputation from the last highway bill, which included a number of controversial earmarks, including the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska that was highlighted during the 2008 presidential race.

Rendell indicated the next highway bill must be transparent.

"That necessarily doesn't mean the end of earmarks, but it does mean the major projects need to go through some sort of major review," he said. 

Read more in this article from The Hill: Supporters of new highway spending legislation turn to new arguments.

As you sit in traffic on the way to the lake, beach or mountains, take a moment to consider our national transportation infrastructure and the mechanisms that fund its maintenance and expansion.

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Time to Tackle Immigration Reform

Ian Scott on Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 10:08:00 am 

Jack-camper-web Jack Camper, CCE, IOM
President and CEO
Tuscon (AZ) Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

Arizona SB 1070, the state's effort at immigration reform, has drawn national attention since it was signed by Governor Brewer in late April.  The bill has been the subject of dozens of headline articles and editorials in major papers throughout the country and was even a major discussion item during Mexican President Filipe Calderon's official White House visit last week.  Controversy has centered on a provision in the bill which obligates law enforcement and other public officials, during a lawful contact, to determine the immigration status when there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien.  

It is rare for one piece of state legislation to capture so much focus nationwide, but there are few issues as divisive in America today as immigration.  You've probably read the sensational headlines, now get the perspective from one of your chamber colleagues.  My interview with Tucson Chamber president Jack Camper is below:

ACCE: What impact has the passage of Arizona SB 1070 had already on your state and community?

Jack Camper: As you can tell from daily headlines and clips on the nightly news, this bill has certainly generated a lot of emotional turmoil, both in Tucson and across the country.   Its passage was a drastic step to be sure, but one our state representatives and senators apparently felt was critical for the overall safety and well being of our citizenry. 

The situation has been exacerbated by Congressman Raul Grijalva making the irresponsible call for businesses to boycott Arizona in response to the passage of SB 1070.  Here in Arizona, the housing market is still reeling, the unemployment rate for the state is at nearly 10%, and the overall effects of the recession are continuing to devastate businesses and the economy in general.  The Congressman's proposed boycott did not appear to address the problems that brought about SB1070 in the first place and presented no reasonable solution to America's immigration issue.

ACCE:  What is the Tucson Chamber's position on this bill and the immigration issue more broadly.

Camper:  We believe that protecting our national borders is a federal—not state—responsibility.  Period.  But failure to act at a national level created an untenable situation at the state level that required action.

The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has a better solution.  Three years ago, we created an Immigration Reform Policy which was distributed to every member of Congress in Washington, D.C.  It is a well reasoned and workable plan that considers economic impacts, practical logistics, as well as previous failed attempts.  Although Congress chose to put our plan on the back burner, it may well be time now for a closer look at our proposal.  This proposed policy could create the foundation for a viable immigration reform plan.

ACCE:  Do you expect similar kinds of legislation to spread to other states?

Camper:  It is already spreading.  Legislators in several states are already on the record as wanting to pass similar legislation in their states.  This is definitely a contagious issue, and Arizona is not the first state to tackle the immigration issue on its own.  Onerous immigration legislation passed in 2008 is currently under judicial review in Oklahoma after it was challenged by the Oklahoma City Chamber, the Tulsa Chamber and the State Chamber of Oklahoma.  We need to collectively push for meaningful federal level immigration reform now!

ACCE:  What advice would you give to your peers across the country with respect to immigration reform.

Camper: Chambers across the country need to contact their members of Congress, both House and Senate, and urge them to address this issue NOW.  Allowing them to dodge this issue due to an election year begs the question "Should incumbents be allowed to continue to serve - be reelected - without addressing comprehensive immigration reform?"

A final word:  If you believe that this issue will not affect your community, guess again.  USA Today recently cited that terrorists are using our porous Arizona-Mexico border to enter our country and those terrorists fully intend to disrupt commerce across America.  Allowing any member of Congress to hide from this important national security crisis during this election cycle should not be tolerated. 

Please contact your Congressmen and Senators and urge them to adopt a comprehensive immigration plan immediately. This could be a watershed issue reinforcing the relevance and influence of Chambers across our nation as we act as catalysts to resolve one of the most important issues facing our communities and our Nation. Take action!!

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
If you are interested in learning more or getting involved in the immigration reform effort, here are some resources and links to help.

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Medicaid Cuts, Stimulus and State Budgets

Ian Scott on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 4:25:59 pm 

The Federal Stimulus helped states avoid dramatic cuts to Medicaid during a time when more citizens need assistance.  It also restricted states from changing eligibility qualifications which made cost control especially challenging in a budgetary year that demanded deep cuts for most states.

Check out this article from Stateline.org for an in-depth look at the ways states trimmed Medicaid expenditure and the lasting impact those cuts may have: With Medicaid, states face painful cuts and few choices

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West Virginia Tackling Retiree Liability

Ian Scott on Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 6:22:54 pm 

In a great first step toward fiscal responsibility for the Mountain State, the WV Senate Finance Committee is working on a solution to the state's $8 billion unfunded liability for retiring state employees.

According to Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick the solution will demand a multi-pronged approach.  Chairman Helmick said:

"Nothing can happen until we say: 'We're going to tax, we're going to tap [accounts], and we're going to cut.'"

West Virginia is hardly alone in the serious need to address mounting health care and pension liabilities.  Read more in this article from the Charleston Gazette: Legislative committee seeks ways to avoid public retiree liability

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Non-Profits Beware of Hard-Up Governments

Ian Scott on Monday, May 24, 2010 at 3:59:00 pm 

An article released today by NPR reports on efforts by state and local governments to generate revenue from tax-exempt groups.  From proposing service fees to challenging some organization's tax exempt status, municipalitiesare targeting private schools, hospitals, charities, churches and other non-profits as they seek to close budget gaps.  University towns and state capitols are particularly vulnerable to this type of proposal because so much of their property is already off the tax rolls.

With workloads up and contributions down, these kinds of proposals couldn't come at a worse time for most non-profits.  Of course, you already know that.  We'll keep this issue on the radar screen.

Click to read or listen to the story from NPR: Amid Red Ink, Tax-Exempts Asked To Add To Coffers

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