With the federal government and most states controlled by conservative Republicans this year, Democrats are looking to Democratic cities and counties to stand up for progressive policy. But they may want to temper their expectations. State lawmakers have blocked city action on a range of economic, environmental and human rights issues, including liberal priorities such as minimum wage increases, in recent years. And the stage looks set for more confrontation between cities and states this year. Already, state lawmakers in Texas and Arkansas are weighing bills that would ban cities from declaring themselves “sanctuaries” and withholding cooperation with federal immigration officials. Lawmakers in Kentucky, Virginia and six other states are considering preventing localities from allowing transgender people to use some restrooms that match their gender identity. In Montana, one lawmaker wants to prevent local governments from banning texting while driving. While legislators say they’re trying to ensure consistency in state policy, so-called state preemption laws often expose political differences between state leaders — many of whom hail from rural districts — and city leaders.
California, Georgia, Idaho and Utah are among the states that have put themselves on a solid fiscal footing by avoiding deep tax cuts, enacting targeted tax increases, and diverting some surplus money into “rainy day” funds to be tapped in leaner times. By taking those steps, and by forgoing the temptation to rely on a single revenue source, those states are in good financial shape heading into this year’s legislative sessions. Their strategies may be instructive for other states. Another step states can take to avoid a budget crisis is to not cut taxes too deeply even when it appears economic times are good or getting better. Take Georgia, for instance. It has a surplus. That’s partly because Georgia’s economy is growing faster than much of the rest of the nation. But Georgia also resisted cutting taxes in recent years, while modestly projecting revenue and diverting excess amounts into the state’s rainy day fund, said Wesley Tharpe, research director at the progressive Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Part Two: Budget Winners:Thirty-one states are facing budget shortfalls for fiscal 2017. So how have the 19 states with good-looking books managed it? While some of it may be due to factors beyond their control (think California, for example, where its sheer economic size, growing population, and diversity in business make it different than any other state) others have husbanded resources and promulgated policies that have enhanced their ability to cope. We look at those states to see if there are steps that the states with shortfalls can adopt which might help them cope with stagnant economic growth.
regon's economy is growing fast enough to generate nearly $200 million more in tax revenue for the state's next budget than had been expected, state economists said Wednesday. That means the state's $1.8 billion budget shortfall has shrunk to $1.6 billion. Although the new revenue will be welcome in Salem, it still leaves lawmakers with a massive budget hole to address. The gap is driven by rising costs in the state's public pension system and Medicaid, as well as three unfunded directives passed by voters in November. In a presentation at a joint meeting of the House's and Senate's revenue committees on Wednesday, state economist Mark McMullen told lawmakers that the takeaway from the forecast was "so far, so good." Half of the extra $200 million comes from unexpected revenues in the current two-year budget, which will likely be carried over to the 2017-19 budget cycle, McMullen said.
A bill that could pump more than $2 million annually into the fight against noxious weeds in wildlife habitat drew unanimous support from weed managers, wildlife managers and conservation and livestock groups.House Bill 434, known as the Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement Act and brought by Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, creates a new grant program and advisory council administered by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Under the act, the Legislature could appropriate up to $2 million to weed control from funding the state receives through the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, a federal excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition.“What we see is a stealth problem really infringing on wildlife habitat,” Flynn, who has been outspoken about noxious weeds in his four terms as a legislator, told the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.
Minnesota senators voted 62-0 in favor of the bill Thursday, Feb. 16, following House members' action a week earlier. The legislation does not provide loans for farmers to buy seeds, fertilizer and other things they need in the spring, but it does help them pay mortgages and other major expenses that affect how much money they have available for spring planting. "The Rural Finance Authority is an important program and provides much needed assistance to farmers across our state, but it has run dry," said Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, who sponsored the legislation.
A New York state Assemblywoman has introduced legislation on carbon farming that she says is the first of its kind. The idea is to promote environmentally friendly farming practices while, at the same time, putting money back into the pockets of farmers. Democrat Didi Barrett has sponsored a bill that creates a carbon farming tax credit. Barrett, who represents portions of Columbia and Dutchess Counties, says the plan will give farmers a new tax break while helping the state reach its climate change goals. “This would make New York state the first in the country,” Barrett says. “And I’m very excited about something that really is a win-win for our environment and for our farmers and have New York be the lead on it.”
Two Maryland leaders showed their support for a bill that would move the state’s seafood and aquaculture marketing program to another departmen. Governor Larry Hogan and agriculture secretary Joe Bartenfelder toured the J.M. Clayton crab processing plant in Cambridge in support of House Bill 120, which would move the marketing from the Department of Natural Resources back to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. HB120 will move the program back to the Agriculture Department, where it will join the existing Agriculture Marketing and Development Program.
State Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) has introduced a bill designed to help improve the living conditions of seasonal farmworkers. An affordable housing shortage has forced many farmworker families into unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, according to a news release. "The hardworking folks that help grow the world's food shouldn't have to choose between putting a roof over their family's heads and feeding their children," said Vidak. Many farmers have the land and want to build housing for their seasonal employees, but zoning ordinances often prevent them from doing so. SB 530 solves this problem by allowing owners of agricultural land to build housing for their seasonal employees if they follow health and safety codes, and building safety standards.
A bill that would require country of origin labels on beef is headed to the Senate floor of the South Dakota legislature. The bill, SB 135, passed out of the state Senate Agriculture and National Resources Committee on Feb. 15 after a 5-to-3 vote in favor of the legislation. SB 135 states that all beef and ground beef sold for retail within the state must bear a country of origin label.