Category Archives: Elected Officials

National Resource Network

Source: National Resource Network, 2014

From the press release:
Today, the Obama Administration announced the launch of the National Resource Network (the Network), a pilot program designed to serve as a “311 for Cities.” The program will allow communities nationwide to connect to a network of private and public sector experts that will provide local governments with strategic help on key economic issues and aid the turnaround of local economies. The Network demonstrates the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to partnering with mayors, city managers and other local government leaders to provide them with resources to help build ladders of opportunity and promote economic growth and prosperity for residents.

The Network was created out of demand from cities around the country to have access to experts, technical advice, and information that can help them address the mounting challenges of growing inequality, high unemployment, under-performing schools, aging infrastructure and vacant and blighted properties. For many local governments facing dwindling budgets, especially those facing significant economic shocks, these challenges have made it difficult for cities to effectively attract jobs, retain an educated workforce, grow the middle class, and revitalize their economies. The Network will help cities address these challenges through on-the-ground expert engagements and advisory services, among other forms of assistance….

….Starting today, over 50 cities will have direct access to this “311 for Cities” resource, with the ability to receive expert assistance via the Network website City officials will be able to log on and get best practices and advice from national experts on community development, economic development, operations, budget and other key issues. The “311 for Cities” service will expand to hundreds of cities nationwide over the next year. Other parts of the website, including a curated and searchable resource library are available to all cities and to the public…..

…The Network consortium consists of the following private and public sector organizations:
Enterprise Community Partners
Public Financial Management (PFM)
HR&A Advisors
New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service
International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
In addition, the Urban Institute is a key partner as the external evaluator of the Network’s performance and impacts. Other Strategic Partners are: Abt Associates, Center for Community Progress, Civic Consulting USA, Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS), Jobs for the Future, National Association of Development Organizations, NeighborWorks America, Trust for Public Land, University of Chicago, and University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy…..

Who Loses When a State Declines the Medicaid Expansion?

Source: Health & Social Work, Volume 39, Issue 2, May 2014
(subscription required)

From the extract:
Kris Crawford knows a thing or two about health care and politics because he is both an emergency medicine physician and a South Carolina state legislator. He stated publicly that he believed his state should take the federal money made available to it under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) (H.R. 3590, 2009) to expand Medicaid to the uninsured with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. However, when it came down to voting whether South Carolina would expand Medicaid, he was part of the unanimous Republican opposition that sank the legislation. In a moment of remarkable candor, he explained his flip-flop to the press by stating, “It is good politics to oppose the black guy in the White House right now, especially for the Republican party”.

Dr. Crawford not only ignored his original opinion, he also went against the preference of 65 percent of adult South Carolinians. The public’s opinion regarding PPACA and, specifically, the Medicaid expansion, has been polled in South Carolina and four of the other southern states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi) that just said no. Three out of five adult residents want the Medicaid expansion, including solid majorities in all age groups, all races, all educational levels, and among self-identified political independents.

So why are so many Republicans voting against known preference of the majority? The principal reason is the fear that, if they do not conform with respect to opposing PPACA, they will be challenged in their next primary by a more conservative hard-liner who will stand an excellent chance of winning over the 59 percent of Republicans who oppose the Medicaid expansion and the 70 percent who oppose the entire bill….

Beyond Occupy

Source: Martin Kich, Talking Union blog, May 22, 2014

The Occupy Movement has been the first major grassroots progressive movement in the United States in decades. But, at its core, the appeal of the Occupy Wall Street movement has been that it is politically unaffiliated, and that lack of structure, or, more precisely, that lack of structural purpose, has also been its undoing. Occupy Wall Street has been more successfully expressive of political discontent than persuasive about progressive remedies to that discontent mainly because persuasion requires objectives that can be targeted, if not always achieved.

Many Millennials seem to have an aversion to conventional politics, but if they ultimately want to build a third political party that is more truly progressive than the Democratic party has become, the quickest route to accomplishing that goal may be to build a movement within the Democratic party that can either re-assume control of the party or that can draw away enough resources, candidates, and voters that it renders what remains of the Democratic party inconsequential….

Philanthropy in a Time of Polarization

Source: Steven Teles, Heather Hurlburt, & Mark Schmitt, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Vol. 12 no. 3, Summer 2014

The days when major foundations could remain above the partisan fray, even as they were deeply engaged in advocating changes in public policy, are all but gone. The polarization of the US political scene is imposing new limits on how foundations can operate in that sphere. But it’s also revealing new ways in which they can influence the policy process.

How Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Can Lead to Inefficient Economic Policy

Source: John Craig and David Madland, Center for American Progress, May 2, 2014

From the summary:
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down two campaign finance provisions in the past few years that limited independent political expenditures by corporations and other organizations and placed aggregate limits on individual donations. The Court found that the provisions infringe on the right of free speech and that the aggregate limits do not prevent a narrowly defined version of corruption. Since then, federal courts have begun overturning state lobbying regulations under the logic used by the Supreme Court. While there is considerable disagreement about whether the Court was correct in finding that those campaign finance rules failed to prevent corruption, imposing limits on campaign financing and lobbying may be justified for another reason—promoting productive economic activity.

The primary way that campaign contributions and lobbying may dampen economic growth is via a practice known as rent-seeking—the process of seeking income through special government favors rather than through productive economic activity. When firms and individuals engage in rent-seeking behavior, it has several negative effects on economic growth. Not only do people spend more time and money trying to get a bigger piece of the economic pie for themselves rather than trying to enlarge the pie, but the policies they seek are often wasteful, inefficient, or even harmful. If rent-seeking is a successful strategy for businesses or individuals, it can impose great harm on society by slowing or even stopping economic growth…..

While it is impossible to quantify the economic harm done by rent-seeking to the American economy, this issue brief reviews the literature and finds that the harm is likely quite significant. …

Even worse, research indicates that campaign contributions and lobbying often help shape policy outcomes, which suggests that rent-seeking efforts are often successful. While disagreement exists about how much influence campaign contributions and lobbying have, money in politics seems to be most effective in shaping the outcomes of issues that are less visible and less ideological, exactly the type of special favors one would expect rent-seeking to target. Furthermore, there have been several findings that show a clear relationship between specific instances of lobbying or campaign contributions and government favors. To take just a few examples:
– One study found that increasing lobbying reduces a corporation’s effective tax rate, with an increase of 1 percent in lobbying expenditures expected to reduce a corporation’s next-year tax rate between 0.5 percentage points and 1.6 percentage points.
– Another study based on data from 48 different states found that a $1 corporate campaign contribution is worth $6.65 in lower state corporate taxes.
– Finally, federal contracts were more likely to be awarded to firms that have given federal campaigns higher contributions, even after controlling for previous contract awards…..

Exposed: ALEC’s Influence in Missouri and Kansas – Which elected officials are outsourcing their duties to the ALEC corporate bill mill?

Source: Progress Missouri, the Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause and Missouri Jobs With Justice Voter Action, May 2014

From the summary:
Progress Missouri, the Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause and Missouri Jobs With Justice Voter Action today released new research highlighting the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) ongoing influence in the Kansas and Missouri State Capitols. The report shows that ALEC has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars on Kansas and Missouri politicians and those trips have resulted in dozens of bills being introduced on behalf of ALEC’s corporate members.

This new research arrives just days before ALEC brings together corporations and politicians from around the country in Kansas City to approve new bills that will be introduced in state capitols nationwide next year. Highlights include:
∙ 120 current and former Kansas and Missouri legislators with known ALEC ties
∙ 47 current MO legislators with known ALEC ties, although ALEC claimed in leaked documents last year that 57 are members (leaving at least 10 unknown)
∙ 48 known KS legislators with ALEC ties, while ALEC claims 69 are members (leaving at least 21 unknown)
∙ At least 24 ALEC model and ALEC-inspired bill filed in the Kansas legislature in recent years
∙ At least 58 ALEC model and ALEC-inspired bills filed in the Missouri legislature in recent years

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), corporations hand Missouri legislators wish lists in the form of “model” legislation that often directly benefit their bottom line at the expense of Missouri families. Behind closed doors, ALEC legislators vote as equals with corporate lobbyists to adopt ALEC model bills crafted by corporations, for corporations. The same corporations that benefit from ALEC model legislation funnel thousands of dollars of gifts and campaign contributions to ALEC legislators, which pushes the envelope on ethics and lobbying law. Elected officials who are members of ALEC then bring their model legislation back to Missouri, where they pass-off the bills as their own ideas and important public policy innovations without disclosing that corporations crafted and pre-voted on the bills at closed-door meetings with legislators who are part of ALEC.

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress

Source: Katelin P. Isaacs, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report, RL30631, March 19, 2014

Prior to 1984, neither federal civil service employees nor Members of Congress paid Social Security taxes, nor were they eligible for Social Security benefits. Members of Congress and other federal employees were instead covered by a separate pension plan called the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). The 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act (P.L. 98-21) required federal employees first hired after 1983 to participate in Social Security. These amendments also required all Members of Congress to participate in Social Security as of January 1, 1984, regardless of when they first entered Congress. Because CSRS was not designed to coordinate with Social Security, Congress directed the development of a new retirement plan for federal workers. The result was the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (P.L. 99- 335).

Members of Congress first elected in 1984 or later are covered automatically under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS). All Senators and those Representatives serving as Members prior to September 30, 2003, may decline this coverage. Representatives entering office on or after September 30, 2003, cannot elect to be excluded from such coverage. Members who were already in Congress when Social Security coverage went into effect could either remain in CSRS or change their coverage to FERS. Members are now covered under one of four different retirement arrangements:
• CSRS and Social Security;
• The “CSRS Offset” plan, which includes both CSRS and Social Security, but with CSRS contributions and benefits reduced by Social Security contributions and benefits;
• FERS and Social Security; or
• Social Security alone.

Congressional pensions, like those of other federal employees, are financed through a combination of employee and employer contributions. All Members pay Social Security payroll taxes equal to 6.2% of the Social Security taxable wage base ($117,000 in 2014). Members first covered by FERS prior to 2013 also pay 1.3% of full salary to the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund (CSRDF). Members of Congress first covered by FERS in 2013 contribute 3.1% of pay to the CSRDF. Members of Congress first covered by FERS after 2013 contribute 4.4% of pay to the CSRDF. In 2014, Members covered by CSRS Offset pay 1.8% of the first $117,000 of salary, and 8.0% of salary above this amount, into the CSRDF.

Under both CSRS and FERS, Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.

There were 527 retired Members of Congress receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of October 1, 2012. Of this number, 312 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $71,472. A total of 215 Members had retired with service under FERS and were receiving an average annual pension of $40,560 in 2012.

Dictatorships for Democracy: Takeovers of Financially Failed Cities

Source: Clayton P. Gillette, New York University School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-07, March 11, 2014

From the abstract:
States have traditionally offered support to their fiscally distressed municipalities. When less intrusive forms of assistance fail to bring stability, some states employ supervisory institutions that exercise approval authority over local budgets or, more intrusively, that displace locally elected officials. These “takeover boards” are frequently accused of representing an antidemocratic form of local government and a denial of local autonomy.

In this Article, I suggest that the extent to which takeover boards are subject to an anti-democratic critique is frequently overstated. Efforts to revive near-insolvent localities cannot be oblivious to the causes that generated their distress. Depopulation, high unemployment, depleted municipal services, and blight do not arise spontaneously. They are frequently the consequence of long periods of local mismanagement, in which expenditures deviate substantially from those goods and services that residents prefer, inducing the most mobile among them to gravitate to more hospitable jurisdictions. Any viable response must therefore address the causes of political dysfunction.

I contend that by addressing the political underpinnings of fiscal distress, takeover boards may be more capable of satisfying the interests of local residents for public goods than local elected officials, and may also represent the interests of nonresidents and creditors who are not considered by those officials. Moreover, I suggest, the authority of takeover boards should be expanded to allow them to engage in restructuring of municipal governance in order to avoid the entrenched and defragmented institutions that are often associated with local fiscal distress. The temporary nature of takeover board jurisdiction means that when local governance returns to the realm of normal politics, residents will be in a more informed position to evaluate the optimal structure of local governance.