Category Archives: Elected Officials

Use Sound Science Guide to Evaluate Information

Source: Rebekah Fitzgerald, Council of State Governments, E-Newsletter, Vol. 139, 2014

Policymakers today have no shortage of information when considering a specific topic or legislation. Supporters and opponents both use a wide range of information when arguing a position, and it is not always easy to tell if that information is based on sound science….The revised guide, set to be released mid-June, aims to provide guidance to help policymakers cut through the jargon and spin that sometimes accompanies technical issues. “The ‘State Official’s Guide to Science-based Decision-making’ provides valuable information and tips for the reader on how to assess the research and discern credible sources from those that lack appropriate credentials,” said Lyons. The guide has four main sections: assessing the expert, assessing the methods, assessing the results and integrating the knowledge. Each section contains examples and walks readers through key questions to ask, acting as more of a roadmap rather than a strict rulebook. …

State Fiscal Constitutions and the Law and Politics of Public Pensions

Source: Amy Monahan, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities – School of Law, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 14-24,May 13, 2014

from the abstract:
Pension plans for state and local employees are, as a whole, significantly underfunded. This underfunding creates intense fiscal pressure on governments and often either crowds out other desired governmental spending or results in employees and retirees losing earned benefits. Political theorists often explain that underfunded public pension plans are all but inevitable given the political realities that affect funding decisions. Politicians who desire to be reelected should rationally prefer to spend money on current constituents, rather than commit scarce funds to a pension plan to pay benefits due to workers decades in the future. These dynamics are exacerbated by existing state fiscal constitutions that require balanced budgets and often restrict the ability to raise taxes. Paying a pension plan less than the amount due provides an easy way to free up money in the state budget by creating a form of debt that is not reflected on the state’s balance sheet. This article presents original analysis of the effect that state fiscal constitutions – even those that contain explicit requirements to fund public pension plans – impact public pension funding dynamics. It finds that even where explicit constitutional funding requirements are in place, plans often continue to be underfunded both because of political and financial pressures, and also because of the distinct lack of an enforcement mechanism. The article concludes by suggesting that these weakness in pension funding requirements can be addressed through the creation of clear and objective funding standards and, most importantly, through the creation of enforcement mechanisms that can, where appropriate, override legislative decisions to underfund public pension plans.

How Bipartisanship and Incrementalism Stitched the Child Health Insurance Safety Net (1982–1997)

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

From the abstract:
Today, 96.5 percent of children and adolescents either have health insurance or are uninsured but eligible for a public plan. This proportion far exceeds the most optimistic coverage projections for adults under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The child health insurance safety net was crafted from 1982 to 1997 through several incremental, bipartisan federal and state legislative actions. It began by offering and later mandating state Medicaid eligibility expansions and culminated with the enactment of the State Child Health Insurance Program. Two-thirds of the states leveraged these laws to expand coverage beyond federal requirements. As a senior executive with the American Academy of Pediatrics, the author was directly involved or closely monitored these federal and state child health insurance expansions. This case study is a participant–observer analysis of that period, an era that stands in stark contrast to today’s highly partisan times. The successive expansions of publicly funded children’s health insurance during this conservative period, when many other human services programs were slashed, are attributed to public sympathy for children, political acceptability by the right and the left, manageable costs, and the relative ease of state implementation as these changes came in incremental pieces over several years.

Public Sector Unions Under Siege – Solidarity in the Fight Back

Source: Richard W. Hurd, Tamara L. Lee, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 39 no. 1, March 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The 2011-2013 assault on public sector collective bargaining rights is unprecedented in its breadth and depth. Legislative proposals that would roll back bargaining, limit unions’ ability to negotiate security arrangements, stop payroll deduction of union dues, and constrain labor’s political activity have been introduced in a majority of states. This coordinated attack from the Republican right has spurred an aggressive, unified response from a broad cross section of unions. Through labor unity tables at the national and state levels, unions are demonstrating a rare level of solidarity in the fight back. This ongoing experiment in movement building is encouraging, but challenges remain.

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 www.nationalresourcenetwork.org. 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.