As highway congestion continues to be a problem in many areas, states are looking to construct or expand highway projects. When a state department of transportation (DOT) receives federal funding for highway projects from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the projects must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirement, the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, and the Buy America program. While complying with these requirements, states must use limited transportation dollars efficiently. As requested, GAO addressed (1) the types of benefits and costs associated with these requirements for federal-aid highway projects; (2) the influence of these federal requirements on states’ decisions to use nonfederal or federal funds for highway projects; and (3) the challenges associated with the federal requirements and strategies used or proposed to address the challenges. To complete this work, GAO reviewed 30 studies, surveyed DOTs in all states and the District of Columbia, and interviewed transportation officials and other stakeholders.
Source: By ANYA SOSTEK, Governing, November 2008
Are other cities with budget trouble on the verge of asking the courts for relief?
……. A September report from the National League of Cities points to precarious fiscal conditions in cities across the nation, due to falling revenues from property, sales and income taxes and rising costs from inflation, energy, infrastructure, salaries, health care and pensions. “Vallejo is significant in the sense that the reasons they are doing it are factors that are going to be in place in cities across the country,” says Chris Hoene, director of policy and research for the National League of Cities. “You can see the Vallejo situation as something that cities across the country watch as a way to bring costs under control.”
The brief’s key findings are:
• The financial crisis suggests the need for a new universal tier of retirement saving to supplement Social Security and 401(k)s.
• If the tier were a defined contribution system, asset levels would vary with market returns and payouts with interest rates.
• Replacement rates could fluctuate as much as 30 percentage points- even if everyone invested in an identical target-date fund.
• An alternative is to guarantee a fixed return, but this return will almost always be lower than that under a target-date fund, and guarantees are not costless.
From the summary:
HUD has taken steps to promote energy efficiency by providing information, training, and technical assistance, but its efforts have limitations. HUD has also provided some financial incentives to promote green building, including energy efficiency, for public housing and for a small segment of the multifamily properties HUD supports. Additionally, HUD has developed some performance measures to track the progress of its energy efficiency efforts. However, HUD has not begun requiring energy-efficient products and appliances in its public housing properties, as required by statute. HUD has also not implemented major energy efficiency updates to the building code for manufactured housing in more than a decade. Without such requirements and updates, public housing authorities may be spending more on utility expenses than is necessary and manufacturers may lack an incentive to build energy- efficient manufactured homes. Green building practices can increase up-front costs but may also provide long-term benefits, including financial, environmental, and health benefits.
Source: Jeffrey J. Williams, Dissent, Vol. 55 no. 4, Fall 2008
College student loan debt has revived the spirit of indenture for a sizable proportion of contemporary Americans. It is not a minor threshold that young people entering adult society and work, or those returning to college seeking enhanced credentials, might pass through easily. Because of its unprecedented and escalating amounts, it is a major constraint that looms over the lives of those so contracted, binding individuals for a significant part of their future work lives. Although it has more varied application, less direct effects, and less severe conditions than colonial indenture did (some have less and some greater debt, some attain better incomes) and it does not bind one to a particular job, student debt permeates everyday experience with concern over the monthly chit and encumbers job and life choices. It also takes a page from indenture in the extensive brokerage system it has bred, from which more than four thousand banks take profit. At core, student debt is a labor issue, as colonial indenture was, subsisting off the desire of those less privileged to gain better opportunities and enforcing a control on their future labor. One of the goals of the planners of the modern U.S. university system after the Second World War was to displace what they saw as an aristocracy that had become entrenched at elite schools; instead they promoted equal opportunity in order to build America through its best talent. The rising tide of student debt reinforces rather than dissolves the discriminations of class, counteracting the meritocracy. Finally, I believe that the current system of college debt violates the spirit of American freedom in leading those less privileged to bind their futures.
From the abstract:
Who is to blame for the large mortgage market losses borne by consumers, communities, the financial services industry and others? This paper explores government’s responsibility. It explores whether the decision to deregulate the mortgage market to a degree that permitted both unsafe and unfair mortgage practices was the decision of Congress or the federal regulatory agencies. Part one of this paper explores Congress’ viewpoint toward deregulation of the mortgage market. It differentiates two types of deregulation: (a) lifting of statutory requirements and substituting regulatory constraints, and (b) lifting of all government mandates and substituting a preference for market forces to police abusive practices. This paper examines Congress’ actions and motivations over a thirty year period and initially concludes that Congress embraced the former view and not the latter. This view was consistently embraced in the period 1982 to 1994 to address unsafe banking practices and unfair banking practices. Unfortunately, Congress then provided mixed signals regarding its deregulation viewpoint in legislative enactments in 1994 when faced with unfair banking practices. This permitted regulatory agencies to continue to pursue a deregulatory agenda even when faced with evidence of abusive lending practices.
Part two of this paper explores the viewpoint of the federal regulatory agencies toward deregulation of the mortgage market. It examines the actions and viewpoints of the federal banking regulators in the last three decades. Two conclusions emerge. First, the agencies preferred a free market approach and implemented such an approach whenever statutes provided the discretion to do so. Second, the regulatory agencies embraced a decision making model that relied on predictions of net societal benefits as the determinant of a decision to intervene in the mortgage markets. Such a viewpoint led the agencies to typically shun government intervention. That decision led to equity stripping for over a decade, especially in low-income communities, more equity stripping in recent years as lax lending practices led to defaults and foreclosures, and even more in the coming year as foreclosures multiply.
Source: Thomas M. Selden and Merrile Sing, Health Affairs Web Exclusives, Vol. 27 no. 5, July 2008
From the abstract:
U.S. health care spending is projected to approach $2.4 trillion in 2008; a large share will be paid by government outlays and tax subsidies. Other countries routinely conduct incidence analysis of public health care spending, yet we know of no recent and comprehensive incidence studies for the United States. We examined data for 2002 from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey aligned to the National Health Expenditure Accounts and augmented with simulated tax subsidies. The public sector accounted for 56.1 percent of health spending within the civilian noninstitutionalized population. Our analysis highlights this sector’s role in financing the care of seniors and people in poor health.
Source: Joseph Kile, National Tax Association Conference, September 26, 2008
Slides from the Presentation by Joseph Kile, CBO Assistant Director for Microeconomic Studies, at the National Tax Association Conference, September 26, 2008.
Officials at Roseville Electric, a city-owned electricity provider in Roseville, Calif., say collaborating with local businesses, government organizations and consumers has helped it save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The utility has completed several projects, most recently working with St. Paul, Minn.-based HB Fuller to implement an energy efficiency plan at its manufacturing facility that saved $44,000 annually while eliminating 430,000 pounds of CO2 emissions.
Source: American Association of School Administrators, 2008
From the press release:
Rising fuel and energy costs are taking a toll on school system budgets nationwide, according to the results of a new survey released today by the American Association of School Administrators. The eight-question AASA Fuel and Energy Snapshot Survey asked school superintendents about the effect of rising fuel and energy costs on their school districts. Ninety-nine percent of respondents reported these rising costs are having an impact on their school systems. Further, they reported that conserving energy, cutting back on student field trips and consolidating bus routes are among the top steps districts are taking to minimize the impact of rising fuel and energy costs. Meanwhile, few states are stepping forward to assist school systems struggling to meet escalating these rising costs.
■ Survey Results
■ Charts and Graphs
■ Snapshot of Superintendents’ Responses