How Much Is Too Much?: A Framework for Evaluating Health Care Affordability

Source: David Carroll, California Budget Project Budget Brief, May 2007

The Governor and legislative leaders have proposed to substantially expand health coverage for uninsured Californians. These proposals would require individuals to purchase or share in the cost of coverage.1 However, these proposals may not go far enough to make health coverage affordable for California families

Interpreting Local Government Financial Statements

Source: Stephen J. Gauthier, Government Finance Review, Vol. 23 no. 3, June 2007

The published financial report of a local government provides a wealth of information to anyone with an interest in the government’s economic condition. Taking advantage of this information, however, poses a real challenge to many users of these reports. This article aims at helping potential users of local government financial statements to meet this challenge.

The Next Drug Problem

Source: Patricia Frank, American City & County, Vol. 122 no. 6, June 1, 2007

Hidden among the well-known problems faced by water professionals — aging infrastructure, dwindling supply — is another emerging issue: rising amounts of pharmaceutical compounds in surface water and drinking water. And, considering the increasing numbers of people being treated with drugs at earlier ages and an aging population taking multiple medications for a variety of health conditions, more of those compounds likely will find their way into the nation’s wastewater facilities.

Early signs of the problem were discovered in US Geological Survey (USGS) research in 1999. Of the 60 pharmaceuticals the agency was testing for, it found 30 of them in 139 streams in 30 states. In addition, 80 percent of the streams had one or more contaminants, 54 percent had five or more, and 13 percent showed 20 or more.

“We can measure over 150 compounds in water alone,” says Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist and member of the USGS study team. “Now, the big question is, what kind of environmental consequences [do they pose] to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and, maybe in the long term, even human health. We just don’t know what the exposure risk is to many of these compounds.”

Recognizing the Emotion Work of Public Service

Source: Meredit Newman, Mary Guy, and Sharon Mastracci, Public Management, Vol. 89 no. 6, July 2007
(subscription required)

Police officer, social service counselor, 911 call taker, caseworker, prison guard, receptionist, public health nurse, counter clerk, and public schoolteacher: What do all these public service jobs have in common? They all require that a relationship be developed between the service provider and citizen. This requires artful affect and is called emotional labor. Our research into the work experiences of local government workers makes it clear that emotion work is at the heart of service transactions and can be described as “real work.” Many, if not most, public service jobs require interpersonal contact that is either face to face or voice to voice. Those who staff the counter at the tax collector’s office are expected to greet the 100th citizen of the day with the same sincerity as they greeted the first. Those who staff the phone lines for the manager’s office are expected to be “nicer than nice.” Caseworkers must care about strangers, and inspectors who work for planning and zoning departments are required to treat each aggravated homeowner with fairness and courtesy. In the aftermath of a hurricane, first responders must address not only physical disaster but emotionally traumatized citizens. Police officers and prison guards will tell you that they engage in emotion work every day, but at the other extreme. Rather than being nurturing and gentle, their jobs require them to wear a “game face,” to act tougher than they actually feel, and to engage in verbal judo with lawbreakers. This work is relational in nature and is called emotional labor. Such work “greases the wheels” so that people cooperate, stay on task, and work well together. It is essential for job completion. In fact, such skills are prerequisites for quality public service.

Weathering the Gathering Storm Over Post-Retirement Health Care Benefits—Vested or Not

Source: Jeff Sloan, Genevieve Ng and Merlyn Goeschl, CPER Journal, no. 184, June 2007
(subscription required)

The convergence of new reporting standards by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the rising cost of health care, and the huge number of baby boomers nearing retirement age have knocked the public employment sector on its ear. In the past, public employers typically operated on a “pay as you go” model for other post-employment benefits (OPEBs), without reference to any future unfunded liabilities. However, the new GASB rules, which began taking effect in 2005, require public employers to account for and disclose their outstanding future OPEB liabilities, in much the same way they are required to do for pension benefits. Although OPEBs include benefits like post-employment life insurance plans, disability, and long-term care, retiree health care benefits account for the bulk of the unfunded OPEBs facing public employers today.

Fiscal Management Implications of the TABOR Bind

Source: Christine R. Martell and Paul Teske, Public Administration Review, Vol. 67 no. 4, July/August 2007
(subscription required)

Following a wave of state-adopted tax and expenditure limitations (TELs), in 1992 the state of Colorado amended its constitution with the strictest TEL to date. Called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and known as TABOR, the amendment has limited the size and scope of Colorado governments. Praised as a restraint on unbridled government growth in good economic times, TABOR reared its highly restrictive head as the state economy turned downward. The central issue explored is how binding tax and expenditure limitations affect the state’s ability to weather economic recessions and employ sound fiscal management practices. As in most institutional arrangements, the devil is in the details. The analysis presented here reveals that binding limitations create perverse incentives for budgetary actors to earmark, privatize, and shift responsibilities to other jurisdictions, which ultimately combine to reduce the state government’s ability to perform and to maintain sound fiscal management practices.

GASB Statement 45 on OPEB Accounting by Governments – A Few Basic Questions and Answers

Source: Governmental Accounting Standards Board, Statement 45 on OPEB Accounting by Governments – A Few Basic Questions and Answers

1. Why was Statement 45 on OPEB accounting by governments necessary?
Statement 45 was issued to provide more complete, reliable, and decision-useful financial reporting regarding the costs and financial obligations that governments incur when they provide postemployment benefits other than pensions (OPEB) as part of the compensation for services rendered by their employees. Postemployment healthcare benefits, the most common form of OPEB, are a very significant financial commitment for many governments. ….

RFID Technology in Workplace Raises Privacy Concerns

Source: Frederick Lane, IPMA-HR News, June 2007
(subscription required)

Will your next security badge be a small chip in your hand or forearm? Thanks to an emerging technology known as radio-frequency identification (RFID), that’s a distinct possibility. RFID is already in use in a wide range of applications, from electronic toll systems to retail inventory systems, and a number of companies are putting RFID chips on existing security badges. While there are no credible reports of companies or governmental agencies in the United States requiring their employees to get chipped, concerns about the possibility are strong enough that several state legislatures have passed or are considering legislation to outlaw the practice.

Coming to America: What Life is Like for the 150,000 Guest Workers Who Toil in the US Today

Source: Felicia Mello, The Nation, Vol. 284 no. 25, June 25, 2007

These workers, along with more than 150,000 others from countries as close to the United States as Mexico and as far-flung as India and Thailand, are part of an army of foreign low-wage labor legally imported each year by American companies under a government program known as H-2. Created during World War II to provide workers of last resort for agriculture and other seasonal industries, the program has since grown dramatically amid rising demand from employers in a broad range of industries that were never envisioned when the program was created and that can only vaguely be described as seasonal. Guest workers make chocolate in Louisiana, staff hotel desks in Florida and mow lawns in Missouri. They toil in some of the country’s most difficult and dangerous industries, from shipbuilding to asbestos removal to forestry. While unfamiliar to most Americans, the program has become the template for an expanded guest-worker program now being hotly debated in Congress. Proponents of the plan argue that temporary labor visas give immigrants greater rights and protections while providing employers with a reliable labor force. Yet workers, labor organizers, lawyers and policy-makers say the history of the H-2 visa delivers a very different lesson. They charge that a program designed to open up the legal labor market and provide a piece of the American dream to immigrants has instead locked thousands of them into a modern-day form of indentured servitude. Congressman Charles Rangel has called guest-worker programs “the closest thing I’ve ever seen to slavery.”

Right To Work and the Colorado Labor Peace Act: How Politics Trumped Policy

Source: Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 58, No. 2, Summer 2007

In early 2007, the Colorado legislature passed a bill to modify Colorado’s Labor Peace Act (the CLPA). This statute contains a feature found nowhere else in American labor law. It requires that if a union wins certification under the federal National Labor Relations Act, the union must also prevail in a state secret ballot election before it can legally propose a union security clause in the collective bargaining agreement. The voting requirement is unusual in that it requires at least a three-quarters majority of eligible voters in the bargaining unit. The proposed modification, HB 1072, would have eliminated the second election and moved Colorado to the status of a union security state rather than a “modified” right to work state. Business groups in the state mobilized an intense political campaign against the bill. The bill was passed by both the House and the Senate. Governor Ritter, who had received strong support from organized labor during his campaign and had indicated that the change would be acceptable, exercised his veto power to kill the legislation. This article examines the event from the perspective of right to work laws generally and as an exemplary case study of ideology and symbolism as they impact American workers. Right to work laws frustrate, rather than protect, the interests of workers in their collective well-being, and there is no credible evidence to support the claim that union security negatively affects a state’s economic development. What the Colorado experience demonstrates, with remarkable clarity, is that rhetoric, power, and partisanship continue to dominate labor policy in this country. That fact has profound implications fro the organized labor movement.