Spotlight: Building America

Source: Capitol Ideas, Vol. 60 no. 3, May/June 2017

Articles include:
Bridging Partnerships: How Four States Found Funds to Build
By Sean Slone

In February 2016, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law a plan to spend $4.8 billion on state infrastructure over the next 10 years. RhodeWorks, as the plan is known, received significant attention for including a new funding mechanism—tolls on heavy commercial trucks—and a focus on bringing the state’s aging bridges up to snuff.

Fueling Transportation Revenues
By Sean Slone

If the recent pattern holds, 2017 could end up being a big year for state transportation funding efforts. In 2013, six states approved major transportation packages. In 2015, eight states followed suit. The intervening even-numbered years saw less activity, perhaps owing to shorter legislative sessions in some states and re-election concerns. But transportation policy analysts are confident this year won’t buck the odd-number year trend for a simple reason: It’s time.

Help Wanted: Prioritizing Deferred Maintenance
By Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene

President Donald Trump’s promise to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure has raised the nation’s awareness about infrastructure needs in all 50 states. Above and beyond the desire or need for infrastructure additions, it’s clear that the crumbling and aging bridges, roads, water pipes and buildings currently in place need attention. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently graded the nation’s infrastructure at a D+; the same as it was the previous year.

China-Like Wages Now Part Of U.S. Employment Boom

Source: Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes, August 4, 2017

…. Here’s the math: a 30 hour work week at $15 an hour is $450 per week gross, or $1,800 a month. That comes out to less than $22,000 a year. At 40 hours, Amazon warehouse full timers are earning $28,800 before taxes. ….

…. Like any other retail gig, the Amazon employees are likely to be from dual income heads of households, or they will be young, single individuals either just starting out or hanging on for dear life. Amazon warehouse pay is around 30% higher than starting pay at the local mall.

The lowest paid workers in that warehouse, assuming 30 hours per week, would earn around $18,000 annually, or roughly $7,200 more than the median Chinese worker; a country where people still survive on $2,000 a year.

Compared to the median wages in Beijing, a rich part of China, that $14.75 an hour hire working 30 hours a week is earning $442.50 versus Beijing’s median wage of $329.53 per week. The fork lift operator at $12.75 is making $382, not much more the average guy in Beijing.

Worth noting, a one bedroom apartment in Fall River costs about $1,000 a month. A one bedroom apartment in Beijing is around $930. The working class in each city are having equally hard times affording median rents. ….

Can Geometry Help Fix Our Political System? Mathematicians Invite Public To Fight Gerrymandering

Source: Carol Zall, WBUR, August 4, 2017

A group of Boston-based mathematicians calling themselves the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group are using their math superpowers to fight back against gerrymandering.

They’re holding a public event, the Geometry of Redistricting workshop, which begins on Monday. The workshop will feature lectures on legal and mathematical topics related to gerrymandering, as well as hands-on sessions on how to use open-source mapping software to redraw voting districts.

The connection between math and gerrymandering may not be obvious at first, but gerrymandering is (in part) about manipulating the shapes of voting districts — and who knows more about shapes than geometry experts? ….

Impact Fee Update and 2017 Outlook

Source: Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office, Research Brief, 2017-3, July 20, 2017

This research brief examines 2016 impact fee collections and natural gas production in Pennsylvania. It also provides an outlook for 2017.
Related:
Stronger drilling and natural gas prices projected to boost impact fees for many local governments
Source: Michael S. Higgins, Orlie Prince, Leonard Jones, Moody’s, Sector Comment, August 2, 2017
(subscription required)

Connecticut Budget Impasse Enters Second Month, a Credit Negative for Local Governments

Source: Robert Azrin, Moody’s, Sector Comment, August 7, 2017
(subscription required)

Last Tuesday, Connecticut (A1 stable) entered the second month of fiscal 2018 (which ends 30 June 2018) without an adopted state budget, a credit negative for local governments. With state legislators at an impasse, some small state aid grants are not flowing to local governments. In October, local governments are scheduled to receive a large state aid payment for education. Lacking certainty on the funding amounts, some municipalities may not have set the property tax levy high enough or may be overspending given the possibility of large state funding cuts.

The Congressional Map Is Historically Biased Against Democrats

Source: David Wasserman, FiveThirtyEight, August 7, 2017

When Democrats think about their party’s problems on the political map, they tend to think of President Trump’s ability to win the White House despite losing the popular vote and Republicans’ potent efforts to gerrymander congressional districts. But their problems extend beyond the Electoral College and the House: The Senate hasn’t had such a strong pro-GOP bias since the ratification of direct Senate elections in 1913.

Even if Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.

This is partly attributable to the nature of House districts: GOP gerrymandering and Democratic voters’ clustering in urban districts has moved the median House seat well to the right of the nation. Part of it is bad timing. Democrats have been cursed by a terrible Senate map in 2018: They must defend 25 of their 48 seats1 while Republicans must defend just eight of their 52. ….

Bureau of Prisons: Better Planning and Evaluation Needed to Understand and Control Rising Inmate Health Care Costs

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-17-379, Published: Jun 29, 2017

From the summary:
What GAO Found
From fiscal years 2009 through 2016, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) obligated more than $9 billion for the provision of inmate health care and several factors affected these costs. Obligations for health care rose from $978 million in fiscal year 2009 to $1.34 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of about 37 percent. On a per capita basis, and adjusting for inflation, health care obligations rose from $6,334 in fiscal year 2009 to $8,602 in fiscal year 2016, an increase of about 36 percent. BOP cited an aging inmate population, rising pharmaceutical prices, and increasing costs of outside medical services as factors that accounted for its overall costs.

BOP lacks or does not analyze certain health care data necessary to understand and control its costs. For example, while BOP’s data can show how much BOP is spending overall on health care provided inside and outside an institution, BOP lacks utilization data, which is data that shows how much it is spending on individual inmate’s health care or how much it is expending on a particular health care service. BOP has identified potential solutions for gathering utilization data, but has not conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis of these solutions to identify the most effective solution. BOP also does not analyze health care spending data, i.e., what its institutions are buying, from whom, and how much they spend. BOP has pursued some opportunities to control its health care spending through interagency collaboration and national contracts, but it has not conducted a spend analysis to better understand trends. Doing so would provide BOP with better information to acquire goods and services more strategically.

BOP has initiatives aimed to control health care costs but could better assess effectiveness and apply a sound planning approach. Since 2009, BOP has implemented or planned a number of initiatives related to health care cost control, but has not evaluated their cost-effectiveness. Further, BOP has engaged in a strategic planning process to help control costs, but has not incorporated certain elements of a sound planning approach, such as developing a means to measure progress toward its objectives and identifying the resources and investments needed for its initiatives. By incorporating these elements, BOP could enhance its planning and implementation efforts before expending resources, better positioning itself for success as it aims to control health care costs.

Why GAO Did This Study
As of June 2017, BOP was responsible for the custody and care—including health care—of about 154,000 inmates housed in BOP institutions. Health care includes medical, dental, and psychological treatment. BOP provides most care inside its institutions, but transports inmates outside when circumstances warrant. GAO was asked to review health care costs at BOP institutions.

This report addresses: (1) BOP’s costs to provide health care services and factors that affect costs; (2) the extent to which BOP has data to help control health care costs; and (3) the extent to which BOP has planned and implemented cost control efforts.

GAO analyzed BOP health care obligations data for fiscal years 2009 through 2016, gathered information on BOP’s health care cost control initiatives through a data collection instrument, and reviewed BOP’s health care related strategic plans. GAO also interviewed BOP officials and visited 10 BOP institutions, selected in part, for total and per capita medical services costs. ….

Does Benchmarking Encourage Improvement or Convergence? Evaluating North Carolina’s Fiscal Benchmarking Tool

Source: Ed Gerrish, Thomas Luke Spreen, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Advance articles, Published: 19 July 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Several states monitor the fiscal health of their local governments by “benchmarking” them—using a suite of financial indicators to track performance over time. Benchmarking of public organizations can facilitate performance management, leading to the spread of best practices and improved organizational performance. It is also possible that benchmarking, absent other performance routines, could create isomorphic pressures that encourage local governments to adopt policies that converge performance or financial indicators towards the group mean. This article tests these hypotheses using the introduction of North Carolina’s financial benchmarking tool in 2010. We construct a panel of the 14 indicators used to assess and compare the financial positions of North Carolina county and municipal governments from fiscal year 2008 to 2014. We find support for isomorphism as the dispersion of several indicators declined in the post-implementation period without offsetting beneficial changes in the mean indicator value. These findings pose a dilemma for the quantitative evaluation of both benchmarking and performance management systems; could offsetting changes result in null findings at the mean of the distribution?

Safety of union home care aides in Washington State

Source: Ashley L. Schoenfisch, Hester Lipscomb and Leslie E. Phillips, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 60 Issue 9, September 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Introduction:
A rate-based understanding of home care aides’ adverse occupational outcomes related to their work location and care tasks is lacking.

Methods:
Within a 30-month, dynamic cohort of 43 394 home care aides in Washington State, injury rates were calculated by aides’ demographic and work characteristics. Injury narratives and focus groups provided contextual detail.

Results:
Injury rates were higher for home care aides categorized as female, white, 50 to <65 years old, less experienced, with a primary language of English, and working through an agency (versus individual providers). In addition to direct occupational hazards, variability in workload, income, and supervisory/social support is of concern. Conclusions: Policies should address the roles and training of home care aides, consumers, and managers/supervisors. Home care aides’ improved access to often-existing resources to identify, manage, and eliminate occupational hazards is called for to prevent injuries and address concerns related to the vulnerability of this needed workforce.c

Trade associations and labor organizations as intermediaries for disseminating workplace safety and health information

Source: Andrea H. Okun, Janice P. Watkins and Paul A. Schulte, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 60 Issue 9, September 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Background:
There has not been a systematic study of the nature and extent to which business and professional trade associations and labor organizations obtain and communicate workplace safety and health information to their members. These organizations can serve as important intermediaries and play a central role in transferring this information to their members.

Methods:
A sample of 2294 business and professional trade associations and labor organizations in eight industrial sectors identified by the National Occupational Research Agenda was surveyed via telephone.

Results:
A small percent of these organizations (40.9% of labor organizations, 15.6% of business associations, and 9.6% of professional associations) were shown to distribute workplace safety and health information to their members. Large differences were also observed between industrial sectors with construction having the highest total percent of organizations disseminating workplace safety and health information.

Conclusion:
There appears to be significant potential to utilize trade and labor organizations as intermediaries for transferring workplace safety and health information to their members. Government agencies have a unique opportunity to partner with these organizations and to utilize their existing communication channels to address high risk workplace safety and health concerns.