Trends in Public Transportation Ridership: Implications for Federal Policy

Source: William J. Mallett, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R45144, March 26, 2018

Despite significant investments in public transportation at the federal, state, and local levels, transit ridership has fallen in many of the top 50 transit markets. If strong gains in the New York area are excluded, ridership nationally declined by 7% over the past decade. This report examines the implications for federal transit policy of the current weakness and possible future changes in transit ridership.

Although there has been a lot of research into the factors that explain transit ridership, there seems to be no comprehensive explanation for the recent decline. One complication is that national trends in public transportation ridership are not necessarily reflected at the local level; thus, different areas may have different reasons for growth or decline. But at the national level, the two factors that most affect public transportation ridership are competitive factors and the supply of transit service. Several competitive factors, notably the drop in the price of gasoline over the past few years and the growing popularity of bikeshare and ridesourcing services, appear to have adversely affected transit ridership. The amount of transit service supplied has generally grown over time, but average fares have risen faster than inflation, possibly deterring riders…..

Understanding Decisions in State Pension Systems: A System Framework

Source: Gang Chen, The American Review of Public Administration, Vol. 48 no. 3, April 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
State governments establish pension systems to provide retirement benefits to public employees. State governments as sponsors, state legislatures as policy makers, and public-sector unions as representatives of public employees may exert considerable influence over the decisions made in pension systems. This study applies a system framework to examine these influences. It focuses on four decisions in pension systems: benefits, employer contributions, employee contributions, and the asset smoothing period. The findings show that changes in the short- and long-term financial conditions of a state government have different influences on pension decisions, and that legislatures and public employee unions play important roles that affect these decisions.

Assessing The Value Of 40 Years Of Local Public Expenditures On Health

Source: Jonathon P. Leider, Natalia Alfonso, Beth Resnick, Eoghan Brady, J. Mac McCullough, and David Bishai, Health Affairs, Vol. 37, No. 4, April 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The US public and private sectors now spend more than $3 trillion on health each year. While critical studies have examined the relationship between public spending on health and health outcomes, relatively little is known about the impact of broader public-sector spending on health. Using county-level public finance data for the period 1972–2012, we estimated the impact of local public hospital spending and nonhospital health spending on all-cause mortality in the county. Overall, a 10 percent increase in nonhospital health spending was associated with a 0.006 percent decrease in all-cause mortality one year after the initial spending. This effect was larger and significant in counties with greater proportions of racial/ethnic minorities. Our results indicate that county nonhospital health spending has health benefits that can help reduce costs and improve health outcomes in localities across the nation, though greater focus on population-oriented services may be warranted.

Teacher Strikes Are Spreading Across America With No End in Sight

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg, April 2, 2018

One month after a teachers’ “wildcat” strike ended with a deal to hike pay for all West Virgina state employees, teacher strikes are spreading fast across the country, with no clear endgame in sight.

In Oklahoma, teachers Monday made good on their threat to shutdown hundreds of schools throughout the state, preventing students from taking tests that are required by the end of the school year to ensure federal funding. In Kentucky, schools are closed as well—many because of spring break, others because teachers have swarmed the state capitol building in Frankfort. And in Arizona, teachers last week gathered at the statehouse in Phoenix with buttons reading “I don’t want to strike, but I will.”  

In each case, teachers are pushing Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures to hike their pay, saying declining real wages threaten to drive staff out of the public school system. Educators see leverage in tight private sector labor markets and inspiration in West Virginia, where strikers defied union leaders by holding out for a better deal. They’re reviving the tactics of an earlier era: In the five years which followed World War II, as teachers felt left behind amid crowded classrooms and accelerating private sector wage growth, there were around 60 teacher strikes across the U.S.—many without legal protection or official union support…..

Index of State Economic Momentum

Source: State Policy Reports, Vol. 36 no. 6, March 2018
(subscription required)

The Index of State Economic Momentum, developed by Reports founding editor Hal Hovey, ranks states based on their most recent performance in three key measures of economic vitality: personal income growth, employment growth, and population growth. Reports updates the index each quarter. In the first quarter of 2018, Nevada reclaimed the top spot, while the District of Columbia most closely approximated the national average economic performance.

The Only Way to Survive Janus

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, March 30, 2018

The snows were still flying, but for unionists, spring came early this year. West Virginia’s teacher uprising burst onto the scene like rhododendrons opening: first one walkout, then another, and before you knew it a statewide strike was in full bloom.

The strikes were born at the grassroots, and that’s how they spread. Classroom teachers passed the word on Facebook, organized school votes, and rallied at the capital. Union leaders followed their members, but never took the reins.

No one seemed much concerned that public sector strikes are illegal in West Virginia. “What are they going to do, fire us all?” said Jay O’Neal, treasurer for the Kanawha County local.

It didn’t take long for the spirit to spread to underpaid teachers in three other states—thus far.

Their actions drove home a point that’s crucial for anyone who wants to see the labor movement survive. What’s required is members organizing themselves like those teachers did.

The investment industry threatens state plans to help workers save – States wrestle with impending retirement crisis as pensions disappear

Source: Jared Bennett, Center for Public Integrity, April 2, 2018

…..Since 2015, Oregon and four other states ­­— California, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland — have set up these so-called “auto-IRA” programs overseen by the state. Nine more states are considering similar programs this year, among them New York, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

But the investment industry is standing in the way, aggressively deploying trade groups and raising the specter of legal threats to stop the proliferation of these plans. Behemoths such as the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the plans because they argue the private sector already provides options for workers like Kono. But many small businesses, such as Annastasia Salon, find the private plans too expensive.

The industry’s lobbying efforts look to be winning, as proposed state-run retirement plans are languishing in statehouses around the country…..

Strong Medicine: Fighting the Sexual Harassment Pandemic

Source: Kenneth Robert Davis Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 79, Fall 2018, Date Written: March 26, 2018

From the abstract:
A pandemic of sexual harassment has stricken the country. A recent EEOC report shows that, depending on how the question is posed, between 25 and 85 percent of women respond that they have experienced harassment in the workplace. The report also states that 90 percent of incidents go unreported. Victims do not believe that their employers will be receptive to their complaints, and many fear censure or retaliation. The law is limited in its capacity to deter a pandemic that has psychological, sociological, and cultural causes. Nevertheless, the law has a role to play, particularly in the workplace. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, and the courts have long recognized sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination. The Act has established a framework focused on conciliation, and, where efforts at settlement fail, on litigation. Regrettably, this framework has failed to achieve its mission of deterrence. In Meritor Bank v. Vinson, the Supreme Court established the elements of hostile-work-environment claim. A plaintiff must prove that she was subjected to unwelcome, discriminatory words or conduct of a sexual or gender-related nature so severe or pervasive that they altered the conditions of her employment. In applying this standard, federal courts have rejected claims alleging highly offensive and even egregious misconduct. Several reasons account for the failure of current law to curtail sexual harassment in the workplace. One of the primary reasons is the law’s focus on conciliation and litigation. Under the current model, complainants file grievances with the EEOC, which seeks to settle disputes. If efforts at settlement fail, the current approach authorizes a federal court action. Settling cases may do little to deter abuses. After entering into a settlement agreement, an employer may slip back into complacency. Litigation also fails to promote deterrence because the current framework focuses on compensating victims. To strengthen Title VII’s deterrent impact, this Article proposes that Congress supplement the current model by granting the EEOC expanded enforcement powers. The EEOC should have broad authority to initiate civil enforcement proceedings in federal court and in quasi-judicial enforcement proceedings. Rather than compensating victims, the purpose of such proceedings would be to identify instances of workplace harassment, and, where appropriate, sanction irresponsible employers. Because the EEOC, in such enforcement proceedings, would not seek relief on behalf of victims, the elements that establish injury would be superfluous. In such proceedings the EEOC should merely have to prove that discriminatory, sexual or gender-related words or conduct would be highly offensive to a reasonable person. By adopting the “highly offensive to a reasonable person” standard, Congress would maximize prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Effect of Collective Bargaining Rights on Law Enforcement: Evidence from Florida

Source: Dhammika Dharmapala, Richard H. McAdams, John Rappaport, University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 831, Last revised: January 27, 2018

From the abstract:
Growing controversy surrounds the impact of labor unions on law enforcement behavior. Critics allege that unions impede organizational reform and insulate officers from discipline for misconduct. The only evidence of these effects, however, is anecdotal. We exploit a quasi-experiment in Florida to estimate the effects of collective bargaining rights on law enforcement misconduct and other outcomes of public concern. In 2003, the Florida Supreme Court’s Williams decision extended to county deputy sheriffs collective bargaining rights that municipal police officers had possessed for decades. We construct a comprehensive panel dataset of Florida law enforcement agencies starting in 1997, and employ a difference-in-difference approach that compares sheriffs’ offices and police departments before and after Williams. Our primary result is that collective bargaining rights lead to about a 27% increase in complaints of officer misconduct for the typical sheriff’s office. This result is robust to the inclusion of a variety of controls. The time pattern of the estimated effect, along with an analysis using agency-specific trends, suggests that it is not attributable to preexisting trends. The estimated effect of Williams is not robustly significant for other potential outcomes of interest, however, including the racial and gender composition of agencies and training and educational requirements.

Should State and Local Government Bidding for Big Businesses Be More Like eBay?

Source: Linda McCarthy, Growth and Change: A Journal of Urban and Regional Policy, Early View, April 1, 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
During recent decades, and especially after the economic downturn that began in the late 2000s, many U.S. state and local governments have intensified their pro‐growth efforts to promote corporate investment and jobs, including ever higher incentives (such as tax breaks and grants) in their bidding wars for big businesses. This paper draws an analogy—between bidding for big businesses and bidding on eBay—to highlight the drawbacks of high‐profile bidding wars among governments given that the large corporations establish the bidding rules in their favor. The main consideration raised is whether state and local government bidding for big businesses, which operates analogously to an auction, should be more like eBay, whose rules are fair not only for sellers but also for bidders.