Author Archives: afscme

Funding Important Transportation Infrastructure in a Fiscally Constrained Environment

Source: Robert W. Poole, Jr., Reason Foundation, Policy Brief, no. 102, January 2013

From the summary:
Transportation infrastructure is too important to the economy to be subject to across-the-board cuts in federal funding without first ensuring that alternate revenue streams are available. Ideally, each transportation mode should be made as self-supporting as possible via direct user fees. This would also make it feasible to use revenue-bond financing to do more reconstruction and new construction than would occur under the current policy of funding capital investment from operating cash flow. This approach would also tend to weed out projects whose benefits don’t significantly exceed their costs.

One inspiration for this policy brief is the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Simpson-Bowles Commission) in 2010. While its recommendations were not implemented, its proposals for transportation infrastructure reflected the above approach, including utilizing highway user tax revenues to make the Highway Trust Fund once again self- supporting, removing large and medium hub airports from the federal airport grants program to allow them to support themselves via passenger fees, and making inland waterway systems fully user-funded. This policy brief seeks to apply these users-pay/users-benefit principles more thoroughly to transportation infrastructure. …

… Another underlying problem is that the current federal grant funding approach has encouraged state and local infrastructure owners to fund most capital projects out of annual cash flow, rather than financing them. A basic principle of public finance is that long-lived infrastructure can and should be financed (i.e., capital should be raised up-front from the capital markets) and paid for over time, as the users of that infrastructure derive benefits from it. This is analogous to the way most people acquire their homes: not by saving until they can afford to pay cash, or building the home a room at a time as cash flow permits, but by taking out a long-term mortgage and paying it off over time, so as to obtain the benefits of home-ownership much sooner. Non-transportation infrastructure entities—electric and gas utilities, pipelines, telecommunications and water utilities—generally finance their major projects via revenue bonds, paid for by their users over many years. Railroads and toll roads do likewise, as do airports (to some extent) and air traffic control providers overseas. The United States is one of the few advanced developed countries that makes relatively little use of revenue-based financing for its transportation infrastructure.

Thus, the emerging and ongoing fiscal crisis of the federal government offers an opportunity to rethink how this country pays for and manages its critically important transportation infrastructure.

Mental Health Care Transformation Coming to America

Source: Dylan Scott, Governing, January 9, 2013

…The Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Barack Obama’s signature health law, includes arguably the most significant reforms to mental health coverage in our nation’s history. The ACA names mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of the 10 essential health benefits that insurance plans must cover starting in 2014. While most large-group plans offer some kind of mental health benefits, according to a 2011 HHS survey, only 18 percent of small-group and individual plans cover mental health, and a mere 34 percent cover substance abuse treatment. Those markets — which will make up the plans sold on the health insurance exchanges that are soon to be rolled out in every state under the ACA — should see a significant upgrade next year in the quantity and quality of mental health benefits that are offered. In addition to the essential health benefits provision, the Obama administration has pledged to implement the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. It requires insurers to cover mental health at a level that’s comparable to their physical health coverage. …

What To Do When the Boss Catches Wellness Fever

Source: Jane Slaughter, Labor Notes, January 08, 2013

Wellness programs are designed to bring down employers’ health insurance costs by preventing illness. Some provide gym memberships or smoking cessation programs. Others require workers to pay more for their insurance if they don’t get certain screenings. The most coercive programs require workers to meet health targets or pay a penalty. … Read about wellness programs here and see below for advice on how to address such programs in the workplace. Sections include: At The Bargaining Table, Information Requests, and Best Practices

Opportunities for Police Cost Savings Without Sacrificing Service Quality: Reducing False Alarms

Source: Philip S. Schaenman, Aaron Horvath, Harry P. Hatry, Urban Institute, November 2012

From the abstract:
In many cities, false alarms from home and business security systems number in the tens of thousands each year, waste millions of dollars of officer time, and detract from attention to reducing crimes. Options are presented on ways to substantially reduce the effects of such false alarms and the police responses to them. We analyzed experiences of Montgomery County, MD; Seattle, WA; and Salt Lake City, UT, which reduced false alarms by 66-90% and saved 10-30 police officer-years annually.

The New Great Debate about Unionism and Collective Bargaining in U.S. State and Local Governments

Source: David Lewin, Jeffrey H. Keefe, and Thomas A. Kochan, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 65, No. 4, October 2012
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Recently some state and local governments in the United States have sharply reduced or eliminated public employee unionism and bargaining rights in the belief that their fiscal adversity stems mainly from overcompensation of public employees caused by collective bargaining. The authors examine public-private sector pay and benefit relationships, the effects of unions on public employee pay, the effectiveness of employment dispute resolution procedures, and the ability of public sector labor and management to combat fiscal adversity. They provide new evidence showing that: on balance, public employees are undercompensated relative to their private sector counterparts; the effects of unions on compensation are smaller in the public than the private sector; and public sector dispute resolution procedures and joint labor-management initiatives to reform work function reasonably well.

Texas Public Libraries: Economic Benefits and Return on Investment

Source Prepared for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the Bureau of Business Research IC² Institute, The University of Texas at Austin, December 2012

From the summary:
Public libraries in the State of Texas provide significant economic benefits for their communities. This report examines these economic benefits, and documents those activities which contribute to economic activities throughout all regions of Texas. In 2011 Texas public libraries collectively were found to provide $2.407 billion in benefits while costing less than $0.545 billion, a return on investment of $4.42 for each dollar invested.

Appendix C (scroll down) contains:
Summaries of Prior State and City Impact Studies
States: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin
Cities: Charlotte, Philadelphia, Seattle, Consortium of Southwestern Ohio Municipalities

The Budget Balancing Act: LJ’s Budget Survey Shows Modest Improvement, and Signs of More To Come

Source: Meredith Schwartz, Library Journal, January 9, 2013

Though there aren’t a lot of whoops and cheers to be heard, a cautious optimism seems to describe the 2012 library budget landscape, according to LJ’s annual survey. Some 60 percent of libraries increased their funding, while 36 percent decreased it. Only four percent stayed the same.

Overall, the 488 libraries responding saw an average 1.2 percent increase compared to last year, which saw a 0.7 percent drop. Since 2008, library budgets have remained essentially flat: minor seesawing from year to year has added up to a 0.7 percent increase. Inflation in the same period has increased 6.9 percent, meaning that in comparable dollars libraries have 6.2 percent less spending power.

The year saw some regional variation in library support. Libraries in the Northeast were the most likely to increase their library budgets, at 65 percent, yet those that saw cuts saw the deepest cuts of all: the region was the only one to notice a negative percent change overall. The South and the West hovered closely around the national average of 60 percent with increases, but the Midwest lagged—only 54 percent of libraries saw an increase in funding, and 43 percent suffered cuts. The total change was greatest in the West, however, at 2.5 percent—the only region to beat inflation….

The Changing U.S. Electorate

Source: Michael Jackson, Dēmos, Policy Shop blog, January 8, 2013

In the two months since the 2012 presidential election, a fuller picture has emerged of the changing face of the American electorate. However, it is essential that this diversity be more than simply cosmetic, but rather is reflected in public policies that are similarly more broadbased and inclusive. Here are a few key points to consider about the 2012 electorate…

Employment and Labor Law: A Beginner’s Guide

Source: Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress blog, Beginner’s Guide, January 10, 2013

Continuing with our Beginner’s Guide series, we turn next to labor and employment law. This area of the law has been prominent in the news over the past several months, particularly in light of the union stronghold of the Midwest, Michigan, becoming a right to work state with the passage of the Workplace Fairness and Equity Act. Further, the United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in Vance v. Ball State University, which may redefine who is a “supervisor” under the purview of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Sections include:
1. For True Beginners
2. For Generalists
3. For Those Interested in Labor-Specific Issues
4. For Those Interested in Discrimination and Harrassment-Related Laws
5. For Those Intereseted in Disability-Related Laws
6. For Those Interested in Dismissal-Related Laws
7. For Those Interested in Privacy-Related Laws
8. For Those Interested in Compensation-Related Laws
Other Online Resources

U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health

Source: Steven H. Woolf and Laudan Aron, Editors, National Academies Press, ISBN-10: 0-309-26813-3, 2013

The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. Although life expectancy and survival rates in the United States have improved dramatically over the past century, Americans live shorter lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries. The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be attributed solely to the adverse health status of racial or ethnic minorities or poor people: even highly advantaged Americans are in worse health than their counterparts in other, “peer” countries.

In light of the new and growing evidence about the U.S. health disadvantage, the National Institutes of Health asked the National Research Council (NRC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to convene a panel of experts to study the issue. The Panel on Understanding Cross-National Health Differences Among High-Income Countries examined whether the U.S. health disadvantage exists across the life span, considered potential explanations, and assessed the larger implications of the findings.

U.S. Health in International Perspective presents detailed evidence on the issue, explores the possible explanations for the shorter and less healthy lives of Americans than those of people in comparable countries, and recommends actions by both government and nongovernment agencies and organizations to address the U.S. health disadvantage.