Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Lessons From Virginia, Iowa

November 10, 2011

By Heather Williams, Vice President at Stateside Associates

(Excerpt reprinted with permission from Governors Journal)

Virginia has given us insight into how national issues are going to play in state elections in 2012.

Despite all efforts by Virginia Democrats to make their campaigns for state Senate about state issues, Republicans worked determinedly to tie all Democrats to an unpopular president. This is for good reason.

Quinnipiac has Governor McDonnell’s approval rating at 62% whereas Rasmussen Reports President Obama’s approval rating at 45%. The clearest example of the Republicans’ goals to tie candidates to the president came in the form of a quote from Virginia GOP spokesman Garren Shipley: “Virginians face a choice—do they want Washington, Obama-style leadership, or do they want Virginia, McDonnell-style leadership?” If Democrats wanted to win, their mandate was to fight back against these types of linkages. They knew going into their races that they couldn’t win talking about national issues and so they worked tirelessly against allowing the Republicans to draw clear lines between Democratic candidates and the president.

In the end, Democrats struggled to distance themselves from the president and his national agenda, but those who did were largely successful. Senator Phillip Puckett(D) publicly stated in September he would not be supporting the President in 2012. Despite that statement, Republicans aired an ad linking Senator Puckett to President Obama and his “job killing” national agenda (Puckett won with 53 percent of votes cast). Democrats tried so hard to keep the campaigns about Virginia and Virginia issues that Senator George Barker’s(D) campaign…

READ FULL ARTICLE AT GOVERNORS JOURNAL

 

An Early Look at the 2012 Legislative Session

October 28, 2011

By Stateside Associates

Over the course of the past month Stateside Associates professionals interviewed contacts in all 50 states to get a sense of the top issues that will face lawmakers in the coming year.

With state budget debates looming and a busy election cycle serving as the backdrop for the 2012 legislative session, we provide you this list as a preview of some of the issues expected to dominate agendas and headlines in 2012.

Please note that next year is the second year of the biennium for most state legislatures—only New Jersey and Virginia start their biennium in even years. Twenty-seven states and Puerto Rico allow for at least some legislation to carry over from the 2011 session into 2012. Four states (Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas) will not hold regularly scheduled sessions.

While the issues described herein will dominate the dockets of state legislatures next year, this list is far from exhaustive. The wrangling for early primaries and the focus on the presidential election will likely lead to electoral reforms cropping up in statehouses. Issues surrounding labor and public employee unions, such as pension reform and collective bargaining, will certainly be discussed in the wake of the vocal debates in Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey. Public safety and the environment issues are always prevalent, and technological advances spur new legislative initiatives every few months.

Legislative Elections

In the 50 states 86 of the 99 total legislative chambers will be holding elections, in which 81% of all state legislative seats will be considered. The partisan splits in chambers in more than half of states, ten or fewer seats separate the majority from the minority. Even though party control is not expected to change in the majority of states, a presidential election and redrawn legislative districts provide little reassurance when it comes to the balance of power within and across states. When it comes to campaign issues, expect legislators to focus pull out issues popular with both Democratic and Republican constituencies meant to excite each party’s base.

Budgets

After several years of deep cuts, state budget situations are showing signs of recovery, but remain significant effects from the recession remain. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), FY 2012 marks the fourth consecutive period that states have faced significant mismatches between revenues and spending. After lengthy budget debates in the 2011 session only New Hampshire and Washington project deficits at the end of FY 2012.

But state budget experts are still very worried about the situation. The budget projections used by states are based on tax collection rates that continue to lag behind expected tax revenues. Stimulus money is gone. Clever accounting can only push off costs for so many years. More than 20 states are anticipating a budget gap for FY 2013 and FY 2014 and all projections show this number growing in the coming years. Therefore, the 2012 legislative sessions will be marked by sharp budgetary battles in which legislators will be forced to reform state government, continue cost cutting and/or increase revenue.

Economic Development and Job Growth

Numerous states have seen jobless rates continue to climb, including states that have traditionally outperformed the rest of the country in the South and the West. Legislators in at least 15 states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Utah have indicated that job growth and economic development will be the centerpiece of the next session. Legislators are expected to advocate several priority proposals in this regard including manufacturing facility development and modernization incentives, small business financing programs and financial incentives for job creation. Tax credits and incentives for hiring unemployed residents were approved in states like Alabama, Florida and Maryland in the 2011 session and many of the states mentioned above will consider similar legislation in 2012.

Education

Education funding and reform is a priority for lawmakers every year. One trend on the education front is the effort by states to pull away from federal education mandates. Eight states have indicated an intention to pursue waivers from the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. The new policy announced by the President last month is that in order to receive these waivers states will need to develop and implement certain standards for math and reading, create systems to measure school performance and develop teacher and principal evaluation programs. All this will take place during the 2012 session—lawmakers will approach public education with even less funding while trying to perform at a higher level.

Energy

The hot energy issues next year will be the plans that propose increased development of energy resources while aiming to develop future energy transmission corridors and other infrastructure. In the 2011 session three in every five states considered energy transmission language. The number of states tackling energy will likely increase in next year’s session—legislators in more than 25 states have noted energy issues as a major priority for 2012.

No energy proposal will be one-size fits all. The focus of any energy legislation will depend on the specific energy issues at play in each state. Transmission line deployment is a big issue in Western states like Wyoming and Montana. Pipeline development and hydro-fracking regulations will dominate the oil and natural gas discussions in states throughout the Marcellus Shale region and in Southern and Western States. Alternative and renewable energy sources will be discussed in states throughout the country, including in Maryland where Governor O’Malley (D) is in favor of an off-shore wind energy project.

Immigration Reform

Although state legislatures considered more than 240 immigration-related measures in 2011, only 10 states enacted legislation. Despite the plethora of bills considered, lawmakers have been hesitant to expend political capital on immigration reform until federal challenges to state immigration reform attempts are finalized. Until that happens the discord between the federal government and states on immigration policy will continue to set the tone for immigration efforts throughout the 2012 session.

While a federally-driven comprehensive immigration reform package is possible, it’s more likely we’ll see one or more bills narrowly targeting employment and the electronic verification of workers.

One development that will make states more willing to tackle immigration measures was a recent ruling from U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn to allow much of Alabama’s H.B. 56 to take effect. This ruling, along with previous rulings in Arizona and Georgia, may start to provide a roadmap for other states to follow.

Medicaid

Health care reform and funding for state Medicaid programs are always a priority issue in the states. Add to that the fact that revenue growth is not expected to keep pace with anticipated increases in Medicaid costs mandated by federal health care changes. To defray these costs, states will look to increase utilization of Medicaid managed care in place of traditional fee for service plans. At least 19 states decided to expand Medicaid managed care in 2011 and nearly all states will continue to consider additional proposals as they prepare for the projected addition of 16 million adults to the Medicaid rolls by 2014.

Redistricting

Only the four states with elections this calendar year (Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia) were required to have redistricting completed this year. All four were approved in time for elections to take place on-time, but not without legal challenges. The deadlines for the other 46 states to finalize their maps are before state primary and general elections are held next year. While a number of other states have already redrawn districts, the threat of legal challenge have been ubiquitous in almost every case. Several legislatures have scheduled special sessions through the remainder o the year to tackle redistricting, but expect the debate to carry-over well into next year. The closer to a regularly scheduled election a given state redistricting battle gets, the more noteworthy an issue redistricting will become.

Tax Expansion and “Reform”

Legislators are wary of tax increases in good times—broadening revenues by raising taxes during an economic slump becomes a very hot-button issue. According to NCSL, 2011 marked the first year in the last ten that states reported lowering taxes more than they increased them. While the numbers may have been skewed by some large cuts or by the expiration of few temporary tax hikes, it demonstrates the pressure legislators feel when it comes to raising taxes.

Corporate tax rates have been cut in 20 states since the year began and 12 states lowered general sales tax rates. To make up for lost revenue from these and future tax cuts, states will get creative in identifying revenue streams by reforming business taxes, reducing or eliminating certain credits and exemptions and expanding the sales tax base.

One of the visible efforts taking hold is the move by many states to collect sales taxes from online retailers. Internet sales taxes have been a target for states for a number of years and its lean economic times that increase pressure to pursue it as a possible new revenue stream. Lawmakers in 15 states considered “Amazon Tax” style language this year. Numerous other states examined different approaches to capture this revenue. The legislation that passed in California, coupled with the recent agreement between the state and Amazon to begin collecting online sales taxes in 2013, may serve as a striking model for action elsewhere.

Despite only passing in five states, bills to the increase the taxes levied on alcohol and tobacco products were considered in 43 states this year. In addition, policymakers in nearly half of all states attempted to tax foods and beverages that are deemed to lack nutritional value. Ostensibly designed to promote health, the taxes are earmarked to fund the healthy lifestyle and obesity prevention programs that have become a priority across the country.

Democratic, Republican and Tea: How Three Parties Shaped the 2011 State Legislative Sessions

June 16, 2011

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

Revolutions often turn sour for the revolutionaries – even in victory. It is one of the most powerful lessons of the American Revolution that the victors did not become the new dictators, but instead invested their success in a system that could empower and protect the citizenry.

With that American system came the alliances we have come to know as political parties and for most of the past 235 years, dozens of political parties have formed and fizzled, leaving just a couple in dominant roles nationwide.

While the Reform, Libertarian, Green and many other parties failed to root themselves sufficiently to gain real power and success, the Tea Party has proven to be the most potent, non-party entity in American politics – perhaps on par with the Suffragates at the turn of the 20th Century or the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

Less a political party than a political movement, the Tea Party reached its apex of power on November 4, 2010. As a result, the proximate beneficiary of Tea Party enthusiasm – the Republican Party — claimed the U.S. House of Representatives, 29 Governorships, 56 State Legislative bodies and 24 State Attorneys General offices – a history-making bounty of political power.

In 2011, the victorious Tea Partiers, allied Republicans and even a few Democrats set to work in the states to confront high taxes, stagnant business climates, high unemployment and depressed revenue streams.

And, there was a welcome mat of sorts as state lawmakers across the U.S. showed respect for a movement that swept almost 800 new Republicans into office in 2010. If Tea Party was the wave, incumbents were trying to learn how to ride it and not drown under it.

But, almost immediately, state lobbyists began to voice their frustration with this new cohort – a combination of fiscal hawks, libertarians and conservative social issue devotees. While industry lobbyists generally prefer Republican control, this new group was not exactly what they expected.

More zealous and less tolerant of “go along, get along” tactics, the Tea Partiers immediately began to flex their muscles both at Democrats and at fellow Republicans deemed to be “moderates.” Willing to shut governments down, slash budgets and confront public sector labor unions, the Tea Party lawmakers acted on their agendas with speed, focus and ferocity that unnerved the traditional players. They were not just freshmen, they were freshmen on a mission.

Further complicating their transition from activists to lawmakers, was the adoption of non-fiscal issues by Tea Party lawmakers such as illegal immigration and school vouchers. Some even regard Tea Party support for nationwide efforts to reign in excessive public sector union contracts as a departure from the core agenda. Others see it as an essential component of fiscal discipline.

While not part of the Tea Party (T.E.A. – Taxed Enough Already) core agenda, these other issues do reflect the core conservatism that most Tea Partiers embrace.

But, it is the fiscal agenda that has defined the Tea Party influence in 2011. In state after state, the Tea Party legislators – deft in both social networking and media relations – kept stoking the constituency that elected them. They formed Tea Party caucuses and co-opted the Republican leadership and agendas.

The Tea Party 2011 Rollercoaster

In the Texas legislature, where Democrats have been relegated to positions behind the backbench, Tea Party legislators prevented a raid on the Rainy Day fund, pushing government budget cuts instead to close the $27 billion budget gap. That Rainy Day fund was raided in 2003 and 2005 under the same Republican Governor.

In Arizona, many conservative elected officials and candidates gravitated to the Tea Party. State Senator Russell Pearce (of S.B. 1070 fame) successfully campaigned for many candidates utilizing the illegal immigration issue to its fullest. Most of his candidates won giving the GOP a huge 21-9 advantage over Democrats in Arizona’s Senate. Pearce was elected President of the Senate by his Republican caucus last November, and immediately declared his legislative body “the Tea Party Senate”. Tea Party activists held demonstrations at the Arizona state capitol during the 2011 legislative session encouraging the Republican controlled legislature to make massive cuts in state government. Due to Arizona’s historical budget deficit, the legislature and GOP governor passed an $8.3 billion budget that included cuts of more than $1 billion in education and Medicaid programs – with the Tea Party cheering them on.

Now, Senator Pearce faces the prospect of a recall election that is within 1,700 signatures of becoming a reality.

In Minnesota, Tea Party supported lawmakers comprise more than half of the Republican majority in the Senate and nearly half of the majority in the House. First term Governor Mark Dayton (D) has taken to calling his opponents “extreme right-wing caucus members” who do not know how government works. A government shut down will occur on July 1 if the sides cannot compromise on a new two-year budget by closing a $5 billion budget gap. Observers insist that unlike the 2005 shut down under then-Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) – the partisan fervor is likely to make this event longer and more harmful.

Wisconsin and Florida Governors – Scott Walker and Rick Scott – both vocal and enthusiastic Tea Party supporters – have seen their public polling numbers nose dive, despite winning large portions of the Tea Party agenda in their first few months in office.

Also in Wisconsin, six Republican Senators face recall elections along with three Democratic Senators – a reaction to the protests that occurred in Madison in February when Democratic Senators fled the Capital to thwart Republican efforts to reform public sector compensation.

In Virginia, which holds legislative elections in 2011, observers credit the Tea Party with strengthening Republican commitment to core conservative values as the Old Dominion continues to behave as a swing state.

Next?

About 20 state legislatures remain in session in 2011, so more Tea Party-fueled events are likely before year end. But, the real test of enduring power will come in 2013, following the 2012 elections. If Tea Party-supporters again triumph and claim more and bigger majorities, this political movement may yet become what its name implies.

Discussion

What evidence have you seen that the Tea Party is either here to stay or not likely to be long lived?

Do you think the Tea Party movement will morph into a true third party or remain as a prod to the Republicans to stay on the conservative path?

Is the Tea Party likely to stretch into more issues? If so, can it keep itself focused with the same intensity as was seen in 2009-2011?

I would like to extend my thanks to friends and colleagues in the states who provided information and perspective for this blog. Some chose to remain anonymous, but special thanks to Chris Herstam of Lewis & Roca in Phoenix, Rob Jones of Alliance Group Ltd in Richmond, Lisa Ard of Cornerstone Strategy Group in Tallahassee and Jim Daughton of Metz, Husband and Daughton in Tallahassee, Jeremey Shepherd of Martin Schreiber Associates in Madison and Phil McFarren of the McFarren Group in Harrisburg for their thoughtful perspectives. – CC


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