Posts Tagged ‘state and local’

NGA Chair Adopts Focus on Disabled Workers

July 18, 2012

By Josh Fisher, Manager

Governor Markell speaking at NGA Annual Meeting in Williamsburg, VirginiaAs the National Governors Association (NGA) Annual Meeting drew to a close in Williamsburg, Virginia, it was clear that not only will economic development continue to be a priority for the association, but so will job creation under the Chair’s 2012-2013 Initiative, which is focused specifically on employing America’s disabled.

At the closing session of the NGA Annual Meeting, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) handed the reins to incoming Chair for 2012-2013, Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D). Governor Heineman’s major initiative as chairman was improving state economies by focusing on small business development and fast-growing companies. Sticking with the job-creation theme of his predecessor, Governor Markell, who served as the Vice Chair of NGA for the past year, took the time at the meeting’s closing session to announce his initiative as Chair will be A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.

In addition to Governor Markell assuming the role of NGA Chair, Republican Governor Mary Fallin, of Oklahoma, will serve as Vice Chair. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) had been expected to fill the Vice Chair role but decided he did not have the time to take on another leadership position. Governor Christie will remain an active leader of the NGA as he was reelected to the NGA Executive Committee. Also elected to the NGA Executive Committee for 2012-2013 were Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D), Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D), Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D), Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R), Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R).

Calling his initiative one that “governors all across the country can embrace” Governor Markell’s goal is to increase employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities. The centerpiece of the initiative will be identifying the employment challenges affecting those with disabilities and developing strategies and best practices to assist those seeking employment.

This issue is one that Governor Markell believes will require close cooperation between states and the private sector. The Governor stated that he wants to actively engage the business community and plans to gather and meet with business leaders throughout the next year to address this issue. Recognizing that only 20% of Americans with disabilities are employed and believing that this initiative just “makes good business sense,” the new NGA Chair plans to work with the private sector in the development of new employment strategies. This is an opportunity for the private sector to engage public officials surrounding the preferences and incentives for hiring disabled employees.

Included in the group Governor Markell wants to help are veterans living with disabilities. “The bottom line is that there are so many people with disabilities who have the time, talent and desire to make meaningful contributions to interested employers,” he said.

The initiative has its roots in a CEO summit held in June that focused on employment of people with disabilities. That summit was attended by executives from more than a dozen companies and included U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (R) of Iowa, U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions (R) of Texas and Governor Markell.

This initial summit will be followed by meetings around the country in which Governor Markell gathers feedback from business leaders and public and private stakeholders in order to develop a set of blueprints that states and businesses can use to boost employment among the disabled. Several companies are already active on this issue, but the NGA Chair’s focus on this issue will no doubt open up new opportunities for the private sector to interface with state leaders in the development of policies and incentives for hiring disabled employees.

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Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues and was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.

Montana Corporate Contributions Ruling: A Boon to Democrats?

July 12, 2012

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Montana state law that banned corporate political expenditures. In a 5-4 decision, the court reaffirmed its Citizens United decision in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock. Rather than hearing the case, though, the majority simply reversed a Montana Supreme Court ruling that had held the state law constitutional.

It was clear that the majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices did not find Montana’s case convincing at all. The entire decision overturning the law was less than one page in length. The key argument was articulated in just three sentences: “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. See U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”

So what does this mean for state races this November?

The ruling does clarify that unions and corporations can run independent expenditure ads for or against state and local candidates. This could have some significant impacts that I will discuss below, but first I wanted to address several areas where there will not be much of a change.

The ruling is likely to make it slightly easier for the national groups to engage in races around the country. DGA, RGA, RAGA, DAGA, DLCC and the RSLC have all been active in state races for years. But in cases where those groups are running independent expenditure advertisements, there should be less internal bookkeeping issues to make sure they were tracking where they were spending personal versus union/corporate dollars.

There also will not be much change for the SuperPACs and other independent expenditure groups that have relied on individuals for financing. If George Soros, the Koch brothers and other wealthy individuals wanted to run advertising, the First Amendment had protected that right prior to last month’s ruling.

“Issue advocacy” ads have been running for years as thinly-veiled campaign ads, except that they did not directly urge viewers/listeners/readers to vote for or against a candidate. Because of that distinction, these ads were often funded by corporate or union dollars, and the groups that funded them will now be able to say “Vote for Candidate X,” or more directly criticize a candidate in a negative ad.

Finally, this ruling is unlikely to have a major impact on the spending levels in the 28 states that still allow corporate and union contributions directly to campaigns. States like California and Illinois have fairly high limits, and some (like Virginia) have no limits on individual, corporate or union contributions directly to campaigns. Most contributions will continue to flow to those campaigns or to the campaign committees listed above that have already been involved in these states.

So, where will we likely see potential impacts on the ground?

I believe the biggest changes will be in state legislative races and local government elections. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, in nine states the average amount of money spent by winning candidates in state House elections fell short of $25,000. The lower dollar races provide opportunities for union/corporate money to have a big impact. Public sector unions could flood a few targeted districts with campaign commercials just before an election to promote candidates who will support their agenda and corporations could do the same for candidates they back.

This effect could be even more pronounced at the city and county level. Many city and county races outside major cities can be very low budget affairs and a few thousand dollars of union or corporate money could dominate those campaigns. Democrats could be the long term beneficiaries of this change.

As we have seen over the last few years, Democratic activists appear to have decided that urging boycotts against corporations contributing to Republican campaigns will discourage corporations from giving. There is no similar threat that will keep public sector unions from continuing to give. A boycott threat against a local hamburger chain may be enough to keep a franchisee from using company money to oppose a candidate that wants to ban all quick serve restaurants in a city. At the same time, a local teachers union would have no compunction against running ads for that candidate if he or she wants to raise property taxes to give teachers a pay raise.

While many activists on the left have been bemoaning the Citizens United and American Tradition Partnership decisions, unless businesses are willing to begin fighting back against these boycott and shareholder threats, the private sector is likely to be the big loser.

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Steve Arthur is Vice President at Stateside Associates directing the Retail Industry practice and co-leading the Attorneys General practice. He is a hands-on state government relations professional with expertise in strategic planning, issue management, direct lobbying and lobbyist management.

States Find Medicaid “Silver Lining” in Court Decision

June 28, 2012

By Robert Holden, Senior Vice President

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, most Court watchers’ attention was focused on the challenge to the individual mandate. Striking down the individual mandate could have brought down the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA), or at least eliminated the private health insurance provisions of the law. But instead of striking down the private insurance provisions, the Court instead supported the plaintiff states’ contention that the law unfairly allowed federal agencies to withhold Medicaid funding to compel state compliance with the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. As Chief Justice Roberts stated in the Court’s ruling (which can be found here in full):

“The threatened loss of over 10 percent of a state’s overall budget is economic dragooning that leaves the states with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion.”

The Medicaid holding, what disappointed Colorado Attorney General John Suthers referred to as the “Silver Lining,” offers states a real opportunity to opt out of the Medicaid expansion under the ACA and continue to receive funding for their existing Medicaid programs.

The Supreme Court’s decision will have enormous fiscal impacts on the states and political implications on ACA implementation. While implementation of a state-level health insurance exchange has always been optional under the law, Medicaid eligibility expansion to 138% of the federal poverty level was practically a given. Federal funding would have picked up the entire direct cost of additional Medicaid claims, at least for a few years. But the states would be required to support the administrative cost of adding, in some instances, 50% more enrollees to Medicaid programs already strained by the recession. These additional costs were tolerable for states only given the alternative catastrophe of losing all of their existing federal Medicaid funding if they did not agree to the Medicaid eligibility expansion. This proposition will be revisited now that they can avoid those administrative costs and receive Medicaid matching funds.

Thirty states have now either joined lawsuits to strike down the ACA, or have made formal requests for flexibility in Medicaid reform implementation. If a large number of these states opt out of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, and assuming implementation of the private insurance exchanges, many people formerly eligible for Medicaid will now seek federal subsidies in the health insurance exchanges. This gives states inclined to disrupt ACA implementation leverage by increasing federal costs in two ways. A larger number of state residents will be seeking federal subsidies – adding to the program’s bottom line. Additionally, states could continue to opt out of creating state exchanges and rely on a federally established insurance exchange. What the states do next will frame much of the debate as we head into the ultimate challenge for ACA implementation in November.

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Robert Holden is Senior Vice President at Stateside Associates managing the health care practice, addressing issues concerning public and private payers, as well as service and product providers. Mr. Holden also uses his issue and policy group experience to guide the legislative and regulatory monitoring teams focusing on healthcare policy issues.