State Governments Need Federal Funds, And Soon, Due To Pandemic

There is no doubt–none whatsoever–that the federal government must–and will–provide financial assistance to the states which have been so thoroughly undermined during this pandemic.  The economic necessity of such action is not in question, and while the political show will consume some bandwidth in Washington the end result is not in doubt.

One only needs to read the business section of the newspapers from this past week to grasp the enormity of the cash-strapped states.  In the east New York is projecting its biggest dip will come from a nearly $12 billion hit to sales and use taxes. Way up north Alaska is dealing with oil prices which took a massive hit, while out west Arizona has funding issues from lower individual income taxes.  Meanwhile, California projected a dip of more than $41 billion in revenue through the fiscal year 2021 with a budget deficit of about $54.3 billion.

One primary argument for federal funding to the states is to make sure that budget shortfalls do not impair emergency workers, such as firemen and police, who are central to the proper functioning of local governments.  The faith of the citizenry in local government at a time of pandemic is critical.

If the federal government is smart they will invest in the states and work to keep people employed.  Otherwise, citizens will utilize government benefits like food stamps and unemployment.  Deficits are going to increase this year no matter what happens, but with smart moves, the federal government can make the red ink work to the advantage of our national economy.

The larger overall purpose for the federal injection of funds is driven by economics.  If we are to stave off the worst effects of the recession–and it is a major one to be sure–we must spend money.  With states facing a major tax revenue decline, there must be spending which will aid in the updraft to the economy.   Too many fail to grasp the impact that federal dollars play in ‘juicing’ the economy.  With low-interest rates the return on money from Washington, when timed correctly, will provide the very type of impact that everyone from Speaker Pelosi to Donald Trump claims they want.

Great Lakes Compact Needs Statewide Republican Support

How the essential big ticket items dealing with our environment and natural resources, such as the Kyoto Accord on the international level, or the regional Great Lakes compact, get strangled by Republicans mystifies me.  How the bottom line for a “golf course expansion” as State Representative Frank Lasee said recently, is more important than the greater good for the Great Lakes and the states that surround them truly baffles me.  How can Republicans have such a disconnect from what most of us see as sound public policy?

As we well know the lakes need protection from large water diversions to faraway states, and to achieve this result the Great Lake states have banded together in an attempt to conserve the precious resource that we have long taken for granted.  The Wisconsin State Senate has shown the way by passing the measure, only to see it stall for the most base of reasons in the State Assembly.  That reason being pure politics, and the special interest money that comes along with it.

If the measure is not passed the concern is that others outside of the region will decide what is best suited for the Great Lakes.  Wisconsin Lt. Governor Barb Lawton made that point again recently in northeastern Wisconsin.

Lawton said failure to enact to the compact likely would result in lengthy litigation of that bill and it would eventually cede control of the lakes over to courts or lawmakers outside the region.

“(Lake Michigan) out here sparkles like a jewel and we can see the lust for it,” said Lawton, speaking in front of a 143-foot yacht under construction at Burger Boat Co. in Manitowoc.“For the first time in history there is a well-defined, regional effort to sustainably manage Great Lakes water inside the basin and it produced a regional agreement.”

The State Assembly Democrats failed in their effort to  force the Republicans to pass the bill, while providing many valid reasons to act at once. 

Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) called the attempt to force a vote a last-ditch effort to pass the compact this session, saying there is no guarantee of a special session.“We are literally one act of Congress or one bad court decision away from those lakes having no protection at all,” Richards said on the floor.

The fact that this matter may have to be decided during a special session, which Governor Doyle has said he will call, is yet another sign that the political process is not working as the voters of the state wish.  Why waste money on a special session when the legislators are now under the dome?  Have the Sergeant-at-Arms pass out the Ritalin to the Republicans in the State Assembly and let us pass the Great Lakes compact!
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Lake Michigan Not To See Increased Dumping By British Petroleum

UPDATE Click link for new story on BP America

This is one of those stories that showcase the reason every one of us can say our voice does make a difference.  If we exercise it.  If you have ever felt powerless in the face of huge entities, unable to effect change, or push back a flawed policy, then this story should give you reason to hope. 

The huge oil giant, British Petroleum America, had hoped to increase the amount of pollutants it discharges in Lake Michigan from their Whiting, Indiana plant.  The company had used the rationale that an expansion of their refinery, along with the increase in pollutants being released, would allow for more production capacity of Canadian crude oil.  The uproar that resulted from the people, who live in the region and care about the environment, was nothing short of ballistic.  Groups organized quickly to boycott BP, with Chicago aldermen even threatening to no longer have city contracts with the oil giant.

BP was trying to sell the idea that adding 1,584 pounds of ammonia, and 4,925 pounds of suspended solids every day into Lake Michigan was all worth it, as 2,000 construction jobs and 80 permanent jobs would be created with the new expansion.  The company found that their pabulum was not selling to the public.  The people raised their voices, called radio shows, wrote editorials, and contacted their elected officials.  The concern about the long-term interest of the lake far outweighed any promises of jobs from an oil giant with outlandish profit margins.   Over 100,000 citizens signed a petition, and politicians from all sides agreed that the company was flawed in their thinking.  BP was not thinking of the best needs of Lake Michigan, or the people who live there.  Ideas to combat this corporate nightmare ranged from lawsuits to congressional hearings.  Even rock stars got into the debate with the lead singer from Pearl Jam penning a protest song.

Late last week the company spun 180 degrees and agreed not to release more pollutants into Lake Michigan.  But given the track record of oil companies, and corporate America in general, most now agree that any promise by BP needs to be legally binding. 

But for now there is a lesson to be learned from this episode.  We citizens have a voice and power when we decide to use it.  The big and powerful are only able to get by with their horrible ideas because too often we fail to act.  But when our collective anger finds purpose we can do mighty things.

BP found that out.  It is a lesson they will not forget, and one we should not forget either.

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Will Politicians Be Brighter Over Dubai Business Deal This Year?

It was an embarrassing spectacle to see politicians of all stripes running around the country last year in an effort to stir up dust over a plan to allow a Dubai based company to oversee port operations at several locations in the country.  Both political parties drew strength from the fact that many Americans seemed clueless about international companies already d0ing this port business for many years.  Everyone either saw a terrorist act in the making, or hoped to make others see it.  Whatever the motives or intent the end result was that the United States looked like ninnies to the world community.

I hope we do not again make the same mistake with a new deal that is in the making.

Dubai Aerospace Enterprise is working on a deal to buy a series of aviation businesses from U.S. private equity firm Carlyle Group.  As part of the agreement, the Dubai company would buy Landmark Aviation, an aircraft maintenance provider, and Standard Aero, which provides repair and overhaul services at airport terminals for small-jet aviation and some military transports.

It was a most remarkable sight to see both Democrats and Republicans simultaneously jumping to the most illogical thinking just because a very well-respected company located in the Middle East wanted to do business in the United States.  It was hard to get past all the lather that these politicians created as most of our nation seemed not to be aware how port authorities operated, and what a holding company actually was designed to do.  This is yet another example of why the public needs to be educated on the issues of the day so they can not be led astray by self-serving politicians.

It was bizarre to see politicians argue that a business bridge to the Middle East should not be created just so a few points could be scored for the latest polls here in America.  I trust that those who harbor Potomac fever (or others) do not create an embarrassment over this latest deal with Dubai Aerospace Enterprise.  And I trust that my fellow citizens are better informed about international economics.

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The Mystery Of Gasoline Prices

Over the past few weeks all of us have noticed that the price per barrel of oil has been falling on the world market.  In the past two weeks gas prices had also lowered to $1.99 in the Madison area.  It was explained to us many times that some more lowering of the gasoline prices could be expected, but that it takes a couple of weeks for lower barrel prices to show up as lower gas prices.

So when I heard earlier this week that the federal government was going to re-supply our national reserves, and as a result the price per barrel had again increased, I mused to James that I was going to watch the impact at our local service station.  Today the price is up to $2.09. 

I guess like many folks I wonder how it can take a couple of weeks for lower barrel prices to positively impact gasoline prices, but less than 72 hours for higher barrel prices to negatively impact them.

Now I understand that there are many factors involved with these prices such as refiners costs, and other international blips, but time and again I must wonder if big oil companies are screwing America.  And I did not even get a kiss before it happened!

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Political Junkies New Homepage

Coming To Your Computer January 23, 2007

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Helping Our Nation’s Poorest Workers

If you were paying attention over the past few years, you might have thought the rich estate owners in America might be on the verge of needing to get rid of their second Mercedes at their beachfront vacation homes.  The urgency with which the GOP stressed the need for exempting the richest estates from taxes was a sight to behold.

Meanwhile, the poorest workers in our nation could not get the notice of the Republican majority in Congress to raise the minimum wage.  Right now, that wage is $5.15, and can be summed up as a national embarrassment.  The jobs that no one else would consider doing, and the people who actually do them, need to be addressed by the new Congress.

It has been 10 years since the minimum wage has been increased.  To put the wage in contrast to the poverty line shows the reason we should be ashamed as a nation.  A worker with a family of three who earns the minimum wage makes $10,700 a year, and as such falls $6,000 below the poverty line.  That is unacceptable in this land! 

As the 2006 midterms pointed out, the nation agrees that this wage must be updated for the economic times that we now find ourselves.  If you listen to the forces who oppose this needed increase you would believe that small businesses left and right would fold up overnight.  The low paid worker is no match for the restaurant operators and their very well funded lobbyists in spreading talking points about this issue.  The sound data that has been collected does not show hardship for business by forcing them to pay a higher minimum wage.  One statistic that everyone agrees on is that the economy did not suffer following the last increase in 1996. 

The low wage earner must rely on our common sense of right and wrong to force Congress to adjust this wage upwards.  The long time champion of a higher minimum wage, Senator Ted Kennedy, has a bill to bring the wage up, as do other members of Congress, by varying amounts.  Most bills do not make it a living wage, but it is still a large step in the right direction.  I have long advocated that the minimum wage should be indexed to the rate of inflation.  That is a fight for another day.

The last time the wage was increased was a decade ago, and it lifted the incomes of over 9 millions workers.  The Senate proposals from this part summer would have assisted over 7 million workers.  And as we know women and minorities make up a large segment of those who benefit from an increase in the wage.

I know I look at things from an ethical perspective, but I do find it mighty strange that the GOP would think it justifiable to worry about the rich while shunning the poor.   Then again….not so strange.
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