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February 17, 2006

Latest on St. Louis Charter Reform (Not!)

Here's a link to a a thoughtful article relating to the failed efforts to reform the St. Louis Charter.   The article, by Robert Cropf and Todd Swanstrom of St. Louis University, appeared in the National Civic Review's fall 2005 issue.  The article begins with with a depiction of the somewhat ugly political debate around these issues, including the effort of opponents to link Charter reforms to the Confederate flag by means of an active billboard campaign.

February 17, 2006 in Academic Insights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More insights on Ohio Municipal Residency Requirements

Former dean Steven Steinglass of Cleveland State has a good op-ed piece on Ohio municipal residency developments.   Here's the link to today's Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Here's the link to Ohio SB 82 (signed by the Governor Taft in late January).

February 17, 2006 in Academic Insights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Report on election reform

Electionline.org has just issued its report on changes in state election laws since the Help America Vote Act of five years ago. The report, "What's Changed, What Hasn't and Why:  Election Reform 2000-2006" details ways in which some states have failed to comply with HAVA requirements (NY has yet to create a statewide database and has difficulties with lever machines; Ohio legislators have yet to agree on voter identification requirements, for example). 

Other major findings are as follows:

1.  Concerns about electronic voting machines have been growing rather than falling. Half the states not require paper audit trails or require paper ballots (and other states are considering similar requirements).

2.  A number of states require all voters to present identificaiton before voting (twice as many as in 2000).

3.  Statewide voter registration databases vary in function, capability, and design (and are not complete everywhere).

4.  Provisional ballots are now required nationwide, but counting rules vary and some states require those casting provisional ballots to be in the appropriate precinct.

The report also indicates that the major action on election reform is now taking place in the states and that debate continues on such matters as early and absentee voting, rights of ex-felons to vote, and centralized voting stations versus neighborhood precincts.

February 16, 2006 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Katrina Post-Mortem

For those who've missed it, the Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina is now available on-line.  Titled "A Failure of Initiative," it provides a sobering portrait of all that went wrong.  Featured findings include the following:

1.  The accuracy and timeliness of National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center forecasts prevented further loss of life.

2.  The Hurricae Pam exercise reflected recognition by all levels of government of the dangers of a category 4 or 5 hurricane striking New Orleans.

3.  Levees protecting New Orleans were not built for the most severe hurricanes.

4.  The failure of complete evacuations led to preventable deaths, great suffering, and further delays in relief.

5.  Critical elements of the National Response Plan were executied late, ineffectively, or not at all.

6.  DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the states were not prepared for this catastrophic event.

7.  Massive communications damage and a failure to adequately plan for alternatives impaired response efforts, command and control, and situational awareness.

8.  Command and control was impaired at all levels, delaying relief.

9.  The military played an invaluable role, but coordination was lacking.

10. The collapse of local law enforcement and lack of effective public communications led to civil unrest and further delayed relief.

11. Medical care and evacuations suffered from a lack of advance preparations, inadequate communications, and difficulties coordinating efforts.

12.  Long-standing weaknesses and the magnitude of the disaster overwhelmed FEMA's ability to provide emergency shelter and temporary housing.

13.  FEMA logistics and contracting systems did not support a targeted, massive, and sustained provision of commodities.

14.  Contributions by charitable organizations assisted many in need, but the American Red Cross and others faced hallenges due to the size of the mission, inadequate logistics capacity, and a disorganized shelter process.

There's lots of blame to go around.

It's time to prepare for the 2006 Hurricane Season.  Predictions from Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University, issued in December, suggest that the probability for at least one major (category 3-4-5) hurricane landfall is as follows in the specified coastal areas: (a) entire US coastline (81% compared to 52% average for the last century; (b) U.S. East Coast including Peninsula Florida (64% compared to the average for the last century of 31%); (c) Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville TX (47% compared to the average for the last century of 30%); and (d) above average landfall risk in the Carribbean. He anticipates a total of 5 intensive hurricanes (compared to 9 in 2005), and "net total cyclonic activity" of 195 (compared to 263 in 2005).

Dr. Gray's next prediction is due in early April.  Stay tuned.

February 16, 2006 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 15, 2006

Governments' roles in assuring net access

Stateline has a good undate on recent developments involving states and local governments that have sought to become involved in assuring net access for their citizens. 

To some, net access is a utility and governments have a role in assuring that everyone who wants it has ready access, particularly in rural areas where some may go unserved.  Kentucky has been a leader in this area through its "ConnectKentucky" program. 

Several cities have been leaders in attempting to provide city-wide wireless service--Philadelphia, and more recently Tempe, and San Francisco among others.

Stateline summarizes the interesting history of Philadelphia's efforts:

"In 2004, Philadelphia’s plan to become the first major urban area to propose a city-wide wireless system met resistance from state lawmakers, who introduced a bill to place strict limitations on any municipality's ability to provide a network.

After a heated debate, a law was passed that grandfathered in Philadelphia's proposal but required other Keystone State localities to consult the region’s established telecom companies and allow them 14 months to offer high-speed Internet service – “the right of first refusal.”
The city, in the form of a nonprofit called Wireless Philadelphia, partnered with service provider EarthLink to offer far-reaching inexpensive access. Philadelphia's plan intends to provide an affordable high-speed system for the whole city, including its low-income residents, as well as a unified network for city government and first-responders, according to Bernadine Hawes, a legislative assistant for Pennsylvania Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, past vice-chairman of the National Conference of State Legislature’s Internet caucus."

Stateline also notes that:

"By 2005, 14 states had laws restricting municipalities’ efforts to deploy their own public communications; half of those laws directly apply to the broadband technology. Cities in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin face strict barriers to entry through administrative and legal hurdles, according to the American Public Power Association."

Pew's Program on the Internet and American Life has a wealth of resources, including resources on e-government.

February 15, 2006 in Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Brookings on "First Suburbs"

The Brookings Institute has just issued an interestig report on "first suburbs."  The report gives important insights about the "urbanizing" aspects of these areas.  It makes good reading for those interested in rethinking shapes of governments, regionalism, and the legal structures that shape decision making in areas such as these.

February 15, 2006 in Think Tanks and Organizations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Twists on Kelo: Taking from A to Give to Church in PA

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court last week held that a city redevelopment authority could not take a private homeowner's property that was located in a blighted area in order to turn the property over to a religious organization that sought to establish a private independent school.  The problem was the establishment clause, rather than the "taking clause."  The case is A condemnation Proceeding in Rem by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia, in an appeal by Mary Smith, 2005 WL 3734901 (Pa.Cmwlth.))

February 14, 2006 in Case Developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Homeowners Associations are Quasi-Municipal Actors in NJ

The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Decision issued an important decision last week in Committee For A Better Twin Rivers, et al. v. Twin Rivers Homeowners' Association, et al. (A-4047-03T2).  The case concerned a dispute concerned competing factions of residential homeowners in a large planned unit development (Twin Rivers).  A dissident faction sought the right to post political advertising, use the community room, tape homeowner board meetings, gain access to financial records, and gain access to voter roles.  The controlling board refused, arguing that the homeowners group was not subject to state constitutional requirements.   The Court concluded that a homeowners association that functioned in a "quasi-muncipal" capacity should be viewed as a government actor and held that the expressive rights guaranteed by the New Jersey Constitution (Art. I, sections 6 and 18) applied.  There was therefore a requirement that fair and open elections be permitted for the board of the homeowners association, including the right of opposing candidates to run.

According to the Court's summary, the Court also concluded that: provisions of the New Jersey Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act (PREDFDA) as amended, N.J.S.A. 45:22A-21 to -48, apply to a community association founded before the enactment of the statute and its amendments. The exemption provision of N.J.S.A. 45:22A-42 was narrowly construed.

The Court also indicated that standard-setting and standard-applying exercises that do not implicate the expressive rights guarantees of the State Constitution but, rather, bear upon operational features of the community association are properly evaluated under statutory standards, the business judgment rule, and assessments of the parties' contractual rights and interests.  The court also indicated that association by-laws that provided for weighted voting according to property value (and denied tenants the right to vote while allowing non-resident owners to do so) were not illegal under the New Jersey constitution or state statute.   

It seems likely that there will be a further appeal.

February 14, 2006 in Case Developments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

GAO report on "offshoring"

States and localities continue to be concerned about job-loss resulting from "offshoring" of service jobs.  The Government Accountability Office has recently published a useful report on offshoring. The report reflects an extensive literature review and consultation with various experts.  It also suggests policies that may be of greatest interest to the federal government (with resulting implications for the states), and areas where additional research is needed (of possible interest to academics).

Here's an excerpt from the report's summary:

"While traditional economic theory predicts that offshoring is likely to
benefit the overall economy, concerns have been raised about four areas
of potential impact: on the average U.S. standard of living, employment
and job loss, income distribution, and security. Observers of
offshoring have expressed a range of views about the likely impact of
offshoring on each of these areas. These debates reflect several
factors: the fact that services offshoring is a relatively recent
development whose impact is not fully known, the limitations of
currently available data about the extent of offshoring and its
impacts, and different theoretical expectations about how services
offshoring will impact the U.S. economy.

* Potential impacts on the average U.S. standard of living: Traditional
economic theory on international trade predicts that in the long run,
offshoring is likely to be beneficial for the average U.S. standard of
living; however, some economists have argued that offshoring could harm
U.S. living standards if it contributes to the erosion of important
U.S. industries, undermines U.S. technological leadership, or leads to
a decrease in average U.S. wages. Underlying this debate are different
predictions about what new areas of comparative advantage the U.S. will
develop as globalization intensifies--that is, what new goods and
services will be developed that are produced most efficiently in the
U.S.--and different assessments about whether offshoring is
contributing to downward pressure on U.S. wages.

* Potential impacts on employment and job displacement: Many economists
agree that offshoring is not likely to affect aggregate U.S. employment
in the long run but acknowledge that in the short run some workers will
lose their jobs when employers relocate production abroad. In addition,
some economists argue that an important effect of offshoring and
increased trade are structural changes that will generate permanent
shifts in the types of work conducted by the U.S. labor force. However,
there is debate about the expected magnitude of job losses related to
offshoring, the implications of job displacement for those workers who
are directly affected by it, and the expected direction of any
structural changes in the labor market caused by offshoring.

* Potential impacts on distribution of income: There is disagreement
among economists about whether offshoring is likely to significantly
affect the distribution of income in the U.S. Some economists have
expressed concern that offshoring could accelerate income inequality in
the U.S; however, others argue that changes in the income distribution
are driven primarily by factors unrelated to offshoring, such as
technological developments, and still others point out that offshoring
could potentially decrease income inequality. Underlying these
disagreements are debates about the extent to which, in the long run,
offshoring will change the demand for U.S. workers at various income
and skill levels.

* Potential impacts on national security and consumer privacy: Experts
express varying degrees of concern about the impact of services
offshoring on the security of our national defense system and critical
infrastructure--systems and structures that are essential to the
nation, such as utilities and communication networks--as well as the
privacy and security of consumers' financial and medical information.
Underlying these debates are unresolved questions about the extent to
which offshore operations, such as software development or medical
records processing, pose increased security risks and the extent to
which current laws and practices mitigate these risks.

Analysts of the offshoring phenomenon have proposed a broad range of
policies in response to offshoring, and these proposals represent a
diverse set of potential directions for public policy in this area. We
have categorized these proposals into four areas; some analysts have
recommended policies in more than one area.

* Proposals to improve U.S. global competitiveness: Many observers view
offshoring as one aspect of a much broader process of increasing global
interdependence and propose policies that seek to improve the ability
of U.S. firms and workers to compete in the global economy. Proponents
of these policies contend that increased foreign competition signals a
need for policies to help the U.S. economy strategically develop new
areas of comparative advantage. Examples of these proposals include
increasing government support for research and development and
improving education and training of U.S. workers.

* Proposals to address effects on the workforce: In response to
concerns about job displacement due to offshoring, many have proposed
policies to assist displaced workers who bear the immediate costs of
offshoring. Some proposals would build on existing programs, such as
extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to dislocated
services workers. Currently, the program provides workers in the
manufacturing sector who are dislocated due to trade with extended
unemployment benefits and subsidized retraining. Other proposals would
involve broader and more extensive reforms, such as instituting a wage
insurance program to replace a portion of wages at reemployment for
workers who experience wage declines after displacement or establishing
universal or portable health insurance.

* Proposals to enhance security: Some proposals seek to address
concerns that offshoring could pose risks to national security,
critical infrastructure, or the privacy of personal data. These
proposals can be broadly categorized into two types--those that would
restrict the type of work that can be sent to foreign locations and
those that would strengthen requirements governing security and data
protections.

* Proposals to reduce the extent of offshoring: Some policy proposals
address concerns about offshoring by government agencies or the private
sector by seeking to reduce the extent of offshoring's occurrence. For
example, some proposals would prohibit or constrain offshoring in
government procurement. Other proposals seek to modify firms'
incentives to offshore by altering tax provisions or enhancing
incentives for firms to locate work in the U.S.

Determining appropriate policy responses to the offshoring phenomenon
is especially challenging due to the limited state of knowledge about
offshoring and its effects. Nonetheless, areas where further research
might help advance the debate about the impacts and policy implications
of services offshoring include:

* impacts of offshoring on various sectors of the U.S. economy,
particularly sectors that are emerging as new sources of comparative
advantage;

* impacts of offshoring on the workforce, such as numbers of workers
displaced and their reemployment experiences;

* impacts of offshoring on the U.S. income distribution, including
trends in wage levels of jobs moving offshore; and:

* any increased security-related risks posed by offshoring and the
extent to which these are mitigated by current practices and laws.

Further research in these areas could help inform policy making by
providing more information about the nature and magnitude of any
problems resulting from offshoring. Researchers have begun to use a
variety of approaches to examine these areas, such as in-depth studies
of services offshoring in particular industries (e.g., semiconductors
and radiology) and statistical methods applied to current federal data
series (e.g., to obtain information on the re-employment experiences of
workers dislocated due to trade). While these approaches face various
challenges and limitations, they offer some prospect for additional
insights on aspects of the services offshoring phenomenon.

February 12, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GAO report on Internet Access Tax Moratorium

States and localities continue to face budgetary challenges in part because of federal constraints on traditional sources of revenue.  The federal Government Accountabliity Office has recently published a report on the impact of the federal Internet Access Tax Moratorium that suggests that there is more ambiguity in interpretation of the Moratorium's provisions than some states may now believe.

Here's an excerpt from the Report's Summary:

According to one report, at the end of 2004, some 70 million U.S. adults logged on to access the Internet during a typical day. As public use of the Internet grew from the mid-1990s onward, Internet access became a potential target for state and local taxation. In 1998, Congress imposed a moratorium temporarily preventing state and local governments from imposing new taxes on Internet access. Existing state and local taxes were grandfathered. In amending the moratorium in 2004, Congress required GAO to study its impact on state and local government revenues. This report’s objectives are to determine the scope of the moratorium and its impact, if any, on state and local revenues.

For this report, GAO reviewed the moratorium’s language, its legislative history, and associated legal issues; examined studies of revenue impact; interviewed people knowledgeable about access services; and collected information about eight case study states not intended to be representative of other states. GAO chose the states considering such factors as whether they had taxes grandfathered for different forms of access services and covered different urban and rural parts of the country. GAO is not making any recommendations in this report.

The Internet tax moratorium bars taxes on Internet access services provided to end users. GAO’s interpretation of the law is that the bar on taxes includes whatever an access provider reasonably bundles to consumers, including e-mail and digital subscriber line (DSL) services. The moratorium does not bar taxes on acquired services, such as high-speed communications capacity over fiber, acquired by Internet service providers (ISP) and used to deliver Internet access. However, some states and providers have construed the moratorium as barring taxation of acquired services. Some officials told us their states would stop collecting such taxes as early as November 1, 2005, the date they assumed that taxes on acquired services would lose their grandfathered protection. According to GAO’s reading of the law, these taxes are not barred since a tax on acquired services is not a tax on Internet access. In comments, telecommunications industry officials continued to view acquired services as subject to the moratorium and exempt from taxation. As noted above, GAO disagrees. In addition, Federation of Tax Administrators officials expressed concern that some might have a broader view of what could be included in Internet access bundles. However, GAO’s view is that what is included must be reasonably related to providing Internet access.

The revenue impact of eliminating grandfathering in states studied by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) would be small, but the moratorium’s total revenue impact has been unclear and any future impact would vary by state. In 2003, when CBO reported how much states and localities would lose annually by 2007 if certain grandfathered taxes were eliminated, its estimate for states with grandfathered taxes in 1998 was about 0.1 percent of those states’ 2004 tax revenues. Because it is hard to know what states would have done to tax access services if no moratorium had existed, the total revenue implications of the moratorium are unclear. In general, any future moratorium-related impact will differ by state. Tax law details and tax rates varied among states. For instance, North Dakota taxed access service delivered to retail consumers, and Kansas taxed communications services acquired by ISPs to support their customers.

February 12, 2006 in Think Tanks and Organizations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack