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February 10, 2012

National/Politics

Mind-Blowing Charts From the Senate's Income Inequality Hearing

—By Josh Harkinson| Mother Jones, Thu Feb. 9, 2012 12:35 PM PST

In another sign that Democrats have embraced income inequality as a cause célèbre, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the subject today. The committee's ranking Republican, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, managed to look concerned during two hours of testimony about the kneecapping of the Middle Class—not that it should have been all that difficult. Here are some of the hearing's most striking charts: … The 1% hasn't controlled such a large share of the economy since the eve of the Great Depression: … But as the rich have earned a larger share, they've paid a smaller and smaller share in taxes:

Republicans face clash over union rights
By Richard McGregor, Financial Times, February 9, 2012 4:50 pm

The Republican nomination battle moved to Ohio this week, bringing with it the personal vituperation and attacking advertisements that have characterised the fight so far. But as well as fighting off attacks from each other, the candidates will also have to navigate running crises within the state Republican party.…. Mr Obama is unpopular in Ohio and his standing in the state fell last year by more than five points to 42 per cent, according to Gallup. But Mr Kasich, who squeezed into the governor’s mansion with a narrow win in 2010, is looming as Mr Obama’s secret weapon. The governor’s decision to push through a bill restricting collective bargaining rights for public sector employees provoked a furious response and was overwhelmingly overturned in a ballot late last year. A chastened Mr Kasich is now one of the most unpopular governors in the country, with an approval rating of just above 30 per cent.

Federal workers’ union targets GOP in new ad
By Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post, 6:00 AM ET, 02/10/2012

Turn on your television in the coming days and you may see this new television ad from the American Federation of Government Employees: The ad, called “Explain it to me, GOP,” targets recent Republican proposals to curtail federal pay and benefits and the size of the federal workforce. Several provisions doing so have been included in legislation passed by House Republicans in the past two weeks.
CPAC Speaker Goads Pro-Union, Occupy Protesters 
Dave Jamieson huffingtonpost.com, 02/ 9/2012 3:49 pm

Speaking to a ballroom filled with mostly young conservatives, F. Vincent Vernuccio, a labor policy expert at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday what many of them already knew: Labor activists and Occupy Wall Street protesters generally loathe them, and they would be showing up en masse at some point to demonstrate in support of collective bargaining. … Despite its title, "Return of Big Labor: What Can We Learn from Wisconsin & Ohio?," the panel itself apparently was not being targeted by the AFL-CIO or any Occupy protesters, none of whom revealed themselves in the ballroom or outside the Marriott Wardman on Thursday. But both union officials and Occupy organizers say they have planned a number of protests at CPAC this week.

States line up to challenge stringent Section 5 voting rights provision
By Robert Barnes, Washington Post: February 9

Conservative activists and Republican attorneys general have launched a series of lawsuits meant to challenge the most muscular provision of the Voting Rights Act 0f 1965 before a Supreme Court that has signaled it is suspicious of its constitutionality. Working their way to the high court are lawsuits from Arizona to North Carolina, challenging Section 5 of the historic civil rights act. The provision requires states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal approval of any changes in their voting laws. The combination of skeptical justices and an increasingly partisan political environment has led some experts to predict that the end is near for that requirement, which civil rights groups have called the most effective weapon for eliminating voting discrimination.

Money and Morals
By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, February 9, 2012

….. Most of the numbers you see about income trends in America focus on households rather than individuals, which makes sense for some purposes. But when you see a modest rise in incomes for the lower tiers of the income distribution, you have to realize that all — yes, all — of this rise comes from the women, both because more women are in the paid labor force and because women’s wages aren’t as much below male wages as they used to be. … So we have become a society in which less-educated men have great difficulty finding jobs with decent wages and good benefits. Yet somehow we’re supposed to be surprised that such men have become less likely to participate in the work force or get married, and conclude that there must have been some mysterious moral collapse caused by snooty liberals. And Mr. Murray also tells us that working-class marriages, when they do happen, have become less happy; strange to say, money problems will do that.

Insider Probe Aims at Member of House
By BRODY MULLINS, Wall Street Journal, FEBRUARY 10, 2012

The Alabama congressman who serves as the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee is under investigation into whether he improperly traded stocks or funds in financial markets based on inside information, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Office of Congressional Ethics began the review late last year into trading conducted by Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus. If the House's independent ethics body finds reason to believe he acted improperly, it would refer the matter the House's traditional Ethics Committee, which would then have 45 days to announce a course of action.

The 51 Percent / Is it good policy that half of all households pay no federal income tax? Some conservatives don’t think so.
by Nancy Cook, National Journal, February 9, 2012 | 2:00 p.m.

…. The Earned Income Tax Credit is a big reason why 51 percent of households pay no federal income tax. One of roughly 200 tax expenditures on the books, the EITC allows working families making under $49,000 (with three children) or $41,000 (with one child) to receive a refundable tax credit. The size of the credit depends on marital status and family size. Working couples also qualify if their combined income is below $18,700. The credit often refunds more money than people pay, thereby kicking some off the federal income-tax rolls. … In an even more eye-popping statistic, from 2005 to ’07, the after-tax income of the top 20 percent exceeded the after-tax income of the remaining 80 percent of all taxpayers—a revelation that led the typically restrained CBO to conclude that “the distribution of after-tax household income in the United States was substantially more unequal in 2007 than in 1979.” This level of income inequality, and the Republican Party’s acceptance of it, marks a shift in its ideology from Reagan, who expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, to today’s presidential candidates, whose fiscal plans largely revolve around permanently lowering the marginal tax rates for the rich and for corporations.

Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say
By SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times, February 9, 2012

Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects. … One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.

New rules for health plans require clear summaries of benefits
By Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2012

Moving to implement a much-anticipated consumer protection in the new healthcare law, the Obama administration issued regulations Thursday requiring health plans to describe what they cover in clear, standardized language that is understandable to consumers. Starting this fall, insurers and employers that offer health coverage will have to provide a six-page form that summarizes basic plan information, such as deductibles and co-pays, as well as costs for using in-network and out-of-network medical services.

White House to Announce ‘Accommodation’ for Religious Organizations on Contraception Rule
ABC News, Feb 10, 2012 7:04am

With the White House under fire for its new rule requiring employers including religious organizations to offer health insurance that fully covers birth control coverage, ABC News has learned that later today the White House — possibly President Obama himself — will likely announce an attempt to accommodate these religious groups.

10 States Are Given Waivers From Education Law
By WINNIE HU, New York Times, February 9, 2012

A decade after the No Child Left Behind law rewrote the nation’s education policies, President Obama freed 10 states from some of its crucial provisions on Thursday, including a deadline for bringing all students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. The states — New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma — are the first group to receive waivers from the Bush-era law, in exchange for embracing the Obama administration’s educational agenda and its focus on accountability and teacher effectiveness.

State/Local

AZ Update: ‘Focus on Real Priorities’ Union, Community Leaders Today at Capitol
AFL-CIO blog, Feb 9, 2012

This afternoon, a crowd of 100 assembled on the lawn of the  Arizona State Capitol to hold a press conference to oppose four anti-worker  bills under consideration by the State Senate.  …..   State Senator Steve Gallardo, a Democrat and AFSCME member, kicked the event off with a rousing speech in support of unions and  against special interests trying to cut the pay and benefits of teachers and emergency responders.

CA: Unions accuse SJ Mayor of exaggerating projected retirement costs
Posted: 10:24 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012

San Jose's elected officials are being accused of exaggerating projected retirement costs in an ethics complaint filed by three unions Thursday.  The complaint, filed with the city's elections commission, alleges that Mayor Chuck Reed, the city's retirement services director Russell Crosby, and former retirement services employee Michael Moehle misled the public about the five-year projections for employee contributions to retirement plans. … It was an estimate that Crosby conjured off-handedly at a Feb. 14, 2011 budget meeting and one that Reed ran with despite being informed that the figure was not actuarially accurate, alleges the complaint.

Related

AFSCME blog: San Jose City Officials Caught Lying about Pensions
NBC Bay Area: Unions Call for Pension Investigation
NBC Bay Area: CA: San Jose Pension Estimates Questioned / Have San Jose officials used fuzzy math to estimate future pension costs?

 

CA: Amid pension-cut fury, San Jose mayor sounds hopeful
By John Woolfolk, mercurynews.com  02/10/2012 05:07:58 AM PST

Having presided over six years of doomsaying, budget cutbacks and battles with employee unions, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed sounded more hopeful in his annual state of the city speech Thursday night. …. On Thursday, unions filed an ethics complaint accusing Reed and other top city officials of inflating pension cost projections to bolster the case for concessions. The complaint involved an early estimate a year ago that pension costs could reach $650 million in four years, which city officials have since backed away from. Reed said it was always couched as a worst-case estimate.

FL: House approves $69 billion state budget 
BY STEVE BOUSQUET, HERALD/TIMES, Thursday, 02.09.12

Divided along party lines, the state House passed a $69.2 billion budget Thursday that raises college tuition by 8 percent and pays for a $1 billion increase in education by cutting health programs for the needy. The vote was 79 to 38, with every Republican present voting yes and every Democrat voting no. … The House would cut payments to hospitals by 7 percent and to nursing homes by 2.5 percent, and eliminates Medicaid coverage for podiatric and chiropractic care for adults, affecting about 34,000 patients statewide.

HI: Bill To Expand Sick Leave Draws Opposition From Businesses
Catherine Cruz KITV4 News  5:52 pm HST February 9, 2012

….Labor unions testified in support of the bill. The largest government union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association said while it believes benefits should be negotiated, not mandated. It added if non- governmental workers are eligible for the extra leave, than it should be offered to its members, as well. "We do see that it does provide more benefits than our members have in terms of sick leave," said HGEA's Joan Takano.

IN: Pro-labor Republicans recruit challengers for right-to-work supporters in Indiana House
TOM LoBIANCO Associated Press February 09, 2012 - 1:28 pm

Pro-labor Republicans are targeting several GOP lawmakers who backed divisive right-to-work legislation that made Indiana the 23rd state to ban unions from collecting mandatory representation fees. The pro-labor Lunchpail Republicans have recruited eight candidates to run in May's Republican primary. A list of candidates obtained by The Associated Press Thursday shows some candidates are taking on powerful House members like Rep. Douglas Gutwein of Francesville, while others are challenging freshmen legislators elected in 2010's Republican sweep.

LA: Gov. Bobby Jindal budget proposal includes privatization, pension overhaul to balance budget
Thursday, February 09, 2012, 9:05 PM  By Jeff Adelson, The Times-Picayune

Gov. Bobby Jindal plans to close a $900-million budget shortfall by cutting almost 6,400 state jobs, overhauling the state pension system and privatizing some prisons and health centers. …. A key element of the budget is Jindal's pension reform plan, which includes provisions to increase the retirement age to 67 for employees younger than 55, require employees to contribute 3 percentage points more of their paychecks to their retirement, enroll new employees in a 401(k)-style plan and merge two of the state's four retirement systems.

MA: Protesters March Against Potential Library Layoffs
By SAMUEL Y. WEINSTOCK, CRIMSON,  Friday, February 10, 2012

A crowd of more than 100 protesters gathered outside the Holyoke Center Thursday night in response to plans to reorganize Harvard University Library that could include involuntary staff reductions. …. Library employee and elected Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers representative Emeka F. Onyeagoro, who spoke at the rally, said that he was opposed to the layoffs, which he said threatened an estimated 800 to 1,000 workers. Onyeagoro said the layoffs have no financial basis, but are an unjustified attempt at greater efficiency. … Last Friday, HUCTW leaders met with library officials for a conversation that HUCTW Director Bill Jaeger described as “honest,” “difficult,” and “inconclusive.”

MI: Detroit financial crisis: City Council sued over closed sessions with review team
February 10, 2012  Detroit Free Press

A Highland Park man who champions open government has sued the Detroit City Council, saying it violated the state Open Meetings Act when council members met in January with the financial review team appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. … Davis, a well-known gadfly who has filed more than 30 lawsuits against government entities and elected officials in the last five years, is a union representative for AFSCME -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- Council 25, which represents many employees of the City of Detroit. He said he was "doing this for the average person."

MI: State workers spared big cuts
12:07 AM, Feb. 10, 2012 |  Lansing State Journal

  ….. Thursday, Holman arrived at Snyder’s budget presentation feeling more confident, especially after learning Wednesday the state had waived four furlough days for 37,000 unionized workers this year. And once again, Holman breathed a sigh of relief after the budget hearing that state employees had been spared the knife. … That’s not to say union officials do not expect bumps in the year ahead. They remain concerned about House bills that would make it illegal for all public workers to strike and impose new rules on how unions collect dues.

MN: House Republicans pass prohibition on automatic payments to unions
by T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol, Feb 9, 2012

A bill prohibiting the deduction of union dues or fees from state child care assistance payments to daycare providers passed the Republican House on a 74 to 55 vote. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week in health and human services committee. … Union activists slammed Republicans on their latest effort. “I wish they spent as much time protecting families as we do,” said Lisa Thompson, St. Paul child care provider and member of the American Federation of State, County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Child Care Providers Together, in a statement. “Instead, they cut child care and cut unions,” she said.

MT: Schweitzer announces plans for new health clinic for state workers
CHARLES S. JOHNSON Missoulian  Thursday, February 9, 2012 9:00 pm

- Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday the state is soliciting bids for a new primary health care clinic in Helena, overseen by state government, for state employees and their families to use for doctor visits and prescription drugs.

NH: Hundreds gather to fight right-to-work bill
By GARRY RAYNO New Hampshire Union Leader  Feb 10, 2012

About 300 people turned out Thursday to oppose a bill that would make New Hampshire the only right-to-work state in the Northeast. Despite the opposition, House Bill 1677 does have the support of the two announced Republican gubernatorial candidates, Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith, along with the backing of House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vermon.

NH: Health policy expert draws two crowds
By Matthew Spolar / Monitor February 10, 2012

A health policy expert from the national conservative group behind several bills pending in the New Hampshire Legislature brought a small group of lawmakers and some determined critics to a presentation at the State House yesterday. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington D.C.-based network of conservative lawmakers who craft model legislation to be used in states throughout the country, has been the source of at least seven bills introduced in the House this year, according to liberal group Granite State Progress, which tracks the bills.

NJ: Monmouth County won't sell the Montgomery nursing home in Freehold Township
12:30 AM, Feb. 10, 2012 |  Joseph Sapia, Asbury Park Press

After months of discussion about looking into selling one of its two nursing homes and its property, the Monmouth Board of Freeholders has decided not to. Various reasons were given for continuing to run the John L. Montgomery Care Center in Freehold Township: concern over its residents and staff, the weak real estate market, givebacks from staff, and the county itself making a go of the money-losing nursing home. …. “That’s very good for us,” said Murphy, member of Local 2284 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, commenting on the county’s new position. “Our whole goal has always been to keep the home open.”

NM: Unions spar over public pension reforms
Trip Jennings | The New Mexican 2/10/12

A tightening of national accounting rules in recent years has required states to set aside more money to pay pensions for both current and future retirees.  …. Carter Bundy of Council 18, which represents about 1,500 Educational Retirement Board members, said Thursday that the education unions are throwing away a great opportunity by not supporting Ingle's legislation. He said their representatives "are not familiar enough with pension fund math that this is the best deal they are going to have."

NY: Union wins state challenge to Utica residency law
By DAN MINER, Observer-Dispatch,  Feb 09, 2012 @ 07:26 PM

If a state law judge’s recent judgment stands, city employees hired before Jan. 1, 2009, will not be subject to the city’s residency law and can live wherever they want. …. In a Feb. 3 decision, state administrative law judge Nancy Burritt sided with the unions, saying a previous residency law from 1984 was enforced rarely and that the city violated state law by trying to apply a new law to employees who already worked for the city. Burritt’s decision was a response to the challenge of one union — CSEA — but addresses all city employees. “I imagine it would have to govern everybody,” said Steve Price, the CSEA president. “I can’t see how they could just rule in favor of one party and not the other.”

NY: 401(k)s aren't a retirement plan to bank on
By MATTHEW T. RYAN, mayor of Binghamton.
Times Union 11:32 p.m., Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My city's pension costs have increased significantly in the past decade, so you might expect me to support the 401(k)-style retirement plan now under consideration in New York. But I don't. Even if a 401(k) plan were optional, it would be dangerous for our retirees, both economically and morally. … Staying faithful to a defined-benefit pension indeed is critical to strengthening our overall economy. Among New York's municipal employees, 77 percent stay here after retiring, generating an estimated $9.5 billion in economic activity and $1.3 billion in revenue from property taxes. …. Protecting public defined benefit plans from attacks by those advocating 401(k)'s of course requires some myth-busting.

NY: Public Employees Save Family from Blaze
AFSCME blog, FEBRUARY 09, 2012

An encroaching blaze didn’t stop two Ohio Department of Transportation employees from running toward danger to help save a family late last month. John Beckley and Bob Griffith are highway technicians and members of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11. They were on their late night shift in Carroll County on Jan. 25 when they saw a barn on a family’s property engulfed in flames. The fire also threatened nearby homes. The men rushed to the house and woke the family, then notified the fire department, who knocked the fire down before it could spread to the home and neighboring properties.

NY: Council approves CSEA contract granting raises
By Michelle Kearns, Buffalo NEWS February 9, 2012, 8:20 AM

The Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a long-negotiated Civil Service Employees Association contract, which will grant raises totaling 6.25 percent over four years and remove a requirement that the city preserve staff in the water and waste water departments. … Members of the CSEA had voted down two previous contract proposals.

OH: ‘Right-to-work’ backers may seek signatures
Darrel Rowland, The Columbus Dispatch Friday February 10, 2012 4:43 AM

A group seeking to bring a November statewide vote to make Ohio a “right-to-work” state got the OK to circulate its petition yesterday. The final green light came from the Ohio Ballot Board, which ruled that the proposed constitutional amendment is a single issue. … The coalition behind the Ohio ballot measure includes Chris Littleton, co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council; Maurice Thompson, executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law; and former state Rep. Bryan Williams of Akron, director of government affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio.

OH: School board expected to sign Monda
Ironton Tribune, Feb 9, 2012

The Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) 480, which represents South Point school district classified employees, have voted to accept a contract proposal offered by the district. …. Baise said the district wants to cut some positions and fill them with employees who essentially would do the same work for less pay and a different job title. A prime example of this is teacher’s aides versus instructional aides. While both perform roughly the same functions, the instructional aides are paid less.

SC House approves another anti-union measure
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS February 9, 2012, 10:07AM

The South Carolina House has approved a bill Republicans say further strengthens the state's already tough anti-union law. …. The bill approved by an 86-25 vote in the House would require unions to submit detailed financial data to the state's labor agency.

S.D. Legislature: No bonuses for state workers
Aberdeen News,   3:05 a.m. CST, February 10, 2012

South Dakota's 13,000 state workers are up for a pay raise after three years without one, but a plan outlining an across-the-board $2,300 for all public employees won't move forward this legislative session. Sioux Falls Republican Rep. Gene Abdallah, the bill's prime sponsor, said his plan offers more bonus pay to workers earning low-end salaries.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: No budget bill despite shortfall
11:36 PM, Feb. 9, 2012 |   Associated Press

A new budget projection released Thursday shows Wisconsin faces a $143 million shortfall — more than enough to require the Legislature to take action. But Gov. Scott Walker said the imbalance will be dealt with through cost-saving moves made by his administration that won't require emergency legislation.

WI: Four Wisconsin lawmakers challenge recalls
By MJ LEE | Politico,  2/10/12 8:56 AM EST

Four Republican Wisconsin state senators who are facing possible recall elections along with Gov. Scott Walker officially challenged the petitions on Thursday, the state’s Government Accountability Board announced. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the four state senators targeted by recall organizers, said he is challenging more than 4,300 signatures collected to force him to face a special election, saying organizers had submitted “a wide range of irregularities, errors and outright falsehoods” to the Wisconsin GAB.

WI: Unions want collective bargaining pledge from candidates
AP, Thursday, February 9, 2012 11:00 pm

…. Marty Beil, director of the AFSCME Council 24 representing blue-collar state workers, said this week that vetoing a state budget would be one strategy that a Democratic governor could use to restore collective bargaining but not the only one.

WI: Judge refuses to halt new voter ID law, but trial date to be set
ED TRELEVEN | Wisconsin State Journal Thursday, February 9, 2012 4:15 pm

A Dane County judge on Wednesday refused to immediately halt Wisconsin's new voter ID law, but left the door open for two Milwaukee groups to prove their case at a trial before him.

WI: John Nichols reflects on Wisconsin politics one year later
By Andrea Choi, Badger Herald, Thursday, February 9, 2012 10:06 p.m.

…. Nichols, associate editor of the Cap Times and contributor to The Nation magazine, showcased his book, “Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street,” citing the spring protests at the Capitol as his inspiration during a lecture held Thursday. …. Marv Vike, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1077, said in an interview with The Badger Herald that he slept for 12 nights last year at the capitol and is one of the people to who Nichols dedicated his new book. Vike said although he was representing a labor union, he was also concerned about all other public workers and teachers who were involved. “I am expecting to read what I lived,” he said.

W.Va. House OKs governor's plan for retiree costs
By The Associated Press, 9:13 p.m. EST, February 9, 2012

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s plan for solving a $5 billion, retiree-related shortfall passed the House of Delegates on Thursday, a measure supporters argue will improve West Virginia’s Wall Street credit rating and relieve county school systems of a crippling financial burden. …. The legislation would gradually close a funding gap between on-hand assets and the expected cost of retirement health benefits promised to public employees. Government employers nationwide began calculating the liability from these nonpension, other post-employment benefits, also known as OPEB, in the wake of a 2004 national accounting standard.

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