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March 16, 2012


The $6.6 Trillion Retirement Problem: Unions Push Boost to Social Security Benefits
By David Moberg, In These Times, Thursday Mar 15, 2012 1:07 pm

Contrary to its enemies posing as friends, Social Security is not in crisis. But there is a real retirement crisis, the AFL-CIO executive council warned here on Wednesday, and increased—not reduced—Social Security benefits offer the best solution to that serious challenge. Republicans may raise a cry for benefit cuts or privatization to "save" the program by destroying it. And some Democratic politicians may grant their false crisis claim but argue for smaller cuts. But ultimately Social Security faces only a potential shortfall after 2036 in its ability to pay full benefits—a distant problem Congress can easily fix by eliminating the cap on wages subject to FICA taxes.…Traditional defined-benefit pensions are dwindling and under attack in the public and private sectors. The executive council, spurred by the united New York AFSCME, strongly criticized Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for deep cuts in benefits and for effectively dismantling the state employee defined-benefit plan.

Anti-worker legislation’s negative impact on women, minorities
Mark Gruenberg, People’s World, March 15 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The anti-worker legislation pushed for the last 18 months by the Big Business-GOP cabal has a second common - but rarely discussed - theme: A disproportionate impact on women and minorities....Holt Baker has led labor's crusade against right-wing efforts to deny and deprive people of their voting rights in particular. But the panoply of right-wing actions extends far beyond voting rights.….Ohio, Wisconsin, and other GOP-run states stripped collective bargaining rights for virtually all public workers, though a referendum overturned Ohio's ban. The day before the Ohio vote, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders said the Ohio ban "hurts people who work in public transportation, like my dad did for many years as a bus driver in Cleveland...Did you know in Ohio and around the country, one-fifth of all public-sector employees are African-American? That makes the public sector the largest employer of African-American workers in this nation."

Almost all U.S. states reforming public pensions
Reuters, 11:57 a.m. CDT, March 15, 2012

The one-two punch of the financial crisis and economic recession to U.S. states'  retirement systems forced nearly every state to reform how it handles pensions for state employees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It said in a report that from 2009 to 2011, 43 states reformed their pension systems, including requiring employees to contribute more money, restricting benefits and switching plan formats.

Pension-reform group needs a new calculator
 BY CATHERINE LUCEY, Philadelphia Daily News, Thu, Mar. 15, 2012, 7:20 PM

AN ADVOCACY GROUP campaigning nationally for public pension reform visited Philadelphia on Thursday promising to "expose" the city's top pension recipients - including one retiree with a $4.5 million estimated lifetime payout. But what the group really exposed was its own fuzzy math... ...Pennsylvania is the 10th state that Taxpayers United has visited as it lobbies lawmakers to reduce the public pension costs by requiring higher contributions by active workers and moving new hires to 401(k) plans.

Day in court for healthcare revives public fight
 Source: David Morgan, Reuters, March 14, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The fate of President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul will be debated at the Supreme Court this month, reviving controversy over his signature domestic policy achievement in a year when Americans vote on whether to give him a second term. Democrats and Republicans, backers and foes, are spoiling for a battle ahead of the court's six hours of hearings on March 26-28, the most time given to a single topic in 44 years. While the court's nine justices will rule on the legal issues, probably before July, political rivals and interest groups are seizing the moment to shape public opinion in the run-up to presidential and congressional elections on November 6.

Time for Government and Public Workers to Be Friends Again
Michael Lipsky, The American Prospect, March 15, 2012

Labor-management cooperation is the key to treading the line between budget shortfalls and unions' demands....In the short run, union leaders and their allies seem to have benefited from the overreach of Republican governors elected two years ago who thought they had a mandate to undermine public sector unions. These governors may have miscalculated: the attacks on labor have helped mobilize supporters who otherwise might have remained dormant, and public opinion seems to have turned against them. However, public sector unions should do their part to avoid partisan conflict in the long run. Good wages and generous employment benefits depend upon popular support for public services, especially during an economic downturn. After all, a substantial majority of expenditures for most local and state public services go towards salaries, benefits, and pensions.... We need a different sort of relationship between organized public employees and voters, and the recent examples of labor-management cooperation show how to do it right.

Labor’s Take on the Economy
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE, New York Times, Economix blog, March 15, 2012, 10:59 am

ORLANDO, Fla. — When labor leaders talk publicly, it’s often to make angry, off-the-cuff statements to denounce a company that is taking a tough line on wage increases or to lambaste a lawmaker who is sponsoring anti-union legislation. But when the nation’s union leaders gather each winter at the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive council meeting, the statements they issue are usually far different. They often approve carefully crafted resolutions that the labor federation’s staff members — some have Ph.D.’s — have spent weeks preparing in close consultation with union leaders. Clearly much work and thought went into the resolution on the economy that the labor federation approved on Wednesday, titled “Fixing What Is Wrong With Our Economy.”

AFL-CIO Council: Organizing, Bargaining Key to Reversing Inequality
 Mike Hall, AFL-CIO NOW BLOG, 3/15/2012

Inequality in both wealth and income is greater than at any time since the early part of the last century. At the same time, says the AFL-CIO Executive Council, the best remedy to inequality and injustice—collective bargaining—is under increasing political attack in the private and public sectors. But workers across the country are fighting for their right to join a union.  

UPDATE 1-US Chamber challenges Obama's labor appointees
By Alexandra Alper, Reuters, Thu, Mar 15 2012

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a motion on Thursday to challenge President Barack Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Obama set off a furor in January when he bypassed Congress and installed nominees into politically sensitive jobs at the NLRB and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Critics contend the recess appointments were possibly illegal because they were made while the Senate was still technically in session. On Thursday, the Chamber followed through on January promises to consider legal action. It asked a U.S. Court of Appeals to add the recess appointment challenge to an unrelated case brought by Noel Canning, a small bottling company in Washington state, to appeal an NLRB ruling against it over pay negotiations.

The Hill (blog): Chamber joins court challenge against NLRB recess appointments
Chicago Tribune: Business group challenges labor board appointees

Can Obama’s Wall Street reform address Greg Smith’s problem with Goldman?
Posted by Suzy Khimm, Washington Post Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog, 01:38 PM ET, 03/15/2012

Greg Smith’s biggest complaint about Goldman Sachs in his New York Times op-ed
is the way he thinks the firm forsakes its clients’ interests in the name of bigger profits. And that’s precisely the problem that one of the most sweeping and controversial parts of Dodd-Frank is meant to address. The Volcker Rule prohibits banks that are backed by government guarantees from making speculative bets that don’t benefit their customers — in other words, it’s a ban on what is known as proprietary trading. The Volcker rule hasn’t been finalized yet, and its July start date could get pushed back....

Data Suggest Job-Market Gains Leveling Off
BY NEIL SHAH, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2012, 7:07 p.m. ET

The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week, but declines in a broader measure of such claims have slowed, suggesting recent improvements in the job market may be losing steam. New claims for unemployment insurance fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000 last week, the government said Thursday, the lowest level since early February. But a less-volatile measure, the four-week moving average of claims, has hovered at about 356,000 for the past three weeks….But some economists worry that recent declines in the jobless-claims readings are slowing. That would mesh with the view that the job market won't strengthen further without more robust economic growth.

States eye revenue from online sales
By The Fayetteville Observer, Friday, March 16, 2012

The sales tax discount that draws many customers to save money by shopping online instead of down the street faces its greatest threat yet with bills pending in Congress intended to eliminate that tax break. Backers of the bills, one pending in the House, one in the Senate, said they are optimistic that they can pass a law this year that would permit North Carolina and other state governments to collect sales taxes from online retailers such as and….In a tax break that is sometimes called the "Amazon loophole" after online mail-order giant, a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling says that mail-order retailers are constitutionally excused from collecting local sales taxes. The ruling said that a company must have a physical presence in a state in order for the state to collect taxes on its mail-order sales to state residents. That same court ruling said Congress could pass a law to allow the states to impose the sales taxes on out-of-state vendors.

Home health care companies' profits up in 2010
By Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY, 3/15/2012

WASHINGTON – Home health care companies made an average 19.4% profit in 2010, a report released Thursday shows, prompting the independent board that oversees Medicare to again ask Congress to lower reimbursement rates for these companies....The home health care industry is fighting a proposed new law that would require them to pay employees minimum wage and overtime.

Women Figure Anew in Senate’s Latest Battle
By JONATHAN WEISMAN, New York Times, March 14, 2012

WASHINGTON — With emotions still raw from the fight over President Obama’s contraception mandate, Senate Democrats are beginning a push to renew the Violence Against Women Act, the once broadly bipartisan 1994 legislation that now faces fierce opposition from conservatives. The fight over the law, which would expand financing for and broaden the reach of domestic violence programs, will be joined Thursday when Senate Democratic women plan to march to the Senate floor to demand quick action on its extension....Democrats, confident they have the political upper hand with women, insist that Republican opposition falls into a larger picture of insensitivity toward women that has progressed from abortion fights to contraception to preventive health care coverage — and now to domestic violence.

Related: Christian Science Monitor: Violence Against Women Act: A political opening for Democrats?

Politically Divided Federal Gov't Worries U.S. Investors / Investors feel a lack of control in their ability to build their retirement savings
by Dennis Jacobe, Gallup, March 14, 2012

PRINCETON, NJ -- American investors are most likely to say a politically divided federal government (73%) is hurting the U.S. investment climate "a lot," according to a Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey. The federal budget deficit (66%) and the unemployment rate (62%) are also among the issues investors are most likely to say are hurting the U.S. investment climate. Investors are least likely to list the availability of credit as a problem from the eight items tested....Overall, it appears that even as investor optimism increases, investor confidence in the current political situation in Washington and those responsible for it is going in the opposite direction.

No Way to Choose a Judge / Expensive, partisan state judicial elections taking place across dozens of states are tarnishing the integrity of American justice.
Editorial, New York Times, March 15, 2012

… In all, 31 states are holding elections for their top court this year — multicandidate races and “retention” votes for a total of 73 judgeships nationwide. Requiring would-be judges to cozy up to party leaders and raise large sums from special interests eager to influence their decisions seriously damages the efficacy and credibility of the judiciary. It discourages many highly qualified lawyers from aspiring to the bench. Bitter campaigns — replete with nasty attack ads — make it much harder for judges to work together on the bench and much harder for citizens to trust the impartiality of the system….

Staffers: House won't pass highway bill this month
By ADAM SNIDER, Politico, 3/15/12 4:36 PM EDT    
The House will not take up the Senate’s transportation bill and its own version won’t hit the floor until mid-April at the earliest, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee aides told industry officials Thursday morning. Democrats on both sides of the Capitol are ramping up their pressure on the House after the Senate approved a two-year, $109 billion bill that garnered votes from nearly half of the Republican caucus. The guts of the bill would stay the same as the latest version that hasn’t gone anywhere — transit would continue to receive a dedicated share of the federal gas tax, an issue that had drawn opposition from a number of Republicans in suburban districts, according to a source who attended the meeting.

Santorum says Puerto Rico should adopt English if it hopes to be state
By Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post, Election 2012 blog, Posted at 10:02 PM ET, 03/15/2012

Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on Thursday drew criticism from several prominent Puerto Ricans after he stated that if the U.S. territory wants to become the 51st state, it must adopt English as its main language. Santorum’s comments, made Wednesday in English-language interviews with several local news outlets, led one of his supporters, Oreste Ramos, to request that his name be removed from Sunday’s ballot as a Santorum delegate in the territory’s Republican caucuses. Several other prominent officials on the island responded with anger at Santorum’s remarks.

Firm Romney Founded Is Tied to Chinese Surveillance
By ANDREW JACOBS and PENN BULLOCK, New York Times, March 16, 2012

BEIJING — As the Chinese government forges ahead on a multibillion-dollar effort to blanket the country with surveillance cameras, one American company stands to profit: Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney…In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.

In a Power Grab, the Kochs' Struggles Are Revealed
MATT NEGRIN,, March 16, 2012

Charles and David Koch have been demonized by Democrats as a power couple bent on buying the 2012 election for Republicans, but a rare lurch into public view shows that the Kansas oil men don't even have control of the major think tank they helped create….The lawsuit, which would effectively give the brothers control of the small group that runs Cato, was filed after a November meeting reported by The New York Times in which David Koch proposed to the group's chairman plans to merge operations. The chairman, Robert Levy, declined out of fear that the Koches would have too much control over what the think tank researches.  While the case is pending in a Kansas court, the short-term result has been a public debate over the role of Cato, and whether the mainstream Republican Koch brothers would ruin its libertarian reputation.


AZ: Insider: Bill aims for fewer regulations but creates even more red tape
by Mary Jo Pitzl,, March 15, 2012

In its quest to reduce government regulations, a House bill is full of … regulations. There are no fewer than six pages of statutory language describing how the regulation-inhibiting regulatory tax credit of House Bill 2815 would work. The tax-credit program would allow any business that feels it has been subjected to “excessive regulation” to file a claim with the state and get a credit against its income-tax bill for the cost of the regulation. Credits would be capped at $2,000, and overall credits could not exceed $100,000 at each of these four levels of government: state, county, cities/towns and special taxing districts, such as fire districts….Still, just reading through the regulations seems like it would be enough to send the Goldwater Institute into a tizzy. Except the Goldwater Institute’s Nick Dranias actually dreamed up the whole scheme.

Arizona House approves personnel system changes sought by Brewer for state government
PAUL DAVENPORT, Associated Press, March 14, 2012

Arizona's personnel system for its state government would become more like those used by private businesses under legislation approved Wednesday by the House. Key changes would include relaxing civil-service protections to make it easier to fire and discipline most state executive-branch workers, partly by weakening the power of boards that review personnel decisions. Also Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and her successors would get hiring and firing authority over more agency directors.

CA: Judges Sues California Over Pensions 
By MATT REYNOLDS, Courthouse News Service, Thursday, March 15, 2012

SAN DIEGO (CN) - Dozens of judges sued California in Superior Court, demanding unpaid and delinquent retirement benefits. More than 80 retired and active judges sued The Judges Retirement System, administered by the Board of Administration of the Public Employees Retirement System of California.

CA: California pension board acknowledges lower returns, higher costs
By John Woolfolk, Mercury News, March 14, 2012

Trustees of California's giant state retirement system finally acknowledged Wednesday that they can't expect the high returns on investment they had previously projected, a move that means taxpayers will bear hundreds of millions more in costs for public employee pensions....The California Public Employees' Retirement System board decision comes at a time when government pension plans are under heightened scrutiny, raising bipartisan alarm over growing costs for benefits more generous than what private employers typically offer....The actuary who advises CalPERS' board recommended lowering the rate this year either to 7.5 percent or 7.25 percent. The board Wednesday went with 7.5 percent, a rate already adopted by San Jose's municipal retirement plans, whose actuaries also advised 7.25 percent.

Related: THE PRESS DEMOCRAT: Sonoma County cities face new pension squeeze

CO: Public unions invest heavily in Colorado elections
Associated Press, Mar 15, 2012 5:36pm

DENVER (AP) — Public-sector unions, whose members are dependent upon decisions made by elected officials, were the state's top donors to committees that helped put those officials into office in 2010, according to a Denver Post analysis of state campaign data. The unions contributed to an extensive number of local and legislative candidates and gave large donations to a handful of independent political committees. Most of those political groups, which can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, were part of a well-coordinated Democratic network targeting state-level contests. The top three contributors to committees helping candidates in 2010 were:...The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which gave $784,886.

FL: A Jackson board committee approved management’s plans to cut more than 1,100 jobs after hearing a string of bad financial news.
By John Dorschner, Miami Herald, Thursday, 03.15.12

A committee of Jackson Health Systems’ governing board on Thursday approved executives’ plan to “right-size the organization” by cutting 1,117 jobs. The committee’s approval is intended to make it harder for county commissioners to stop mass layoffs at Miami-Dade’s public hospitals…. Meanwhile, management and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents the nonprofessional employees, reported “significant progress” but no agreement during contract negotiations. Negotiations are officially at an impasse, and Jackson’s board recommended recently that the dispute be taken directly to the County Commission for resolution.

FL: Groups consider suits vs. state /Random drug testing and prayer in school to be challenged
By ZAC ANDERSON, Sarasota Herald Tribune,Last Modified: Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:51 a.m.

Florida's burst of politically charged litigation shows no sign of abating as a variety of groups consider challenging two controversial laws passed by the Legislature last week. Expected lawsuits over bills allowing random drug testing of state workers and prayer in schools - both likely to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott - would add to at least 14 legal cases involving Scott and the Legislature over the last year.

IL: Plans to privatize Midway may fly again / As eligibility deadline approaches, some say deal is viable; Mayor Rahm Emanuel remains mum
Source: Kathy Bergen, Chicago Tribune, March 15, 2012

Chicago attorney John Schmidt, a key adviser to the city on the ultimately unsuccessful push several years ago to privatize Midway Airport, says such a deal would be viable now, given that the financial markets have stabilized....A proposal to privatize the Luiz Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is moving ahead with strong interest from investors and support from the major airlines operating there, said Schmidt, who is counsel on that project and a partner with Mayer Brown LLP.

IL: State employees protest proposed budget cuts
Steven Martens, Quad City Times, Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 3:28 pm

...Quinn’s $33.8 billion budget includes closing the state’s only super-maximum correctional center in Tamms and the women’s maximum security prison in Dwight and calls for 9 percent across-the-board budget cuts in most state agencies....Carlene Erno, who works for DCFS and is president of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Local 2615, said it wasn’t right that while large corporations continue to get substantial tax breaks, the state is considering making more cuts to state agencies that are already overburdened. “You need to find a middle ground here,” Erno said. “It can’t always be us giving.”

Chicago Tribune: Union workers protest Quinn budget cuts
Quincy Journal: State workers protest proposed cuts and closures
KFVS: Union employees picket against prison cuts in Illinois
Galva News: AFSCME brings protest to Executive Mansion
Peoria Journal Star: AFSCME Local 51 protests Quinn budget cuts

LA: State retirees blast Jindal 'pension reform' package  
Paul Murphy,, 3/15/2012

NEW ORLEANS -- Gov. Bobby Jindal described the state employee retirement system as a ticking time bomb that could be $30 billion out of balance by the end of the decade....He wants to delay the retirement age that would allow state workers collect full benefits to 67. Right now, they can retire at 55 with 30 years on the job. The governor's office said under the plan, state workers would be able to retire earlier than 67, but they just wouldn't be able to collect the full benefits. The governor is also calling for a 3 percent increase in the employee contribution, and a new cash balance plan similar to a private 401(k) account.

MI: Court Issues Restraining Order Against Flint, MI Emergency Manager
By Michigan AFSCME Council 25, AFL-CIO. Published: Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012 - 12:37 pm

DETROIT, March 15, 2012 -- /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Lawrence A. Roehrig, Secretary-Treasurer of Michigan Council 25 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, issued the following statement: "Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina of the Ingham County Circuit Court has issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) enjoining Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown from 'taking any action with regard to the City of Flint or acting on behalf of the City of Flint in any manner,'" stated Roehrig....

Related: Judge issues restraining order against Flint emergency manager

MI: Michigan Governor to Detroit: State Won't Step In
By Caitlin Devitt, Bond Buyer, March 16, 2012 

CHICAGO — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder indicated Thursday that the state would not step in to help Detroit cover its looming debt payments even if the city does not have enough money to meet those obligations…. He noted that some of the bonds are backed by state aid or a state pledge, but for the rest, “it’s not a liability to the state of Michigan, and as a practical matter, much of it belongs to the city.”

MI: Detroit's revised consent proposal would give Bing most emergency manager powers
Steve Neavling, Detroit Free Press, 4:56 PM, March 15, 2012

Although Mayor Dave Bing has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be the city’s emergency manager, he would essentially become one under a new proposed consent agreement that he and city council staffers privately are hammering out this week. Under the 26-page draft, obtained today by the Free Press, Bing proposes taking over many of the responsibilities of a nine-member financial advisory board that Gov. Rick Snyder wanted to assume control of most of the city’s finances. Incensed that Snyder’s proposed consent agreement strips elected officials of many of their responsibilities, Bing and the council are drafting their own version following private, individual meetings between his office and the council’s staff.

MN: Right to Work’ amendment advances / One amendment opponent made plain his feelings while standing outside of the committee room.
By T.W. BUDIG, Mille Lacs County Times, March 15, 2012

With the chants of union activists ringing outside the State Capitol corridor, a Senate committee Monday, March 12, a so-called Right to Work constitutional amendment proposal passed on a 7 to 6 vote. The proposed amendment, if approved by voters, would make it illegal to force someone to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment...The Senate committee hearing attracted hundreds of union activists to the Capitol. Their chants — “Just vote ‘No’”  — and others pealed outside of the committee during much the more than three hour committee hearing. The decibels increased and fell with opening and closing of doors.

Related: The economic and political truth about right-to-work legislation
Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal: Biz leaders lukewarm on 'right to work' bill

MN: Virginia Public Works Employees May Soon Strike
Jennifer Walch, Northland's NewsCenter, Updated Mar 15, 2012 at 7:23 PM CDT  
Virginia Public Works employees are on the verge of a strike after they rejected the city's most recent contract offer earlier this week. City workers in AFSCME Local 454 filed a second notice of intent to strike earlier this month that would have allowed a strike to begin last Tuesday. The issues between city workers and council are centered around wages and healthcare insurance. The last wage increase for the 46 member union was in 2009.

MS: Bill paves the way to easy firing of state workers
By Phil West, Commercial Appeal, March 16, 2012 at midnight, updated March 16, 2012 at 12:07 a.m.

JACKSON -- Rank-and-file state employees could be fired at the whim of their bosses, at least for the next two years, under legislation state senators approved Thursday. Senators approved the legislation by a 29-19 vote, largely along party lines, which could remove state employees from coverage by the State Personnel Board for two years. The measure, supported by Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, now goes to the House.

Related: Wausau Daily Herald: Bill would remove civil service rules for 2 years

NY: Lawsuit claims drug company coupons are illegal
By STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Friday, March 16, 2012 12:00 am

… According to the overseers of three health plans in the Community Catalyst’s Prescription Access Litigation coalition, major drug manufacturers have illegally subsidized co-payments for expensive brand-name prescription drugs like Lipitor and Nexium by promoting co-pay coupons. The lawsuits were filed in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Newark by the AFSCME District Council 37 Health & Security Plan Trust, Sergeants Benevolent Association, the New England Carpenters and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 572 Health and Welfare Fund…. The aforementioned drug plans have been struggling to keep up with the current rising tide of medical costs. Lillian Roberts, president of DC37, had this to say in a statement: “Our members are harmed by these unlawful practices by drug companies because coupons offering discounts off brand-name drugs don’t save consumers money in the long run,” said Roberts, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

NY: Midday Magazine - Civil Service Employees Association Director of Communications Steve Madarasz
Brian Shields, WAMC, 2012-03-15 (audio)

A legislative log-jam broke free at the New York State capitol in Albany late yesterday, as both houses of the state legislature worked into the early morning hours to pass a number of high profile bills, including new legislative districts for state offices, expansion of the state's D.N.A. databank, and a proposed constitutional amendment to allow up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos to be developed in the state. And while Governor Andrew Cuomo did not get his provision for a 401-K option, the legislature did agree on a new pension "Tier VI" for future public employees. Steve Madarasz, a spokesman for the largest state employees union in New York, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), spoke with WAMC's Brian Shields about the pension reforms.

Utica Observer Dispatch: Union leaders not happy with pension reform
Mid-Hudson News: Government leaders, business praise Tier 6; labor condemns it
Gothamist: Albany Strikes Deal On Pension Reform, Infuriating Unions
The New York Times: Don’t Cut Pensions, Expand Them (Opinion)
New York Times: After Seeking So Much, Cuomo Admits to Setbacks

NY: Water and sewer woes may plaque Dansville taxpayers
By DJ Smith, Livingston County News, March 15, 2012

Several items brought up at the Village of Dansville board March 13 meeting could save money for taxpayers, but one financial situation may slow future construction plans. From investigation into the employee health insurance plan, Village Trustee Patricia Kreily has found a potential savings of about $8,100. This could be realized if three employees, with a spouse but no dependents, simply use the option of going from the family plan to two single plans as allowed by the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) union documents. Mayor Peter Vogt said he would verify with the Village’s insurance company that this was a permissible option before moving forward in contacting these employees.

NY: Adjustments Proposed In Athletics Budget
By Stephanie Petrellese, Garden City News, 2012-03-16

Several adjustments are proposed in the athletics budget that would save a total of $95,132, announced Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen during his fourth budget presentation at a Garden City Board of Education work session held on March 7th….Madigan then asked why the school board "did not seek to minimize the negative impact on taxpayers" by seeking a freeze on the salaries of teachers, Civil Service Employees' Association employees and administrators in recent contracts. Dr. Feirsen explained that the school board cannot unilaterally make any reductions to terms which have been stipulated in a contract. He said the district recently completed negotiations with the CSEA and the district has received "significant givebacks" in health insurance…

NV: For first time in four years, state officials build budget without cuts
By David McGrath Schwartz, Las Vegas Sun, Friday, March 16, 2012 | 2 a.m.

For the first time in four years, state agencies won’t be asked to cut spending as they begin assembling the budget….The state general fund budget approved by the 2011 Legislature set spending at $6.2 billion over two years. To build a new budget, state agencies will add caseload growth, federal mandates and inflation. The Legislature will adjust the governor’s proposed budget and vote on it in 2013….The Legislature has direct control over state employee pay and benefits, and those workers, who do not have collective bargaining contracts, have shouldered a large share of state budget cuts, amounting to about $500 million over the past two years.

OH: Gov. John Kasich still confident about his policies, but he's striking a more measured tone: Analysis
Source: Reginald Fields, The Plain Dealer, March 14, 2012

...He came into office last year armed for fights, making enemies. He told public employees they should be fired if they strike, called a police officer an idiot, offended some with his defense of the lack of diversity in his senior cabinet and told lobbyists they'd be run over by a bus if they didn't jump aboard his caravan for change. ...Couple that with the governor's support of Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining law that voters soundly repealed last November. Since that loss, Kasich has refused to talk about SB5. He now blames SB5 for his difficulties in his first year in office.

OH: ANALYSIS: Winners, losers in Kasich's budget plan
Paul E. Kostyu,, 5:42 PM, Mar. 15, 2012 

COLUMBUS — It will take some time for legislators to read through the more than 1,000 pages that make up Gov. John R. Kasich’s mid-term budget blueprint, which he described this week as an ongoing process. And the debate now begins over what stays, what goes and what gets tweaked in that blueprint. Kasich admitted that not everyone is going to be happy with his plan to raise taxes on oil and gas drillers to pay for an income tax cut. Republican legislative leaders, including Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, immediately said they had reservations about the governor’s proposals.

PA: Voter ID becomes law in Pennsylvania, opponents vow legal fight
Dave Warner, Reuters, March 14, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls became law in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the latest in a spate of Republican-led efforts to impose stricter controls at the ballot box....Opponents, who say the measure seeks to suppress voter turnout, vowed to challenge it in court....Pennsylvania joined several Republican-governed states, including Texas, Kansas and Wisconsin, that have adopted stricter voter identification laws, arguing they were needed to prevent ballot box fraud.

RI: Unions Balk at Chafee's Plan to Help Distressed Cities
By James Swierzbin,,

…The governor's package includes 7-pieces of legislation that will address everything from freezing colas, to removing certain state mandates, and even getting state aid to distressed cities earlier….Governor Chafee says that the dire financial straights that distressed cities like Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and West Warwick, now find themselves in, isn't really their fault….He says that a 20-percent reduction in state aid over the last 3-years has put these communities in a bad spot….Many unions including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 94, are wary of the governor's package, and are calling it " assault on collective bargaining."

VA: New Virginia voter ID law expected to face less opposition from DOJ than others
By Laura Vozzella and Anita Kumar, Washington Post, March 15, 2012

RICHMOND — Just days before the Obama administration blocked a Texas voter ID law, Virginia’s General Assembly approved a pair of voter ID bills of its own. GOP legislatures nationwide have been adopting stricter identification standards since the 2000 presidential election, saying they are needed to combat voter fraud.  Virginia jumped on the bandwagon just as the Justice Department decided to crack down on the trend. The department contends that the Texas law, and a South Carolina measure it blocked in December, would disproportionately harm minority voters…. The bills passed by the narrowest of margins, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) breaking the partisan 20-20 vote. They still need the signature of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who has not taken a public position on the legislation.

VT: Compromise Calls For 900 State Workers In Waterbury
Bob Kinzel, Vermont Public Radio, Thursday, 03/15/12 5:50pm

(Host) Legislative leaders and Governor Peter Shumlin have reached agreement on two critical issues facing lawmakers this session. As VPR's Bob Kinzel reports, the deal addresses the future of the State Office Complex in Waterbury and the size of a new State Hospital. (Kinzel) Late last week, consultants recommended four options for the nearly 1,500 state employees who were displaced by tropical storm Irene.  It was clear from the start that one option, known "option B," was the clear favorite. It calls for keeping the historic buildings in the Complex, tearing down many others and constructing a new office building that would be connected to the "historic" structures. The price tag for this option was roughly $134 million. The Governor says the approach was good but simply too expensive….Instead, a scaled back version of Option B calls for 700 Human Service Agency employees, now located in other parts of the state, to join 200 Public Safety workers who have returned to Waterbury.

WA: Gov. Gregoire pledges to veto charter schools bill
By JONATHAN KAMINSKY, Associated Press Published: Mar 16, 2012 at 1:25 AM PDT

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday vowed to veto a measure to bring charter schools to Washington state. A charter schools bill died in the Legislature during the session that ended last week. The issue was revived by Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats who announced it as part of their new budget plan at a Thursday news conference.

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