Capitol Commentary: The Week Ahead in Washington 6/5/17

Days after President Donald Trump postponed fulfilling a campaign promise to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the Senate plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Israel’s control of a city that is holy to three religions. Today’s scheduled vote to celebrate Jerusalem’s reunification during the 1967 Six-Day War kicks off a busy Senate week that is also slated to include the first public testimony by ex-FBI Director James Comey since Trump fired him on May 9. As lawmakers return from a week-long recess, the House has set votes on legislation to repeal the 2010 Dodd-Frank bank-regulation law that Congress enacted in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Russia Probe

The congressional investigations of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election and the Kremlin’s possible collusion with Trump’s campaign are accelerating with a new round of subpoenas and Comey’s scheduled testimony Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Lawmakers want to learn more about whether Trump pushed Comey to drop the FBI’s probe of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s financial ties to Russia and Turkey. Look to see if a White House legal review results in the president invoking executive privilege to prevent Comey from testifying about his conversations with Trump. Comey’s dismissal led to former FBI Director Robert Mueller III’s appointment as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.

Swipe Fees

Intense lobbying by retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. against a provision in the Dodd-Frank rollback that would lift the cap on fees that banks charge merchants for debit-card purchases prompted updated language that preserves the status quo. The change, made in updated bill text released last week, will enable Republicans to avoid a politically charged vote on legislation that has a dim future in the Senate, where Democrats have the votes to block it.

Surveillance Law

The terrorist attacks in London lend new urgency to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing set for Wednesday on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on suspected spies and terrorists. A key provision authorizing the bulk electronic surveillance of foreign persons overseas without a warrant expires at year’s end and supporters are bracing for a legislative fight.

NSA Director Mike Rogers and Dan Coats, the former Indiana senator who Trump appointed director of national intelligence, are expected to press lawmakers to renew the provision, known as Section 702, without changes.

Unified Jerusalem

Today’s scheduled vote on the Jerusalem resolution, S. Res. 176, perpetuates debates over moving the U.S. Embassy and the status of the holy city. Israel’s complete control of Jerusalem is not recognized by other nations because Jerusalem was envisioned as an international city under the 1947 United Nations resolution that partitioned Palestine and set the borders of the new Jewish nation that was founded in 1948. Before 1967, Israel held West Jerusalem, and Jordan controlled the Old City. Jews were barred from visiting the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, sacred ground known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Christians venerate the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of Christ’s tomb.

The Senate vote comes days after Trump, like his predecessors, signed a six-month waiver to continue delaying the requirement of a 1995 law mandating the embassy move. The White House said in a statement that Trump still planned to move the embassy but wanted to preserve the status quo to facilitate a possible settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

ACA Repeal

Senate Republicans renew their efforts to find consensus on repealing Obamacare. House-passed legislation, H.R. 1628, has little support in the Senate, where Republicans are divided over how to proceed. Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina told a home-state television station that a deal this year is “unlikely.” Watch for Democrats to question Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about his administration of the Affordable Care Act when he appears Thursday before the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees to explain his agency’s spending priorities for the 2018 fiscal year. Price leads a parade of Cabinet secretaries making trips to Capitol Hill to discuss Trump’s proposed budget.

Special Election

Voters in California’s 34th District go to the polls tomorrow to pick a successor to former Representative Xavier Becerra, who was appointed state attorney general in January. State assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, preferred by House Democratic leaders to win the Los Angeles seat, faces lawyer Robert Lee Ahn, a former city planning commissioner. It is the only vacant seat being defended by Democrats after Trump appointed Price, a former Georgia representative, and three other House members to top positions in his administration.

John Zang Contributed to This Report

Primary Preview: New Jersey and Virginia Gubernatorial Elections

By- Danny Restivo (Posted 6/2/17)

New Jersey- June 6th, 2017

On June 6, New Jersey Democrats and Republicans will cast a vote for their respective party’s gubernatorial nominee in the 2017 election. In May, a Quinnipiac University poll showed Democrat Phil Murphy, former ambassador to Germany, and Republican Kim Guadagno, lieutenant governor, as clear favorites to succeed Chris Christie. While Guadagno and Murphy have taken the lead, 57 percent of Garden State voters remain undecided, according to Quinnipiac. A Stockton University survey released on May 25 showed 34 percent of Democratic voters remain undecided, while 31 percent of Republican voters had not supported a candidate. Here are the top candidates seeking their party’s nomination.

Democrats

philip_d-_murphy Phil Murphy is the former ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013. Prior to his ambassadorship, the Boston-born and Harvard-educated Murphy worked at Goldman Sachs and headed the Frankfurt office from 1993 to 1997. In 2014 he served as a principal of Murphy Endeavors, a business management consulting company located in Red Bank. Meanwhile, he started his own progressive nonprofit advocacy group. Murphy has $15 million of his own funds to help fuel statewide campaign efforts, tripling his competitor’s. His progressive campaign message includes the establishment of a public bank of New Jersey to help spur investment in small business and infrastructure. As the favorite to win the party nominee, Murphy has 21 county endorsements, near unanimous support from Unions, and a campaign staff that includes a number of high level political operatives. According to Quinnipiac, Murphy has drawn 26 percent of Democratic voters, while Stockton has placed his total at 34 percent.

Jim Johnson- Although he’s polled at 7 percent, according to Quinnipiac (10 percent jimjohnsonaccording to Stockton), Johnson may serve as the biggest threat to Murphy’s candidacy. He’s centered his campaign rhetoric on ethics reform, while promoting himself as an outsider in New Jersey’s political system. Johnson served as a Treasury Department Official in Bill Clinton’s Presidential administration, before practicing corporate law in New York City. During that time, he also served as Chairman of the Brennan Center of Justice at New York University, where he worked on Civil Rights, law enforcement and gun control issues. Johnson has pledged to maintain benefits and pension plans for government employees and retirees. Additionally, he’s also pushing a $15 minimum wage hike (Murphy has also signaled support for a $15 minimum wage), while vowing to reduce residential property taxes and increasing affordable housing. Johnson also advocates free community college tuition for students who come from families with incomes under $90,000. Under Johnson, tuition assistance grants for college would expand.

John Wisniewski As a 19-year assemblyman from Middlesex County, and Chairman of wisniewskithe Bernie Sanders Campaign in New Jersey, Wisniewski is the most progressive candidate in the 2017 Democratic primary. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton won New Jersey Democrats by a 2-to-1 ratio.  Like Sanders, he’s advocated for tuition free college, as well as a single-payer healthcare system. Wisniewski was also a driving force behind the investigation of the Bridgegate Scandal. As the Chair of the Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee since 2002, Wisniewski has championed funding for a number of statewide transportation projects, sponsored legislation for minimum wage increases, property tax relief and helped to pass the Garden State Manufacturing Act. According to Quinnipiac, Wisniewski has received 5 percent support among Democratic supporters.

raymond_j-_lesniakRaymond Lesniak- . Senator Lesniak is one of the longest-serving politicians in New Jersey history with 39 years of experience. Lesniak has been a fierce advocate of progressive causes like the abolition of the death penalty, animal rights, marriage equality, environmental initiatives and the expansion of drug treatment centers. His path to the Governor’s seat remains the most difficult with small funding and a miniscule staff. Moreover, his announcement to run came after he said he wasn’t running.  The Elizabeth native currently has 4 percent support among Democrats, according to Quinnipiac.

Republicans

Kim Guadagno- Governor Chris Christie’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno remains 2016_lg_officialthe favorite to win the Republican nomination with 23 percent of Republican support, while Stockton’s survey places her party support at 34 percent. However, with support for Governor Chris Christie at an all-time low, Guadagno has made attempts to distance herself from the current Governor. She rejected his support for Trump, and said she’d reverse Christie’s decision to take New Jersey out of a regional compact to combat air pollution. When Governor Christie signed a legislation increasing the gas tax, she opposed the move. In a debate with her opponent, Jack Ciattarelli, she received repeated criticism for working with Christie. Guadagno has pledged to audit the state government in attempt to eliminate waste while addressing property taxes. She’s also stated plans to increase funding for transportation projects as well as repairs for the State House. Guadagno has a significant level of State level executive experience which her competitors lack. While Christie stumped for himself and Donald Trump on the campaign, Guadagno served as the state’s active Governor for more than 500 days. New Jersey law stipulates that anytime the governor is out of state, the Lieutenant will serve as the acting executive.

Jack Ciattarelli— The six-year assemblyman represents residents in Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Mercer counties. Additionally, Ciattarelli owns and operates Galen Publishing, a medical publishing company. Like Guadagno, Ciattarelli aims to ciattarelli2jpg-2a48ab720635c81ecorrect the price of property taxes in New Jersey, but unlike Guadagno, he wants to alter the way public schools are funded. Ciattarelli has long-chided Christie and continues to tie Guadagno to her old boss. He’s received seven county line endorsements, but his support remains in rural areas with a comparatively small number of registered Republicans. To defeat Guadagno, Ciattarelli will have to chip in to her support base, which consists of a number of Christie supporters.

Virginia- June 13th, 2017

Along with New Jersey, residents of the Old Dominion will cast their vote for a new Governor in November 2017. Five candidates—two Democrats and three Republicans—are vying for their respective party’s nomination on June 13. Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor, will square off with former congressman Tom Perriello for the Democratic nomination. According to a recent Washington Post-Schar School Poll, 40 percent of Democrats support Perriello while 38 percent support Northam. The two-point difference is well within the poll’s 10-point margin of error. On the Republican side, former National GOP Chair Ed Gillespie has clear path to the nomination with double digit leads over his opponents, State Senator Frank Wagner and Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. However, even if Gillespie clinches the nomination, his path to the Governor’s seat remains challenging. According to the Washington Post-Schar School Poll, Gillespie significantly trails both Perriello and Northam in a head to head match (Tom Perriello by 50 percent to 37 percent, and Ralph Northam by 49 percent to 38 percent). Trump’s low approval rating may give the Democratic nominee a boost, but the new Governor will most likely inherit and state legislature dominated by the GOP. In any event, Virginia remains a state with strong bi-partisan streak when it comes to the state’s top executive.

Democratic Primary

xirzugki_400x400Ralph Northam- As Lieutenant Governor to Governor Terry McAuliffe, Northam usurped the role of heir apparent until Perriello announced his candidacy in January. Many of dubbed the race as an extension of the Clinton-Sanders fight in Virginian. Northam has received endorsements from state party leaders like McAuliffe, and Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.  Additionally, every Democrat in the state legislature has backed Northam and every Democratic congressman except one has supported him. While his opponent rides a wave of anti-Trump sentiment, Northam remains a centrist Democrat who admitted supporting George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. However, the former U.S. Army doctor has shuffled further to the left since becoming state senator in a rural district in 2007. As a Virginia legislator and a lieutenant governor, he helped ban smoking in restaurants, worked with victim’s families of the Virginia Tech shooting to curb gun control and helped legalize cannabis oils. As Governor, Northam said he wants to offer tax credits to businesses with paid family leave. He also wants to revise the state’s grocery tax, which he says would cost $67 million. He’s also suggested decriminalizing possession of marijuana. During a debate with Perriello, Northam touted his relationship with Republican legislator saying “I look forward to the relationships I already have in Richmond and continuing that process in the upcoming four years.” As of March 31, Northam had $3.3 million in campaign funds.

Tom Perriello- The former congressman was elected to represent Virginia’s fifth 220px-perriello_official_portrait_28cropped29congressional district in 2008. However, his support for the Affordable Care Act cost him his seat two years later. Following his term, he worked for a progressive nonprofit before heading to the State Department in 2014. After announcing his candidacy in January, he quickly aligned himself with the party’s liberal messaging. Perriello has positioned himself as a policy-oriented progressive who supports free community college, paid family leave and universal pre-kindergarten. He’s also railed against a gas pipeline through Virginia. Meanwhile, Perriello has received outside support from Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass-D), Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt-I) and several Obama aides. Their support comes in a state where Hillary Clinton won nearly two-thirds of the Democratic electorate against Sanders in 2016. Furthermore, more than half of Perriello’s $2.2 million in campaign funding has come from massive donors outside the state, including contributions from George Soros. While Perriello has championed progressive causes, his voting record on abortion issues and gun rights while in congress has come under fire.

Northam has outspent Perriello on television advertisements in Northern Virginia by $720,000 to $410,000. While 40 percent of the electorate lives in this area, support is split with 36 percent undecided. While Perriello leads Northam among Democratic voters ages 18 to 39 by 20 percent, the Lieutenant Governor leads by 16 points among those ages 65 and older. They run evenly among voters in between, but the older crowd fits the profile of likely voters, giving Northam a qualitative advantage on primary day.

Republican Primary

Ed GillespieEd Gillespie- The former counselor to George W. Bush and Chairman of the Republican National Committee ran against Senator Mark Warner in 2014. Gillespie’s performance surprised many (he lost by less than one percentage point). Prior to his run, he was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and provide government affairs service for Tyson Foods. His critics from the right have said he helped push legislation friendly to illegal immigrants. As part of his platform, Gillespie aims to cut income taxes by 10 percent over three years, improve government efficiency and ethics oversight, ban personal use of campaign funds, while strengthening second amendment rights and abortion restrictions. According to a May poll by Washington Post-Schar School, Gillespie has strong support among all registered Republicans. With $3.3 million in campaign funding, the former RNC chair has 38 percent support while a quarter remain undecided.

2012 Official Portrait Chairman StewartCorey Stewart- Known more for his pro-Confederate antics rather than his policy chops, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors promises to crack down on illegal immigration while protecting Virginia’s Confederate symbols. As Chair of President Trump’s Campaign in Virginia, Stewart was fired for staging a protest at the State’s GOP headquarters. The anti-establishment Stewart wants to phase out the income tax, outlaw abortion without exception and slash state spending. The firebrand Stewart has attacked Gillespie repeatedly for receiving more than $1 million to lobby for Tyson Foods when allegations of smuggling illegal immigrants to arose. With slightly more than $400,000 in campaign funding, Stewart has 18 percent support among Virginia Republicans.

Jack Wagner – Originally elected to the Virginia House in 1992, then to the State Senate in 2000, Wagner has a significant level of experience in Virginia politics. As a Virginia Beach resident representing the 7th district, he sits on the Commerce and Labor, General Laws and Technology, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Transportation committees. While Stewart and Gillespie want to cut state spending, Wagner maintains the budget is lean enough—citing a $1.2 billion shortfall in 2016. Wagner wants to increase the gasoline tax to subsidize infrastructure projects. He also wants to create accredited vocational programs in high schools that will support technical training for new jobs. Similar to his opponents, he opposes abortion in all instances except in the case of rape or if the mother’s life is endangered. With $178,000 in campaign funds, Wagner has 15 percent support among registered Republican voters.

Capitol Commentary: The Month Ahead in Washington, DC

(Posted 5/30/17)

With Congress in recess this week, we look ahead to June.

Next month promises to push to the forefront tensions between military spending and deficit cutting, between defense priorities and domestic needs, and between congressional leaders and the Trump White House. Hard choices will be negotiated as the House and Senate Armed Services committees start writing the 2018 defense authorization bills. Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain wants to undo the military spending caps that have constrained the Pentagon since enactment in 2011 of the Budget Control Act. The Arizona Republican has warned that he is willing to force a floor vote on the caps during consideration of any bill — any bill at all — that makes it to the Senate floor. McCain and House Armed Services Chair Mac Thornberry both wanted the administration to ask for more fiscal 2018 military spending than made it into the budget request. They want $640 billion, excluding war funds. The Trump administration’s request came in at $603 billion. So far, the two chairs say they have not made a final decision on whether to write their authorization bills at the level they prefer. House subcommittees are planning to debate portions of the fiscal 2018 authorization the week of June 19, with the marathon full-committee markup tentatively planned for the following week. Senators are preparing to start marking up their version of the bill the week of June 26.

The Senate has schedule a June 6 vote on the nomination of Courtney Elwood to become general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski has said she wants an early June committee vote on two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission picks and deputy secretary nominees at the Energy and Interior departments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he plans to bring to the floor after the recess S. 1094, legislation that would empower Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin to fire employees as he tries to improve medical care of veterans and reduce wait times for VA hospital admissions.

Another bill that could be in line for Senate floor action would let the administration impose more economic sanctions against Iran, as well as companies and individuals that assist Tehran in ballistic missile tests or fomenting terrorism in the region. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the bill, S. 722, on May 25.

The House plans to take up legislation to overhaul the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. After a behind-the-scenes fight, H.R. 10 will go to the floor with a managers’ amendment that would keep in place the law’s cap on “swipe fees” that go to banks when customers use debit cards to buy merchandise or a meal. Score that as a victory for retailers, as Elizabeth Dexheimer explains: Wal-Mart Beats JPMorgan Again as GOP Keeps Cap on Swipe Fees.

Look for committees in both chambers to begin drafting legislation to renew the Federal Aviation Administration’s power to collect ticket and fuel taxes to fund its operations. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Bill Shuster favors privatizing the FAA-run air traffic control system — a position that has little support in the Senate. Highway Subcommittee Chair Sam Graves of Missouri said there could be a markup as early as June.

Before the Senate can debate a Republican-crafted replacement for the previous administration’s health-care law, the leaders and enough of the rank-and-file must agree on what the main pillars of their plan should be, and that is still a work in progress. The No. 2 Republican leader, John Cornyn, told reporters May 25 that the “general tone” of discussions in their 13-member working group is encouraging because of “a willingness of people to make small concessions to build consensus.”

“With 50 senators needing to agree on this bill, everybody is in a strong position so we cannot roll anybody, so we are going to have to continue to talk about that issue,” he told reporters.

South Carolina Republican Tim Scott predicted that senators will not leave for the August recess “without having a vote on health care.” After the June work period, there are three more weeks of session before the August break.’

John Zang Contributed to this Report

DMGS Harrisburg Executive Director Named in Pennsylvania Power 100 List

Patty Mackavage, Harrisburg executive director with Duane Morris Government Strategies, was recently recognized by City & State PA as one of the 100 mostIMG_1230 politically influential Pennsylvanians in 2017. City & State PA, a media outlet covering Keystone Politics at the state and local level, credited Patty’s legislative work with three different governors, her diverse clientele and her knowledge of various issues impacting Pennsylvanians. Ranked at No. 60, Patty’s experience includes secretary and deputy secretary for legislative affairs in the administrations of both Governor Mark Schweiker and Governor Ed Rendell, as well as serving as legislative director for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue during Governor Tom Ridge’s administration. With an expertise in the state budget process, and public finance/economic development, Patty now represents clients’ issues before the state legislature and local governments throughout Pennsylvania.

The 2017 City & State PA Power 100 list includes state and local officials, as well lobbyists, CEO’s, philanthropists, labor leaders and a number of other influential leaders in Pennsylvania. For a complete list of City & State PA’s Power 100, please visit City & State PA.

IMG_1229
Patty Mackavage with Ron Boston (L) and Stacy Gromlich (R) from the DMGS Harrisburg Team

 

Legislative Insight: Federal and State Gas Taxes

By Danny Restivo (posted 5/24/17)

Shortly after President Donald Trump entered the White House, he pledged a large investment in America’s infrastructure during a nationally televised address to Congress.

“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States—financed through both public and private capital—creating millions of new jobs,” the President said during his February speech.

The American Society for Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a D+ in its 2017 report card.Deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future,” the report said. “While we have made some progress, reversing the trajectory after decades of underinvestment in our infrastructure requires transformative action from Congress, states, infrastructure owners, and the American people.”

The report also said current road conditions cost the country $160 billion in time and money every year, while a report from the Federal Highway Administration says the country’s transit system has a $90 billion backlog on repairs. Democratic lawmakers have long-supported federal dollars to help improve America’s roads, bridges, dams, airports and tunnels. Trump’s plan offers a rare opportunity for bi-partisan support in an increasingly fractured political environment.

While a final proposal has yet to be agreed upon, Trump has called for a public-private partnership, but that seems more viable in urban areas where companies can recoup money by levying tolls. In rural areas, where less people live, projects may not entice enough investment because of revenue concerns.

In early May, President Donald Trump signaled that he’s open to raising the federal gas tax to help subsidize infrastructure improvements.

“It’s something I would certainly consider,” the President said to Bloomberg News in an interview. His statement underscores an issue that’s plagued politicians for years. The last time Congress increased a nationwide gas tax was in 1993, when lawmakers approved a 19.3 cent per gallon tax on gasoline, and a 24.3 cent per gallon tax on diesel fuel. However, that tax has not adjusted for inflation, and the Highway Trust Fund has not kept pace. Since 2008, the federal government has injected $143 billion in the fund, while the tax has generated roughly $34 billion a year. However, the federal government usually spends $50 billion per year on transportation projects, leaving a $16 billion annual shortfall.

The Congressional Budget Office said the fund will become insolvent by 2021 without additional funding. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, increasing the federal tax to 35 cents per gallon will create an additional $473.6 billion over a period of 10 years.

The Chamber of Commerce, AAA auto club and the American Trucking Association support a new gasoline tax. After the 2014 mid-term elections, the group sent a joint letter to the 114th Congress that lends support for a bill that increases the gas tax. 

“While no one wants to pay more, we urge you to support an increase to the federal fuels user fee, provided the funds are used to ease congestion and improve safety, because it is the most cost efficient and straightforward way to provide a steady revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund.”

However, critics believe a gas tax will hurt working families by leveling fees on middle class commuters, many of whom supported Trump. Low gas prices may provide cover for a tax increase, but a sharp spike in gas prices could change consumer sentiments. In an interview with CNBC, Chevron CEO John Watson, pushed back against a tax on gas.

“I think a good first step would be to evaluate where existing taxes are going,” he said. “In other words, we have road taxes today. How are they being used? Are they being put to good use in rebuilding our infrastructure?”

In light of the debate, several states have increased their respective gas tax to shore up roads, bridges, tunnels and other state-operated transportation systems.Since 2015, sixteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to increase taxes on gas that help support infrastructure programs. According to American Road and Transportation Builders Association, voters approved 269 of the 361 transportation funding measures that appeared on township, city, county or state ballots in 2016. Many of these initiatives were approved in Democratic and Republican-dominated regions of the country. Furthermore, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Oregon have transportation funding measures pending in their respective legislatures.

Gas Tax Map

States Enacting Gas Taxes in 2017

California

The State Senate approved a 10 cent per gallon tax hike in April as part transportation bill estimated to raise $5.2 billion a year to repair state roads and highways. The legislation, which was backed by Governor Jerry Brown, increases the per gallon tax rate from 18 cents to 30 cents. The law also mandates $100 annual fee for electric cars, as well as annual fees ranging from $25 for cars valued at or under $5,000, to $175 for a car worth $60,000 or more. About $34 billion of the first $52 billion would go to repairing roads, bridges, highways and culverts, with most of the money split 50-50 between state and local projects.

Michigan

Michigan drivers saw a 7 cent tax increase in fuel prices at the beginning of the year, increasing a 19 cent per gallon tax to 26.3 cents per gallon, while diesel fuel will increase 11.3 cents from 15 to 26.3 cents per gallon as well. Lawmakers also approved a 20 percent increase in vehicle registration fees, while gas-electric hybrid and electric vehicles will experience an added $47 and $135, respectively. The hike is the first gas tax increase in 20 years, and aims to fund crumbling bridges and roads with an additional $2.3 billion over the next four years. The plan allocates 61 percent of the funding to counties, cities and villages, while the rest goes to state projects.

 

 

Indiana

Governor Eric Holcomb signed a $1.2 billion highway improvement plan in April which increases the Hoosier gas tax from 18 cents to 28 cents per gallon in July. Furthermore, registration and licensing fees will increase by $15. There’s also a $50 fee on hybrids and a $150 fee on electric cars. In addition, Holcomb intends to draft a plan that adds tolls for certain interstate projects by the end of 2018.

Montana

The Montana house assembly approved a bill this year that will levy a 6 cent per gallon gas tax increase phased-in over 6 years. More than four percent will take effect on July 1, while the remainder is implemented in 0.5 cent increments between 2019 and 2022. The Montana tax is expected to generate $28 million in 2018, and more in future years to help repair state roads and bridges, as well as the construction of new ones.

South Carolina

On May 10 the South Carolina House and Senate overrode a veto from Governor Henry McMaster to approve an infrastructure bill that increases the state’s gas tax. The legislation will enact a 12 cent per gallon increase phased in over six years, with a two cent increase occurring in July. The tax will eventually reach 28.75 cents per gallon while generating $600 million for infrastructure projects throughout the state.

Tennessee

The House and Senate approved a bill sponsored by Governor Bill Haslam, which would generate $350 million for the state’s highway fund, and boost road revenues for cities and counties. The gas tax will rise by 6 cents per gallon and the diesel tax by 10 cents on July 1. The bill also has several fee increases, including a $5 car registration increase and a $100 fee on electric car users

States Enacting Gas Taxes in 2016

New Jersey

In October 2016, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill that increased the gasoline tax to 23 cents per gallon. The bill marked the first tax hike of Christie’s tenure, and the first tax increase on gas since 1988. The law takes the second lowest gas tax rate from 14.5 cents per gallon, to 37.5 cents, the seventh highest. The law levies diesel users with a 15.9 cent per gallon tax increase, totaling more than 27 cents per gallon.

The bill will generate $1.23 billion annually to help finance an eight year, $16 billion transportation program. The legislation comes after the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which helps pay for Garden State roads, bridges and railways, had no money to pay for new projects over the summer.

After Christie signed the bill in October, voters approved a November referendum to amend the state’s constitution to allocate the tax revenue to transportation projects. The law prevents lawmakers from reallocating the money to different projects.

States Enacting Gas Taxes in 2015

Georgia

The Georgia Legislature enacted the Transportation Act of 2015, increasing the excise gas tax by 7.5 cents per gallon, along with a four percent state sales tax, to 26 cents per gallon. These rates will then adjust to Consumer Price Index Every year. The money accrued from the tax will allocate to future state transportation projects. Additionally, the state will also collect a $5 per night hotel fee, as well as fees for heavy trucks and a $200 registration fee for electric cars. The law also eliminates a $5,000 tax credit for anyone who purchases an electric car. House Bill 170 also allows counties and municipalities to levy a 1 percent use tax on all motor fuels. The bill aims to collect $900 million a year to help fund transportation projects throughout the Peach State.

Idaho

Idaho’s gas tax increased 7 cents after state lawmakers approved a funding bill in April 2015 to help raise money for road repairs. The house bill increased the gas tax from 25 to 32 cents, to help raise more than $95 million a year. The accrued revenue is then split between local governments and state highway departments (60/40). Idaho also stipulates a $145 registration fee for an electric car, and a $75 fee for hybrid vehicles. However, a house bill introduced in 2017 will eliminate those fees if approved by the Governor.

Iowa

Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill in February 2015, which increased Iowa’s gas tax from 20 cents to 30 cents per gallon. The bipartisan initiative provides $215 million in annual funds for city, county and state roads. The gas tax increase received support from the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, the trucking Industry, the Iowa State Association of Counties and the Iowa County Engineers Association. The gas tax legislation was the first fuel tax increase since 1989.

Kentucky

Kentucky lawmakers approved legislation pegging the gas tax to the average wholesale price of gas over a three-month span. However, a $1.46 drop in gas prices in 2015 created a significant shortfall in the Commonwealth’s transportation budget. As a result, the lower gas taxes helped create a $125 million gap for transportation projects in local municipalities and townships, as well as state highways. To ensure a steady stream of revenue, lawmakers approved a 26-cent minimum for the gas tax rate.

 

 

Nebraska

State legislators overrode a veto from the Governor to increase the state’s gas tax by cents per gallon, creating roughly $75 million a year in additional funding for transportation projects. The law says the gas rate will increase 1.5 cents every year for the next four years, through 2019. The State’s Transportation Innovation Act is estimated to raise $400 million. Nebraska’s gas tax has three components. This legislation will impact the fixed tax, which is set by state law at 12.3 cents per gallon in 2017. Meanwhile, the wholesale tax is pegged at the wholesale price and the variable tax adjusts every six months to meet the funding demands of previously approved state roads projects. The gas tax currently sits at 27.3 cents per gallon.

North Carolina

Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill reducing the fuel tax from 37.5 cents per gallon to 34 cents per gallon by 2016. In January 2017, the gas tax began using a formula that accounts for population, energy prices and the consumer price index to help adjust the rate. The reformed gas tax formula takes population and energy prices into account when calculating future gas tax increases in the years ahead. The first of those increased the rate to 34.3 cents per gallon.

South Dakota

Governor Dennis Daugaard signed legislation that increased the gas tax from 22 cents per gallon to 28 cents. The legislation also increases the excise tax on vehicle registration from three to four percent and increases license plate fees for noncommercial vehicles by 20 percent. The fuel tax hike will generate an estimated $40.5 million annually, while the excise tax increase will produce an additional $27 million to $30 million. Most of the revenue generated is allocated to state roads and local bridges. The new bill allows municipalities to levy their own taxes to repair roads in their jurisdiction.

Utah

State lawmakers approved legislation to increase the state’s gas tax by 5 cents per gallon from 24.5 cents. The legislation levies a 12 percent wholesale tax on fuel and pegs future increases to a formula that considers fuel prices and inflation. In March 2017, the state house voted to pass fuel tax increases of .6 cents per gallon beginning in 2019 and 1.2 cents a gallon in 2020, essentially reworking the formula established two years prior.

Washington

The Governor signed a 16-year transportation revenue package in August 2015, which increases the state’s gas tax to 44.5 cents per gallon. The legislation is part of the state’s $16 billion transportation project aimed at improving highways and roads, as well as non-highway projects like walkways, bike paths and transit systems. The two-part tax hike increased rates by an additional 4.9 cents a gallon, putting the total tax at 49.4 cents.

Capitol Commentary: the 2017 Omnibus Spending Package

Published: 5/3/17

Congressional negotiators curtailed President Donald Trump’s proposed defense buildup in the spending agreement to fund the government through September 30.

Trump had asked for a $30 billion budget adjustment for the Pentagon. Negotiators agreed to just about half of the supplemental spending request: about $15 billion, with the money going into the Pentagon’s war account, which is not subject to budget caps. But Congress would withhold $2.5 billion of that until the administration delivers a new plan to defeat Islamic State terrorists.

The legislation headed for a floor vote this week would provide money for 14 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets made by Boeing Co. That is 12 more of the fighter jets than the Defense Department initially requested, though it is only half of the 24 sought by Trump.

Negotiators treated some of Trump’s supplemental military request as duplicative because of overlap with decisions already made for the regular defense spending bill, H.R. 1301. For instance, lawmakers had already agreed to increase spending on Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an additional destroyer ship made by General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., and more Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters.

For the catch-all spending bill intended to keep the government fully operating after Friday, lawmakers directed the war funds mostly toward military readiness.

They allotted:

  • $2.9 billion for training and exercises;
  • $889 million for maintenance of aircraft, ships, and combat vehicles;
  • $859 million for repairs to facilities needed to improve readiness;
  • $1.6 billion for additional U.S. military operations against Islamic State, and
  • $626 million for additional training and equipping funding for coalition partners in operations against Islamic State.

Overall Funding

The omnibus spending measure would provide $592.7 billion for the Pentagon, including $516 billion in regular defense spending and $76.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, or war funding. It would provide $108.4 billion for weapons and equipment procurement, or about $6.4 billion more than the $102 billion approved for fiscal 2016. The Navy would see the biggest bump — a $4.8 billion increase over last year to $48.8 billion.

Troops

To stave off planned reductions, the measure would fund an active-duty U.S. military force of 1,305,900 and a Guard and Reserve force of 813,200. To do that, appropriators added $1.6 billion. They also included a pay raise of 2.1 percent for the military after President Barack Obama’s administration had requested a 1.6 percent increase. The measure also would stipulate that there are sufficient funds for a civilian pay raise of 2.1 percent.

Aircraft

The measure would provide $1.1 billion for the purchase of 14 Boeing Super Hornet fighters, while Lockheed would receive $8.2 billion for 74 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 11 more than requested by the Pentagon. A Lockheed unit, Sikorsky, also would benefit from the measure, with $1.1 billion for 62 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

Boeing also would benefit from $774 million for 52 re-manufactured AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and $262 million for seven new Apaches. The agreement also includes $187 million for 28 Lakota light utility helicopters made by Airbus Group.

Ships

The bill would provide $1.78 billion to accelerate the production of an additional LPD-17 amphibious ship made by Huntington Ingalls; would add $433 million for an additional DDG-51 destroyer made by General Dynamics and Huntington, and would add $475 million for a third Littoral Combat Ship not requested by the Navy. The LCS is built in two versions by teams led by Lockheed and Austal Ltd. In a nod to the Arctic — a strategic region where the U.S. competes with Russia– appropriators also included $150 million for advance procurement of materials for a Coast Guard ice breaker.

Cyber

The agreement includes $6.7 billion for cyberspace activities, or about $1 billion over last year, along with a new requirement that the Pentagon report to congressional committees “all offensive and significant defensive military operations” in cyberspace not later than 30 days after the end of each fiscal quarter.

Israel

The spending agreement would boost Israeli missile defense programs by $455 million over the Pentagon’s budget request, according to the House Appropriations Committee’s press release. The agreement would provide $600.7 million for Israeli missile defense programs, including $332 million for equipment procurement and $269 million in research and development.

John Zang Contributed to this report

Technology Briefing: Hacking Vehicles

By Danny Restivo (Posted 5/3/17)

A few months ago, we looked at the legislative developments surrounding driverless vehicles–something that nearly all 50 states are thinking about. As driverless vehicles become reality and states continue to grapple with regulatory challenges, more threats have emerged, including the ability for hackers to take control of someone’s car whether they’re driving it or the car drives itself.

Recent technological developments have allowed drivers greater accessibility and convenience than ever before. Whether it’s a WiFi hotspot, a mobile car starter application, a locator connected to your phone or a computer located under the hood that monitors maintenance, new technology has given consumers and technicians a level of sophistication that was once the work of science fiction.

Unfortunately, a greater degree of convenience means an increased level of vulnerability. In August 2015, two hackers compromised a tech reporters’ vehicle on the highway (The Wired reporter was working on a story about the dangers of car hacking and was aware of their attempts). From a remote location, the two hacked into the reporter’s 2014 Jeep Cherokee and controlled the vehicles steering and brakes from a computer more than 10 miles away. Ultimately, the reporter’s car ended up in a ditch (no one was injured). The story grabbed public attention and Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 1.4 million vehicles, including Ram, Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles. A similar organized hack occurred in June 2016 when a British security firm purchased a 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander and successfully disabled the vehicles alarm system. Nissan, Tesla and Chevy have all experienced similar breaches in their vehicles computer systems.

The hacks underscore a growing concern among regulators and legislators that automakers haven’t safely created communication systems. In light of these security vulnerabilities, the FBI, The Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a public service announcement in March 2016.

“While not all hacking incidents may result in a risk to safety – such as an attacker taking control of a vehicle – it is important that consumers take appropriate steps to minimize risk,” the statement said. “Therefore, the FBI and NHTSA are warning the general public and manufacturers – of vehicles, vehicle components, and aftermarket devices – to maintain awareness of potential issues and cybersecurity threats related to connected vehicle technologies in modern vehicles.”

They added: “Vulnerabilities stemming from wireless communication, such as a cellular phone or tablet connected to the vehicle via USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, can put drivers at significant risk,” the statement also included several best practices for minimizing cybersecurity risks:

  • Ensure vehicle software is up to date
  • Be aware of making any modifications to vehicle software
  • Exercise discretion when connecting third party devices to a vehicle
  • Be aware of who has physical access to your vehicle

If you end up a victim of a car hack:

  • Check for outstanding vehicle recalls or vehicle software updates
  • Contact the manufacturer or authorized dealer
  • Contact the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
  • Contact the FBI

The NHTSA and the FBI also suggested that automakers and auto companies should consider the full life cycle of their vehicles, while creating a rapid response and recovery system to help stem cybersecurity incidents. With the introduction of autonomous driving technology by companies like Tesla Motors, Uber, and others, yet another layer of vulnerability has complicated the issue. In September 2016, the NHTSA issued a framework for states to regulate self-driving cars, but critics fault it for its lack of focus on car hacking. A 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog organization, said the Department of Transportation had not taken enough steps to help prevent car hacking.

“Until [DOT] develops such a plan … the agency’s response efforts could be slowed as agency staff may not be able to quickly identify the appropriate actions to take,” the report stated.

Shortly after hackers showcased their ability on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee, Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) introduced the SPY Act of 2015 (Security and Privacy in Your Car).  The proposed legislation would have created a uniform regulatory standard for vehicle communication, while protecting a driver’s privacy data. The bill would also have created a “cyber dashboard” to inform the public of how well the vehicle protects drivers’ security and privacy.  While Markey and Blumenthal’s legislation did not make it out of committee during the 114th Congress, they recently reintroduced the SPY Act legislation in March as S. 680, along with a reintroduction of the Cybersecurity Standards for Aircraft to Improve Resilience (Cyber Air) Act (as S. 679 in the 115th Congress).

“This critical legislation will help protect the public against cybercriminals who exploit advances in technology like wireless-connected aircraft and self-driving cars,” said Blumenthal in a release following the reintroduction. “As technology rapidly advances, we must ensure that auto and airline industries protect their systems from cybersecurity attacks. Security and safety cannot be sacrificed as we achieve convenience and promise of wireless progress.”

Markey and Blumenthal cited a need to reintroduce the legislation because of an increased vulnerability in our transportation systems. After Uber unveiled plans to use driverless cars in Pittsburgh in September, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration unveiled a federal framework for the technology to prosper, giving states a significant degree of sovereignty. However, some believe the NHTSA’s mandate didn’t go far enough in solving technological vulnerabilities in vehicles. Conversely, tech researchers and developers fear any federal regulatory framework will not ensure safety because cyber technology often outpaces the law, making hacks more accessible.

In a bipartisan effort, the House introduced a new piece of legislation to help safeguard drivers. Representatives Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) have cosponsored the Security and Privacy in Your Car Study Act of 2017. Compared to the senate bill, the House bill would only perform a study of best practices.

While federal lawmakers debate the best path forward, some states have taken their own steps to improve cybersecurity in vehicles. In Michigan, home of the American auto industry, state lawmakers have decided to use deterrence as a weapon against car hacking. In August, the state senate unanimously passed a law that would increase the penalty to life in prison if the interference of a vehicle’s computer system resulted in death. According to state law, there’s a 10-year sentence and $50,000 fine for anyone who tampers with the computer system of a driverless vehicle that results in injury.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a public-private commission in May 2015 to help protect state troopers against cyberattacks. Just prior to the announcement, The Old Dominion became the first state to create its own information and analysis sharing organization to help prevent against cyber-attacks. As part of its public safety initiative, researchers hacked into two Virginia State Trooper vehicles; a 2012 Chevrolet Impala and a 2013 Ford Taurus. Researchers from the University of Virginia and a few private tech companies, hacked into the vehicles control system before meddling with the gear shift, instrument panel, car locks, trunk and accessing the vehicles Bluetooth and key fob. While the organized hack was an attempt to raise awareness about the seriousness of car hacking, Governor McAuliffe continued a call for voluntary partnership between private and public entities in an effort to prevent car hacks.

While Michigan and Virginia pursue preventative action against car hacking, many state legislative bodies have tabled the issue. Every state has some sort of law on computer hacking, but none (besides Michigan) have laws that specifically deal with hacking vehicles. Meanwhile, New York University, University of Nevada, North Dakota State University, and others, have taken steps in research and development to create cybersecurity systems for self-driving cars. Furthermore, The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has begun experimenting with electronic control systems to help protect the federal government’s automotive fleet.

“Car hacking remains a significant issue for automakers and regulators, but it hasn’t spurned the federal government into action, just yet” says Brett Goldman, DMGS Manager of Special Projects. He adds that “it’s safe to say that at some point in the future, car hacking will receive greater public scrutiny, but whether that comes as an issue of legislative and regulatory foresight or as a reactionary measure to the unthinkable remains to be seen.”