State Budget Showdown

By Danny Restivo and Brett Goldman (posted 7/10/17)

As the fiscal year ends on June 30th, nearly all 50 state governments across the United States (with the exception of Vermont) are required to maintain a balanced budged whether by statue/law, constitutional amendment, or judicial decision. From state to state, the requirements vary from the simple introduction of a budget, to a balanced budget, to budgets that are based off of the available cash on hand by the state.

There are three general kinds of state balanced budget requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • The governor’s proposed budget must be balanced (43 states and Puerto Rico).
  • The legislature must pass a balanced budget (39 states and Puerto Rico).
  • The budget must be balanced at the end of a fiscal year or biennium, so that no deficit can be carried forward (37 states and Puerto Rico).

Unfortunately, 2017 has seen a situation where 11 states did not pass their budgets by the June 30th deadline. In some states, such as New Jersey or Rhode Island, political differences between legislators created a budget impasse; whereas in other states, such as Illinois, budgets have not been passed in nearly three years. We have compiled a breakdown of states that saw budget impasses in 2017. Please note that some of these are still undergoing budget negotiations and as such the situation may evolve.

New Jersey- (Status: Resolved)

On Monday, July 3rd, Governor Chris Christie signed a $34.7 billion budget ending a three-day government shutdown that sparked a backlash against the governor.

While the publicity focused on Christie’s Sunday trip to the beach, the shutdown stemmed from a plan to restrict the state’s largest health insurance provider, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Christie had approved of the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate’s other appropriations, including $325 million in additional funding from Christie’s proposed budget from February, which include $150 million in additional school funding. However, he wanted lawmakers to sign off on a bill capping Horizon’s reserves, while using the excess funding to pay for drug treatment and other care for the poor and uninsured. In the insurance industry, reserves are often called risked-based capital, which helps hedge against unexpected healthcare payouts.

Essentially, Christie wanted to cap Horizon’s reserves, and giving an estimated $300 million for the expansion of drug treatment programs. He also wanted to give the assembly the control to appoint two members to Horizon’s 15-member board. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) pushed back against Christie’s plan, calling it “extortion” as Horizon initially had nothing to do with the state’s budget.  As a result, Christie pledged to line-item veto democratic-backed spending if lawmakers didn’t pass the Horizon cap. Meanwhile, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D. Gloucester) posted S4 (the “Horizon Bill”) to the Senate’s June 29th schedule, where it was passed. Speaker Prieto, however, refused to post S4 to the Assembly schedule and instead posted the budget (A5000) for a vote. The vote on A5000 became deadlocked, and Speaker Prieto refused to remove the bill resulting in the state-government shutting down.

Legislators worked through the holiday weekend to come to a resolution on the Horizon Bill and budget impasse. On Monday, July 3rd, Speaker Prieto, Senate President Sweeney, and Governor Christie emerged with a resolution and the state government reopened for business as usual.

The following is an excerpt that was sent to our NJ clients regarding the resolution of the shutdown:

“Part of this Budget compromise is contingent on a new Horizon bill— (S2) —that will address issues that were raised with S4. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ executives spent the weekend meeting with Speaker Prieto, Senate President Sweeney, and other legislators. Following tonight [July 3rd)’s budget vote on A5000, the Assembly then voted on S2, which resolved many of the issues with S4 including:

  • ​Establishing an appropriate range of reserves for Horizon, requiring a minimum of 550% of risk-based capital reserves and a hard cap maximum of 725%, sufficient to cover claims for all of its policy holders in the event of a catastrophic medical emergency such as hurricane Sandy, when regular premium payments from policy holders were delayed;
  • Requiring the state department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) to commission independent annual audits to determine Horizon’s reserve level, which would be paid for by Horizon;
  • Creating a process for Horizon to submit a plan to DOBI to determine how excess reserves above the 725% level should be used to reduce future policy holder premiums or otherwise benefit policyholders.
  • Requiring the appointment of two additional public members with a background in healthcare, finance, or insurance to the horizon board—one each by the senate president and speaker—bringing the total board membership to 17, including 11 members currently appointed by Horizon and four by the Governor;
  • Requiring DOBI to establish requirements for health services corporations to provide detailed financial reporting information, including executive compensation, and to post this information on the department website.
  • Removing “insurer of last resort” language.”

 Pennsylvania- (Status: In Progress)

On June 30th, the Pennsylvania State Legislature approved a $31.99 billion budget for the 2017-2018 year. While the budget received bipartisan support, lawmakers have yet to agree on a funding package and remain in negations at the time of publication.

The bill awaits Governor Tom Wolf’s (D.) signature until lawmakers can solve a $2 billion deficit. If the Governor does not veto the bill, it will automatically become law without his signature. In 2016, Wolf vetoed the legislature’s budget, but the government kept spending money. As a result, schools, counties, and nonprofits began taking out loans to stay afloat, and not until local governments threatened to withhold taxes and schools said they would remain closed after the holiday break did lawmakers finally approve a budget.

This year, lawmakers have debated several options for funding the deficit, including borrowing up to $1.5 billion against future revenues from a 1998 multistate settlement with tobacco companies. While Wolf and Senate Republicans have supported the idea, House Republicans have opposed it adamantly. House Republicans have suggested leveraging 40,000 video gaming terminals at bars, taverns and other establishments for more tax revenue. Senate Republicans have pushed back, saying it will cut into casinos which already contribute a large sum to government coffers. Some Democrats have lobbied for a tax on Marcellus shale drilling, but the Republican majority has strongly refused to bring tax increases to a floor vote. Other options include expanding privatized liquor operations while reassessing the sales tax on purchases of alcoholic drinks. Senate President Joe Scarnati, (R. Jefferson) has said he’s working on legislation to expand casino gambling in the state, but few details have emerged.

The 2017-2018 proposed budget is roughly 1.6 percent higher than the $31.5 billion budget in 2016-2017. Unfortunately, the budget faced a $1.1 billion shortfall in 2016 due to an underestimation of human services and corrections needs. The budget became law without Wolf’s signature when lawmakers delivered a $1.3 billion package in additional funding centered on cigarette tax increases.

As of publication, the House and Senate were in session over the weekend to move various pieces of legislation needed to complete the budget process.  Both the House and Senate returned on Monday, July 10th at 11:00 a.m. for another long day of negations.

Other states with Budget Impasses

Connecticut (Status: Unresolved)

Democratic Governor Daniel Malloy took executive control of the state’s finances on June 30 after lawmakers failed to agree on a budget. Despite having one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, the nutmeg state could run a $2.3 billion deficit in 2017-2018, roughly 12 percent of the state’s budget. Lawmakers haven’t submitted a budget to Malloy who has requested a three-month provisional budget that includes cuts and modest tax hikes. Democrats have a 79-72 edge over Republicans in the House.

As Connecticut moves into day 10 of its budget crisis, state parks, beaches, campgrounds, and museums are beginning to feel the pinch.  Statements from Governor Malloy’s office indicate that a resolution may be found by the July 18th session of the legislature, but a path forward remains to be seen.

Delaware (Status: Resolved)

Budget gridlock had lasted for months over issues including a Democratic push to raise

the personal income tax and disagreement over changes to the prevailing wage for state construction projects. As a result, the Delaware legislature missed its June 30th budget deadline for the first time in decades. Spending the weekend hunkered down in the state house, legislators reached a deal that included a new spending plan on July 2nd. The budget restores cut funding to nonprofits, public health programs and schools, and raises taxes on real estate transfers, tobacco and alcohol. Gov. John Carney (D) signed the budget early on Monday July 3rd.

Illinois (Status: Resolved)

 The Democratic-controlled House overrode Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto and implemented a $36 billion budget for 2018, which includes $5 billion in tax increases. The Democratic-controlled Senate sent the bill to Rauner on Tuesday. The Governor vetoed the bill before the Senate quickly overruled him. The bill then moved to the House where Democrats overrode the Rauner’s veto. With a $6.2 billion annual deficit and $14.7 billion in overdue bills, credit-rating houses have threatened to downgrade Illinois’s credit rating to junk. Meanwhile, the United Way has predicted the demise of 36 percent of Human services agencies within the state.

Massachusetts (Status: Resolved)

Slumping tax revenue has left the bay state with a $430 million hole. By July 6th, lawmakers said they had agreed upon a $40 billion budget but had not held a vote. The state approved an interim $5.2 million budget last month. Marijuana legalization remains a point of conflict among lawmakers. The Senate has proposed a 12-percent tax (which voters approved in November) while the state house has proposed increasing it to 28 percent.

On July 7th, both houses of the Massachusetts legislature approved the budget. The compromise trims spending by about $400 million to $500 million from spending plans previously approved by the House and Senate. It also takes other steps to account for a $733 million reduction in anticipated tax revenues for the 2018 fiscal year that began July 1,

Oregon (Status: Resolved)

State lawmakers have passed multiple bills to keep the government operating, however, a couple items remain unfunded. Lawmakers have debated ways to best solve a $1.8 billion budget gap, which threatens hundreds of thousands of people on Medicaid and child welfare services. Governor Kate Brown (D) has pledged to rein in spending by instituting a hiring freeze for state employees, as well as taxing hospitals and insurance plans. One proposal introduced by lawmakers would cut $424 million over the next two years by halting automatic inflation increases in the budget while eliminating unfilled government jobs; however, legislators failed to find votes to reform Oregon’s tax system and public pension costs, leaving the toughest decisions to future sessions.

Rhode Island (Status: Unresolved)

The Rhode Island assembly ended abruptly on June 30th with the state’s $9.2 billion budget in limbo.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) and House Speaker Nichoas Mattiello (D) aren’t on speaking terms and Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) says she has been in touch with both but isn’t getting into the middle of the rupture or offering to mediate it. While there be no state “government shutdown” due to a 2004 provision whereby the state operates on the previous year’s budget, tensions remain high. Most state beaches, parks and government agencies—including law enforcement—will remain open until a resolution is reached. According to a memo, state budget officials will meet with individual department leaders to help balance their books and find an additional $25 million in unspecified cuts called for in the proposed budget. However, hiring and staffing of agencies will not be impacted, assuming a budget is passed in the coming months.

Wisconsin (Status: Unresolved)

 After missing a June 30 deadline to pass a budget, Wisconsin lawmakers remain committed to approving a smaller budget. Republican lawmakers control the legislative and executive branch. They have asked for a smaller budget that increases support for rural school districts without raising taxes. Lawmakers have also struggled to reach a deal on how to plug a $1 billion transportation hole. Earlier this year, Governor Scott Walker (R) asked lawmakers for $500 million for road construction over the next two years. He later dropped that request to $300 million. In an effort to assuage lawmakers leery of transportation costs, Governor Scott walker released a proposal on July 6, which tapped federal spending to subsidize construction costs. Walker believes federal aid will allow the state to borrow an additional $300 million for the projects.

 

Danny Restivo and Brett Goldman Contributed to This Report

Net Neutrality 2017: The Battle Continues…

By Danny Restivo (posted 7/6/17)

On July 12, 2017, a number of website landing pages will display “blocked,” “please upgrade,” or “paying customers only” banners. Fortunately for active users, the banners will only last 24 hours. These protest banners (example below) will be part of The Day of Action”, which is supported by the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, GitHub, Reddit, OKCupid, Etsy, and a broad coalition of tech, media/social media, e-commerce, and other companies that peg their livelihood to the internet. The campaign aims to raise awareness regarding the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s proposed plan to roll back net neutrality measures later this summer.

Just two years ago, the FCC classified internet service providers as carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The decision forced ISPs to face regulatory measures like public utilities, while ensuring all ISPs treat content equally. Under President Donald Trump’s guidance, the FCC has targeted the regulation, drawing a number of large companies into a fray that may decide how online audiences view content.

The FCC’s net neutrality establishes three rules:

  1. Broadband providers can’t block access to legal content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.
  2. ISP’s can’t impair or reduce lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.
  3. They may not favor some internet traffic over other internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—no paid prioritization or fast lanes.

“The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It’s simply too tom_wheeler_fccimportant to be left without rules and without referees on the field,” said Tom Wheeler, the former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, following the FCC’s 3-2 vote in favor of Net Neutrality in 2015. “Today is a red-letter day for Internet freedom, for consumers who want to use the Internet on their terms, for innovators who want to reach consumers without the control of gatekeepers.”

Since its implementation, the vote has drawn the ire of internet companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Oracle and Verizon. These industry leaders have cited government overreach, as well as limits to free speech and free market principles. Because net neutrality designates ISPs as “common carriers,” such as telephone companies, they are open to a host of other government regulations.

GOP leadership blasted the FCC ruling on similar grounds after it was approved in 2015.

“Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet,” Former House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (Ohio-R) said in a statement after the ruling. “More mandates and regulations on American innovation and entrepreneurship are not the answer, and that’s why Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme.”

Image result for net neutrality

Cable companies spent $44 million in lobbying efforts (including other issues besides net neutrality) during the 2015 showdown. Meanwhile, neutrality proponents like Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet Inc (formerly Google), paid $35 million in lobbying efforts that year.

Following his inauguration in January 2017, Trump enlisted the help of three net neutrality opponents to assist his FCC transition from Democratic to Republican control. On January 23, Trump appointed Ajit V. Pai to Chairman of the FCC. The former attorney for Verizon was one of two Republican votes against the 2015 decisions (Pai and Michael O’Rielly were the lone dissenters in the commission’s ruling).

Shortly after the transition, Congress overturned Obama-era internet privacy protections—a Republican bill removed regulations requiring individual permission before ISP’s could sell users data. Only a few days later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced the President’s goals for reversing net neutrality during a March 30 press briefing. A month later, Pai unveiled plans to loosen government oversight of the internet during a speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” said Pai. “It’s basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

On May 18, the FCC voted 2-1 in favor of moving forward with rolling back the Obama administration’s Net Neutrality regulation. “The Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” does not include specific details on how the FCC will remove Net Neutrality regulations, however the proposal does allow for a 90-day public comment period. The FCC will stop receiving comments on July 18, but will allow a second 30-day commenting period for replies ending on August 18.

The FCC’s proposal includes three key tenants.

  1. Removes Title II classification from ISP’s
  2. Returns classification of mobile broadband internet carriers to private mobile service
  3. Eliminates “the catch all internet conduct standard created by the Title II order”

Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who previously voted for net neutrality, remained the lone dissenter during the May 18 vote.

“If you unequivocally trust that your broadband provider will always put the public interest over self-interest or the interest of their stockholders, then the ‘Destroying Internet Freedom’ [proposal] is for you,” she said after the vote.

Since FCC announced its proposal, the President has tapped two more members to serve on the commission. On June 14, Trump nominated Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, who previously served as commissioner until her term ended in 2016. Two weeks later, Trump nominated Republican Brenda Carr, a former FCC aide to chairman Pai.  Carr’s selection solidifies a 5-person commission. According to the rules, no more than three members of the commission may be of the same political party; if both Carr and Rosenworcel are confirmed, Republicans would have a 3-2 majority.

In conjunction with the commission’s plan, Sen. Mike Lee (Utah-R) introduced S. 993: “the Restoring Internet Freedom Act “in early May. With nine other cosponsors, the proposed legislation would prohibit the FCC from classifying Internet Service Providers as Title II carriers ever again. The bill—Lee introduced an identical version nearly a year ago—would require legislative action to implement net neutrality in the future. The bill has been referred to the committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Lee, along with Senate cosponsors Ted Cruz (Texas-R) and Ron Johnson (Wisc.-R), penned an opinion piece about internet freedom in the Washington Post on May 4.

“We reject the idea that the federal government should control the Internet. That’s why we have introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, which will complement Pai’s efforts to repeal the 2015 Internet takeover by preventing the FCC from issuing any similar regulations in the future.”

Meanwhile, 13 Democratic Senators signed a letter supporting the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules which was published in Tech Crunch on May 17.

“By proposing to take away the existing net neutrality protections, President Trump’s FCC is threatening to take away your ability to have free and open use of the internet. This proposal will have profound impacts on the way all of us watch movies, listen to music, do homework, talk to family, consult with a doctor, pay bills, and conduct business. Taking away these rules benefits no one except cable, telephone, and wireless broadband companies.”

The Internet Association, which represents Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix and other internet giants, released a white paper titled “Principles to Preserve and Protect an Open Internet” on June 21.  The paper outlined the “substance of the underlying rules” behind the FCC’s Net Neutrality. The paper contains “six principles and policies for preserving a free and open internet by which all proposals and potential changes to the rules will be judged.”

Principles to Preserve and Protect and Open Internet:

  1. Net neutrality rules preserve the success of the internet in driving economic growth.
  2. The FCC’s 2015 rules are working and the entire broadband internet ecosystem is thriving.
  3. Forecasting rules remain necessary to preserve and protect an open internet.
  4. Specific net neutrality rules are needed to preserve an open internet. These rules include: no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, no unreasonable interference or disadvantaging of content by ISPs, and transparency and disclosure requirements.
  5. Open internet protections should apply to broadband internet access providers on a platform-neutral basis.
  6. Strong and effective enforcement by the FCC of net neutrality rules is critical to ensuring that the benefits of the rules are realized.

The paper also states, “a free and open internet remains vital to preserving and protecting the virtuous circle of broadband innovation that benefits edge-based innovators and entrepreneurs, businesses, ISPs, and, above all, consumers.”

It also said, “undoing the existing light touch rules will create uncertainty among edge providers, innovators, and consumers, and would threaten to unravel the most dynamic segment of our economy. Instead, policymakers should seek to preserve the current rules and ensure that they remain on a firm legal footing.”

In addition to large companies supporting net neutrality, more than 800 startups, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors from all 50 states sent a letter to Pai and the FCC.

“Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” the letter reads. “They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice…Our companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not our capacity to pay tolls to Internet access providers.”

If net neutrality gets abolished, companies like Verizon, Comcast, Oracle and AT&T have said they can now reinvestment on infrastructure and broadband technology in communities throughout the United States.

“We also support Chairman Pai’s proposal to roll back Title II utility regulation on broadband,” Kathy Grillo, Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel, public policy and government affairs, said in a statement released on April 26. “Title II (or public utility regulation) is the wrong way to ensure net neutrality; it undermines investment, reduces jobs and stifles innovative new services. And by locking in current practices and players, it actually discourages the increased competition consumers are demanding.”

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson echoed Grillo’s comments.

“AT&T continues to support the fundamental tenets of net neutrality. And we remain committed to open internet protections that are fair and equal for everyone,” he said. “The bipartisan, light-touch regulatory approach that Congress established at the internet’s inception brought American consumers unparalleled investment in broadband infrastructure, created jobs and fueled economic growth. It was illogical for the FCC in 2015 to abandon that light-touch approach and instead regulate the internet under an 80-year-old law designed to set rates for the rotary-dial-telephone era.”

While many Silicon Valley tech companies have voice opposition to the FCC plan, the multinational computer corporation Oracle has levied support. In a letter sent to the FCC in early May, Oracle said “the stifling open internet regulations and broadband classification that the FCC put in place in 2015 – for just one aspect of the internet ecosystem – threw out both the technological consensus and the certainty needed for jobs and investment.”

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Whether or not Pai and the FCC cement their proposal, the Net Neutrality rules will remain in effect through 2018.

Members of the public have until July 17 to comment on the FCC’s net neutrality proceeding. Reply comments will then be due on August 16, unless the FCC extends the process. After that, a final FCC decision on the net neutrality rollback could take several more months.

DMGS will continue to monitor this and provide updates as it develops.

Brett Goldman edited this report.

“Ni de droite ni de gauche”: A Primer on the French Legislative Election

By: Emily Beiser (Posted 6/21/17)

La République En Marche, the party of the newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron, won 306 of 577 seats in the National Assembly (lower house) on Sunday, June 18th, 2017, giving it a majority of 53%. En Marche, or On the Move, in English, was only founded as a social-movement-cum-election-campaign last April and officially declared a party upon the election of President Macron (who shares his initials—E.M.—with that of the party) this May. En Marche’s win in this election has come at the downfall of the parties which historically held the majority: Le Parti Socialiste on the left, and Les Républicains, on the right. An estimate by the French Newspaper Le Monde suggests just 148 of the representatives (called deputies) elected in 2012 were reelected this year, making this not only an assembly of a new party, but also an assembly of freshmen deputies – three quarters of the assembly.

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What do the results of this legislative election mean for France?

First, we must understand how French elections work. The French term, called the quinquennat, lasts five years. The presidential and legislative terms overlap nearly perfectly, save the six weeks between the presidential election and the legislative election.  Each election is two rounds; the first round requires a majority to win. If no candidate has the majority, which is generally the case, the two candidates with the most votes face off a week later in a second vote. This presidential election cycle was divisive: with each of the top four presidential candidates getting between 19% and 25% of the vote in the first round, though Macron won with a hefty 66% in the second round against the far-right Marine Le Pen. The legislative elections which followed six weeks later showed En Marche’s prominence yet also had the lowest turnout of any legislative elections in the history of the 5th Republic, with just 42% of registered voters voting. By contrast, the previous election, in 2012, saw a 57% turnout rate. The low turnout, unusual for France, means many deputies won with approval from less than 30% of the registered voters.

President Macron claims that his party is “ni de droite, ni de gauche,” or “neither left nor right, but firmly centrist”.

Though a former head of economy for the socialist and deeply unpopular President Hollande, Macron’s economic policy is seen as leaning to the right due to his past work at an investment bank and his support of what he calls the “uberization” of the economy – namely, a flexible workforce which receives fewer protections. En Marche and Macron claim centrism due to leftist standings on social issues including “the family”, refugees, and gender equality. This support of gender equality is reflected in Macron’s choice of gender parity within the cabinet and in En Marche’s selection of legislative candidates, of which over 50% were women. While En Marche lost just 17 of the seats where they ran candidates, the French legislative assembly is at a record of 38% women, up from the previous assembly’s 26%.

The French left has seen a sharp reduction in deputies and a new leftist party, La France Insoumise (or Rebellious France), has proposed a new political system via a 6th Republic. Yet La France Insoumise only won 17 seats. The Parti Socialiste, the established left wing party of former President Hollande, won just 29 seats, making the election a devastating loss compared to the 258 won in 2012. This loss may be due in part to the extreme unpopularity of former President Hollande. Near the end of his time in office, a poll by Le Monde found just 4% of respondents were satisfied with his actions. A former member of cabinet for Hollande—though never a member of Le Parti Socialiste—President Macron retains support for parts of the fading party, endorsing another former Hollande cabinet member, Myriam El Khomri, in a legislative race in which En Marche had no candidate. En Marche’s majority suggests neither collaboration nor cohabitation will be necessary, but it remains to be seen how Macron will lead his new party.

On the right, Les Républicains, formerly known as L’Union pour un Mouvement Populaire in the 2012 election, won 113 seats, a decrease of 72 seats from 2012, despite scandal surrounding party leader François Fillon’s use of public money while Prime Minister. As the party with the second most seats in the Assembly, it remains a significant stronghold of the right. The far-right Front National has a high profile and power to move debate towards the right, especially after Marine Le Pen, the party leader, was in the second round of the presidential elections against Macron. It won just eight seats, but saw an increase compared to winning two seats in 2012.

En Marche’s majority in the National Assembly may not be paralleled by the Senate; just half of the Senate is up for election in September, and it is elected indirectly by officials, with a disproportionately strong rural vote. However, as the National Assembly is the more powerful of the houses in practice, a majority in the assembly solidifies President Macron’s power after a divisive Presidential election. Moreover, it concretes En Marche’s own viability. As the figurehead, father, and namesake for the party, Macron’s performance as president and party leader will be key in the future of the party during and after his tenure as leader.

Emily Beiser is a summer intern in DMGS’s Philadelphia office. She currently in a dual BA program at Sciences Po in France and Columbia University in NYC. 

Election Recap: GA-06 and SC-05 Special Elections, and the British Parliamentary Election

Over the past month there have been several high profile and very hotly contested special elections in the United States, including in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. Each one of these races filled a void left by a Trump cabinet appointee and saw record amounts of money being spent. In addition, earlier in June, the British Parliament held a snap Parliamentary election, that could be the sign of more political instability in the UK following last summer’s Brexit vote. We have compiled a breakdown and analysis of each of these races below.

Georgia’s 6th Congressional District 

Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff to win Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District during the culmination of a hotly contested special election on Tuesday June 20th. Billed as a referendum on President Donald J. Trump, the highly visible race became the most expensive congressional election in United States history, attracting approximately $60 million, according to Issue One, a nonpartisan advocacy group. That money includes funding for the April 18 special election, as well as the June 20 runoff. Outside groups spent more than $27 million on the election, with pro-Handel organizations spending roughly 2.5 times more than pro-Ossoff groups.

With 52 percent of the vote, Handel fills a seat vacated by former Rep. Tom Price, who now serves as the Health and Human Services Secretary in the Trump administration. Handel’s win makes her the first Republican congresswoman in Georgia history. Similarly, she was the first Republican Secretary of State elected in Georgia after a victory in 2006. In 2010, she narrowly lost the GOP gubernatorial nomination before becoming the Senior Vice President of Public Policy at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. However, she resigned in 2012 after the organization reversed a plan to cut ties with Planned Parenthood. After a failed senate bid in 2014, Handel announced her candidacy for the sixth district’s seat in February 2017. Before Tuesday’s runoff, Handel and Ossoff competed in a special election on April 18. Both failed to grab a majority of the vote. Ossoff, who was one of five Democrats received 48 percent, while Handel was one of eleven Republicans and only garnered 18 percent.

Their respective performances set the stage for a heavily funded race that attracted an intense level of national media.

With $23.9 million spent on both the special election and the runoff, Ossoff came within 10,000 votes of claiming a reliably Republican district located in the Northern Atlanta suburbs. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich held the seat from 1979 to 1999, while Price consistently won the district with more than 60 percent of the vote since his initial victory in 2004. However, Trump only won the district by two points in November–the same margin of victory for Handel. GOP ads attacking Ossoff hammered the former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker for a lack of experience and living outside the district. The ads also focused on funding he received from west coast donors.

Handel will likely face another intense challenge during the 2018 midterm elections.

South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District

Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell in another special election Tuesday night. Norman fills a seat vacated by current White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. While Northam won the reliable conservative district 52 to 48 percent, it pales compared to Mulvaney’s 21-point victory in November. Moreover, Trump won the district by 18 points.

Norman has served as a hardline conservative in the state legislature since 2009, and has already promised to join the House Freedom Caucus. Parnell, a former Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil employee, saw the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pour $300,000 into his race, while the Georgia contest received $5 million. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent less than DCCC in South Carolina, while pouring more than $6.7 million into Handel’s race.

The British Election of June 2017

On June 8th, 2017, each of the United Kingdom’s 650 Parliamentary constituencies elected new Members of Parliament (MPs) to the British House of Commons.  Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, an election was not scheduled to be called until at May 7th, 2020, however on April 19th, 2017, Prime Miniser Theresa May called for snap elections in the wake of growing discontent.

Although Prime Minister May’s Conservative party had been approximately 20 points ahead in the polls of the Labour party, what had occurred was anything but, and resulted in what has been described as one of the most dramatic collapses in British political history. In a surprising result, the Conservatives received a net loss of 13 seats, with 42.4% of the vote, while Labour received a net gain of 30 seats, with a 40.0% of the vote.

UK election 2017.PNGThis was the closest result between the two main parties since February 1974, and the highest percentage of the vote for an opposition party since 1970. Although the Prime Minister May was invited by the Queen to form a Government, it is currently unclear how long she will retain power, given the overwhelming numbers the Labour opposition government has seen. With rising unrest over social issues, international issues, and of course, the backlash over last year’s Brexit vote, Theresa May’s time as prime minister may in fact be short lived.

Danny Restivo and Brett Goldman Contributed to This Report. Posted 6/21/17

Virginia Primary Recap

By Danny Restivo (Posted 6/14/17)

Former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam clinched their respective party’s nominations for Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial race:

  • Northam defeated his challenger from the left, former Congressman Tom Perriello with 57 percent of the vote, while Perriello grabbed 44 percent (303,846 to 239,505).
  • Gillespie narrowly defeated Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart. He had 43.7 percent compared to Stewart’s 42.5 percent, while state Senator Jack Wagner came in a distant third with just under 14 percent.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Stewart did not concede defeat on election night. His performance shocked many pollsters who predicted a 20-point Gillespie victory. However, a low turnout among Republican voters—540,000 Democrats compared to 360,000 Republican—and a solid turnout among a galvanized base gave Stewart a much-needed boost.

In the Lieutenant governor’s race:

  • Former assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Fairfax defeated Gene Rossi, a retired federal prosecutor and Susan Platt, a former Democratic operative and lobbyist to win the Democratic nomination. Fairfax grabbed nearly 58 percent of the vote while Platt and Rossi each had 30 and 12 percent, respectively.
  • On the Republican side, State Senator Jill Vogel earned 43 percent of Virginia GOP voters, while her closest competition, State Senator Bryan Reeves, garnered 40 percent.

In Virginia, the Lieutenant governor is a part-time position that includes presides over the state senate and breaking tied votes.

General Election- Preview

The 2017 Virginia general election will be held on November 7 and following this very contested primary, Democrats appear to be starting out with the advantage. A Northam-vs.-Gillespie general election may look surprisingly similar to other states. Early analysis of turnout suggests that the Virginia primary looked similar to the NJ primary held last week; Democrats had turnout and enthusiasm on their side with approximately 540,000 votes to the GOP’s 366,000 votes.

Analysts are not on yet betting on Gillespie and are convinced that Virginia may no longer be a “purple” state. Republicans have gone 1-9 in major VA statewide races since 2004, and if turnout in this primary shows anything, the Democrats may out perform once again. It is also worth noting that while Gillespie eked out a a win, his win was not without a major fight between the establishment and outsider wings of the republican party.  With five months to go until the general election, both Gillespie and Northam have their work cut out for them in what will no doubt be an indicator of things to come in 2018.

For a complete breakdown of the Virginia gubernatorial candidates, please read our Primary Preview published on June 2.

Democratic Primary- Recap

Ralph 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 congressional 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.

Republican Primary- Recap

Ed 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.

Corey 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.

 

 

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.

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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.