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John Bacino on June 4, 2007 - 7:23am
Monday, June 4, 2007
Legislative Roundups: CO, MN, HI
In Today's Dispatch:
Colorado Legislative Roundup
With a new Governor, progressive legislative leaders in Colorado marked a new day by enacting a range of legislation benefiting working families in the state.
2007 will also be remembered for the dramatic Clean Energy bills enacted:
Colorado also expanded social equality in the state by:
Both the Colorado House and Senate passed resolutions denouncing the escalation in Iraq and calling for more federal attention to domestic priorities.
The greatest lost opportunity of the year was Gov. Ritter's veto of a bill which would have increased the freedom of workers to form unions in the state, but, overall, the year marked a strongly progressive turn for Colorado.
Minnesota Legislative Roundup
Conversely, Minnesota showed how a governor in the pocket of monied interests can undermine a bold, progressive vision by state legislative leaders.
As we highlighted a few weeks ago, Minnesota legislators passed a bold tax reform plan that would have funded crucial social services and cut property taxes for 90% of the state residents, paid for by raising income taxes on the wealthiest 28,000 taxpayers in the state, only to see it vetoed by Minnesota's Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Similarly, in a state that has seen no increase in money for transit since 1988, a plan for new investments in state transportation funded by a gas tax increase and new vehicle fees was also vetoed by the Governor.
This left the legislature to enact a more bare-bones budget for the state's needs. Despite the budgetary constraints, the legislature enacted a few key initiatives:
Where Minnesota made the largest gains was in Clean Energy programs:
A respectable year for Minnesota, but one far short of the vision of the legislative leaders thwarted by the Governor's vetoes.
Hawaii Legislative Roundup
With a similar partisan divide between a Democratic legislature and Republican governor, Hawaii achieved solid progressive achievements with less rancor and friction.
With a constitutional mandate to distribute a budget surplus, Hawaii enacted a remarkably progressive rebate to its taxpayers, delivering the largest dollar amounts to its poorest citizens and restricting all rebates to those families making less than $60,000 per year.
Hawaiian businesses enjoyed a $151 million cut in unemployment insurance taxes over three years in exchange for raising unemployment benefits from 70 percent of wages to 75 percent, with additional benefits for part-time workers-- a package supported by both business and labor groups.
Hawaii, a long-time leader in health care reform, expanded its Keiki Care program to provide free health care to all uninsured children up to 300 percent of the poverty line, including eliminating monthly premium payments for immigrants. This was combined with a restoration of rate regulation for health insurers and adding $80 million to the state Medicaid system.
To fight Global Warming, Hawaiian legislators created a task force to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gases to the 1990 level by the year 2020-- a way to bring the state in line with the goals of the Kyoto treaty. To encourage cleaner gas and ease the burden on consumers at the pump, the state also restored an 11-cent-a-gallon ethanol tax credit.
On labor rights, Hawaii expanded the rights of public employees to bargain over transfers from one job to another.
Despite these successes, a number of promising bills failed, including easing roadblocks to environmentally smarter development, passing a state version of the EITC, and allocating real funding for affordable housing, a chronic need in Hawaii.
The Hawaii legislature also endorsed allocating Hawaii's electoral college votes for President according to the National Popular Vote, only to see the bill vetoed, although the bill may be saved in a subsequent special legislative session.
It was a solid performance by legislative leaders, less ambitious than many would hope but delivering real gains for the families of the state.
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