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Right-wing Ballot Scheme to Manipulate Presidential Votes in California

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Right-wing Ballot Scheme to Manipulate Presidential Votes in California

Progressive States at NCSL

If you are attending this year's NCSL conference in Boston (Aug. 5-9), we invite you to celebrate this year's many progressive legislative victories with Progressive States Network at a reception on Tuesday, August 7th at 6:30pm at the Westin Copley Place.

RSVP at: http://tinyurl.com/2qx3o3

We are happy to sponsor this event with our partners the AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), AFSCME, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), National Labor Caucus of State Legislatures, and the Teamsters (IBT).

We are also pleased to have Robert Kuttner, columnist for The Boston Globe and co-editor and co-founder of The American Prospect, deliver his perspective on the current state of the country and how states can bring about the reforms we need.  Bob Kuttner writes regularly for The American Prospect on political and economic issues, and he has just completed a book, to be published in 2007, on the connection between political and economic inequality and systemic risks facing the economy.

Increasing Democracy

By J. Mijin Cha

Right-wing Ballot Scheme to Manipulate Presidential Votes in California

A new ballot measure in California would change the way that California's 55 presidential electoral votes would be allocated; not to make sure that every vote counted, but to make sure that any right-wing candidate for President could lop off a significant number of that state's electoral votes.

The measure is sponsored by Californians for Equal Representation, which sounds great but is actually a front for the law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk. The firm is well known for creating front groups to introduce conservative ballot initiatives, including an anti-union initiative, and fighting local efforts to enact smoke-free bans in California in the early 1990s. Thomas Hiltachk himself filed the "Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act of 2006", which was just a poorly masked attempt to get rid of California's overtime rules, and he also happens to be Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's lawyer.

The "Presidential Election Reform Act" would award two electoral votes to the statewide winner and then distribute the rest, one by one, to the winner of each congressional district. If the measure was in place in 2004, Presidential Bush would have received around 20 of California's electoral votes- the equivalent to a Pennsylvania or Illinois- instead of the zero that he ended up receiving.

A Fairer Alternative - National Popular Vote: Just last year, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a measure that would actually reform the whole national electoral process. California's Assembly and Senate passed a measure to adopt National Popular Vote to guarantee that the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide, wins. Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure and pointed out that the state's electoral votes could be awarded to a candidate most Californians didn't favor. Now, his lawyer is pushing a bill that would do nothing to reform the national electoral process, but is designed solely to manipulate the California results themselves. States like Texas would likely continue to deliver all their electoral votes to the more conservative candidate, even as a large portion of California's votes would de diverted away from the more progressive candidate., even if most of California voted for the progressive running.

Any reform of the Presidential voting system should be a national one, which is why it's outrageous that Schwarzenegger vetoed the National Popular Vote measure, even as his lawyer is promoting a partisan California-only manipulation of the process.  Under National Popular Vote (NPV), states would enter into a compact to give their votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, whether Republican or Democratic. The compact does not go into effect until states representing a majority of electoral votes have adopted the reform. 

Benefits of NPV to Non-Swing States:  NPV would benefit California just as it benefits every state that is not one of a handful of "swing states" that decides the outcome of presidential elections and receives disproportionate attention.  In the last presidential election, Bush and Kerry made a combined 136 trips to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In contrast, 19 states received zero visits and many states like California saw not a dime spent in those states on advertising to reach their voters.  With NPV, however, candidates would be forced to broaden their visits and outreach, and in turn, broaden the issues that concern different states.

This past legislative session, Maryland became the first state to pass national popular vote and have it signed by the Governor.  The measure also passed both chambers in Hawaii and Illinois.  The Governor of Hawaii vetoed it while the Illinois effort is still on the Governor's desk. National Popular Vote bills were introduced in 30 states and passed at least one chamber in eleven of them.

More Resources

Growing Economy

By Nathan Newman

Economic Subsidy Recipients Who Fail on Job Promises to be Held Accountable in NY

State creates economic development program to encourage business investment in the state. State hands out billions in economic subsidies. State finds out many companies have taken the cash and failed to deliver on promised jobs.

This precise scenario is all too common in so many economic subsidy programs across the country.

But this week, New York took action to hold as many as 3000 companies accountable for the job creation promises they made through their "Empire Zone" program. The Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees the program, sent out letters to companies that had met less than 60% of their job creation goals saying that they may lose the tax breaks they received under the program. Companies sent letters include Wal-Mart, Lowe's and a range of other businesses across the state. These companies received over $3 billion in tax breaks since 2000, which shows both how badly the program had drifted and the seriousness of the new Spitzer administration in taking on the problem.

This action came two weeks after a report by consulting firm A.T. Kearney found that a program meant to help revitalize pockets of poverty had allowed new tax-subsidized zones to proliferate with little accountability based on "political patronage" and "commercial manipulation." A coalition in New York led by Jobs with Justice has been campaigning more generally to revise economic subsidies in the state, so this new drive by the Governor for accountability in development funds is welcome.

New York is hardly alone with this problem and there are good legislative solutions, with over twenty states enacting various forms of "clawback" provisions to make companies payback development funds when they fail to deliver on job promises.  Notably, after studies showed that Minnesota was handing out high levels of subsidies with poor returns, that state enacted what many consider model legislation to enforce accountability standards on companies receiving public funds-- and require them to give the money back if they fail to deliver on promised quality jobs for their communities.  

Hopefully, New York can learn from Minnesota's experience and create new rules to assure that economic subsidies actually build the state's economy, not just reward politically agile corporate lobbyists.

More Resources

Valuing Families

By Adam Thompson

An Unholy Alliance Dumps the Sick Onto the Individual Health Insurance Market

It's an unholy combination when corporate America's worst health care offender, the Right's consumer-driven health care ideology, and the Religious Right come together to abuse the tax system in an effort to undermine group health insurance standards and place everyone into the morass that is the individual health insurance market. 

A Utah-based company founded by Paul Zane Pilzer, best-selling author of "God Wants You to Be Rich", and backed by Sam's Club, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., as well as AOL founder Steve Case, is offering a tax-based scheme to small businesses that replaces employer-sponsored small group insurance with monthly contributions to what are known as employee "health reimbursement accounts", or HRAs, where employees get some cash but have to use it to find their own individual insurance.   

An Illegal Scheme? Critics, including health policy experts, Texas regulators, and even an insurance company in Utah, say the scheme violates federal law, namely ERISA's requirement that if employers offer health insurance, they must offer it fairly to all employees in order to spread risk and maximize affordability for as many people as possible. By sending employees out on their own to navigate the pocked insurance system, they leave older employees and employees with medical histories without affordable options - or no insurance at all. Only 6 states now require insurers to guarantee issue in the individual market, meaning insurers in the other 44 states can refuse coverage to individuals because of their health status or perceived risk. Although 33 other states have high risk pools, which offer insurance to individuals denied coverage in the individual market, premiums are often 150% to 200% higher than market prices and some states routinely close enrollment when costs run too high, like Florida and its high risk pool which has been closed to new enrollment since 1991.

Pilzer says he is "doing God's work switching people from group plans to individual insurance." In interviews with outlets like the Christian Broadcasting Network and its rabid religious-right idol Pat Robertson, Pilzer argues disingenuously that individual insurance is cheaper than small group coverage. In making his pitch as the champion of corporate-backed health reform, he neglected to point out that individual insurance is cheaper mostly for those under age 25, who have a clear medical history, and get only bare-bones coverage and a high deductible. 

In reality, Pilzer's scheme is a variation of the Right's latest attempt to prevent comprehensive health care reform and distract Americans from real solutions. The Right's answer to the health care crisis, from President Bush to recent proposals by candidate Rudy Giuliani, is to dissolve the employer-based system in favor of individual insurance with poor benefits and high deductibles. 

Dangerous State Experiments: As we profiled in our recent report of state activity in 2007, Taking the Lead, some state lawmakers have enacted programs for low-income residents that build on the Right's philosophy. Oklahoma expanded health care for children to 300% of poverty, but the program hinges on a voucher for families to purchase private coverage, an approach that doesn't guarantee affordable options for families even with the vouchers. And, Indiana just enacted a new health plan providing catastrophic coverage with a Health Savings Account to adults with incomes up to 200% of poverty. Even state officials are skeptical they'll be able to convince low-income residents with little to no disposable income to participate in a program with high cost-sharing. 

States have a stake in ensuring employers continue to make meaningful contributions to health coverage (either by shoring up employer-sponsored insurance or creating state-based programs where employers contribute on behalf of their employees) and resisting attempts to push families into the private individual markets. When families go without coverage and health care, state governments and taxpayers inevitably bear the brunt of the resulting social and economic costs.

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Action Alert

Action for Legislators: Sign-on Letter Against Industry-Dominated NCSL "Summit" on Climate Change

Maryland Delegate Jim Hubbard, who is also chair of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL), is circulating a sign-on letter addressed to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) meeting in Boston next week, which condemns letting the nation's oil, coal, nuclear and utility industries pay for and dominate a session on climate change. At what is supposed to be a legislator-controlled event, the letter complains that no mention is even made of who is underwriting the event and no one representing environmental viewpoints was allowed to participate on the panel.

A copy of the letter is available here.

Signatures for the letter are needed by end of business TODAY, Thursday August 2nd, so please send your name and contact info to Adam Schafer, Executive Director of NCEL at adam@ncel.net.

More Resources

Research Roundup

Research Roundup

Citizens for Tax Justice highlights important reforms adopted by New Hampshire this year to modernize their corporate income tax that will help in-state "mom and pop" stores by equalizing the tax burden between such in-state stores and out-of-state retailers.  Where many states apply corporate income taxes based on "physical presence" in the state, New Hampshire has created a model program to apply the tax based on a company's "economic presence", an approach which CTJ notes has survived court challenge in other states. See an older ITEP paper on the topic for more.

While many leaders complain that new immigrants aren't doing enough to assimilate, a major study by the Migration Policy Institute finds that too few resources are available to help those immigrants who want to learn English. The U.S. now lags far behind other countries like Australia and Germany in offering language instruction, so the report suggests that a $200 million increase in funding nationally is needed to help current legal residents and up to $2.9 billion over six years to help undocumented immigrants.

In a study appearing in the August issue of American Sociological Review, a comprehensive study of 1560 people sentenced to death in 16 states finds that those who kill white victims are more likely to be given a death sentence than those who kill black victims. In fact, an African-American who kills a white victim is twice as likely to be executed than a white person who kills a non-white person.

Arguing that states are setting goals for graduation rates too low, a new study by the Education Trust finds that state goals for graduation rates range from 95% in Indiana and Iowa down to just 50% in Nevada, but even high goals in many states are undercut by low targets for yearly progress towards those goals.  Some states have set targets for improvement as low as one-tenth of 1% per year. New York City and Massachusetts were cited as good examples for states around the country interested in making real improvements in graduation rates.

Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Right-wing Ballot Scheme to Manipulate Presidential Votes in California

The New Yorker, Votescam

National Popular Vote

FairVote, Presidential Election Reform

FairVote, Who Picks the President?

SourceWatch: Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk

Progressive States Network, Bypassing D.C. National Popular Vote

Economic Subsidy Recipients Who Fail on Job Promises to be Held Accountable in NY

ATKearney, Delivering on the Promise of New York State

New York Times, State Warns Companies in Tax Deals

Minnesota Statutes, 116J.994 Regulating State and Local Business Subsidies

Good Jobs First, Clawback Provisions in State Subsidy Programs

New York State, Empire Zone Companies Put on Notice

Jobs with Justice, Initiative for Development Accountability

Good Jobs New York

An Unholy Alliance Dumps the Sick Onto the Individual Health Insurance Market

Wall Street Journal, Employers Turn To Alternative For Insuring Staff: Despite Legal Concerns, Workers Are Encouraged To Use Individual Policies

Progressive States Network, Defining Health Care Down

Kaiser State Heathfacts.org, Individual Market Guaranteed Issue

Kaiser State Heathfacts.org, State High-Risk Insurance Pools  

Eye on the Right

Some Missouri legislators just can’t take a hint. Frustrated by the politicization of stem-cell research, Missourians voted to amend their constitution to prevent legislators from banning stem-cell research -- not just state funding, but the research itself.  It’s ridiculous enough that the citizens of Missouri are forced to change the state’s constitution to prevent legislators from voting against the wishes of the state’s residents, but there are very practical impacts as well.

In making such a fuss, the same rightwing that loves to give tax breaks to attract economic development scared away over three quarters of a billion dollars in medical research funds. The Stowers Institute for Medical Research transfered their Missouri endowment to Delaware and abandoned plans to expand in Missouri after witnessing the anti-stem-cell antics of rightwing elements in the Assembly. The Right doesn’t “own”? economic development, and in this case they dropped the ball.

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Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

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Please shoot me an email at jbacino@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

John Bacino
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