Prosperity Economics, an antidote to “austerity economics.” Plus, recent reports from: the Annie E. Casey Foundation on key indicators of child well-being in each state, the Pew Charitable Trusts Economic Mobility Project on economic mobility across generations, the Strengthen Social Security coalition on how Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid work for each of the fifty states, People for the American Way on the “predatory privatization” of public services and assets, News21 on how the voter fraud that state voter suppression laws purport to address is “virtually non-existent,” the National Education Association on how anti-union RTW laws increase poverty, the Center for American Progress on growing conservative attempts to politicize state court systems through legislation, Americans for Tax Fairness on the effect that extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% would have state-by-state, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on how many weeks of unemployment compensation are available state-by-state.
With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, Progressive States Network is releasing a series of issue-specific session roundups highlighting developments and trends in different policy areas across the fifty states.
Broadband has become essential, not optional — critical to the jobs, health, and welfare of millions of Americans. State legislatures around the country were focused on telecommunications infrastructure during 2012, although many bills this year seemed to be born of the rush to deregulate from last decade, seemingly unconcerned about the possibility that we could find ourselves without recourse when the technology goes down or fails to ensure that all people have access. This year, Progressive States Network has focused on two major areas of broadband legislation. The first has been community broadband, which ensures that local governments and non-profits can create their own broadband infrastructure when needed. The second has been the wave of right-wing inspired deregulation bills that would divide our country into haves and have-nots by eliminating the tools states use to ensure that small businesses, the labor force, and individuals have access to new technology. Both are, unfortunately, connected by strong efforts on the part of the ultra-conservative, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Reports by the Iowa Policy Project on why ALEC’s economic policy recommendations are the wrong prescription for state prosperity, In The Public Interest on ALEC’s privatization agenda, the National Employment Law Project on big business, corporate profits, and the minimum wage, the State Budget Crisis Task Force on structural fiscal threats to the states, the National Regulatory Research Institute on the status of telecommunications deregulation legislation in 2012, the Commonwealth Fund on the status of state actions to establish health exchanges, The Sentencing Project on the extent of felon disenfranchisement in different states, the National Institute on Retirement Security on the role of defined benefit pensions in reducing economic hardships among older households, and Citizens for Tax Justice on the state-by-state effects of tax breaks for 13 million working families at stake in the federal tax debate.
An historic wave of attacks on workers that defined 2011 state legislative sessions largely continued this year. But just as significantly, widespread efforts to advance basic labor standards — especially the minimum wage — gained momentum this year by harnessing the country’s concerns about economic security and inequality. 2012 opened with another weeks-long standoff in the Midwest, which threatened to steal the limelight as the Super Bowl took place just a mile away from the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, and ended in a major loss for workers in the state. Significant rollbacks occurred in several more states, as did high-profile attacks that are expected to return in 2013. The recall election victory of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was also a major disappointment for labor, though a labor-backed candidate did win another state Senate recall, flipping control of that chamber in the Wisconsin legislature. However, compared to Indiana, other major efforts to roll back labor standards in the states saw more successful resistance, and the ferocity with which conservatives pressed them was turned down a bit after the battle in the Hoosier state. In addition, as Congress and many statehouses proved increasingly difficult venues for addressing workplace abuses, 2012 saw more and more advocates turning to local governments to advance policies like paid sick leave and wage theft prevention. This has in turn opened up another front for statehouse attacks, with some states seeing bills introduced that would strip municipal governments of their power to protect workers. State legislatures seem likely to remain the critical arenas for advancing and protecting workers’ rights in the near future, with state policy fights set to both influence national trends and control the pace of change workers can achieve at the local level for years to come.
Like several countries in the European Union, conservatives in the U.S. states promised that slashing government spending would fuel economic growth. Thirty states have responded to budget deficits by doing just that. At the same time, 20 U.S. states and a number of other European countries have taken the opposite approach, generating revenue and focusing additional spending on economic recovery. Just like in Europe, the states that chose austerity have been outpaced in job growth and economic recovery by the states that raised revenue to expand government spending.
The initial news last week was that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And though that remains true, discussion has increasingly focused on the one limitation the Court put on the law. While the ACA required all states to expand Medicaid eligibility to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) – about $30,000 for a family of four – in order to receive any federal Medicaid funds, the Court ruled that only funds for the expansion itself could be withheld. The practical effect of the limitation was to make it optional for states to expand Medicaid to all Americans at or below 133% FPL.