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Judicial Elections Public Financing: Balancing Independent Courts and Voter Choice

Once the sleepy backwater of electoral politics, judicial elections have recently become a battleground where right wing and corporate groups spend large sums to fill the courts with jurists who will support their interests.  This is perhaps the most troubling example of money corrupting our politics, because instead of pay-to-play politics it gives us pay-to-win justice.  The independence of the judiciary simply cannot be maintained in an environment where jurists are competing for votes in high-priced, bare-knuckle political brawls. 

Left in the Cold — Utility Shut-Offs and State Responses

Working families struggling to make utility payments are feeling the chill as companies shut off their gas and electricity. Shut-offs are up across dozens of states, particularly Michigan where unemployment is high, with a 22 percent increase in the number of families left without heat or electricity. The state's Heating and Warmth Fund, which helps those in need pay delinquent heating bills, has seen a record 42 percent increase in people applying for heating payment assistance.

Left in the Cold — Utility Shut-Offs and State Responses

Working families struggling to make utility payments are feeling the chill as companies shut off their gas and electricity. Shut-offs are up across dozens of states, particularly Michigan where unemployment is high, with a 22 percent increase in the number of families left without heat or electricity. The state's Heating and Warmth Fund, which helps those in need pay delinquent heating bills, has seen a record 42 percent increase in people applying for heating payment assistance.

Making College Affordable for All

The benefits of a post-secondary degree are plentiful.  For example, an employee with a four year college degree earns 60 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Paying for college, however, has become a daunting task and strain for many American students and families.  The cost of higher education across the country is rapidly increasing, at almost double the rate of inflation, outpacing increases in financial aid and many families ability to pay.  The combination of these factors result in too many students being unable to earn or complete their degrees due to financial constraints.

Building a Better Measure of Poverty Rates

States don't really know how many of their residents are poor.  The current federal poverty measure uses a forty-year old, widely criticized methodology.  It neither accounts for many of the resources poor families receive from the government, such as Food Stamps and the EITC, nor does it, conversely, factor in many additional expenses the poor face that are not accounted for in the federal measure, such as transportation costs, child care and local costs of living. 

New State Gains on LGBT Rights

While national press coverage has focused on the historic ruling which made California the second state to allow same-sex nuptials, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are making slow and steady progress across the country.  In the recent weeks a few more states have taken action to help further civil rights for the LGBT community. 

State Pension Funds to be Invested in State Job Creation in Florida

Florida Governor Charlie Crist recently signed an economic stimulus plan for the state that redirects $1.95 billion of the state's pension fund into direct investments in Florida's economy. The amount is limited to 1.5 percent of the state's pension money, but even that limited percentage can add up to massive investments in jobs for the state's residents.

In creating the program, legislators and the Governor pointed to the success of similar programs in other states, particularly the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation's largest pension fund. A recent study found the California fund's in-state investments had fed an estimated $15.1 billion into in-state economic activity in 2006 and created 124,000 jobs, more jobs than the construction or motion picture industries.