Political Update from S4

Now that the US and Iran have reached a deal on the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama is pushing harder for Democrats in Congress to support the agreement. His primary message: this is the best deal we can achieve. Read more.

At a hearing yesterday Republicans made their opposing position quite clear as they denounced the agreement and criticized top officials. Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Secretary of State John Kerry, “I believe you’ve been fleeced.” Read more.

The Export-Import Bank expired on the last day of June, which was a victory for conservative Republicans who saw it as government interference in the free market. The Ex-Im bank may not be dead, however, if Democrats and a group of moderate Republicans attach its reauthorization to the highway funding bill that must be passed by the end of this month. Read more.

That highway funding bill cleared a procedural hurdle late on Wednesday after Democrats and Republican budget-hawks blocked it earlier in the week. The bill would extend policy on federal highway and transit programs for six years, but it only has funding for three. Several senators have been trying to use the bill as a vehicle for controversial amendments on everything from the Ex-Im Bank to defunding Planned Parenthood. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, is limiting the chamber to voting only on amendments related to highways and on two unrelated amendments: one to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to fail; and one to extend the Ex-Im bank’s charter through 2019. Read more.

All this might not even matter because leaders in the House have no interest in passing the Senate’s bill right now. The House already passed a short-term funding measure that would get us through the end of this year, and they are urging the Senate to take it up before highway funding runs out on July 31st. Read more.

The recent uproar over videos published by an anti-abortion rights group claiming to prove that Planned Parenthood illegally sells aborted fetuses does not seem to be going away anytime soon, and it may have a real effect in Congress. Republican leaders have been considering measures to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, including as amendments to the highway funding bill mentioned above. Read more.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, this time in a Louisiana movie theater, President Obama expressed frustration at his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” thus far, and he does not seem confident that this will change before he leaves office. Read more.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is coming under fire for comments he made about wanting to “phase out” Medicare and move to a new system. Bush tried to recover by emphasizing that reforms are needed to make the system work for future generations, but his original comments are sure to be fodder for opposition campaigns. Read more.

The US Chamber of Commerce is disappointed with how their agenda has fared in Congress so far this year. After the group spent $70 million to stock the Senate with business-friendly Republicans, the Ex-Im bank still expired, there is no long-term highway solution in sight, and immigration reform was barely on the radar. The group is now reportedly preparing to challenge some incumbent Republicans in the next elections, which is a significant shift in strategy and could have far-reaching results. Read more.

The governor and legislature still have not reached any kind of budget agreement, and there is enough blame being thrown around to make any potential compromise difficult to see. But at least Medicaid payments will be made, thanks to a federal judge’s order yesterday. Read more.

Senate President John Cullerton, presenting himself as a reasonable voice in the midst of this budget battle, is calling for a reset: “His plan is dead. Our plan is dead. Let’s acknowledge that and start moving forward,” he said. Sen. Cullerton asked the governor to send a balanced budget plan to legislators to get the process moving again. “The budget process traditionally starts with the governor submitting a balanced plan that allows the legislature to review and respond appropriately,” he said. Read more.

So far Gov. Rauner is sticking to his guns and demanding concessions on non-budget reforms that Democrats – and even many Republicans with strong unions in their districts – will have a hard time agreeing to. Read more.

Rep. LaShawn Ford introduced a constitutional amendment that would essentially require the state to make payments at the same level as the previous fiscal year if that fiscal year’s budget expired and no new one had been put in place. I wonder what inspired him…

The bills Senate Minority Leader Jim Durkin introduced (presumably at Gov. Rauner’s behest) on workers’ compensation and tort reform have yet to move out of the Rules Committee, which is not altogether surprising. HB 4248 would change the Workers’ Compensation Act to require an employee to prove that his or her injury was caused at least 50% by the workplace in order to receive benefits, and HB 4246 puts several new limits on personal injury lawsuits, including caps on potential awards. The tort reform bill also limits “venue shopping,’ whereby plaintiffs choose the most favorable locations to file their suits in, and it raises the fault requirement for defendants in joint and several liability cases from 25% to 50%.
Cook County Judge Rita Novak rejected Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to restructure two of Chicago’s underfunded pension plans. She ruled the plan’s reduction of the cost-of-living allowance unconstitutional, even though the city would also have contributed more to the plans. In the short term, the ruling means the city will not need to pay almost $100 million into the funds next year, but in the longer term this may be detrimental to the city’s credit rating. Read more.

Illinois became the first state to enact anti-BDS legislation, requiring the state to divest from any companies that boycott Israel. Read more.

Mayor Emanuel named Eileen Mitchell, the vice president of external affairs for AT&T Illinois and a former top aide to Speaker Madigan, as his new chief of staff. His last chief of staff, Forrest Claypool, just moved to a top position with Chicago Public Schools. Read more.

On Tuesday a federal appellate court in Chicago threw out five of the 18 counts against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is currently serving 14 years in prison for an array of corruption charges. The appellate court found that the jury was given improper instructions on the counts concerning President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, and it tossed those five counts. Although Blagojevich will now be re-sentenced, the court did not ask that he receive less prison time; that will be up to the sentencing judge and may not change. Read more.
New York
Gov. Cuomo’s wage board approved a resolution for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, phased in over the next six years. If the resolution is approved by the state labor commissioner, wages will rise to $9.75 statewide and $10.50 in New York City onDecember 31st, 2015. Read more.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced this year’s local government property tax increases will be capped at 0.73%, the lowest in years. DiNapoli’s office says this is due in part to a lower inflation rate, and it will result in about $88 million less in tax revenue growth next year as compared to this year.

The comptroller also said the state pension fund may lower its rate of return due to uncertainty on Wall Street. The fund is currently at $176.8 billion and serves 1 million current and former public workers. Lowering the rate would probably result in higher contribution rates from municipalities in the short term, and DiNapoli said his office will take several factors into account before making a decision. Read more.

On the bright side, the state’s general fund had almost $1.9 billion more than anticipated in June, thanks to strong tax revenues. DiNapoli was cautious about declaring a trend, however, saying, “We are seeing strength in sometimes volatile revenue sources, so it is unclear whether this positive trend will continue in the months ahead.” Read more.

In response to Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory remarks about everyone from immigrants to Sen. John McCain, Mayor de Blasio announced New York City will not do any more business with Trump. City Council member Mark Levine has been pushing for contracts with Trump to be canceled, but since the city does not have the legal grounds to do that, he and the mayor will settle for not conducting any future business with the mogul and presidential candidate.
Although construction on the Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County came to a halt last week after a court ruled that the town board had improperly approved an environmental review, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors wants to give it exclusive gaming rights. If the state allows the 90-mile exclusivity zone around the Lago casino, the recent application for a casino license from Tioga Downs would be threatened since it is just under 90 miles away. Read more.

Gov. Cuomo announced the state will pay over $8 billion into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) capital plan, but he also expects New York City to dramatically increase its contribution to over $3.2 billion. The capital plan is basically the MTA’s investment proposal for maintaining and expanding its transportation infrastructure. Mayor de Blasio has come out in support of the plan, though he and others are curious about where the state funding will come from. Read more.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind was arrested for disorderly conduct while protesting the Iran agreement outside Sen. Charles Schumer’s Midtown Manhattan office. Read more.

Sen. Tom Libous was found guilty of lying to an FBI agent. He now faces up to five years in prison and must forfeit his Senate seat, leaving Senate Republicans dangerously close to losing their majority. Read more.

Gov. Cuomo pledged to help his former cabinet member Barbara Fiala if she were to run for the seat in the special election planned for November. It is a curious move, since Gov. Cuomo has publicly tried to say out of Senate politics, but he has also received considerable criticism from his party for not supporting them enough. Fiala was already being considered as a candidate for the seat for next year, so the choice is not altogether out of nowhere. The district is heavily Republican, however, so it will be an interesting race. Read more.

State Sen. John Sampson was found guilty on three corruption charges today, and he, too, will lose his Senate seat. He was previously the Democratic leader. Read more.

New charges have been brought against Sen. Dean Skelos and his son Adam, expanding the indictment to include two charges of soliciting bribes from a company that lobbied the state. Read more.

New Jersey
Jeb Bush, one of many Republican presidential hopefuls, hosted two fundraisers in New Jersey yesterday and raised over $500,000 from the home state of Gov. Chris Christie, another contender. Read more.
Gov. John Kasich announced he will run for the Republican presidential nomination, saying, “I believe I do have the skills” to take on the “daunting challenge” of restoring the nation’s future.
Gov. Pence said if state revenues continue coming in strong, he may buy back the rest of the federal loan that was taken out during the Great Recession to maintain the unemployment benefit reserve fund. If this happens this fall, employers will be spared $327 million in the tax penalties they currently pay because of the loan.

Gov. Pence signed two bills that will expand statewide broadband internet access this week. One new law prohibits state and municipal governments from imposing taxes on access to and use of internet services, and the other introduces the Broadband Ready Communities Development Center, which will partner with local governments to facilitate communications projects that expand internet access. Read more.

Indiana received a three-year extension on its No Child Left Behind waiver from the US Department of Education. The waiver exempts the state from some provisions of the law, giving schools “more local control and greater flexibility over how they use federal dollars,” according to state Superintendence Glenda Ritz. The state Department of Education received a one-year waiver last summer. Since the House and Senate have each passed different rewrites of the No Child Left Behind law, we will have to wait and see what ends up being signed into law and if it will continue granting waivers. Read more.

Attorney General Mike Zoeller announced this week that he will join the competition for US Rep. Todd Young’s seat. Zoeller will compete against Robert Hall and state Sens. Erin Houchin and Brent Waltz for the Republican nomination.
Gov. Dayton is not wasting any time in making his goals for the next legislative session –eight months from now – very clear. The governor said he will not sign a tax cut bill unless legislators also send him another funding increase for early childhood education. Minnesota is currently ranked number one in a report on children by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund, and Gov. Dayton wants to keep it that way.Read more.