Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Youngstown, Ohio residents target fracking; raising wait-staff wages in Washington, D.C.; Vermont F-35 fighter jet fight; and a Manchester arts commissioner caught on video gouging a city hall wall.
Here are state and local government stories that caught Route Fifty’s attention …
PUBLIC EDUCATION | Education labor news keeps rolling in after the nine-day statewide teacher strike in West Virginia ended Tuesday with officials agreeing to a 5-percent average pay hike. On Wednesday, Arizona teachers and supporters launched the #RedForEd movement, flooding social media with photos of themselves wearing red to work. Thousands of the state's teachers participated in the action, spurred by a funding crisis that has left districts struggling to fill positions. Experienced teachers aren’t interested. Among Arizona’s 46,000 teachers, 22 percent lack full qualifications, nearly 2,000 of that 22 percent have no formal teacher training and dozens of those lack even a college degree. Analysts say poor teacher pay and low education funding are to blame. Median pay for elementary school teachers is $40,590 per year, compared with $54,120 nationally. In 2014, Arizona ranked second to last among the states in average per-pupil spending at $7,457, compared with $11,066 nationally. The head of the Arizona teachers' union said couldn’t predict whether protests might turn into strikes in the coming days. [The Arizona Republic; Phoenix New Times]
BALLOT INITIATIVES | In Youngstown, Ohio, a citizens group is making another run at banning oil and gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, within city limits. The Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee sailed through the initiative process this week, submitting more than enough valid petition signatures, but its momentum might yet be stalled in the courts. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that a similar effort violated state laws. “We’re waiting for the [county] prosecutor’s opinion,” said elections board director Mark Munroe. [The Vindicator]
The District of Columbia Board of Elections this week certified an initiative for the June 19 ballot that would phase out the city’s “tipped minimum wage” system, which has kept waiters earning a base pay of $3.33 an hour before tips. Minimum wage in the nation’s capital is currently $12.50 and set to rise to $15 by 2020. Initiative 77 would replace the tipped wage system by 2025, after which waitstaff and bartenders would be paid the prevailing minimum wage, plus any tips customers choose to leave. Industry groups strongly oppose the initiative and have stoked fear that the proposal might dry up tips altogether and result in cuts in pay for tip-earning jobs. [WAMU / 88.5 News]
Michigan is marching toward marijuana legalization. Recent polling found more than six in 10 state voters support a proposed statewide ballot initiative legalizing adult use and sale of pot. The poll was commissioned by Michigan NORML, a member of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is backing the initiative. Proponents last fall turned in more than 360,000 petition signatures, an amount likely to meet the state threshold of 252,523 valid signatures. The initiative would appear on ballots in November. Oklahoma residents will vote June 26 on State Question 788, which would legalize medical marijuana. [NORML blog]
Burlington, Vermont voters this week passed an “advisory ballot initiative” that seeks to head off a plan to base F-35 fighter jets at the city’s airport. The initiative asks the City Council to request federal officials base the planes elsewhere. It has drawn sharp reaction among conservative residents who see it as selfish and unpatriotic. The Vermont Air National Guard was the first reserve unit in the country scheduled to receive the new planes. Many residents have fought against hosting the F-35s for years. They say the planes’ roaring noise will fill the sky, the kind of noise they had hoped to put an end to. The jets would arrive in 2019 and replace the F-16s currently based at the airport. [Seven Days]
South Dakota lawmakers are clashing over the state’s relatively loose ballot initiative process, which draws a wide variety of national interest groups looking to test-run proposals. At the end of February, state House members tried and failed to pass a bill that aimed to rein in outside spending on initiatives. The measure would have restricted out-of-state donors to $100,000 in contributions to any one ballot question campaign per general election cycle. Speaker Mark Mickelson, a supporter of the bill, now plans to sponsor a ballot question that would ban out-of-state fundraising for initiatives. Meantime, this week, the state Senate has quietly launched bills designed to tighten up the initiative process. Senate Bills 9 and 13 would require drafters of initiative questions to add more information for voters to consider, including potential projected costs of any proposition. In an Argus Leader op-ed, state Rep. Dan Ahlers sounded a warning: “This requirement makes the ballot longer and more difficult for voters to navigate. Proponents of this measure know that the average voter will vote not to change a law or amend the Constitution if the measure appears to be complicated. Another problem with this requirement is that a fiscal note is an anticipated cost… [but some anticipated costs] are never incurred.” [AP; Argus Leader]
MUNICIPAL BROADBAND | Frustrated with slow movement on a push to adopt city-owned high-speed broadband in Cambridge, Massachusetts, supporters have formed Upgrade Cambridge, an activist group that intends to press for action. In 2014, the city formed a municipal broadband task force to explore the issue and, in 2016, the task delivered its recommendations to move ahead. According to a spokesman for the city manager’s office, the city would be “deciding on next steps in the next two to five months.” Upgrade Cambridge will be waiting. “Infrastructure is destiny,” said member Roy Russell. “Building the right infrastructure will improve opportunities for everyone in our fair city.” [Upgrade Cambridge; Cambridge Today]
ONLINE RETAIL TAXES | On Monday, 41 states, two territories and the District of Columbia filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a South Dakota law that would require out-of-state online retailers to collect sales tax. The case, which the court is scheduled to hear in April, turns on a 1992 decision that found state officials could only require remote sellers to collect sales taxes if the seller maintained a physical presence in that state. As online shopping has grown in the decades since then, however, most states have been pushing for an update to the law. “We cannot allow homegrown, brick-and-mortar businesses to be put at a competitive disadvantage by an ancient tax ruling that was made decades before the first retail internet purchase was made a retail sale,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. “States are losing billions of dollars in tax revenue, and it’s unacceptable.” Coffman’s office is lead counsel for the states coalition behind the brief. The Trump administration and some major retail groups also support South Dakota in the case. [The Hill]
CITY HALLS | What exactly happened in Manchester, New Hampshire Mayor Joyce Craig’s City Hall office during a meeting with Arts Commission Chair Daniel Berube? Last week, Berube exited the meeting and casually proceeded to gouge a 6-foot-long gash along one of the building’s hallway walls. The very end of the act was caught on security tape. Berube appears unperturbed as he turns a corner away from the wall, as if he had acted merely on an aesthetic impulse, a need to match the bland bureaucratic interior with a bland distressing gesture. Berube turned himself into police Tuesday and was arrested for criminal mischief. Later that day, he resigned from the arts commission “with complete regret and a heavy heart.” He has also agreed to pay hundreds of dollars to repair the damage. City Hall staff reported no shouting or arguing during Berube’s meeting with Craig. They described the meeting as “mundane.” Berube is a filmmaker and producer who grew up in Manchester. [Union Leader, New England Film]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.