Connecting state and local government leaders

Baltimore’s ‘Strong Mayor’ Survives Tight Votes; Seattle Adopts Adaptable Traffic System

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Philly’s parks make Google Street View first; Louisiana parishes fear they’ll lose millions of dollars; and Massachusetts needs new emissions limits.

CITY HALL | Members of the Baltimore City Council couldn’t override Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s vetoes of two “strong mayor” charter amendments, which would’ve wrested away control of Baltimore’s spending panel while allowing council members to increase spending within the executive’s proposed budget. The council fell four and three votes short respectively of overriding on each measure. "This was something the council was behind, then all of a sudden today [wasn't],” said Council President Bernard "Jack" Young. "We get an opportunity to stand up, and we sit down.” [The Baltimore Sun]

TRAFFIC TECH | The Emerald City is spending $651,000 on a traffic software system called Concert that will help the city adapt to major accidents and freeway backups. Seattle will be able to import external data on highway vehicle volumes from the Washington State Department of Transportation. If the data indicates congestion on highways, Concert reacts by giving extra time on green lights on city streets near highway exits. On nights with a Mariners home game, the software adapts by flipping street signals around the stadium to “post-game mode” before the ninth inning. [The Seattle Times]

MAPPING | What does it take to digitally document a city’s parks? According to the job posting on Philadelphia’s Department of Parks and Recreation website, it requires the ability to lift heavy gear and the willingness to walk through every park in the city, for miles on end—about 200 to be exact—for six months. That’s the kind of work two men, Conor Michaud and Gint Stirbys, are undertaking in the City of Brotherly Love. It’s all part of a project to document the natural scenery in the city for Google Street View, and Philadelphia is the first city in the nation to do it. []

SALES TAX | The Louisiana Supreme Court earlier this month ruled Nelson Industrial Steam Company is entitled a tax refund for spending $46 million on limestone to limit harmful sulfur emissions while producing energy. Nelson sold the byproduct ash for $6.8 million, but the court determined the $39 million difference wasn’t taxable—a controversial tax exclusion—that will prevent the state from collecting $2.6 million and Calcasieu Parish $3 million. Other parishes face similar cases but have already collected the sales tax and fear the state Supreme Court just set a very bad precedent that will cost them millions. “It’s made a lot of us scared about our revenue in the future,” said one parish tax collector. “It’s a bad, bad ruling. I can’t imagine the Supreme Court realizes what they just did.” [The Advocate]

EMISSIONS | The state failed to adopt strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions, according to Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court. Environmental groups sued the state saying 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act requirements hadn’t been met, namely reducing emissions 25 percent by 2020. State attorneys attempted to argue Massachusetts only needed to set declining emissions limits. [The Associated Press via WTOP-FM]

ZIKA | There have been 45 total confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Miami-Dade County so far, more than any other county in Florida, and the rainy season hasn’t even arrived yet. In an effort to prevent local transmission of the disease, the county’s commissioners are considering a change to the legal code that would give mosquito control workers, acting in the context of a health emergency, the power to respond within two days, instead of the current five, to clear empty containers of standing water that serve as breeding grounds for the virus-spreading insects. [Miami Herald]

LAWSUIT | The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from ExxonMobil in a case that has stretched over a decade, involving charges that the energy company used a gasoline additive that contaminated water in the Granite State. This means the company is on the hook to pay New Hampshire more than $236 million. The case dates back to 2003, when the state’s attorney general brought a lawsuit against 22 oil companies alleging they added a substance called MTBE to gasoline sold in New Hampshire, knowing that it was toxic and could pollute water. All of the companies except for ExxonMobil agreed in prior years to pay out of court settlements that totaled $136 million. [New Hampshire Union Leader]

THRILLS | Because they enjoyed the rush of riding in firetrucks, four volunteer firefighters in this central Pennsylvania county called in five false alarms earlier this year, police said. The four men have been suspended by the Logan Township Volunteer Fire Department. Each of them had less than 90 days’ service with the department. [The Associated Press via The Tribune-Democrat]

WELFARE | Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday signed a bill that will reduce the length of time families can receive welfare benefits to two years, from three. There is the possibility, however, that families can apply for a hardship exemption to get more time. The lifetime limit on benefits was also capped lower, at three years, instead of four. That’s in contrast to the federal limit of five years. Because it’s federally funded, changing eligibility requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program won’t save Kansas money. But Brownback, a Republican, believes it will prompt people to re-enter the job market earlier than they might otherwise. “It’s a piece of human nature for too many of us, myself included, that you don’t generally act until you get right up against the deadline,” he said. [The Kansas City Star]

NATIONAL PARK | Divided opinions over a proposal for a North Woods national monument were voiced Monday, as about 1,400 people turned out for a public forum. The family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, who co-founded the Burt’s Bees personal care product line, has proposed the monument, which would encompass about 87,500 acres situated approximately 80 miles north of Bangor near Baxter State Park. Backers of the plan, including environmental groups, say the monument would draw tourists and create jobs. Critics, such as lumber companies and groups representing hunters and trappers, warned of negative consequences that could result from federal control of the land. [Bangor Daily News]