Connecting state and local government leaders

Economics of Blueberries Jam Maine Officials


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Judicial fines mount from Washington state’s ongoing education funding crisis; California state government hiring outreach; and Philly’s ‘text-to-give’ campaign.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT | A “depression” in the price of blueberries has hit Maine’s agricultural sector hard in recent years. Since 2011, prices have dropped from nearly $1 per pound to 25 to 30 cents last year, making it far more difficult for farmers to make a living tied to blueberries. Growers in two counties, Washington and Hancock, are particularly hard hard. In his budget, Gov. Paul LePage has proposed spending $2.5 million to market Maine’s agricultural products, including blueberries. The governor and other state officials have said that the state “needs to find new buyers for the blueberries to try to spur demand and buoy prices.” [Portland Press Herald]

Montana in recent years has managed to avoid the trend of coal mining job-losses seen in other states. In the past year, however, coal mining employment there did decline. And there’s increasing focus in some communities about what will replace mining as an economic driver. In Colstrip, a community of about 2,300 residents, 373 people work at a mine, which provides fuel for a local coal-fired power plant that employs 388. But two of the power plant’s units are slated for closure. “We’ve been doing looks at diversifying the economy for a long time, but nothing as urgent and specialized and focused as now — nothing as urgent and focused as what the community was asking us to do,” said Jim Atchison, executive director of the Southeastern Montana Economic Development Corp. [Billings Gazette]

STATE LEGISLATURES | Washington state has accrued $67 million in fines because lawmakers there have failed to fully fund public schools. The state Supreme Court imposed a $100,000 penalty that began in 2015 for each day the Legislature did not come up with a K-12 education funding plan. But the fines haven’t done much to spur progress by lawmakers. Monday is the 670th day since the penalties went into effect. “The important thing is to get the school-funding formula right, and not worry about where you’re going to put what money for the court,” said state Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican. [The News Tribune]

North Carolina’s legislature is mulling a half dozen redistricting bills to end racial gerrymandering the U.S. Supreme Court found at the congressional and General Assembly levels in the state. Options include allowing redistricting to be handled by non-partisan bureaucrats, computer programs or former judges. “The pattern is that whichever party is in power, the leadership chooses not to take the bold step forward to reform,” said Bob Phillips, Common Cause North Carolina executive director. [News & Record]

CITY HALLS | San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee introduced legislation last week to create an Office of Cannabis to handle permits for recreational marijuana sales. The office would fall within the Office of the City Administrator and is expected to have three staff positions, with salaries totalling $472,465. The city is also planning to propose rules within the next three months outlining where marijuana businesses can open. [San Francisco Examiner]

City officials in Philadelphia, including Mayor Jim Kenney, are urging residents to stop giving loose change to panhandlers. Instead, those officials are encouraging charity-minded Philadelphians to take part in a “text-to-give” campaign. The proceeds of that initiative will go to homeless service programs. “I will admit myself that I have given people money in the past, if someone looks that down-and-out,” Mayor Kenney said at a press conference. “But you have to understand it’s not going to help solve their ultimate problem. It will address an immediate problem of either hunger or drug addiction, but it’s not going to solve the problem at large.” [The Inquirer /]

STATE GOVERNMENT | California, for the second time in two years, launched a new website helping people locate available state government jobs near them and determine if they’re qualified to apply. The goal is to attract more millennial and private sector workers. Mobile applications were also a priority. [The Sacramento Bee]

Illinois puts $3 million a year toward a state-run media service, the Illinois Office of Communication and Information, which provides unedited video and audio to news outlets that have trouble traveling to cover government. With the state billions of dollars in debt and lacking a budget, legislators are beginning to question the necessity of the service. [The State Journal-Register]

PUBLIC TRANSIT | Safetrack, WMATA’s service and safety initiative is now more than one year old. But, the agency’s latest attempt to “improve the Metro experience” has little to do with delays or increased fares. Instead, the agency has added music—or muzak—into the mix. As of now, “easy listening” tunes selected by Metro staff is being piped into Gallery Place-Chinatown and Judiciary Square stations and according to Richard Jordan, Metro’s spokesperson, the transit authority is planning on expanding to more locations. According to Jordan, the response thus far has been “very positive,” but a glimpse at Twitter would suggest otherwise. One twitter user compared the initiative to “fiddling while Rome burns.” [WAMU News]