Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Wheel tax in Madison, Wisconsin, receives bad reviews … Former New York weatherman suing local mayor over termination … Wrongful death lawsuit filed against Cleveland mayor.
A New Mexico state task force has released a report detailing the progress of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s climate initiatives and making suggestions for future steps the state can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to less than 55% of 2005 levels by 2030. Grisham said that the state has the chance to set an example for other states, but that they have to increase their efforts in order to meet emissions goals. “It is not hyperbole to suggest the stakes are higher than perhaps ever before in human history … We will employ every strategy—and break new ground where we can—in reducing emissions and building our economy,” she said. The creation of the climate change task force was a priority for Grisham when she took office in January. Although representatives from the state’s oil and gas industry have been consulted about the proposed regulatory changes, some oil executives aren’t pleased with the report. The task force found that the highest priority for the state is the reduction of methane emissions, which make up 31% of the state’s total emissions. More than 60% of methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, so regulations on methane, like those proposed in the report, would largely fall on that industry. Larry Behrens, western states director for Power the Future, a group that supports oil and gas workers, said that regulations on methane emissions will cost jobs. “Tens of thousands of New Mexicans work in the energy industry, but you don’t hear from them in this report. It’s those workers, and not more government bureaucrats, that deserve to be heard. This is a love letter to radical environmentalists disguised as a government report,” he said. Jon Goldstein, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Fund, applauded the effort. “The report powerfully underscores that to achieve the reductions promised, New Mexico must deploy a multi-sector policy that puts an overall limit on statewide pollution that declines over time, while utilizing a flexible, market-based approach to meet that limit to ensure access to the lowest-cost pollution reductions,” he said. [Associated Press; Inside Sources]
WHEEL TAX | In October, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin approved a $40 vehicle registration fee, known as a “wheel tax,” which was projected to bring in $8 million by 2020. That money would be used to fund transportation projects around the city, and was intended to free up property tax revenue for use by the police and fire departments. Now, a month after the tax was passed, more than 250 people have sent almost 2,000 pages worth of email complaints to city leaders. “Some of us home owners over 60 years old are being taxed out of our homes. We cannot afford ever increasing property taxes. Cut spending please. The wheel tax is yet another tax on those of us who are most vulnerable to being taxed out of our homes,” reads an email from one resident. Alderman Keith Furman, who voted for the tax, defended it as the only option for the city given state-imposed limits on property taxes. “There was not enough budget cuts presented to replace the need for the Vehicle Registration Tax even if we unfunded (Bus Rapid Transit) entirely. I continue to not like the tax, but had no other choice but to vote for it. We don’t have the option of having a non balanced budget,” he said. [Wisconsin State Journal; WKOW]
WEATHERMAN | Jeremy Kappell, a former meteorologist for WHEC, a news station in Rochester, New York, is suing the city’s mayor over allegations that she encouraged his termination. Kappell was fired in January when he said a racial slur on air. In reporting the weather in Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Kappell instead said “Martin Luther coon.” Kappell says that it was a mistake, but when a resident posted the video to Facebook, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren called for him to be fired. “While referring to African Americans in racially derogatory, insensitive and vulgar language needs to be addressed immediately,” she said. The lawsuit alleges that Warren “improperly and unlawfully influenc[ed] the termination of a citizen’s employment with a private employer, without any due process.” Both the city of Rochester and WHEC responded to the lawsuit by saying that Kappell was fired the day before Warren issued a public statement. [Washington Post; Democrat & Chronicle; Syracuse.com]
WRONGFUL DEATH | The mother of a man shot in Cleveland, Ohio in August is suing the city’s mayor and police chief over allegations that they interfered in the investigation into the shooting. The wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Andrea Parra, the mother of Antonio Parra, who police believe was shot by two men. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s grandson, Frank Q. Jackson, is a suspect in the case, according to a prosecutor, and the assailants drove off in a car registered to the mayor's grandson, though he said he no longer owned the car. When the police went to the mayor’s house after the shooting, the mayor asked the officers to turn off their body cameras and said his grandson would not answer questions. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said the police should turn the investigation over to an impartial outside agency. “If you have that type of relationship where someone can question whether you are handling something in an impartial or unbiased manner, then the best thing to do is step aside,” he said. The mayor insists he has not interfered with the investigation. “Neither I or anyone associated with me interfered in any investigation or determining any charges,” he said. [Associated Press]
DISTRACTED DRIVING | Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a measure that will bar drivers from using handheld cell phones while behind the wheel. The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the state legislature earlier in the month, and creates a penalty of $100 for the first infraction, followed by an increasing fine for each subsequent offense. The measure will allow drivers to use hands-free devices. Democratic state Sen. Joseph Boncore, co-chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said that 3,000 people each year die from distracted driving in the U.S. “These deaths are preventable. Too many parents have lost children. Too many children have lost parents,” he said. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already ban handheld cell phones while driving. [WPRI; WCVB; CBS Boston]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.