Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Fight over Uber tax in Chicago … Indiana legislator wants to lower the age to run for office … Massachusetts will oversee colleges’ finances.
The Metro Transit Authority, which operates public buses and trains in New York City, outlined a new four-year financial plan last week that would eliminate 2,700 jobs, including laying off some employees. The cuts, which would also count on attrition and eliminating unfilled positions, are expected to save the MTA $1.6 billion over four years, which will not be enough to cover the funding deficit that the department faces. Despite the difficult financial forecast, the MTA has approved a plan put forth by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to spend $249 million to hire 500 more MTA police officers, who are expected to crack down on fare evasion and save the agency $200 million over the next four years. Several MTA board members have raised questions about whether it is strategic to spend $249 million to save $200 million, and whether the increase in policing would negatively impact communities of color. “This is not the way to come up with increased amounts of money, since almost two-thirds of (fare evasion) is a bus problem and it’s creating a rather explosive situation in the communities I know about. I would like an in-depth dive on this,” said board member David Jones. Chairman Pat Foye, however, said the officers would also work on counterterrorism and hate crime efforts. “I don’t need to point out … that not far from where we meet today was a terrible act of terrorism in 2001. Transportation facilities across the world, Madrid, Belgium, Zaventem airport, London, etc. Those risks are real and remain with us,” he said. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said he would work with new MTA police on counterterrorism efforts and Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the plan. Transit advocates said that the governor should focus the money on bettering public transit service, instead of hiring more police. "The governor should put the priorities of eight million riders a day first. New Yorkers are much more interested in getting to work and home on time than in hiring police when crime in the city and on transit is near record-lows,” said Danny Pearlstein with Riders Alliance. The MTA board will vote on its budget next month, but has already begun recruiting the 500 new officers. [Gothamist; Streets Blog NYC]
UBER TAX | Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed a tax on ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber in an attempt to reduce congestion in the city. Under the proposal, which would raise $40 million in revenue for the city, taxes on single-rider trips would increase from 60 cents to $1.13, while taxes on shared trips would drop by 7 cents to 53 cents. There would also be a new $1.75 surcharge on rides that begin or end downtown on weekdays. Uber has fought the measure, and produced their own competing plan for the city, which the mayor rejected, accusing them of throwing “lots of Hail Marys because what they don’t want is to actually be regulated by the city of Chicago." Lightfoot also accused the company of “paying off” local ministers, as 35 black church leaders recently sent her a letter opposing the plan, saying it put “all of the progress that’s been made to give our communities a reliable transportation option at risk.” Uber denied that charge. “This is a genuine good-faith effort to show the city there’s a better way to do this,” Uber public relations manager Harry Hartfield said. [NBC News; Chicago Sun-Times; Streetsblog; Reuters]
AGE TO RUN | The youngest member of the Indiana General Assembly is leading a legislative push to lower the age by which residents can run for and be elected to the state legislature. Rep. Chris Chyung, a 26-year-old Democrat, wants to lower the age from 21 for the Assembly and 25 for the Senate to allow 18-year-olds to run for both. Chyung said that being 18 allows people to smoke, buy a lottery ticket, and join the military, so they should be allowed to run for office. "Eighteen is definitely kind of an aggressive measure I will admit, but … we can fight and die for our country at 18, we can fight to protect freedom. Why is that bar so much different than sitting around and making laws and being apart of the lawmaking process? In order to create better legislation for the future, in order to have a more future-oriented view when it comes to passing policy, I think we need those young voices at the table,” he said. A similar measure was proposed in 2016, but failed in committee. It was brought to the legislature by teenage Republican political activist Megan Stoner, who said that it would be fair to allow 18-year-olds to participate in elections because they would have to prove themselves to be viable candidates. "We still have to run, still have to get elected, wherever that might be. Knocking on doors, hitting the pavement, so I would just say to Republicans, this is not an automatic election for anyone,” she said. Twenty-seven states have lower age limits than Indiana currently has. To pass in Indiana, the age constitutional amendment would have to pass two consecutive sessions of the General Assembly, and then be approved on a statewide ballot. [WTHR; WISH TV]
COLLEGE FINANCES | Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law last week a measure that will increase the state’s ability to monitor the finances of colleges and universities. The bill had previously passed unanimously through the state legislature, and was inspired by the abrupt closure of a small private college in the state in 2018 that left students scrambling to file transfer applications. The law would require institutions at risk of closing to create contingency plans for their students, and would put the state Board of Higher Education in charge of annually screening colleges for signs of financial distress. Baker said the new law would “protect students and families from sudden college closures, while also guaranteeing those institutions confidentiality as the Department of Higher Education works with them to understand their financial status.” Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito said that the impacts of college closures spread beyond students to the employees of the university and their communities. “While we do not want to see any college or university close its doors, it is important to ensure sufficient notice to students and staff to make arrangements if the institution where they study or work is at high risk of closure, so they can complete their studies with as little disruption as possible, or have sufficient time to find new employment,” she said. [Inside Higher Ed; Daily Hampshire Gazette]
COUGH MEDICINE | Teenagers will no longer be allowed to buy over-the-counter cough medicine on their own in Michigan under a new law signed last week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Some cough suppressants contain dextromethorphan, or DXM, an ingredient which can cause hallucinations. Some teens mix it with alcohol for a high. Starting in July 2020, stores will be required to ask customers for an ID, and will not be allowed to sell products containing DXM to minors unless they have a prescription. The measure is part of a plan to reduce opioid deaths in the state by 50% over the next five years, which Whitmer said is a tough challenge but doable. "This is a crisis that's hurting families in every community across Michigan. Addiction is not a moral failing. Addiction is a disease," she said. In 2018, the state saw a 13% year-over-year rise in drug overdose deaths, and a 16% rise in opioid-related deaths. [Newsweek; 9&10 News]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.