Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Rideshare protests in Portland … Philly council considers vetoes for real estate assessments … Iowa lawmakers trim energy-efficiency rebates … and Funkmaster Flex’s police escort.
Here are state and local government news stories that caught Route Fifty’s attention ...
CITY FINANCES | Budget profligacy in Detroit led to bankruptcy and then years of oversight in which the city’s spending decisions had to be approved by a state commission. But this week, commission members voted to end their day-to-day control of the city’s finances, acknowledging that Detroit leaders in recent years have demonstrated a commitment to fiscal discipline that has produced a string of balanced budgets. On Monday, The New York Times ran a photo essay capturing visual evidence of the improving economic outlook and published a Q&A with Mayor Mike Duggan.
Some nuggets from the interview:
On the power of the telling it straight: “[People at community meetings] come to me and say: ‘You need to reopen more recreation centers.’ I say, ‘Look, this city ended up in financial crisis because its elected officials didn’t have the courage to say to you that with the revenue we have, we can’t afford to do that. I’m not going to allow us to get to the point where anybody from the outside ever takes over again.. So I’m just going to tell you truth: ‘We can’t afford to do that right now.’ And inevitably there’s a huge round of applause. People in this city just want to be told the truth.”
On changing mentalities: “The first time, we put up signs saying ‘Please remove your cars for the street sweeper,’ people thought it was a joke. They didn’t move their cars. The second and third time, people said, ‘Oh my God, they’re really sweeping streets.’”
On bankruptcy as an option for struggling cities: “The bankruptcy certainly gave us a restructured balance sheet that gave us money to deliver more services, but it was a traumatic experience for the people who lived here. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.” [The New York Times]
TRANSPORTATION | Another day, another dispatch from the municipal ride-share wars. On Monday in Portland, Oregon, where the City Council is preparing to consider new regulations on ride-hailing companies, Uber and Lyft drivers rallied outside City Hall to demand better pay and improved working conditions. AFL-CIO officials joined the protesting drivers. Also on Monday, a newly formed New York City Council committee considered a suite of seven proposals designed to bolster regulation of ride-sharing companies in order to make it more difficult for them to undercut existing businesses. One bill would boost fees and restrictions on the companies; another would cap the number of ride-hail drivers that could work the city streets. [The Oregonian / OregonLive.com, amNewYork]
Cities continue to resist being clogged by motorized rental scooter businesses. Friday it was Austin, Texas, which passed an ordinance allowing the city to impound scooters left in rights of way. On Tuesday, San Francisco officials announced they planned to limit how many scooters companies can put on the streets, charge the companies for annual permit fees and require them to file plans that will keep the devices from obstructing sidewalks. [San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate]
- Des Moines, Iowa: Republican lawmakers in Iowa voted this week to trim a state energy-efficiency program that funds rebates for homeowners who buy energy-efficient appliances and make energy-saving retrofits. Republicans decried the program as a “hidden tax.” Democrats said the program was designed to save residents money in the long run by reducing the need to build new power plants. They argued that ending the program would also cost jobs in the state’s booming energy-efficiency industry. Similar bills have been introduced in other states. [Iowa Public Radio]
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Members of the Philadelphia City Council are weighing a proposal that would give the council veto power over real estate assessments. Critics fear the bold proposal could lead to corruption. Council members in support of the bill say assessments that effectively raise the value of property result in higher taxes that were never voted on by city residents nor by the city council. Councilman David Oh’s bill would change the city charter to give Council members the power to approve or reject reassessments made by the state Office of Property Assessment if they exceed the national urban Consumer Price Index—a cost-of-living measure set by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “While Council must approve any real estate tax rate increase, it currently cannot ratify any new assessments,” said Oh. [WHYY / PlanPhilly]
- Boulder, Colorado: City Council members on Tuesday evening planned to debate a proposed ban on assault weapons, bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. City Attorney Tom Carr said Boulder’s status as a home-rule city exempted it from a state law that prevents local officials from putting in place any gun control laws not passed by the state legislature. The proposed ordinance specifically mentions the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and argues that the large number of students in Boulder, a college town, makes gun control a pressing public-safety issue. Council members were also considering whether it would be better to ask voters to weigh in directly on the matter in November by including the proposal on city ballots. [KUSA / 9News]
- Newark, New Jersey: Mayor Ras Baraka is off the hook. A judge dismissed a lawsuit charging he misused $200 in city funds when he allegedly asked police to escort hip hop DJ Funkmaster Flex from New York City to his own birthday party in New Jersey. Video posted on Funkmaster’s Facebook page seemed to show New Jersey police cars with lights flashing leading the Funkmaster’s vehicle into the Holland Tunnel on the way to the birthday celebration at Newark's Prudential Center. [WABC 7]
- Seattle, Washington: City Attorney Pete Holmes late last week petitioned Seattle Municipal Court to vacate roughly 500 misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions levied between 1996 and 2010. “As we see marijuana sold in retail storefronts today, people who simply had a joint in their pocket a decade ago still have a red mark on their records,” Holmes argued in a statement to the press. “It’s long past time we remedy the drug policies of yesteryear, and this is one small step to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of color.” [The Stranger]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.