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With the new fiscal year underway, some states are just now wrapping up their budgets—and it hasn’t been without drama. Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup
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It’s Saturday, July 8, and that means summer is in full swing. But there’s still plenty happening in state and local government, and we’re here to bring you up to speed on the historic federal investment being made in New York, states’ efforts to outlaw deepfakes and California’s new bacon law. First, we’ll start with the handful of states that are still wrapping up their budgets for the current fiscal year.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, signed a Republican-authored budget once again, rather than provoke a longer standoff with GOP leaders who have routinely dismissed his proposals.
But first Evers made several changes using uniquely quirky and powerful veto powers that Wisconsin governors enjoy, garnering widespread attention in the process.
The most audacious move by the former teacher was to strike several characters in a sentence, in order to provide annual education funding increases for the next 400 years. Evers nixed a provision of the Republican budget that would have eliminated 188 positions with the University of Wisconsin that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. And the governor gutted most of a Republican plan to lower income taxes, striking language that would have benefitted higher-income residents.
Evers chided Republican lawmakers for not taking advantage of a record budget surplus, saying they “sent the budget back to my desk without making critical investments in key areas that they know and have acknowledged are essential to the success of our state. … And they did so while providing no real justifications, any kind of substantive debate or any meaningful alternative. That decision is, to put it simply, an abdication of duty.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a longtime foe of Evers, said the governor’s changes would lead to “massive property tax increases” for Wisconsin residents and put its businesses at a disadvantage with Illinois, which has a flat income tax. “Clearly, now that he’s won reelection by taking credit for Republican ideas, it’s business as usual for Governor Evers, as he returns to his true liberal ideology,” Vos said in a statement. (Other Republican lawmakers were even less charitable.)
It would take a two-thirds vote of the legislature to override Evers’ changes, an unlikely prospect because at least some Democrats would be needed to reach that threshold.
While Evers’ move was certainly brazen, it is nothing new in Madison. In fact, Wisconsin voters have twice amended the state constitution to curtail other audacious vetoes from previous governors that detractors called the “Frankenstein veto” (using pieces of long bills to stitch together new policies) or the “Vanna White veto” (deleting individual characters to rewrite bills).
Daniel Bice, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, dubbed Evers’ edition the “Star Trek veto” for taking the “budget where no governor had ever gone before.”
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers reached a deal with California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week on a budget framework, but the pieces are still falling into place.
One of the most contentious issues in Sacramento had been Newsom’s push to speed up the environmental approval process for major infrastructure projects in the state, and lawmakers this week approved several measures to do so.
The compromise package applies only to certain kinds of infrastructure, such as renewable energy, water and transportation projects. It would not affect approval of a proposed water tunnel under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta as Newsom had wanted. And it would not cover traditional energy and wildfire mitigation projects, as many legislative Republicans had pushed to include.
“Historic drought, massive flooding and dangerous energy grid blackouts have offered insight into the consequences regulatory gridlock creates for our communities,” state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Merced Democrat, told her colleagues. “The thoughtful changes were drafted to not only ensure our state’s climate goals but ensure public safety and a better future for our constituents.”
As CalMatters noted, Newsom has been “slowly but surely” signing other pieces of the budget deal, often waiting until the last minute to give his approval in order to ensure that the infrastructure proposals made it to his desk. Now that they are headed his way, Newsom is expected to sign them and other bills when he returns to the state next week.
It’s a different story in Pennsylvania, where first-term Gov. Josh Shapiro is still tussling with the legislature over the budget. Fresh off overseeing the replacement of a collapsed highway in Philadelphia, he faces another tricky situation.
Shapiro, a moderate Democrat, must work with a legislature with split party control. He had sided with Republicans in the state Senate who wanted to include taxpayer-funded scholarships for private schools. But Shapiro backed off that stance when it became clear that the Democrats who control the House would not support it. He said he would veto the provision from the Senate's budget once it got to his desk.
That leaves the budget in limbo as of this writing, with Republicans and Shapiro blaming each other for missing the budget deadline.
GOP lawmakers said the governor reneged on a deal. “Senate Republicans worked in good faith with Gov. Shapiro for nearly two months, making concessions and giving him all the goodies he wanted with his promise to work with his party and bring PASS scholarships across the finish line,” Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward said in a statement.
But the governor said Republicans never reached a final agreement with their Democratic counterparts. “Rather than closing a deal that was within reach with House Democrats, instead, [Senate Republicans] chose to send the state House a budget that was not agreed upon by all three parties,” Shapiro said.
The House and Senate in Ohio, on the other hand, were able to reach an agreement on a bill that was “Republican-focused,” but gave Democrats some wins. It may have been late, but it was without much drama.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, wielded his veto pen and struck 44 provisions from the bill, ultimately helping each side of the aisle. For Democrats, he vetoed a provision that would have banned cities from creating their own tobacco laws. And for Republicans, he vetoed Medicaid coverage of doulas.
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and make sure to come back here for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. We’ll see you next week.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- The Hudson tunnel project gets nearly $6.9 billion. The federal government is on track to give New York City $6.88 billion, the most ever awarded to a mass transit project, for the construction of a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River. The two-tube tunnel is part of Gateway, a massive infrastructure project that is expected to cost more than $16 billion before it is completed in 2035. The new tunnel would supplement a troublesome pair of single-track tunnels that opened in 1910 and have been steadily deteriorating since Hurricane Sandy flooded them with salt water in 2012.
- Houston sues Texas over “Death Star” law. Houston officials sued the state of Texas on Monday to stop a sweeping law aimed at gutting all kinds of local ordinances and sapping the power of the state’s bluer urban areas. The law—dubbed the “Death Star” bill by opponents—was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, marking Texas Republicans’ biggest attempt yet to constrain local governments in a yearslong campaign aimed at Texas’ major metropolitan areas, often governed by Democrats. The law prevents cities and counties from creating local ordinances that go further than what’s allowed under broad areas of state law, an attempt to overturn cities’ progressive policies. Among those policies are mandated water breaks for construction workers in Dallas and Austin, a component of the law that’s gained more criticism as Texas experiences a drastic summer heat wave.
- States look to outlaw deepfakes. A Louisiana law Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed aims to rein in some of the most sinister uses of deepfakes. The new law makes it a crime to create or possess a deepfake that knowingly depicts someone under 18 engaging in sexual conduct. Violations carry between five and 20 years in prison with hard labor, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. It also makes it illegal to advertise, distribute, exhibit, exchange, promote or sell deepfakes of a minor or unconsenting adult engaging in sexual conduct. This carries between 10 and 30 years in prison. Nine other states have enacted laws regulating deepfakes, including neighboring Texas, and at least three other states have pending legislation, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis. Most of these laws are aimed at pornography or potential influences on elections.
- Taking on Colorado’s nurse shortage. Colorado is offering $14,000 signing bonuses and $5,000 retention bonuses in its quest to hire 263 nurses to work in the state’s two state mental hospitals. The hospitals, which treat people in the criminal justice system and people who have been civilly committed, eliminated a combined 100 beds during the early days of the pandemic and have not been able to open them since. The people who need mental health evaluation and treatment before their criminal cases can proceed are waiting in jail instead. Colorado, meanwhile, is paying about $12 million each year in fines because of the backlog of people whose trials are delayed due to the forensic bed shortage. It is indicative of an overall shortage of workers in the criminal justice system, including district attorneys and corrections officers.
- How the CDC is using data to help states address gun injuries. Starting in 2020, nine states and the District of Columbia have received money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set up pilot programs to speed the dissemination of data on gun injuries, with the goal of using it for better public health approaches. The near real-time data gleaned through the Firearm Injury Surveillance Through Emergency Rooms (FASTER) program spurred Utah to launch a public service campaign three years ago in response to data that showed that hundreds of injuries that required emergency treatment in hospitals resulted from lapses in the most basic elements of gun safety. FASTER grants of around $225,000 to states involved in the pilot program were made available because of a congressional compromise over the 1996 Dickey Amendment. The amendment had largely stifled government research to study firearms violence and prevention. However in 2018, Congress agreed to free up to $25 million for research and the money was included in a 2020 spending bill.
- License plates shared with anti-abortion states. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, sent a letter requesting that the Sacramento County sheriff’s office stop sharing automated license plate reader (ALPR) data with out-of-state authorities that could use it to prosecute someone for seeking an abortion. The Sacramento sheriff’s office isn’t the only one sharing that data; in May, EFF released a report showing that 71 law enforcement agencies in 22 California counties—including Sacramento County—were sharing such data. The practice violates a 2015 law. The sheriff’s office responded on Twitter that, “Law enforcement agencies commonly use information from License Plate Readers (LPRs) to investigate serious crimes, such as homicide, child kidnappings, human trafficking, and drug trafficking across state borders.”
- Are state laws leading to a “brain drain” in Florida? The answer remains elusive, but some signs of an exodus are emerging. The Tampa Bay Times reviewed records showing an upward tick in staff departures at some of Florida’s largest universities. And, as the Board of Governors discovered this spring, doubts about the state’s academic workplace are spreading fast. A music professor at Florida State University, for example, told board members that candidates were turning down positions in his college “because of the perceived anti-higher education atmosphere in the state.”
- Massachusetts tracks EVs. The state Department of Transportation launched an interactive online dashboard compiling data about passenger vehicles registered in Massachusetts, including whether they run on fossil fuels, electricity or a hybrid power source. Data also include estimates of vehicle miles traveled and average mileage, all broken down by individual municipalities, providing insight into geographic trends as officials push to green the transportation system. “This tool will allow us to track our progress toward our climate goals as it relates to vehicle usage, and the data collected will help guide our decision making around how to allocate resources and investments across the commonwealth to achieve a greener and healthier future,” said Melissa Hoffer, the climate chief for Gov. Maura Healey.
- California bacon law (finally) takes effect. A California law approved by voters in 2018 that aims to get breeding pigs out of narrow cages that prevent them from standing or turning finally took effect on July 1, despite years of delays and warnings that the rules could lead to price spikes and pork shortages. Californians approved Proposition 12 in 2018, and the Supreme Court upheld the law in a 5-4 ruling in May, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing that, “While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.” A similar law in Massachusetts is also now in effect.
Picture of the Week
BIRTH CERTIFICATE— Transportation HNL (@hnldts) July 1, 2023
This is to certify that Skyline
was born on the 30th day of June,
to HART and DTS and Hitachi Rail Honolulu
In the year of 2023.#HOLOWithUs#SkylineHNL#RideTheSky pic.twitter.com/BM2qXf3TUR
Honolulu’s $9.8 billion, mostly elevated autonomous rail system, Skyline, officially opened for service this past weekend. It is the newest rail line in the U.S. and is expected to replace 40,000 car trips a day. The first phase of the project will shuttle riders along an 11-mile segment and serve nine stations. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit will expand the system in two more phases to connect to the Honolulu Airport by 2025 and the City Center in 2031. The project is 55 years in the making—voters first approved the rail project in 2008, but the idea can be traced back to city officials in the late 1960s.
What They’re Saying
“That's what that lapel pin means. It means 'Vote me out.’”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner referring to the AR-15 rifle pins that several Republicans enjoy wearing on their lapels after mass shootings. The comments come following Monday's mass shooting in Philadelphia that left five people dead and at least two others injured, including a two-year-old. He said it was “disgusting” that Pennsylvania didn’t have more reasonable gun legislation and called on voters to vote out legislators “who would like to walk around with an AR-15 lapel pin” instead of doing something about the gun violence. This past July 4th weekend, 20 people were killed and 126 injured in 22 mass shootings that erupted across the country, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a website that tracks shootings nationwide. The website, which defines a mass shooting as a single event with four or more victims either injured or killed, reported that the holiday mass shootings happened in 17 states and Washington D.C.
Solving the problem of understaffed jails and prisons
State and local governments are working to attract and retain corrections workers. But it’s not easy, and the task is complicated by high burnout rates due to understaffing.
BY KATHERINE BARRETT & RICHARD GREENE
‘Reconnecting Communities’ grant applications expanded
The federal Transportation Department announced $3.35 billion in grant opportunities to reconnect communities divided by highways, rail lines and other infrastructure.
BY DANIEL C. VOCK
Boosting affordable housing by reclaiming investor-owned properties
As the affordable housing supply gets squeezed, some worry that private equity firms will scoop up more properties.
BY LIZ FARMER
High turnover is disrupting efforts to fix the workforce crisis, a survey finds
The poll of state and local HR managers finds that hiring has increased, but so has the number of people quitting.
BY KERY MURAKAMI
How cities can navigate their state’s broadband preemption laws
The National League of Cities takes a look at how municipalities can expand broadband even when state authority may limit their ability to do so.
BY KAITLYN LEVINSON
Cities extract mobility insights from ride-hailing company data
With access to real-time mobility data from a variety of sources, cities can improve transit efficiency and meet sustainability, accessibility and equity goals.
BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ
Who wants to live in Tulsa? Turns out, a lot of people.
A relocation incentive program that was fodder for a lot of jokes is thriving, and could be an important economic development tool for other cities.
BY MOLLY BOLAN
In-house tools sped up tax refunds in this county
The Travis County, Texas, Auditor’s Office has reduced the time it takes to process property tax audits by 91%.
BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ