Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Connecticut millionaires ask for higher taxes … Midwest cleans up after floods, but more rain coming … D.C. tables amendment to limit FOIA requests.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland signed an executive order to start efforts on his plan to improve transportation and neighborhood investments, dubbed “Memphis 3.0.” The plan is meant to guide the city over the next 20 years as officials seek to bring in new jobs, improve schools, bolster neighborhood safety, and build more affordable housing. “Memphis 3.0 will provide a much-needed road map for our growth,” Strickland said. “As we have seen for far too long, growth without a plan creates urban sprawl, a lack of cohesive land use, and puts tremendous strain on limited infrastructure.” The Memphis City Council must now approve the plan, but is facing opposition from residents who say that the Memphis 3.0 vision excludes African Americans in the city. The New Chicago Community Partnership filed a federal lawsuit last month to stop the plan. Carnita Atwater, executive director of the New Chicago group, said it doesn’t offer African American neighborhoods the things they need, instead focusing on amenities like greenspace or walking paths. “We need funding, tax incentives and jobs. Not bike lanes or upscale apartments that we cannot afford.” The New Chicago group argues that the sorts of programs they’d like to see in disenfranchised communities, like small business loans and Community Development Block Grant funding, are available for white neighborhoods through the plan. But Roshun Austin, who runs a community development organization that contributed to the plan, said that Memphis 3.0 is a necessity. “We have not had a comprehensive plan since 1981. What that speaks to is a continuation of four decades of urban sprawl and white flight. I understand the experiences of many people that are opposed to the adoption of the plan. There is federal policy and local policy that has devastated African-American communities. This is not that,” Austin said. [WREG Memphis; Memphis Flyer]
TAX THE RICH | A group of rich Connecticut residents is proposing a state income tax hike on the wealthy that would bring in an additional $1 billion in tax revenue. The group, known as Fair Share Connecticut, wrote an open letter to Gov. Ned Lamont and the state legislature. Both the new governor and lawmakers have been hesitant to raise the state income tax again after four hikes in 12 years that did not raise as much tax revenue as predicted. But the group argues that tax increases are necessary to fix the state’s budget deficit of $1.5 billion. “We are a group of wealthy Connecticut residents who implore you to make us part of the solution to Connecticut’s current fiscal crisis and the strategy for future prosperity across our entire state," the letter said. “We cannot continue kicking the can down the road. We need to take bold action." The group seeks a 3% increase on the tax rate for couples making more than $5 million, a 2% increase on couples making more than $1 million, and a 1% increase on couples making more than $500,000. A spokesperson for Lamont, Maribel la Luz, said the governor is not interested in raising taxes. “Connecticut still hasn’t recovered the jobs it lost during the last recession, lagging behind our neighboring states, and the only way out is to create more good-paying jobs and opportunities for our residents and families. We cannot tax our way to growth,” la Luz said. But some of the letter’s signers are adamant, and signed on to a similar letter sent two years ago to then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “If those of us who are doing better don’t pay our fair share, society will have more people falling through the cracks,” said signer David B. Bingham. [Connecticut Post; Hartford Courant]
FLOODING | The Mississippi River is finally below flood level, leading crews to begin cleanup throughout the Midwest. In Davenport, Iowa, Public Works crews have begun to wash away debris left behind when the river receded. “We have gotten so used to seeing the water out there. To see it finally go away is just a big sigh of relief,” said Adam Jones, who owns a local business. Before roads can reopen, though, the city will have to do inspections for their safety. The past 12 months have been the wettest on record in the U.S., but the rain isn’t over, and the weather is expected to get worse in the Midwest later this week. "Some of the upcoming rainfall may overlap locations that were hit hard with flooding during the latter part of the winter and the first part of the spring," said AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok. [WQAD; Accuweather]
FOIA REQUESTS | The D.C. City Council tabled a motion to change the city’s Freedom of Information Act request process after protests from activist groups. The motion was introduced last week in the last four pages of the council’s 160-page 2020 budget report, and the text of the amendment was not available online. Under current law, any person can request any government record as long as they can “reasonably describe” it. The change proposed that requests must include the names of the sender and receiver of the government record, in addition to the date it was created and specifics about its contents. “This is a bad faith attempt to permanently close public access to embarrassing government secrets. Its corrupt motive is clear from the way the DC Council tried to sneak it under the radar,” said Kevin Bell, a member of PEER, a group that opposed the amendment. Councilman Phil Mendelson, who authored the measure, argued that it was necessary because “FOIA wasn’t intended for fishing expeditions” and the “government is having to devote increasing resources to dealing with very broad and unspecific FOIA requests.” [WAMU; Washington Post]
CITY AMBASSADORS | Rapid City, South Dakota unveiled a new program that will introduce “downtown ambassadors,” people who will provide directions to tourists and suggest restaurants and things to do. Mayor Steve Allender said that the goal is to improve customer service for the city, and make people feel more safe. "They'll be the friendliest person you see downtown," said Allender, who added that the ambassadors are "definitely not police officers." That said, the ambassadors will still be trained by the police and will report crime when they see it. Local business owner Patti Griffin is supportive of the program, but concerned that ambassadors may take their crime reporting duties too seriously. "I just hope that they don't take it to a different level because they are not police officers. They are citizens like you and I," Griffin said. Once the ambassadors have been trained and tested on their knowledge of local attractions, they hit the streets on June 2. [Rapid City Journal; KOTA News]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.