Connecting state and local government leaders
State and local leaders have resorted to desperate measures—sometimes circumventing the federal government—to find housing and support for the influx of asylum seekers. Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
You're reading Route Fifty's State and Local Roundup. To get the week’s news to use from around the country, you can subscribe here to get this update in your inbox every Saturday.
It’s Saturday, Sept. 16, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. There’s plenty to keep tabs on, with a judge blocking the New Mexico governor’s public gun ban, the California legislature voting to let its employees unionize, Wisconsin Republicans advancing an overhaul of redistricting and public pensions suing Fox News for retirement fund losses.
But first, we’ll turn to the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border that is swamping state and local resources from the Rio Grande River in Texas to the Charles River in Massachusetts.
Faced with the arrival of 10,000 migrants a month to his city, New York Mayor Eric Adams has been in no mood lately to welcome huddled masses yearning to breathe free. “Never in my life,” he said last week, “have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to. I don’t see an ending to this. … This issue will destroy New York City.”
The Democratic mayor blamed the federal government for not helping the city cope with the problem. He has been asking for months for support in shouldering the costs associated with providing shelter to asylum seekers. Adams has already instituted a hiring freeze that will keep 20,000 positions vacant and, in a letter this week, said that without federal aid city agencies would have to cut their budgets by 15% through next spring because of the city’s spending on the migrant crisis.
But Adams also blamed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who has for years stoked controversy over migrants on the border, for sending asylum seekers to far-away cities known as Democratic bastions.
“We’ve turned this city around in 20 months,” Adams said. “And then what happened? Started with a madman down in Texas, decided he wanted to bus people up to New York City: 110,000 migrants.”
Abbott dismissed the criticism in an appearance on Fox News. “Well, the mayor may have made it to be mayor of New York, but he could not last a week in Texas,” the governor told host Jesse Watters. “They have so few migrants in New York compared to what we deal with every single day.”
While Adams has been particularly outspoken, state and local leaders around the country have resorted to desperate measures to find housing and support for the migrants, whether they’re coming on buses chartered by the state of Texas or on their own.
Many of the newcomers are stuck in legal limbo because they are seeking asylum, which means they must adhere to federal rules to preserve their chances of getting those protections. Federal law does not allow them to work for at least six months after coming to the country, but the wait is often longer because of backlogs in processing those applications.
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey activated her state’s National Guard in order to help families living in hotels get medical care, transportation and food deliveries. About 250 soldiers and airmen are participating in the response. Other state employees will also oversee shelter sites.
“We’ll continue these operations as long as necessary, every day we continue to pursue and demand funding from the Biden administration,” Healey said. “It is the failure of the federal government that has resulted in states like ours having to bear this burden right now.”
In Chicago, first-year Mayor Brandon Johnson wants to establish “winterized base camps” as intake centers that would provide meals and programs for up to 1,000 people per site. He said the new approach would save money and cut down on criminal activity around current migrant centers. It would also free up space in airports and police stations that have become de facto migrant shelters because of a shortage of space elsewhere.
The Johnson administration predicted that the number of migrants coming to the city could increase five-fold in the coming months, as Republican governors try to embarrass sanctuary cities. Chicago is a prime target because it is hosting the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
But Johnson appeared far more confident than his New York counterpart about his city’s ability to handle the newcomers. “I’m not going to accept the notion that the city of Chicago is going to be destroyed,” Johnson said. “We are a city of big shoulders. We’ve been through difficult moments and challenges before. And we’re going to get to the other side of this. I’m confident of that … I was elected to lead. This is not a challenge that will overwhelm us.”
The Chicago mayor and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker have asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow state governments to sponsor noncitizens to work in industries that face labor shortages. That would help asylum seekers get jobs quicker than if they used the normal process. The arrangement, the officials argued, would protect migrants from unscrupulous employers and help out the local economy.
“DHS has the authority to … allow states like Illinois to opt into a lawful, orderly, efficient parole process that would address critical workforce needs. On behalf of our new residents and the municipalities and communities that are struggling to welcome them, we urge you to use this authority to everyone’s shared benefit,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul prodded President Joe Biden for more direct aid. She asked the president in a letter in August to speed up work authorizations, provide the city and state of New York with financial assistance, open federal facilities where migrants can be temporarily housed and reimburse the state for the cost of deploying the National Guard for relief operations.
But frustrated by the lack of response, Hochul said on Tuesday that New York state was considering ways to issue work permits to asylum seekers in a bid to circumvent the long wait for permits at the federal level.
Meanwhile, tempers are running high on the border, too. The number of migrants encountered by federal agents at the southern border this year has kept pace with last year’s numbers, when border officers interacted with more people trying to get into the U.S. than at any point in the last two decades.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Biden administration is considering forcing asylum seekers to stay in Texas while they await screening, which would effectively prevent the governor from shipping them elsewhere. Abbott said the approach was tried before and stopped by a judge. He added that Texas is ready to file a lawsuit to prevent that type of policy from going into effect again. The governor also said Texas will “add even more buses of migrants to Washington, D.C.”
Abbott is militarizing parts of the border, sometimes pushing the limits of state authority into what is traditionally a federal responsibility. In 2021, the Republican governor launched “Operation Lone Star” to establish a quasi-military presence near the border, even though National Guard troops cannot do hands-on immigration enforcement. Abbott has recruited other GOP governors to support the effort by bringing them down to the border for a firsthand look at Texas’ response—including those from Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota a few weeks ago. Fourteen states have sent personnel to help with the effort.
Texas is also building a border wall on private land and installing buoys and barbed wire in the Rio Grande River. A federal trial judge ordered Texas to remove the floating barriers in the river last week, but a higher court decided Wednesday to let them remain while legal arguments continue.
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
- Judge blocks New Mexico governor’s ban on public guns. U.S. District Judge David Urias temporarily blocked Wednesday part of a public health order that suspended the right to carry guns in public places based on a statistical threshold for violent crime that applied only to Albuquerque and the surrounding area. Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham imposed the emergency public health order, citing recent shootings around the state that left children dead and saying something needed to be done. Advocates for gun rights filed a barrage of legal challenges to the order. Republicans have called for impeachment proceedings against the governor. And Tuesday, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said he would not defend the state’s case, saying he believed the order violated the state’s constitution.
- California lawmakers vote to let legislative employees unionize. Legislative workers at the California Capitol are close to forming their first labor union after state lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that allows them to organize. An attempt to do so last year failed to get a vote in the state Assembly. That changed this year, and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to decide whether to sign it into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Assembly on Monday passed legislation to end California’s ban on state-funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
- Wisconsin Assembly approves overhaul of redistricting. Assembly lawmakers passed a bill late Thursday that would overhaul how Wisconsin's legislative boundaries are drawn, adopting an "Iowa-style" nonpartisan redistricting process that Republicans are now embracing in order to bypass the state Supreme Court's new liberal majority. Just one Democrat joined Republican lawmakers in passing the legislation, which directs nonpartisan legislative staff to draw new maps that would replace the current boundaries that were put in place in 2022. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is pursuing the legislation after opposing the idea for years. His about-face comes after the April election of Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, which flipped the state Supreme Court to liberal control—giving Democrats a chance for the first time in more than a decade to rewrite the state's electoral maps that currently heavily favor Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate voted Thursday to override three of Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes, including one that attempted to enshrine school funding increases for 400 years.
- New York City, Oregon sue Fox News over false election claims. The city’s and state’s pension funds have joined together in a lawsuit against the Fox Corporation and its board on Tuesday, accusing the company of neglecting its duty to shareholders and causing losses to the retirement funds. The suit alleges that Fox opened itself up to defamation lawsuits by knowingly and persistently broadcasting falsehoods about the 2020 presidential election. The lawsuit comes after Fox settled a blockbuster defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems in April for $787.5 million.
- Beleaguered Boston transit agency gets scathing letter from feds. The Federal Transit Administration has sent a letter to the Boston transit agency, MBTA, saying that “immediate action” is required to prevent trains from colliding with track workers. The letter cites five near misses FTA officials warned the MBTA about in April, before going on to issue a set of demands. Effectively immediately, the service is to report all “near misses” to the FTA within two hours of the occurrence and provide, in the next four business days, an explanation as to why previous incidents were not reported in a timely manner. The FTA gives the MBTA a week to analyze the incidents and explain what actions have been taken to prevent more.
- Contradicting CDC, Florida advises against new COVID vaccine for under 65s. Floridians under 65 should not get the new COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recommendation Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo announced Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended the vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Ladapo’s announcement comes as cases of COVID-19 in Florida have risen over the summer. His recommendation alleges that the new vaccine was approved without “meaningful” clinical trial data performed in humans and without proof of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. Some of Ladapo’s previous recommendations on the COVID-19 vaccine have been widely criticized by epidemiologists.
- Philly lawmakers vote to prohibit supervised injection sites. The Philadelphia City Council voted Thursday to prohibit supervised drug consumption sites across most of the city, greatly imperiling the future of such facilities if the legislation becomes law. The bill, which passed 13-1, now heads to the desk of Mayor Jim Kenney, who has endorsed supervised drug consumption sites as a strategy to prevent overdose deaths. It may not matter if he rejects the bill—it passed with an overwhelming, veto-proof majority. The passage marked the latest blow to a yearslong effort to open a site in Philadelphia that would allow people to use drugs under the supervision of clinicians. Those in favor of the facilities say they prevent drug-related deaths, which reached a high point in 2021 when 1,276 people in the city fatally overdosed. The vote follows a similar move last week in Portland, Oregon, where the city council approved a ban on public drug use.
- Is Mississippi set to expand Medicaid? Gov. Tate Reeves, running for a second term this year, is traveling the state vowing he’ll continue to block Medicaid expansion, a policy that would provide health coverage to at least 200,000 working Mississippians and bring at least $1 billion in new annual revenue to the state. But presumptive new Speaker of the House Jason White told Mississippi Today last week that Medicaid expansion would be on the table in the 2024 legislative session. White’s remarks sparked an earth-rattling flash in a state that has resisted expansion for more than 10 years. There’s all sorts of political cover for any Mississippi leader to float expansion. Public polling this year suggests anywhere between 65% and 80% of Mississippians—and well over 50% of Republicans—support it.
- A guaranteed basic income success story? A guaranteed basic income pilot program in Delaware is now three-quarters of the way done, and officials say it’s yielding a 324% return on investment. The two-year pilot provides vulnerable pregnant women with a monthly income of $1,000 in the form of a debit card to help pay for essential items and services needed to support a healthy birth outcome and postpartum period. Of the 40 women participating, 89% were able to receive prenatal care, and 81% of their babies had no birth complications. With the pilot ending in the next year, officials say they will now seek funding to continue and expand the program.
- Tax relief programs for seniors catch on. Henrico County, Virginia, seniors may get a break with real estate taxes amid rising home prices as the county government is proposing a program that would cap taxes for qualifying residents over the age of 65. Localities across central Virginia saw double-digit increases in the average price charged for a home. Some states across the nation have recognized the need to help its older residents and created programs at the state level. New Jersey, Washington and Iowa have either created, or expanded, real estate tax exemptions for their seniors in recent months. Henrico is billing its program as the first in Virginia.
Picture of the Week
Obsessed. pic.twitter.com/VhOcZxGm2K— NYC Sanitation (@NYCSanitation) September 13, 2023
New York City is getting new trash bins. The new receptacle will replace the familiar green wire mesh litter baskets seen across the city. They have three parts: a concrete base (so it’s tough to tip over); a hinged metal lid; and a removable, relatively lightweight plastic basket that sanitation workers will lift and empty. “The wire litter baskets are iconic, but they are well past their useful life in New York City,” Jessica Tisch, the city’s sanitation commissioner, told The New York Times. Tisch noted that the wire mesh baskets suffered from fundamental design flaws that exposed the trash and allowed rats to get in the bins. “The one thing that actually no one wants to see is all the trash,” she added.
Government in Numbers
The percentage increase by which the child poverty rate grew in the U.S. between 2021 and 2022. The increase coincides with the lapse of 2021’s expanded Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty in half. Those gains have effectively been wiped out. From 2021 to 2022, poverty rose from 7.8 to 12.4 percent for all people, and from 5.2 to 12.4 percent for children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.