Connecting state and local government leaders
Despite some skepticism, auto unions recently approved new labor agreements that invest big in the nation’s transition to clean energy. Three Democratic governors are calling it a win. Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
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It’s Saturday, Nov. 18, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. There is plenty to keep tabs on, with Ohio lawmakers seeking to thwart the will of the voters, the L.A. freeway reopening sooner than expected, the increase in student absences nationwide and Minnesota preparing for an invasion of “super pigs.”
But first we turn to Democratic governors trying to keep labor unions happy while pushing to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Democratic leaders have had to walk a fine line in recent months, as labor unions have become more aggressive and the need to address climate change has become more urgent. In Washington, President Joe Biden has argued that the transition to low-carbon energy sources could come with “good-paying union jobs,” but many, particularly in the American labor movement, have been skeptical.
The United Auto Workers, for example, launched a six-week strike against the country’s top three automakers this fall, in part because labor leaders worried that the industry’s transition to electric vehicles would harm assembly line workers.
That put Democratic governors who backed the move to EVs in a tough spot. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan all staked their political fortunes—and millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies—on attracting factories for cleaner vehicles, batteries and other suppliers.
Beshear, who was up for reelection in a predominantly Republican state, had courted Ford for years to build a battery plant that he touted as the largest economic development project in the state’s history. The governor broke ground for a new factory with Ford officials in April and toured the construction site in August.
But the governor signaled his support for the striking autoworkers when he made a surprise stop at a Ford truck plant in Louisville in late October to drop off sandwiches. “Folks, I’m Andy Beshear and I’m the proud pro-union governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he told them. Ford and the union reached a tentative agreement little more than a week later, which Beshear hailed for including upgrades for two Kentucky facilities. Ford employees approved the agreement this week, although production workers in Louisville voted against it.
An agreement between the UAW and Stellantis also came as a political win for Pritzker, who fought to keep the Jeep manufacturer from permanently closing a factory in Belvidere, 70 miles northwest of Chicago. Stellantis idled the plant in February, and the Illinois governor, who has tried to attract electric vehicle makers to the state, vowed to keep it open. The UAW agreement calls for Stellantis to spend $1.5 billion to upgrade the Belvidere factory, build a new $3.2 billion battery plant alongside it and open a $100 million parts distribution center.
“For over two years, I have been laser-focused on working toward a permanent solution in Belvidere that retains and grows good-paying jobs, while supporting economic development in the surrounding region,” Pritzker said in a statement. He noted that he recently got a more robust economic incentive law passed through the legislature that helped the effort to revive the factory. “This will be thousands of jobs, billions in investment and a huge win for Illinois.”
In fact, Biden met with Pritzker and UAW President Shawn Fain during a visit to Belvidere last week, where he praised the autoworkers for negotiating to keep the factory open. “This opening of the Belvidere plant is a gigantic deal,” he told his supporters while wearing a red UAW T-shirt.
Michigan was “uniquely impacted” by the UAW strike of the Big Three automakers, Whitmer told reporters, because so many of the factories are based there. But Ford also shocked Michigan residents when it announced it would pause construction of a new battery factory while the labor negotiations continued. Whitmer visited a picket line early in the strike, but she encouraged the parties to work out their disagreements quickly.
Meanwhile, Whitmer championed clean energy legislation in the Democratic-controlled Michigan Legislature that could put the Great Lakes State on a course to phase out electricity generated from fossil fuels by 2040, putting it on a more ambitious timetable than even California.
The Michigan AFL-CIO backed the clean energy legislation. The labor group noted that the package included support for workers and communities who would be affected by the shift. The proposal, which Whitmer is expected to sign, is the first in the country to include help for internal combustion engine vehicle workers, the group said.
“Our Democratic majorities in the legislature are making sure that the transition away from fossil fuels doesn’t leave union workers and their communities behind,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber in a statement. “These bills are the result of months and months of hard work to ensure that the clean energy economy of the future will be built by the best workers anywhere—Michigan union members.”
But business groups said the rapid transition includes “mandates that are unlikely to be achievable yet will raise energy costs and reduce reliability—along with Michigan’s reputation as a place to create jobs.” The Great Lakes Growth Coalition for Clean, Affordable and Reliable Energy said in a memo to legislators that the new requirements would stymie businesses. “Faced with rising energy costs and reliability problems resulting from a mandated rapid clean energy transition, Michigan businesses will have two choices: close up shop or move to another state.”
Meanwhile, Sandy Baruah, the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber raised concerns about the concessions the automakers gave to workers in the contract negotiations.
“These agreements will increase the cost of vehicles made by UAW workers by hundreds, even a thousand dollars, and make competing companies’ offerings more attractive,” he said. “As the home of the Detroit Three and the most automotive manufacturing, Michigan will have to work overtime to send the message that it is open for business.”
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and if you don’t already and would prefer to get this roundup 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
- ABORTION: Lawmakers seek to keep courts from interpreting Ohio’s new abortion rights amendment. After voters opted to enshrine abortion rights in Ohio’s constitution, four Republican state lawmakers said this week that they want to strip judges of their power to interpret the amendment. “To prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts with Issue 1, Ohio legislators will consider removing jurisdiction from the judiciary over this ambiguous ballot initiative,” said the lawmakers. It’s the latest development in the struggle over abortion rights between the Republican-dominated legislature and the majority of the voters, who passed the amendment by a margin of 57% to 43%. The Ohio Supreme Court officially reopened on Thursday its review of Ohio’s six-week “heartbeat” abortion ban. State Attorney General Dave Yost and plaintiffs have until Dec. 7 to file written arguments stating what effect they think Issue 1 has on the case.
- INFRASTRUCTURE: L.A. freeway to reopen Tuesday—sooner than expected. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the fire-damaged 10 Freeway would reopen Tuesday “at the latest”—far earlier than officials had originally estimated and before the full onslaught of holiday traffic. More than 100 columns along the swath of the freeway were damaged—nine or 10 of them severely, officials said. Construction crews have erected wooden structures to shore up the overpass while the repair work gets underway. The fire, which arson investigators believe was intentionally set, started at a property under the 10 that was being leased from the California Department of Transportation. No arrests have been made, and the investigation remains ongoing.
- IMMIGRATION: Texas makes crossing the border illegally a state crime. The Texas House of Representatives approved immigration bills Tuesday that would appropriate more than $1.5 billion for additional border barriers and make it a state misdemeanor to illegally cross the border from Mexico into Texas. The legislation also empowers Texas peace officers to arrest undocumented immigrants and require that a state judge order the person to leave the U.S. to Mexico in lieu of prosecution.
- EDUCATION: Students are missing school at an alarming rate. The academic achievement of millions of American students faltered during the pandemic—and in many cases, has not recovered three years later. The latest data on student attendance offers one explanation: Far more students are missing school than before the pandemic. Nearly 70% of the highest poverty schools experienced widespread, chronic absenteeism in the 2021-22 school year, compared with 25% before the pandemic, according to a new analysis released last week by Attendance Works, a nonprofit that aims to reduce chronic absenteeism, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. In these schools, about a third or more of the student body was considered chronically absent, defined as missing at least 10% of the school year, or about two days of school every month. In the most affluent schools, widespread chronic absenteeism also increased to 14% of schools, up from 3% before the pandemic.
- CYBERSECURITY Minnesota schools ask voters for help with cyberattacks. Faced with a growing threat of cybersecurity breaches, school districts around the country are turning to local taxpayers for help in building up their defenses. Voters in at least 17 Minnesota communities last week weighed ballot questions letting local districts raise tax levies for cybersecurity improvements; more than half were approved. The request comes as more school districts are being targeted by hackers. K12 Security Information Exchange, which tracks public reports of school hacks around the country, reported more than 1,600 security breaches between 2016 and 2022, with dozens taking place in Minnesota within that time frame.
- PARENTAL LEAVE: Louisiana governor grants parental leave to state workers. With two months left in office, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is granting paid parental leave to state workers who wish to take time off following the birth, adoption or fosterage of a child in their family. Edwards announced that roughly 70,000 state employees will be able to take up to six weeks of paid parental leave to welcome a child into their family. The benefit kicks in Jan. 1. Before the change, state workers were only guaranteed unpaid leave in such circumstances. Employees must work for the state for at least a year before they’re eligible for the benefit, which mirrors the unpaid leave protections in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. They’ll have to use it within 12 weeks of the child’s birth, adoption or fosterage. Louisiana is the 33rd state to introduce paid parental leave for state employees, according to the governor's office.
- CAMPAIGN FINANCE: FBI seizes NYC mayor’s phones in campaign investigation. FBI agents seized New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ electronic devices early this week in what appeared to be an escalation of a criminal inquiry into whether his 2021 campaign conspired with the Turkish government and others to funnel money into its coffers. The devices—at least two cellphones and an iPad—were returned to the mayor within a matter of days. A lawyer for Adams and his campaign said in a statement that the mayor was cooperating with federal authorities and had already “proactively reported” at least one instance of improper behavior.
- EDUCATION: Recognizing fake news now a required subject in California schools. Pushing back against the surge of misinformation online, California will now require all K-12 students to learn media literacy skills—such as recognizing fake news and thinking critically about what they encounter on the internet. Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed Assembly Bill 873, which requires the state to add media literacy to curriculum frameworks for English language arts, science, math and history-social studies, rolling out gradually beginning next year. Instead of a stand-alone class, the topic will be woven into existing classes and lessons throughout the school year.
- ELECTIONS: Michigan judge says only Congress can keep Trump off 2024 ballot. A Michigan Court of Claims judge on Tuesday agreed with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson that her office lacks the authority to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the ballot for the 2024 Republican primary election. The ruling by Judge James Robert Redford determined that arguments as to whether Trump should be barred based on wording within the 14th Amendment are “nonjusticiable,” or outside the jurisdiction of the court. Instead, he said their political nature could only be decided by Congress. The ruling follows a similar one last week in Minnesota.
- TRANSIT: It will cost $24.5B to bring Boston’s T into a “state of good repair.” To fix its dilapidated transit system, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority estimates that it will cost $24.5 billion, a price tag that has spiked by $14.5 billion since the agency’s last capital needs analysis was conducted in 2019. The assessment, results of which were released by the T on Thursday, revealed that 64% of capital assets including tracks, trains, signals and equipment are past the end of their useful life and are thus in need of rehabilitation or replacement. The number reflects “decades of underinvestment,” coupled with past leadership’s tendency to prioritize capital projects at the expense of day-to-day maintenance and even safety.
- WILDLIFE: Ecological train wrecks? “Super pigs” head for Minnesota. With wild “super pigs” just across the border in Canada and feral hogs slowly expanding their range in nearby states, the Minnesota Legislature has asked the state Department of Natural Resources to make a plan to thwart any wild swine invasion. Lawmakers earlier this year ordered the DNR to review protocols, regulations and laws dealing with feral hogs and report back in 2024 on any changes that should be made to make sure the state is ready. Canadian researchers have called wild pigs “ecological train wrecks” that can cause soil erosion, degrade water quality, destroy crops and prey on small mammals and birds. The researchers made headlines earlier this year when they reported the population of large, wild pigs was growing rapidly and essentially uncontrollable. The “super pigs” can grow to 400 pounds, run 30 mph and have adapted to live in bitterly cold and deep-snow conditions.
Picture of the Week
New Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas calendar dropped: pic.twitter.com/AVnBQVPNJq— Justin Laurence (@jus10chi) November 14, 2023
Maria Pappas, the Cook County treasurer, has released her calendar for 2024. It will be her fourth calendar, which she started in 2021 to showcase 12 months of her unique collection of jackets. Pappas told Block Club Chicago last year that she owns “at least 60” unique jackets. Pappas’ favorite month: November, “because my jacket says ‘Back Off,’ and nobody in politics wants to take me on,” she told the publication, adding “I’m at a point in life where I don’t care what other people think. I’m a 74-year-old gray-haired grandmother, and I’m going to have a good time. I’m not asking you to take my calendar. You’re asking me for it.”
Government in Numbers
The amount that Washington’s new capital gains tax brought in in its first year, state officials said Wednesday. Those proceeds, garnered from the state’s wealthiest residents, will be funneled into early learning and child care programs and to school districts in need of dollars for construction and renovation projects. Lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee penciled in $1.1 billion from the tax for the 2023-25 budget—$427 million in the fiscal year that runs through next June and $717 million in the second. The tax wound up netting an estimated $889.3 million after accounting for refunds and credits.