History > 2009 > USA > States (I)
New York’s Fiscal Crisis
December 16, 2009
The New York Times
A Legislature in Denial
Gov. David Paterson of New York announced this week that the state will have to
delay $750 million in scheduled payments to schools and local governments. It is
a drastic step, but the governor, rightly, argues that he had no alternative. It
was either that or watch the state slip $1 billion into the red.
Even to borrow that money, the governor and legislative leaders would have to
declare a fiscal emergency before they could seek an expensive short-term loan.
The Legislature, in denial, is refusing to do the hard work that’s needed.
Mr. Paterson has gone for a delay in the hopes that tax revenues next month will
be a little higher than projected. There is no guarantee that Wall Street
bonuses or first signs of recovery will bring in enough cash to make it through
to the end of the fiscal year in March.
Unless there are serious changes in the way New York spends and raises money,
the state could be facing a $10 billion deficit next year.
New York is not alone in facing tough times. But for years, New York’s
Legislature has been spending beyond its means. The recession has made matters
far worse. Mr. Paterson, who took office just as Bear Stearns collapsed in 2008,
has been warning of calamity ever since. The Legislature has stubbornly refused
Last month, the governor called lawmakers back to Albany to fill a $3.2 billion
gap in this year’s budget of $132 billion. The governor proposed painful cuts:
including $113 million from the New York City-area public transit budget; $686
million in school funds, or about 3 percent per district with even larger cuts
for wealthier districts; $470 million from health care spending.
The Democratic-majority Legislature balked. Lawmakers decreed there would be no
midyear cuts in school budgets, not even for wealthy districts. Although they
did improve the pension structure, legislators protected other programs like
health care and shielded state workers from furloughs or layoffs.
They finally made some cuts, including a larger swipe at the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority, but mostly they drained other savings accounts and
used some of the federal stimulus dollars that were supposed to be saved for
Even then, they only came up with $2.7 billion — and were $500 million short.
That left Governor Paterson no choice but to delay payments to schools cities
and towns. Some of these schools have rainy-day funds, but Mr. Paterson should
try to limit cuts for the poorer areas. Communities will have no choice but to
pare down spending.
Legislative leaders — from both parties — need to wake up to the harsh reality.
When the stimulus money is gone there will be no cushion, and there is no hidden
cache of funds about to be discovered.
There is no chance of balancing next year’s budget as required by law unless
they are finally willing to make deep cuts, even in favorite programs, personal
items to districts and especially those items backed by the state’s most
powerful education unions, and health care and business lobbyists. At this
point, there is no other choice.
Long Island's Fortress Mentality
There may be some dire situation in which state senators from Long Island will
stop insisting that their disproportionate share of state school aid must not be
cut, delayed or in any way changed. Don’t count on it.
Despite the serious disaster that has hit the state’s budget, the Long Island
delegation has been behaving as it always has. They have opposed Gov. David
Paterson’s repeated efforts to get New York’s finances in order, including his
latest tactic of delaying $750 million in December payments, including aid to
schools, to avoid insolvency this year. The naysayers include the usual
Republican bloc, along with two newcomer Democrats with dicey re-election hopes,
Craig Johnson and Brian Foley.
Greedy parochialism is old news in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Turn back to any
year — say, 1988, when this page was deploring how “a pork-minded bloc of
Republican senators” known as “the Long Island Eight,” led by Ralph J. Marino of
Muttontown, was holding a budget hostage over aid to local school districts.
The state’s convoluted school-aid formulas have long favored rich Long Island
schools at the expense of those in New York City and other districts where
people are poor and needs are great. Long Island has some of the
highest-spending districts and best-paid superintendents in the country. It’s
home to a district — Roslyn — where administrators, employees and their families
stole millions of dollars for years, and nobody noticed.
This is not to say that Long Islanders are not feeling financial pain. They pay
some of the highest property taxes in the country, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Foley
have good reason to be afraid of wrathful voters, who just fired the able Nassau
County executive, Thomas Suozzi, because they were sick of paying high taxes.
But Long Islanders have proudly embraced their ever-more-expensive schools for
years, approving ever-higher budgets and ever-soaring official salaries. For
years they have benefited from the powerful bloc voting of their Senate
delegation. It’s ridiculous to think their schools can’t possibly tap rainy-day
funds or find savings on an island where superintendents routinely make six
figures, where some rich villages give students two identical textbooks — one
for home and one for school — and where the sports and arts and video and
language programs are the envy of the nation.
New York is in dire straits, the governor is trying to cope and Long Island’s
schools are touchable.
New York’s Fiscal
Crisis, NYT, 16.12.2009,
Bruno, Former State Leader, Guilty of Corruption
December 8, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and DANNY HAKIM
ALBANY — Joseph L. Bruno, the former Senate majority leader who, until his
retirement last year, was one of the most powerful figures in New York politics,
was found guilty on Monday of concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in
payments from a businessman who sought help from the Legislature.
The conviction marked a humiliating fall for Mr. Bruno, a Korean War veteran and
a former boxer, whose jovial manner masked the iron hand he used to rule the
Senate with almost untrammeled authority for nearly 14 years. He retired amid a
federal corruption investigation.
The verdict also blackened the already tarnished reputation of Albany’s
political establishment, casting a harsh light on the ways lawmakers blend
official and personal business and raising questions about why it took a federal
prosecution to uncover Mr. Bruno’s conduct.
After deliberating for nearly seven days, the jury of seven women and five men
in Mr. Bruno’s trial found him guilty of two felony counts of mail fraud. The
jury found Mr. Bruno not guilty on five counts of mail or wire fraud and could
not reach a verdict on another count.
Mr. Bruno, 80, is scheduled to be sentenced on March 31 and faces up to 20 years
and a $250,000 fine on each felony count. But Judge Gary L. Sharpe has broad
discretion in sentencing, and Mr. Bruno’s defense was expected to appeal.
“I am very, very disappointed in the verdict,” Mr. Bruno told reporters on the
steps of the federal courthouse here. “The legal process is going to continue.
In my mind and in my heart, it is not over until it’s over. And I think it’s far
from over. Thank you all, have a good night and merry Christmas.”
The jury entered the courtroom at 4:16 p.m. and as the verdict on first counts
were revealed — not guilty on the first and second, no verdict reached on the
third — the mood among Bruno supporters in the courtroom grew almost euphoric.
But as Judge Sharpe read out a guilty verdict on the fourth count, the mood
turned. Mr. Bruno’s normally upright frame sagged. “We established at this trial
that Bruno exploited his office by concealing the nature and source of
substantial payments that he received from parties that benefited from his
official actions,” Andrew T. Baxter, the acting United States attorney for the
Northern District of New York, said in a statement.
The federal statute under which Mr. Bruno was charged, which makes it a crime
for officials to use wires or the mail to deprive constituents of their “honest
services” by concealing conflicts of interest, are set to be reviewed by the
Supreme Court and could be struck down in whole or in part during the coming
months, potentially aiding any appeal.
“We await Round 2,” said Kris Thompson, a Bruno aide.
Jurors acquitted Mr. Bruno on all the counts concerning his work for Wright
Investors’ Service, a Connecticut-based investment company that paid Mr. Bruno
$1.3 million dollars to solicit pension fund investments from labor unions that
had interests before the Senate. They also acquitted him of an array of charges
involving other companies that paid Mr. Bruno consulting fees while seeking
grants, contracts, or legislative action from state officials.
But they appeared to be more troubled by evidence concerning Mr. Bruno’s
relationship with Jared E. Abbruzzese, an Albany-area entrepreneur who sought
the Senate leader’s help for an array of ventures, from a nanotechnology company
seeking state money to telecommunications firms seeking investment capital.
Jurors convicted Mr. Bruno on one count involving $200,000 that consulting firms
run by Mr. Abbruzzese paid Mr. Bruno in 2004. They also convicted him on one
count involving a horse-breeding partnership that Mr. Bruno and Mr. Abbruzzese
dissolved in 2005, with Mr. Abbruzzese forgiving Mr. Bruno $40,000 in debt and
paying him $40,000 for a horse that prosecutors said was virtually worthless.
Those payments, jurors found, were little more than gifts that Mr. Abbruzzese
awarded to Mr. Bruno in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in state
grants that Mr. Bruno had previously obtained for one of Mr. Abbruzzese’s
companies, Evident Technologies.
Prosecutors also suggested at the trial that the payments to Mr. Bruno were
intended to help Mr. Abbruzzese and a group of business partners win rights to
the state horseracing franchise, a decision over which Mr. Bruno had significant
sway. (The franchise went elsewhere.)
The verdict capped a month-long trial that captivated the state political
establishment and laid bare the unseemly side of New York’s Legislature, where
most lawmakers have second jobs in the private sector but are required to
disclose very little about what they are paid to do.
“The prosecutors and agents involved in this case take no pleasure from what the
trial revealed about the culture of the New York State Senate,” Mr. Baxter said
in his statement.
It is not known exactly how much Mr. Bruno has spent on legal bills, but it is
believed to be well into seven figures. His legal team included Abbe D. Lowell,
a prominent Washington lawyer who defended the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and
William J. Dreyer, a highly regarded Albany defense lawyer.
Prosecutors called more than 70 witnesses and presented a trove of more than 200
e-mail messages, as well as handwritten notes, calendar entries and memoranda,
many culled from the historically secretive Senate.
The trial also delved into Mr. Bruno’s private business, which spanned work for
more than a dozen companies during more than a decade and a half, earning Mr.
Bruno roughly $3.2 million in fees.
He earned the bulk of that money from Wright, while failing, prosecutors said,
to fully disclose his ties to the firm. Mr. Bruno resigned from Wright in
December 2007, shortly after The New York Times disclosed Wright’s ties to a
host of Albany-area labor unions.
Mr. Bruno did not take the stand in his own defense, and his lawyers instead
presented only seven witnesses, including friends and former business
associates, to bolster his case. Characterizing Mr. Bruno as a victim of
overzealous prosecutors, his lawyers portrayed him as a devoted public servant
who tried to faithfully adhere to the law, routinely seeking the advice of
Senate ethics lawyers.
His lawyers relied chiefly on cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses,
seeking to unravel the links prosecutors drew between Mr. Bruno’s official acts
and the business he brought in for his clients.
The official benefits Mr. Bruno delivered for those who did business with his
clients, his lawyers argued, were indistinguishable from the legislative action
and earmarks he sought for all his constituents, and were driven by a sincere
desire to create jobs and help working people.
Jurors refused to answer questions as they left the courthouse flanked by
Mr. Bruno’s own remarks to reporters were uncharacteristically short. Clearly
dejected, Mr. Bruno stood in the cold showing little of his trademark brio until
a young woman yelled out “I love you, Joe!” as he walked toward a waiting
“Thank you very much,” he replied.
Bruno, Former State
Leader, Guilty of Corruption, NYT, 8.12.2009,
Stalemate in Legislature Has New York Near Its Last Dollar
November 27, 2009
The New York Times
By DANNY HAKIM
ALBANY — New York State is running out of cash.
Without a budget deal, New York will be left with just $36 million in the bank
by the end of December, according to current projections. And the money will
last that long, officials say, only if the state chooses to fully exhaust its
emergency reserves by tapping several billion dollars’ worth of temporary loans
from its rainy-day fund and short-term investments.
For weeks, Gov. David A. Paterson has invoked the shrinking amount of available
cash in an effort to provoke the Legislature to deal with the state’s $3.2
billion budget deficit. So far, the specter of such dire fiscal outcomes has
been greeted with what amount to legislative shrugs, chiefly in the recalcitrant
The stalemate in Albany is familiar, of course, and there are many lawmakers and
experts who predict that the Legislature will act at the 11th hour, as it has
before, to avoid the worst damage.
But with no end in sight to the negotiations, state officials are beginning to
reckon with what could be an unprecedented cash crisis. And many say that even
if the current deficit is closed, the state is at considerable risk going
forward — less able, for instance, to borrow money because of worsening credit
ratings and ill prepared for far more severe deficits ahead.
New York, which has a roughly $130 billion budget, the second-largest behind
California, is certainly not suffering alone. The 50 states have faced
cumulative deficits of more than $250 billion over their last two budget cycles,
according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In
New York, the weight of the recession has been coupled with the struggles of
Wall Street, the state’s main financial engine.
But New York is by no means California, which has become the national measuring
stick of statewide financial ruin. The state is not sending out i.o.u.’s to
creditors, students at state schools are not holding sit-ins in dormitories, and
Albany, unlike Sacramento, has not had to grapple with relocating a tent city
for the homeless. Further, revenue typically picks up in January, when Wall
Street bonuses, however diminished from previous levels, start coming in.
But the situation in New York is not good, either.
In modern times, the state’s general fund has never had a negative balance,
according to the state comptroller’s office. If New York does in fact run out of
cash, it will have to delay paying some of its biggest bills. Chief among the
bills the state will face in December are $1.6 billion in aid the state is
supposed to pay school districts, $2.5 billion in property tax relief to
individual homeowners, and $500 million in general aid meant to go to local
“If you put any of that off, at some point people are not getting the money they
are expecting,” said the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, a Democrat.
“That could affect local governments, school districts, nonprofits, hospitals.”
The governor and his staff have raised the threat of layoffs and furloughs if
the impasse drags on, and there is the potential for a partial shutdown of some
“Unless we act, New York will run out of money, even after we delay payments to
schools and local governments,” the governor said Tuesday in a brief address via
Web cast. “This is an unprecedented fiscal emergency.”
The state’s credit rating is below average and at some risk of a further
downgrade. The Paterson administration has already squeezed the budgets of state
agencies, an action it can take unilaterally. And this year’s skirmish is
considered a prelude to a fierce budget fight in 2010, when the deficit is far
larger in what is an election year for the entire Legislature.
There have already been any number of ways that the strain on the budget has
been felt across the state. Billions of dollars worth of scheduled increases in
school aid, enacted by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to settle a long-running lawsuit over
the distribution of school aid, will be stretched out over seven years instead
of four. Taxes on the wealthy have been raised, and fees of all kinds have been
For the first time in decades, the state Police Academy probably will not have a
new class for either the fall or the spring. The state has closed three upstate
minimum-security prison camps and six facilities operated by the Office of
Children and Family Services. Hours have been limited and facilities closed at
parks including Jones Beach, and parks across the state are mowing fewer lawns
to save money. The state ice rink was closed last winter.
Budget watchdogs say far steeper cuts are needed to reckon with deficits that
will escalate sharply in 2011 as federal stimulus money runs out and the new
wealth tax expires.
But negotiations have been fundamentally stalled — and even irrational at times.
Senate Democrats, who have thus far refused to hold a vote to legalize same-sex
marriage, have nonetheless floated the theory in negotiations that the state
could expect to take in more than $50 million a year in new revenue from the
legalization of same-sex marriage, from a combination of marriage license and
They are also proposing to raid the treasuries of public authorities, to force
Native American tribes to collect cigarette taxes, and to restructure the
state’s tobacco bonds.
And Mr. Paterson remains politically weak, with a dismal standing in the polls
and an inability to provide forceful leadership, critics say.
The impasse involves a fundamental disagreement. The Paterson administration
argues that the state must begin to reckon with severe future deficits, and this
view appears to have the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Senators
prefer to take temporary measures and push off the day of reckoning as long as
Budget experts are paying close attention. They say how the deficit is closed is
as important as closing it. Not only will the negotiations affect the state’s
enormous future deficits — out-year gaps, in budget parlance — but bond rating
agencies are scrutinizing the process.
“The next three months will be critical to the state’s credit rating,” Moody’s
Investor Service said last week, in an analytical note that rattled the capital.
“The announcement of out-year gaps is not in and of itself an issue,” Emily
Raimes, an analyst at Moody’s, said in an interview. “What we look at is how
they solve them. If they solve them with one-time measures, that’s going to
increase the gaps in future years, and at some point they get so large it
becomes difficult to solve them.”
Stalemate in Legislature
Has New York Near Its Last Dollar, NYT, 27.11.2009,
Alaska’s Rural Schools Fight Off Extinction
November 26, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
NIKOLSKI, Alaska — This distant dot in the Aleutian Islands needed just 10
students for its school to dodge a fatal cut from the state budget. It reached
across Alaska and beyond but could find only nine.
Built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1939, the little Nikolski School will
not be the last in Alaska to close. Four others have closed this fall and at
least 30 more are at risk because of dwindling enrollment; one school in remote
southeast Alaska survived only by advertising on Craigslist for families with
“We lose one or two every year,” said Eddy Jeans, the director of school finance
for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
As Alaska celebrates its 50th anniversary of statehood amid new political
prominence and urban aspirations, it is confronting a legacy of loss in rural
communities that are unlike any others in the United States.
Some of these communities, like Nikolski, are linked to the earliest human
settlements in North America, yet are now buckling beneath the accumulated
conflict of old versus new. Alaska Natives are increasingly leaving villages for
cities. Young women, in particular, have departed, and birth rates, once
disproportionately higher in villages, have dropped. Jobs for the young people
who remain are declining. Village elders have fewer peers who share their
dialects. Heating fuel, gasoline and groceries can be expensive and medical
The annual statewide student counting period, completed last month, is a census
of the exodus. After several decades of growth, the overall rural population has
declined about 4 percent since 2000 and much more in many regions. In the
Aleutians, the population is down 19 percent, to about 4,500. About 20 percent
of Alaska’s 680,000 people live in rural areas.
Rural school districts, desperate to make the cut, are known to move students
between schools to prop up enrollment during the counting period, while some
have sought out families willing to relocate from other states.
“We were desperate,” said Gordon Chew, whose wife runs the school in Tenakee
Springs, where two families with a total of six children relocated earlier this
year in response to an advertisement on Craigslist. “That saved us.”The decline
of rural schools is at the heart of a broader debate in Alaska over the
treatment of native communities, which dominate the state’s rural population.
Here in the Aleutians, native Unangans, or Aleuts, are linked to people who
traveled the Bering land bridge from Asia more than 10,000 years ago. They
survived off the sea, making skiffs from seal skin and building houses from sod
for shelter against the endless ocean gales. They endured violence and religious
conversion by Russian explorers and, during World War II, forced evacuation by
the American military.
Now they face budget cuts and the pressures of modern Alaska.
“If you put it in the calculus we use today to determine public policy, places
like Nikolski probably have a difficult time measuring up,” said Byron Mallott,
a Tlingit leader who has advised several Alaska governors on native issues. “But
look at Nikolski in the context of Alaska, look at it in the context of America.
These are the native homelands, and we ought to recognize that and not forget
Concerns over the cost and quality of education in rural areas have long
generated tension: can preserving village life be balanced with preparing
students for a broader world? A court settlement in the 1970s required the state
to build high schools in most villages, prompting an expensive construction
boom. But by 1998, with oil revenues no longer soaring, the State Legislature
decided that schools with fewer than 10 students would face severe cuts in
financing. With some parents leaving villages in pursuit of better education
anyway, some lawmakers said saving schools was missing the point.
“Schools may close, but the fact of the matter is, we’re in the education
business,” said Gary Wilken, a former Republican state senator from Fairbanks
who pushed for the higher enrollment requirement. “Our state has to provide a
quality education to all, and sometimes you can do it better through the
Internet with home school programs or in regional boarding schools.”
For some, more recent standardized tests showing relatively poor performance
among rural and native students have confirmed skepticism over investing in
declining schools. Others have pressed more aggressively than ever for schools
to nurture fading native cultures and languages, once banished in the name of
Georgianna Lincoln, 66, a former Democratic state senator who lived in the
village of Rampart, northwest of Fairbanks, until she was 9, was among the
lawmakers who fought raising the financing threshold to 10 students. The school
in Rampart closed shortly after the new requirement was imposed.
After the vote, Ms. Lincoln recalled: “I told everybody, ‘I don’t care if you
import your cousins or your friends. Do not allow the school to close because
that’s the death of the community.’ ”
Larry LeDoux, Alaska’s commissioner of the Department of Education and Early
Development, noted that the state had just filled a new position, director of
rural education, but he also said that did not mean the state would try to save
Nikolski, nearly 1,000 miles southwest of Anchorage, is the last of what once
were more than 20 native villages on Umnak Island. A few decades ago, the
village had 80 people; it is now down to about 30.
Enrollment here fell below 10 last year, but the Aleutian Region School District
stretched its budget and kept the school open. To run the school with 10
students for one year costs $400,000 to $500,000. By last spring, enrollment had
fallen further but there was new optimism: Yuki and Maria Iaulualu, natives of
American Samoa, agreed to move here from Seattle with their five school-age
Joe Beckford, the district superintendent, arranged for the district to pay
several thousand dollars for the Iaulualus’ airfare. Yet Mr. Iaulualu soon lost
his job working for the village, and it became clear that even his family’s
arrival would not raise enrollment to 10.
Now, Mr. Iaulualu said, “we’re out of here.”
Grace Oomittuk, the village health aide, and her two school-aged children came
from the state’s north coast two years ago. Consulting with Mr. Beckford, she
timed their initial visit to coincide with the student counting period. Now, Ms.
Oomittuk said, her family will most likely move to her mother’s home in Palmer,
about 40 miles northeast of Anchorage.
Another student, Ivan Krukoff, 18, whose father lives in Nikolski, has moved
back in with his mother on a neighboring island. If only his cousin, Darin
Krukoff, 17, had been open to Mr. Beckford’s efforts to “entice him,” as the
superintendent put it, to move to Nikolski. That would have made 10.
But Darin likes the neighboring island, where the school has a basketball team
and other attractions, including girls his age.
“You have to live your life,” Darin said.
That gets to Eric Willhite.
He is 13. Nobody had to ask him to prop up ancient Alaska. He is from here, a
descendant of generations of seal hunters and salmon fishermen. The Black Eyed
Peas thump through his iPod. His hoodie helps cut the wind that roars across the
Bering Sea. He longs for middle school cool at the edge of America.
“I don’t want to leave,” he said.
After moving to Missouri with his parents several years ago, Eric decided he
preferred life in the village and returned after a year to live with his aunt
He has heard the stories of how his grandfather was punished in school for
speaking Unangan. He says he understands that he is now the only child left in
Nikolski with a direct connection to the native bones and artifacts
anthropologists have taken from its tundra.
While he says this is home, flight is his obsession. He simulates takeoffs on a
computer and makes jets out of Legos. His goal is to follow his older brother,
Daniel, 19, to a vocational boarding school in interior Alaska.
“He could fly pilot,” Eric said, “and I’ll fly co-pilot.”
First he needs to pass the eighth grade. After spending several weeks this fall
uncertain whether the Nikolski School would remain open, he is now in a
“This is a crucial year for Eric, and things aren’t going well,” said Scott
Kerr, Eric’s uncle and legal guardian.
Mr. Kerr is not native, but he is largely responsible for perpetuating native
traditions in Eric’s life, from hunting and fishing for food to finding peace in
“I’ve told him, ‘If you have nothing else in this world, you are Unangan, you
are Aleut,’ ” Mr. Kerr said. “That’s something to be proud of.”
The few people who remain here still gather in the evening on the rocky beach of
Nikolski Bay to fish for dinner or something to salt for winter. Volcanoes loom,
one dormant, one not. Eagles coast. Sea otters float. Cattle wander the hills,
wild descendants of a long-ago ranch and, now, a particularly good meal. Foxes
poke through the small landfill.
At one end of the village, elders recently reburied bones of their ancestors,
reclaimed from various collections. At the other, the shell of an old Reeve
Aleutian airliner sits beside the gravel runway, wreckage from a 1965 flight
caught in crosswinds. The school is in the middle, the newest relic.
“That school,” said Arnold Dushkin, president of the Nikolski village council,
“is our major reason for the village to be going.”
Alaska’s Rural Schools
Fight Off Extinction, NYT, 26.11.2009,
Sanford Faces 37 Charges on State Ethics Laws
November 23, 2009
Filed at 2:34 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford faces ethics charges
he broke state laws more than three dozen times by violating rules on airplane
travel and campaign money, according to details of the allegations released
The civil charges, which carry a maximum $74,000 in fines, stem from a
three-month investigation by the state ethics commission and could be pivotal in
a push by some lawmakers to remove him from office. The state attorney general
is deciding whether the governor would face any criminal charges.
The allegations include 18 instances in which Sanford is accused of improperly
buying first- and business-class airline tickets, violating state law requiring
lowest-cost travel; nine times of improperly using state-owned aircraft for
travel to political and personal events, including a stop at a discount hair
salon; and 10 times he improperly reimbursed himself with campaign cash.
Sanford's attorneys and spokesman did not immediately respond to messages left
The Republican governor has been under scrutiny since he vanished for five days
over the summer, reappearing to tearfully admit to an extramarital affair with a
woman in Argentina he later called his ''soul mate.''
A series of Associated Press investigations into his travel showed the governor
had for years used state airplanes for political and personal trips, flown in
pricey commercial airline seats despite a low-cost travel requirement and failed
to disclose trips on planes owned by friends and donors.
The State of Columbia newspaper also questioned whether Sanford properly
reimbursed himself from his campaign cash.
Each of the counts alleges Sanford used his office for personal financial gain
and carries a maximum $2,000 fine if he is found guilty.
The ethics commission announced last week that Sanford would face ''several''
charges but did not reveal the specifics until Monday.
Sanford's attorneys have said they look forward to mounting a defense against
the charges when the ethics panel holds a hearing into them early next year.
They also confirmed that Sanford -- as the state investigation was being
conducted -- added disclosures of his private plane flights to his ethics forms.
Among the mistakes the ethics commission says the governor made were his:
-- Approval of the purchase of four first- and business-class commercial airline
tickets for a June 2008 trip during which he met with his mistress in Argentina.
-- Personal use of state-owned aircraft for trips such as the birthday party of
a campaign contributor in Aiken, and flying from Myrtle Beach to Columbia for a
''personal event,'' including a haircut.
-- Reimbursing himself nearly $3,000 using campaign contributions, including
about $900 for expenses to attend a Republican Governors Association meeting in
Miami and a hunting trip in Dublin, Ireland, several days later.
For months, Sanford has insisted he did nothing wrong and served as a better
steward of the taxpayer dollar than his predecessors. But the former
congressman's penchant for riling fellow Republicans who control the Legislature
has left him with few allies since the startling June news conference during
which he admitted to the affair.
Four GOP lawmakers already have filed a resolution that would force Sanford from
office because of ''dereliction of duty,'' and the travel allegations play no
part in that move. Their measure deals solely with Sanford's absence from the
state, when he led his staff to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail
while he was in Argentina.
A committee that will consider that measure is scheduled to meet for the first
Sanford has brushed off repeated calls from his own party to step down and in
the past month scored a political victory by helping land a Boeing Co. assembly
plant that is expected to bring thousands of jobs to North Charleston.
Meanwhile, the first lady and their four sons moved out of the governor's
mansion. While the Sanfords have said they were trying to reconcile, Jenny
Sanford more recently has described the two as separated. She is writing a book
about the experience.
Sanford Faces 37 Charges
on State Ethics Laws, NYT, 23.11.2009,
Virginia Governor Will Not Stay Sniper Execution
November 11, 2009
The New York Times
By IAN URBINA
WASHINGTON — Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he would not stay the scheduled
execution Tuesday night of John Allen Muhammad, the man known as the D.C. Sniper
whose murderous shooting spree in the fall of 2002 left at least 10 dead.
In a written statement on Tuesday, Mr. Kaine said: “I find no compelling reason
to set aside the sentence that was recommended by the jury and then imposed and
affirmed by the courts. Accordingly, I decline to intervene.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case involving Mr.
Muhammad, 48, who was sentenced to die for the killing of Dean H. Meyers, an
engineer who was shot in the head at a gasoline station in Manassas, Va.
Mr. Meyers was one of 10 people killed in Maryland, Virginia and Washington over
three weeks in October 2002. Mr. Muhammad’s accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, who was
17 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The two are also
suspected of fatal shootings in Alabama, Arizona and Louisiana.
The execution will bring to a close a case that has fixated the region ever
since local residents were gunned down while doing the most mundane tasks, like
shopping or pumping gas. The random nature of the shootings left people fearful
and led many to remain indoors as much as possible to avoid becoming a target.
When the police announced that witnesses had reported having spotted white box
trucks near the sniper shootings, the public became obsessed with the ubiquitous
work vehicles and a sense of panic often beset anyone sitting at an intersection
near the trucks. After a teenager was shot outside his Maryland school, local
officials decided to keep schoolchildren inside at recess and they began
drilling on duck-and-cover techniques.
Mr. Muhammad’s execution will also end a hard-fought legal battle.
His current lawyers lodged a last set of emergency appeals with the Supreme
Court last week, arguing that Mr. Muhammad suffers from severe mental illness
and brain damage, caused partly by childhood beatings. The lawyers have also
argued that the case has moved too quickly.
While the Supreme Court did not comment in refusing to hear Mr. Muhammad’s
appeal, three justices objected to the relative haste accompanying the
Justice John Paul Stevens complained that “under our normal practice,” Mr.
Muhammad’s petition for the court to take his case would have been discussed at
the justices’ conference scheduled for Nov. 24. But because Virginia scheduled
the execution for Tuesday, the judicial process was rushed, Justice Stevens said
in a statement joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.
Justice Stevens wrote that he did not disagree with the majority’s decision to
decline the case. However, in declining to stay the execution, he said, “we have
allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter — involving a
death row inmate — that demands the most careful attention.”
After Mr. Muhammad was sentenced to death in Virginia for shooting Mr. Meyers,
Maryland prosecutors arranged to have him tried again for the six murders in
Montgomery County. At that trial, Mr. Malvo, who is now 24, testified at length.
Throughout both trials and a number of subsequent appeals, Mr. Muhammad
continued to profess his innocence.
A soldier-turned-auto-mechanic, Mr. Muhammad held a deep grudge against his
ex-wife and society. During the Maryland trial, Mr. Malvo testified that the
intent of their shooting spree was to create havoc to cover for Mr. Muhammad’s
plans to kidnap his three children.
The longer-term goal, Mr. Malvo said, was to extort law enforcement to stop the
shootings, after which Mr. Muhammad would take the money and move to Canada with
Mr. Malvo and his three children. There, Mr. Malvo said, Mr. Muhammad planned to
create a training ground for 140 young homeless men whom he would send out to
wreak similar havoc and to “shut things down” in cities across the United
Although Governor Kaine, a Democrat, has said in the past that he is personally
opposed to the death penalty, he has allowed a number of executions to take
place since he took office in 2006. Virginia has the nation’s second-busiest
death chamber, behind Texas.
Prison officials said the execution process will begin around 8:30 p.m. at
Greensville Correctional Center, a state prison in Jarratt. An execution team
will strap Mr. Muhammad to a gurney, attach him to a heart monitor and connect
an intravenous catheter to each arm.
Prison officials will then open a curtain so witnesses in an adjoining room can
watch the proceedings. Shortly after 9 p.m., the executioners will inject Mr.
Muhammad with a series of chemicals, ending with a fatal dose of potassium
chloride, according to prison officials.
Under Virginia law, a prisoner is allowed to choose the method by which he or
she will be put to death — either lethal injection or the electric chair.
Because Mr. Muhammad declined to select a method, by law he will receive a
Virginia Governor Will
Not Stay Sniper Execution, NYT, 11.11.2009,
G.O.P. Wins Two Key Governors’ Races; Bloomberg Prevails in a Close Contest
November 4, 2009
The New York Times
By DAVID M. HALBFINGER and IAN URBINA
Republicans swept contests for governor in New Jersey and Virginia on Tuesday
as voters went to the polls filled with economic uncertainty, dealing President
Obama a setback and building momentum for a Republican comeback attempt in next
year’s midterm Congressional elections.
But in a closely watched Congressional race in upstate New York, a Democrat who
received a late push from the White House triumphed over a conservative
candidate who attracted national backers ranging from Rush Limbaugh to Sarah
Palin, the former Alaska governor.
In New Jersey, a former federal prosecutor, Christopher J. Christie, became the
first Republican to win statewide in 12 years by vowing to attack the state’s
fiscal problems with the same aggressiveness he used to lock up corrupt
He overcame a huge Democratic voter advantage and a relentless barrage of
negative commercials to defeat Jon S. Corzine, an unpopular incumbent who
outspent him by more than two to one and drew heavily on political help from the
White House, including three visits to the state from President Obama.
“We are in a crisis; the times are extraordinarily difficult, but I stand here
tonight full of hope for the future,” said Mr. Christie, 47, who will become New
Jersey’s 55th governor. “Tomorrow begins the task of fixing a broken state.”
Mr. Corzine, 62, who entered politics a decade ago after a career at Goldman
Sachs, conceded at 10:55 p.m. “It has been quite a journey,” he said. “There’s a
bright future ahead for New Jersey if we stay focused on people’s lives, and I’m
telling you, I’m going to do that for the rest of my life.”
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Christie had 49 percent of the vote,
Mr. Corzine 44 percent.
In Virginia, where Mr. Obama was the first Democratic presidential nominee to
carry the state since 1964, Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican and former state
attorney general, rolled to victory over R. Creigh Deeds, a veteran state
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. McDonnell had 59 percent and Mr.
Deeds 41 percent. Mr. McDonnell’s victory, along with Republican victories in
the races for attorney general and lieutenant governor, ended eight years of
Democratic control in Richmond.
In New York’s 23rd Congressional District, Douglas L. Hoffman, a little known
accountant running on the Conservative Party line, conceded after midnight to
his Democratic rival, Bill Owens, after driving a moderate Republican from the
The three races marked the first major elections since the country plunged into
the worst recession in decades, and basic economic issues — job losses,
foreclosures, taxes — were front and center.
In Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, avoided divisive social issues, concentrating
instead on his plans to create jobs, improve the economy and fix the state’s
In New Jersey, Mr. Christie held Mr. Corzine, a onetime Goldman Sachs chief
executive, accountable for rising unemployment, persistent budget deficits, and
his failure to gain control over skyrocketing property taxes, the nation’s
highest. Voters embraced Mr. Christie even though he offered little detail about
how he would fix the state’s chronic financial problems and instead appealed to
voters hungry for change.
Voters in both states remained strongly supportive of President Obama, exit
polls conducted by Edison Research showed, though they said that was not a
factor in their decisions. But independent voters, who in New Jersey favored the
president in 2008 and in Virginia split between Mr. Obama and John McCain,
delivered strong margins for both Mr. Christie and Mr. McDonnell, the surveys
In New Jersey, a sprawling corruption case begun by Mr. Christie, which
culminated in July with the arrests of dozens of politicians and others,
appeared to have taken its toll on the Democratic get-out-the-vote machinery. In
Hudson County, a party bastion where a number of Democratic officials were
charged, only 39 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, county
The races in New Jersey, Virginia and New York attracted intense interest
because they provided the first test of President Obama’s ability to transfer
the excitement he unleashed last year to other Democratic candidates.
The White House, to varying degrees, became involved in all three races, worried
that defeats would undermine the public’s perceptions of the president’s
political clout and his ability to pass major legislation.
With polls of the Virginia race showing Mr. Deeds falling further behind, the
White House refrained from an all-out effort on his behalf, though Mr. Obama
campaigned with Mr. Deeds twice.
In New York, however, the president’s aides played a pivotal role in helping Mr.
Owens over the weekend, engineering a surprise endorsement from the moderate
Republican who had abandoned the race under pressure from conservatives.
And in New Jersey, the White House took a firm hand in guiding Mr. Corzine’s
re-election campaign, culminating in rallies featuring the president campaigning
with the governor in Newark and Camden on Sunday.
The victor in Virginia, Mr. McDonnell, 55, is a social and fiscal conservative,
but ran on a more moderate platform that appealed to voters in the suburbs in
Fairfax County, where he was raised. By contrast, Mr. Deeds, 51, had a difficult
time introducing himself to densely populated Northern Virginia.
Mr. Deeds sought to portray Mr. McDonnell as a radical conservative by
publicizing his 20-year-old master’s thesis, which criticized working women and
single mothers. But polls showed voters found Mr. Deeds’s commercials too
The New York race emerged in the national spotlight after President Obama
appointed the district’s long-serving congressman, John M. McHugh, a Republican,
as secretary of the Army. Almost immediately after local Republican leaders
chose Dede Scozzafava, a supporter of gay rights and abortion rights who
embraced the federal stimulus package, she came under attack by conservatives as
Leading conservative voices lined up behind Mr. Hoffman, of Lake Placid, and
opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion flooded the district with volunteers
from across the country.
In the final days of the campaign, Ms. Scozzafava stunned her party by
withdrawing from the race and then backing Mr. Owens. Vice President Joseph R.
Biden Jr. traveled to Watertown on Monday to rally Democrats and disgruntled
Republicans, but the event drew only about 200 people.
In New Jersey, Mr. Christie attacked Mr. Corzine’s economic leadership, saying
he had driven jobs and residents from the state. The governor countered that Mr.
Christie offered no viable plan for digging New Jersey out of its enormous
Christopher J. Daggett, a former state and federal environmental official, made
a splash with a plan to cut property taxes and a strong debate performance, but
was hobbled by weak fund-raising. After reaching 20 percent in one
public-opinion poll, he failed to break out of the double digits.
New Jersey was a deep-blue state, and Mr. Obama’s election boosted Democratic
registration, giving the party a 700,000-vote advantage. Mr. Corzine assailed
Mr. Christie, who was named United States attorney by President George W. Bush
in 2001, as a philosophical clone of Mr. Bush.
The White House, viewing New Jersey as its best hope for victory, poured
resources into the race. The president’s pollster overhauled the campaign’s
message, White House aides reviewed Corzine commercials and attended strategy
sessions, and cabinet officials lined up to appear at Mr. Corzine’s side.
But Mr. Corzine’s abiding unpopularity — his highest approval rating followed
his 2007 car accident and was chalked up to pity — suggested that even “Obama
surge” voters who voted for the first time last year could not tilt the outcome
in the governor’s favor.
No issue loomed larger in New Jersey than the economy, which Mr. Corzine assured
residents in January ranked as his No. 1, 2 and 3 priorities. But Mr. Christie
never wavered from a simple strategy: making the vote a referendum on Mr.
Corzine and highlighting how his supposed Wall Street financial skills had been
a bust for the state.
David Kocieniewski and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
G.O.P. Wins Two Key
Governors’ Races; Bloomberg Prevails in a Close Contest, NYT, 4.11.2009,
Illinois Curb on Minors’ Abortions Nears
November 4, 2009
The New York Times
By MONICA DAVEY
CHICAGO — Illinois officials are expected to decide Wednesday when to begin
enforcing a state law requiring doctors to notify a parent of anyone under 18
who seeks an abortion. The decision could prove to be a concluding chapter in
the state’s debate, more than a quarter-century old, over parental notification.
Thirty-four other states are already enforcing measures requiring parents’
notification — in 24 of those states, even consent — before a minor obtains an
But enforcement of such laws has long been blocked in the courts in a handful of
other states, of which Illinois was one until this summer. Then a federal
appeals court resolved a constitutional challenge by finding that a notification
law enacted in Springfield in 1995 could indeed take effect. Enforcement has
since been delayed by procedural issues that are to be addressed in Wednesday’s
Opponents of abortion say they view the possibility of compliance at last,
perhaps by late this week, as a chance to end what they perceive as an unwelcome
magnet in the nation’s middle. Illinois, they say, has become a place that
attracts young women from around the Midwest who are seeking abortions because,
unlike neighboring states, it has not been able to enforce parental
“Illinois has become sort of a dumping ground,” said Joseph M. Scheidler,
national director of the Pro-Life Action League, whose headquarters are in
Chicago. “You can tell from the license plates of the parking lots of these
places, a lot are from out of state.”
Abortion rights advocates, who since the federal court decision have brought a
new challenge in state court, say there is little evidence that Illinois is
attracting pregnant minors. They support the idea that young women talk to their
parents, they say, but fear the law’s effects on those who feel they cannot.
“You just cannot mandate good family communication,” said Steve Trombley,
president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, adding that he
was most concerned about those who might be unwilling because of abuse, neglect
Under the law, doctors are required to notify a parent or an adult guardian of
anyone under 18 who seeks an abortion, or risk action by the state’s Medical
Exceptions are allowed for medical emergencies and cases in which the minor
states in writing that she is a victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse or
neglect by a parent or other adult family member, circumstances that abortion
rights advocates say many young women will be unwilling to acknowledge.
The law also allows those under 18 to seek a waiver from a judge, who could find
them mature enough to make their own decision or find that telling a parent
would not be in their best interest.
Critics have questioned the notion of waivers, arguing that young women may be
unprepared to navigate the legal system, that their privacy could be jeopardized
and that the process could take too long.
It was in part because of a challenge to the constitutionality of a waiver
system that the Illinois law was enjoined by the courts for 14 years. Then,
after this summer’s federal appellate decision, the state’s Department of
Financial and Professional Regulation added a 90-day grace period for doctors
while the state developed such a system. Last week state officials extended the
grace period until at least Wednesday, when the Medical Disciplinary Board is
expected to consider whether an adequate system now exists.
Should the decision be to have enforcement of the law begin immediately, those
pursuing the new challenge in state court say, they will seek a temporary
restraining order Wednesday afternoon.
Illinois Curb on Minors’
Abortions Nears, NYT, 4.11.2009,
Maine Voters Repeal Law Allowing Gay Marriage
November 4, 2009
Filed at 1:51 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- Maine voters repealed a state law Tuesday that would
have allowed same-sex couples to wed, dealing the gay rights movement a
heartbreaking defeat in New England, the corner of the country most supportive
of gay marriage.
Gay marriage has now lost in every single state -- 31 in all -- in which it has
been put to a popular vote. Gay-rights activists had hoped to buck that trend in
Maine -- known for its moderate, independent-minded electorate -- and mounted an
energetic, well-financed campaign.
With 87 percent of the precincts reporting, gay-marriage foes had 53 percent of
''The institution of marriage has been preserved in Maine and across the
nation,'' declared Frank Schubert, chief organizer for the winning side.
Gay-marriage supporters refused to concede, holding out hope that that the tide
might turn as the final returns came in.
''We're here for the long haul and whether it's just all night and into the
morning, or it's next week or next month or next year, we will be here,'' said
Jesse Connolly, manager of the pro-gay marriage campaign. ''We'll be here
fighting. We'll be working. We will regroup.''
At issue was a law passed by the Maine Legislature last spring that would have
legalized same-sex marriage. The law was put on hold after conservatives
launched a petition drive to repeal it in a referendum.
The outcome Tuesday marked the first time voters had rejected a gay-marriage law
enacted by a legislature. When Californians put a stop to same-sex marriage a
year ago, it was in response to a court ruling, not legislation.
Five other states have legalized gay marriage -- starting with Massachusetts in
2004, and followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa -- but all
did so through legislation or court rulings, not by popular vote. In contrast,
constitutional amendments banning gay marriage have been approved in all 30
states where they have been on the ballot.
The defeat left some gay-marriage supporters bitter.
''Our relationship is between us,'' said Carla Hopkins, 38, of Mount Vernon,
with partner Victoria Eleftherio, 38, sitting on her lap outside a hotel
ballroom where gay marriage supporters had been hoping for a victory party.
''How does that affect anybody else? It's a personal thing.''
The contest had been viewed by both sides as certain to have national
repercussions. Gay-marriage foes desperately wanted to keep their winning streak
alive, while gay-rights activists sought to blunt the argument that gay marriage
was being foisted on the country by courts and lawmakers over the will of the
Had Maine's law been upheld, the result would probably have energized efforts to
get another vote on gay marriage in California, and given a boost to
gay-marriage bills in New York and New Jersey.
Earlier Tuesday, before vote-counting began, gay-marriage foe Chuck Schott of
Portland warned that Maine ''will have its place in infamy'' if the gay-rights
Another Portland resident, Sarah Holman said she was ''very torn'' but decided
-- despite her conservative upbringing -- to vote in favor of letting gays
''They love and they have the right to love. And we can't tell somebody how to
love,'' said Holman, 26.
In addition to reaching out to young people who flocked to the polls for
President Barack Obama a year ago, gay-marriage defenders tried to appeal to
Maine voters' pronounced independent streak and live-and-let-live attitude.
The other side based many of its campaign ads on claims -- disputed by state
officials -- that the new law would mean ''homosexual marriage'' would be taught
in public schools.
Both sides in Maine drew volunteers and contributions from out of state, but the
money edge went to the campaign in defense of gay marriage, Protect Maine
Equality. It raised $4 million, compared with $2.5 million for Stand for
Elsewhere on Tuesday, voters in Washington state voted on whether to uphold or
overturn a recently expanded domestic partnership law that entitles same-sex
couples to the same state-granted rights as heterosexual married couples. With
half the precincts reporting, that race was too close to call.
In Kalamazoo, Mich., voters approved a measure that bars discrimination based on
Among other ballot items across the country:
-- In Ohio, voters approved a measure that will allow casinos in Cleveland,
Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo. Four similar measures had been defeated in
recent years, but this time the state's reeling economy gave extra weight to
arguments that the new casinos would create thousands of jobs.
-- Maine voters defeated a measure that would have limited state and local
government spending by holding it to the rate of inflation plus population
growth. A similar measure was on the ballot in Washington state.
-- Another measure in Maine, which easily won approval, will allow dispensaries
to supply marijuana to patients for medicinal purposes. It is a follow-up to a
1999 measure that legalized medical marijuana but did not set up a distribution
-- The Colorado ski town of Breckenridge voted overwhelmingly to allow adults to
legally possess small amounts of marijuana.
David Crary reported from New York.
Maine Voters Repeal Law
Allowing Gay Marriage, NYT, 4.11.2009,
The Fog of Ethics in Albany
October 28, 2009
The New York Times
Extortion, bribery, racketeering — those are just some of the crimes that
have sent members of the New York State Legislature to jail in the last five
years. The good news is that the authorities caught up with them. The bad news
is how easily and how long they were able to exploit the system, and New York’s
long-suffering citizens, before they were caught.
The most recent example surfaced last week when federal prosecutors released a
sentencing document for Anthony Seminerio, the former assemblyman who resigned
in June and then pleaded guilty to fraud. The Queens Democrat spent 30 years in
the Legislature, collecting a paycheck from taxpayers. For a good part of the
time, he used his elected position to solicit “consulting fees” from two
hospitals, the Long Island Rail Road and other clients, all with important
business before the Legislature.
The details of the government’s case reads like a profanity-laden film script —
with the growling lawmaker muscling people into paying him as a “consultant” or
he would ruin their companies and “kill” their bills in Albany. This went on for
years until another assemblyman — indicted for separate crimes — agreed to wear
a wire while talking to Mr. Seminerio.
Obviously, there is no law, no commission, no finger-wagging that could turn Mr.
Seminerio and his ilk into honest citizens. But there is something profoundly
flawed in a system where, first, so many people considered it business as usual
(or an unavoidable expense) to pay a legislator for special treatment.
What makes it even worse is that the Legislature’s rules on reporting outside
income are so weak that the public had no way of recognizing a scam like this
one. As State Senator Daniel Squadron, a Manhattan Democrat, puts it simply:
“Nobody’s minding the candy store.”
Here are some of many ways the system is failing:
OUTSIDE INCOME IS ONE OF THE PERKS Legislators in Albany are considered to be
part-time workers. They are allowed to hold second jobs, including as lawyers
and political consultants, although many of the more diligent ones do not have
OUTSIDE INCOME IS BARELY MONITORED The Legislative Ethics Commission is a feeble
operation created by the Legislature to oversee itself — very gently. Its
deliberations are secret and the outcome is almost never made public. Its
reporting rules on outside income are shockingly weak.
Lawmakers are required to list that income only within broad ranges (Category F
is $250,000 or more, for example) on documents that are edited before the public
sees them. Those who work as lawyers are told not to list clients. That
exemption serves many lawmakers well, including New York’s most powerful
lawmaker/lawyer: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. He works for Weitz &
Luxenberg, one of New York City’s largest personal injury law firms, which has
strong connections to the influential New York Trial Lawyers Association.
We are not suggesting that Mr. Silver has done anything illegal. But without
robust disclosure requirements, it is impossible for the public to know whether
a lawmaker is maintaining an unbreachable wall between his or her private
practice and public service.
Even the vague numbers for income from outside business that are reported are
whited-out before the form is given to the public. In the case of Mr. Seminerio,
it took federal prosecutors to discover that officials at one hospital had paid
him at least $300,000 over the years. This hospital had secured more than $100
million in state financing and other benefits from state taxpayers.
If the Legislature required its members to reveal more about income and clients
and to make that information public, the Seminerio caper would have raised
questions, even in Albany.
ETHICS COMMISSION IS AN INSIDE JOKE Even members of the ethically challenged
Legislature know that their ethics commission is looking the other way. When
Senator Hiram Monserrate was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend, the voters’
outrage was so high that Senator John Sampson, the Democratic conference leader,
decided to bypass the commission. He established a public ad hoc group of
senators to decide Mr. Monserrate’s fate.
We hope that it will have the focus, muscle and gumption to call for kicking Mr.
Monserrate out of the Legislature — and that the Senate will agree. Meanwhile,
Mr. Monserrate has been raising money to pay his attorneys’ fees and seems to
have no plans to make his contributors public. He should be required to do so.
The only word for this secrecy is outrageous.
HEAL THYSELF, NOW There are a few lawmakers, including Mr. Sampson and Mr.
Silver, who say they are trying to come up with stronger ethics rules and better
investigation and enforcement — for government workers and lobbyists. So far, we
haven’t heard much talk about how they plan to toughen up their own rules.
At some point, New Yorkers have to ask themselves whether they want lawmakers
with outside jobs. But there is a lot that needs to be fixed right now,
including limits on whose money legislators can accept and rigorous public
reporting requirements for all outside income.
The corruption in Albany has to end.
This article is part of a series examining the political and structural crisis
in the New York State government. The series can be read at nytimes.com/opinion.
The Fog of Ethics in
Albany, NYT, 28.10.2009,
States Pressed Into New Role on Marijuana
October 26, 2009
The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
GREELEY, Colo. — Health and law enforcement officials around the nation are
scrambling to figure out how to regulate medical marijuana now that the federal
government has decided it will no longer prosecute legal users or providers.
For years, since the first medical marijuana laws were passed in the mid-1990s,
many local and state governments could be confident, if not complacent, knowing
that marijuana would be kept in check because it remained illegal under federal
law, and that hard-nosed federal prosecutors were not about to forget it.
But with the Justice Department’s announcement last week that it would not
prosecute people who use marijuana for medical purposes in states where it is
legal, local and state officials say they will now have to take on the job
In New Hampshire, for instance, where some state legislators are considering a
medical marijuana law, there is concern that the state health department —
already battered by budget cuts — could be hard-pressed to administer the
system. In California, where there has been an explosion of medical marijuana
suppliers, the authorities in Los Angeles and other jurisdictions are
considering a requirement that all medical dispensaries operate as nonprofit
“The federal government says they’re not going to control it, so the only other
option we have is to control it ourselves,” said Carrol Martin, a City Council
member in this community north of Denver, where a ban on marijuana dispensaries
was on the agenda at a Council meeting the day after the federal announcement.
At least five states, including New York and New Jersey, are considering laws to
allow medical marijuana through legislation or voter referendums, in addition to
the 13 states where such laws already exist. Even while that is happening,
scores of local governments in California, Colorado and other states have gone
the other way and imposed bans or moratoriums on distribution even though state
law allows it.
Some health and legal experts say the Justice Department’s decision will promote
the spread of marijuana for medical uses because local and state officials often
take leadership cues from federal policy. That, the experts said, could lead to
more liberal rules in states that already have medical marijuana and to more
voters and legislators in other states becoming comfortable with the idea of
allowing it. For elected officials who have feared looking soft on crime by
backing any sort of legalized marijuana use, the new policy might provide
support to reframe the issue.
“The fact that the feds are backing off is going to allow changes that are going
to make it more accessible,” said Bill Morrisette, a state senator in Oregon and
chairman of a committee that oversees the state’s medical marijuana law. Mr.
Morrisette said he expected a flurry of proposals in the Legislature, including
a plan already floated to have the state grow the marijuana crop itself, perhaps
on the grounds of the State Penitentiary in Salem.
“It would be very secure,” he said.
Here in Greeley, anxiety and enthusiasm were on display as the City Council
considered a ban on dispensaries.
Most of those who testified at the hearing, including several dispensary
operators, opposed the ban and spoke of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits and the
taxes that dispensary owners were willing to pour into Greeley’s budget, which
has been battered by the recession.
But on the seven-member Council, the question was control. Mr. Martin, for
example, said that he hated to see the spread of marijuana, but that the
barricades had fallen. Still, he said he opposed a local ban on dispensaries.
“If we have no regulations at all, then we can’t control it, and our police
officers have their hands tied,” Mr. Martin said.
Mayor Ed Clark, a former police officer, took the opposite tack in supporting
the ban, which passed on a 6-to-1 vote.
“I think we do regulate them, by not allowing dispensaries,” Mr. Clark said.
The backdrop to the debate here in Colorado is a sharp expansion in marijuana
dispensaries and patients, fueled in part by the State Board of Health decision
in July not to impose limits on the number of patients handled by each marijuana
The state attorney general, John W. Suthers, said the federal government’s
retreat, combined with the growth in demand, had created a legal vacuum.
“The federal Department of Justice is saying it will only go after you if you’re
in violation of state law,” Mr. Suthers said. “But in Colorado it’s not clear
what state law is.”
In New Hampshire, by contrast, where the state legislature is scheduled to meet
this week to consider overriding the governor’s veto and passing a medical
marijuana law, government downsizing has colored the debate.
The state agency that would be responsible for licensing marijuana dispensaries
has been battered by budget cuts, said Senator Sylvia B. Larsen, the president
of the New Hampshire Senate and a Democrat. Concerns about the department, Ms.
Larsen said, have made it harder to find two more votes in the Senate to reach a
two-thirds majority that is needed to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch, a
An even odder situation is unfolding in Maine, which already allows medical
marijuana and where residents will vote next month on a measure that would
create a new system of distribution and licensing.
The marijuana proposal, several political experts said, has been overshadowed by
another fight on the ballot that would overturn a state law and ban same-sex
The added wrinkle is that opponents of same-sex marriage, said Christian
Potholm, a professor of government at Bowdoin College, have heavily recruited
young, socially conservative voters, who by and large tend to not be concerned
about medical marijuana expansion.
“The 18- to 25-year-old vote is going to be overrepresented because of the gay
marriage situation, so overrepresented in favor of medical marijuana,” Professor
Some legal scholars said the federal government, by deciding not to enforce its
own laws (possession and the sale of marijuana remain federal crimes), has
introduced an unpredictable variable into the drug regulation system.
“The next step would be a particular state deciding to legalize marijuana
entirely,” said Peter J. Cohen, a doctor and a lawyer who teaches public health
law at Georgetown University. If federal prosecutors kept their distance even
then, Dr. Cohen said, legalized marijuana would become a de facto reality.
Senator Morrisette in Oregon said he thought that exact situation — a state
moving toward legalization, perhaps California — could play out much sooner now
than might have been imagined even a few weeks ago. And the continuing recession
would only help, he said, with advocates for legalization able to promise relief
to an overburdened prison system and injection of tax revenues to the state
States Pressed Into New
Role on Marijuana, NYT, 26.10.2009,
Homeless Ga. Sex Offenders Directed to Woods
September 28, 2009
Filed at 5:34 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) -- A small group of homeless sex offenders have set up
camp in densely wooded area behind a suburban Atlanta office park, directed
there by probation officers who say it's a place of last resort for those with
nowhere else to go.
The nine sex offenders live in tents in the trees behind a towering ''no
trespassing'' sign, waiting out their probation sentences as they face numerous
restrictions under one of the nation's toughest sex offender policies.
William Hawkins is a 34-year-old who says he was directed to the campsite two
weeks ago after being released from prison for violating probation for failing
to register as a sex offender in Georgia.
The muddy camp on the outskirts of prosperous Cobb County is an unintended
consequence of Georgia's sex offender law.
Homeless Ga. Sex
Offenders Directed to Woods, NYT, 28.9.2009,
California Struggles With Paroled Sex Offenders
September 27, 2009
The New York Times
By SOLOMON MOORE
ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Darrell Littleton calls them “his guys,” but he does not
One got drunk and exposed himself to a jogger in a public park. Another was a
fire captain until he molested his 13-year-old stepdaughter, went to prison and
lost his wife, his job and his home. Now the man sleeps behind a drive-through
Mr. Littleton is a parole agent, and “his guys,” about 40 in all, are paroled
sex offenders. On a September morning, as he does each day, Mr. Littleton fired
up his laptop computer to check on his charges; the signals from their
global-positioning ankle bracelets trace dotted trails cutting through a Google
satellite map. Mr. Littleton tracks them, calls them frequently and shows up
unannounced to make sure they are behaving themselves. But they still struggle
to stay straight.
One of his parolees recently harassed a teenage prostitute, and Mr. Littleton
had to “violate him” — revoke his parole and return him to prison. Another
promised Mr. Littleton that once he is off parole in a few months, and no longer
subject to random drug testing, he is going to resume his marijuana habit. And
before the day was over, another parolee would emerge as a suspect in a sexual
assault on a 9-year-old girl. “Twenty is really the ideal caseload for my guys,”
Mr. Littleton said as he drove a high-riding pickup truck on one of several
parolee visits he had planned that day. “With that kind of caseload, I could
spend more time in the field and less in the office. With these guys, you don’t
want them to know you’re coming. You need to watch them when they don’t know
they’re being watched.”
A series of high-profile crimes involving parolees in California highlight the
challenges of keeping track of them in a state that discharges more than 120,000
inmates annually, more than any other.
Last month, two campus police officers at the University of California,
Berkeley, became suspicious of a paroled sex offender named Phillip Garrido and
called his parole officer, leading to Mr. Garrido’s arrest on charges of
kidnapping Jaycee Dugard, now 29, in 1991, raping her and holding her captive in
a backyard encampment.
Like the sex offenders Mr. Littleton supervises, Mr. Garrido had been monitored
by GPS and visited at his home at least twice a month by parole agents. But he
was still able to keep his secret for 18 years.
In July, a Los Angeles man on parole was arrested in the kidnapping and murder
of a 17-year-old girl, and an Oakland parolee shot and killed four police
officers before killing himself.
California is the only state that places all released prisoners on parole, no
matter the seriousness of their crime. Even at a time of historically low
violent crime, critics argue that overloading parole agents compromises public
Legislation passed this month will reduce the “average” caseloads for parole
agents to 45, from 70, and nonviolent, less serious offenders will no longer be
returned to prison for administrative infractions like missing counseling
appointments, ditching parole agent visits or failing drug tests. Agents
handling some of the most violent offenders, like Mr. Littleton’s parolees, will
also see their caseloads reduced.
Legislators argued that the law was necessary to reduce chronic prison
overcrowding. Packed prisons thwart rehabilitation programs and medical
treatment and incite riots on a regular basis, according to findings in federal
civil rights cases against the California corrections system.
The law was hard-won by the Democratic-controlled state legislature. Corrections
officer unions, police organizations and prosecutors opposed it, arguing that
even parolees convicted of nonviolent crimes were too dangerous to be left
Mr. Littleton said he thought parolees should be given incentives for early
release and reduced supervision inside and outside of prison — G.E.D. courses,
drug treatment programs and psychological counseling, for example. But providing
services is one thing the legislation does not emphasize.
In fact, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced $280 million in cuts this week to
educational and rehabilitation programs inside prison. The cutbacks follow an 80
percent cut in Proposition 36, the state’s largest drug treatment diversion
program, even though most parolees suffer from drug and alcohol addictions,
mental illnesses and chronic unemployment. A University of California, Los
Angeles, study showed that the program, approved by voters in 2000, treated
30,000 drug offenders a year in lieu of prison and saved $2 in taxes for every
$1 invested in the program.
Michelle Jackson, a parole agent in Corona, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles,
who supervises 40 violent felons, said she would prefer to focus on the social
work aspect of her job rather than the law enforcement role but sees few
alternatives, even with the new legislation. “Most programs won’t take my guys
or they want them to pay, and all my parolees have very low-paying jobs,” she
said. “They can’t afford a month’s worth of counseling.”
When Ms. Jackson visits Faafetai Niusila, 39, a muscular member of the Sons of
Samoa gang, she chides him for his lack of chivalry toward his wife.
“Really? You’re going to let her carry the groceries by herself?” Ms. Jackson
asked as she watched Mr. Niusila’s wife struggle to carry bags into their house.
Mr. Niusila, who served 12 years in prison for attempted murder, hustled across
the lawn to help.
After Mr. Niusila, Ms. Jackson visited Shelton Miles, 38, who was on parole for
shooting a man in 1991. He spent more than 10 years in prison. “Does someone
collect shot glasses?” Ms. Jackson asked warily as she spied them on a shelf. If
Mr. Miles is caught abusing alcohol, his parole could be revoked.
“No, no,” he said. “My sons’ sports teams give them out.”
Ms. Jackson said that in the absence of appropriate programs, she was more
likely to revoke an offender’s parole.
“If employment doesn’t work out, if staying home doesn’t work out, and they
start using again or getting in trouble — even if it’s not another crime — we
have to violate them to protect the community because we don’t know what will
happen,” she said.
That uncertainty keeps Mr. Littleton thinking about his guys even when he is off
the clock. Even a vigilant parole agent cannot keep parolees out of trouble
every minute of every day, he said.
Around the middle of his shift, Mr. Littleton received an alert that the police
here in Escondido, a suburb of San Diego, were looking for a parolee supervised
by his office named Ricardo Perez Borbon, 70, in connection with an assault on a
9-year-old girl. Mr. Borbon was on parole after serving 12 years for sexually
assaulting a 9-year-old girl.
The signal from Mr. Borbon’s GPS anklet indicated that he had lingered near an
elementary school an hour earlier and then had gone to his residential
construction job before tampering with the homing device a few blocks away. Mr.
Littleton gunned his truck toward the location to meet other agents. They found
the anklet under a roadside cactus. Mr. Borbon was now a fugitive. “We’ll be
focusing on him now,” said Lindon Lewis, Mr. Littleton’s supervisor. “He has our
full attention now.”
Mr. Littleton returned to his truck and clipped Mr. Borbon’s mug shot —
slicked-back hair, a salt-and-pepper moustache, grim eyes with dark circles
underneath — onto his sun visor. The parolee’s face looked down at him.
With Paroled Sex Offenders, NYT, 27.9.2009,
Cuts Ravage California Domestic Abuse Program
September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By JESSE McKINLEY
SAN FRANCISCO — The Riley Center does not advertise its location, in a
three-story Victorian in San Francisco’s core. The center’s address is
confidential to protect its tenants: dozens of women and children fleeing
While those who live at the Riley Center are often desperate for help, so is the
center itself and dozens like it across California.
Because of cuts in state financing, several domestic violence shelters in
California have closed in recent months, with layoffs or fewer full-time staff
members at many others. Legal services — like help obtaining restraining orders
— have been curtailed, as has counseling.
The Riley Center has eliminated six beds and combined its emergency services
with its longer-term transitional program.
Shelters have also dropped 24-hour services, cut overnight staff at emergency
centers and eliminated more comprehensive services like safe visitation centers,
where staff members are posted when children are dropped off or picked up as
part of custody agreements.
“Our members are struggling to keep their doors open,” said Tara Shabazz, the
executive director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, which
represents the state’s nonprofit shelters.
In July, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated the remaining financing for the
state’s Domestic Violence Program — some $16 million — in the face of a
lingering budget gap of nearly $500 million. Legislators had closed most, but
not all, of a $24 billion deficit.
Mr. Schwarzenegger has said he regretted the decision but had no choice. “The
governor understands how difficult these cuts are,” said Aaron McLear, a
spokesman. “But he can’t promise money we don’t have.”
Other states, including New Jersey and Illinois, have struggled to find ways to
keep domestic violence centers open, but national advocacy groups say no state
has gone as far as California in “zeroing out” domestic violence money.
“California is by far the most extreme and shocking example,” said Sue Else, the
president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, a group in
Washington. “We’re appalled that this is the way that the governor would seek to
balance the budget.”
The cuts to the program, which is part of the State Department of Public Health,
means that the 94 nonprofit agencies charged with running the state’s domestic
violence shelters have lost about $200,000 each. For most, that amounts to more
than 40 percent of their anticipated annual financing, although agencies have
received money for other shelter services from the federal stimulus package and
the state’s emergency management agency.
Erik Sternad, the executive director of Interface Children Family Services in
Ventura County, near Los Angeles, said his organization had initially believed
that it would lose all five of its transitional shelters — usually multibedroom
homes in suburban areas — where about three dozen women and children could live
for up to 18 months. In the end, one was sold, one was transformed into youth
services, and the final three were eventually saved by private donations. But of
those, two have money assured only through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
“We know that this money is going to run out about nine months from now,” Mr.
The pain has been most acute in remote areas. The Domestic Violence and Sexual
Assault Coalition in Grass Valley, northeast of Sacramento, is the only such
facility in that area. The coalition closed its 12-bed shelter, leaving five
families in the lurch.
Niko Johnson, the coalition’s executive director, said his staff managed to find
places for those families to stay, but has since had to turn away 14 women with
“We had to give a voucher for a motel,” he said. “When women get to that point
and are ready to make a change, it’s hard to say we can give you three nights in
a motel. They ask, ‘What next?’ ”
At the same time, Ms. Else, of the National Network to End Domestic Violence,
said the impact of a sour economy, including job losses and foreclosures, added
to the need for services.
“I don’t know that it causes or creates domestic violence,” she said of the
recession. “But what happens is that if there is domestic violence happening at
home, it exacerbates it.”
The cutbacks come as the movement to fight domestic violence marked the 15th
anniversary of passage of both the federal Violence Against Women Act, which
established programs and penalties in cases of abuse against women, and
California’s Battered Women Protection Act, which established financing for the
state’s shelter system. There have been some signs of help. In August, shortly
after the California cuts were announced, the Department of Justice awarded
about $2.9 million to six transitional housing programs in California, primarily
in rural counties. In the meantime, many shelters are finding ways to cope.
Mari Alaniz, director the Riley Center, which is run by the St. Vincent de Paul
Society, said that combining the center’s emergency services and longer-term
transitional program in one building has meant less privacy, with as many as six
beds to a room. Still, she said, “better to have six in a room than not to have
That sentiment is echoed by a 41-year-old woman who was there for months last
year when her ex-husband threatened to hurt her two younger children.
“When he was doing stuff to me, I could take it,” said the woman, whose name is
being withheld to avoid disclosing her location. “But when I saw it was
happening to them, I reacted like a lion. And eventually I was a lion, and I
left the situation.”
The woman has since moved into her own home with two of her children.
She said she had lived in fear of beatings and other kinds of abuse from her
ex-husband for more than two decades, but had noticed a change in herself of
“Now that I have my own home, it might sound dumb, but I can get up when I want
and do what I want, and I think the kids feel the same way,” she said. “I ain’t
scared no more.”
Erik Eckholm contributed reporting from Fresno, Calif.
Cuts Ravage California
Domestic Abuse Program, NYT, 26.9.2009,
White House Takes a More Aggressive Role in State Races
September 22, 2009
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY and ADAM NAGOURNEY
WASHINGTON — The White House’s intervention in the race for New York governor
is the latest evidence of how President Obama and his top advisers are taking an
increasingly direct role in contests across the country, but their assertiveness
has bruised some Democrats who suggest it could undercut Mr. Obama’s appeal with
voters tired of partisan politics.
The overt involvement of Mr. Obama’s team in New York, where they have tried to
ease Gov. David A. Paterson out of the race, has made clear that this is a White
House willing to use its clout to help clear the field for favored Democratic
candidates and to direct money and other resources in the way it thinks will
most benefit the administration and help preserve the Democrats’ majority in
The president’s top strategists have recruited candidates — and nudged others to
step aside — in races in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York
and Pennsylvania. They said they intended to continue this practice heading into
the 2010 midterm elections, as well as with an eye to the redistricting fights
that will go on within states early in the next decade.
The intense involvement reflects the tactics and style of the White House chief
of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who helped Democrats win the House three years ago as
chairman of the Congressional campaign committee.
While some party officials applaud the White House for its efforts — there is
widespread concern among Democrats that the party could suffer if Mr. Paterson
runs — the actions are drawing alarm from some Democrats who believe they cross
a line and run contrary to Mr. Obama’s often-stated pledge to rise above
“The Democratic Party under Barack Obama did not come into office because of
political calculation; it got there because of audacity,” said Representative
Joe Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democrat who ignored White House efforts to urge him
to stay out of a primary race against Senator Arlen Specter. “To be seen like
you are selecting winners and losers in a party-boss way will breed some
resentment, and in a longer term it won’t bode well.”
As Mr. Obama flew to New York on Monday, where he appeared briefly with Mr.
Paterson, the White House played down any risks in becoming embroiled in state
politics. “The hazards of the job,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press
Karl Rove, the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, also
actively intervened in state races to make sure Republicans were fielding strong
candidates. But Mr. Rove faulted this White House for what he described as its
clumsy handling of the situation in New York.
“This was particularly ham-handed,” Mr. Rove said. “They shouldn’t have tried
this unless they can make it happen. Even then, they should have acted in a way
that was subtle, not messy and ugly.”
Democratic leaders in Congress described this White House as far more assertive
than most in trying to shape the political field. “They are very engaged,” said
Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the head of the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee. “They help with candidate recruitment. I talk
to Rahm all the time.”
Administration officials denied that, saying they were being selective in which
contests to become involved in, choosing races where Democrats were endangered,
as in New York, or where they could help advance the president’s legislative
“The goal is not to be more involved or less involved,” Mr. Emanuel said Monday.
“It is to produce a specific objective in specific situations.”
The president’s team intervenes for different reasons.
In Massachusetts, the White House is trying to ensure that the state legislature
works quickly to resolve whether Gov. Deval Patrick will be given the power to
appoint a replacement for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. That vote could be vital to
passing a health plan in the Senate.
In Colorado, Mr. Obama has endorsed Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat who was
appointed to fill a vacancy. Mr. Bennet faces a primary challenger, Andrew
Romanoff, a former speaker of the Colorado House, who many Democrats think could
be the strongest candidate. But Mr. Bennet was assured that the White House
would support him should he face a primary.
Mr. Romanoff said he was not deterred by the endorsement. “I haven’t met a
single person who said: ‘Gosh that’s it. I’m going to give up my independent
judgment and give my decision to the White House, ” he said.
In Pennsylvania, the White House has rallied behind Mr. Specter, a
Republican-turned-Democrat, as he faces off in a Democratic primary against Mr.
Sestak. The support from the president reflects a promise Democrats made to Mr.
Specter earlier this year in persuading him to switch parties.
“An endorsement by the president is a tremendous boost,” Mr. Specter said. “He’s
the captain of the team.”
More than anything, though, the interventions reflect a controlling style of
this White House and of Mr. Emanuel, who employed similar hard-ball tactics to
recruit candidates when he was running the Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee. In addition to Mr. Emanuel, the White House political director,
Patrick Gaspard, and deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, keep close watch on all
Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a former chairman of the Democratic
National Committee, said he thought the White House was acting correctly in
trying to shape the outcome of races. But he suggested that Mr. Paterson could
recover if the White House gave him time, and said the Obama team had not
handled this case well.
“The president is the head of the party, and he has a right to express his
opinion,” Mr. Rendell said. “The only thing I would have done differently is not
let it become known. This can’t be helpful to the governor.”
The White House’s interest in trying to assure the election of Democrats to
Congress reflects its own legislative agenda. But in going after governors, Mr.
Rove argued, the concern is more about the president himself. In New York, for
example, Democrats are concerned that should Mr. Paterson remain in the race, he
would invite a challenge from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York
who ran for president in 2008 and might again.
“The only reason they are doing this in New York,” Mr. Rove said, “is to try to
strangle a potential opponent in 2012.”
Yet Democratic governors can be more helpful for a White House than Democrats in
Congress. Governors have control over state government and party organizations
and tend to build up a network of contributors and supporters. And with
redistricting under way across the country next year, the control of statehouses
is more critical.
“President Obama is not only president of the country, but head of the
Democratic Party,” said Doug Sosnik, who worked as a White House political
director for President Bill Clinton. “The outcome of governor’s races in 2010
will have a huge impact on political power in the country for the next decade.”
White House Takes a More
Aggressive Role in State Races, NYT, 22.9.2009,
In Wisconsin, Hopeful Signs for Factories
September 13, 2009
The New York Times
By PETER S. GOODMAN
MEQUON, Wis. — At the Rockwell Automation factory here,
something encouraging happened recently that might be a portent of national
economic recovery: managers reinstated a shift, hiring a dozen workers.
After months of layoffs, diminished production and anxiety about the depths of
the Great Recession, the company — a bellwether because most of its customers
are manufacturers themselves — saw enough new orders to justify adding people.
Given the panicked retreat that has characterized life on the American factory
floor for many months, any expansion registers as a hopeful sign for the
economy. Last week, the Federal Reserve found signs of “modest improvement” in
manufacturing. That reinforced the direction of a widely watched manufacturing
index tracked by the Institute for Supply Management, which surged into positive
territory last month for the first time in a year and a half.
Yet these indications, while welcome, promise no vigorous expansion: For now,
factory overseers remain uncertain that a lasting resurgence is at hand, making
them reluctant to hire workers aggressively and invest in new equipment.
“We’re starting to see stabilization,” said Keith D. Nosbusch, chairman and
chief executive of Rockwell, which makes machinery used in manufacturing. “The
deceleration is slowing, but we haven’t seen the bottom yet. We have yet to see
The tentative signs of factory improvement largely reflect a replenishing of
inventories after months of weak sales, rather than an increase in demand for
goods. For manufacturing to return to strength and help power a broader economic
recovery, consumers would have to start buying more products, experts say.
Still, the mere process of expanding inventories could be enough to sustain
several months of increased production, say economists. That could eventually
generate more factory jobs, giving workers money to spend at other businesses.
And that might instill enough momentum for a broader economic expansion.
“After one of the most incredible cutbacks and slicing away ever, just
replenishing inventories is sufficient to maintain increased output,” said Allen
Sinai, chief global economist at Decision Economics. “It’s part of the process
of recovery in the United States, which is imminent.”
On Wall Street and in academic circles, where economists pick through often
contradictory indicators for evidence of revival, the situation inside American
factories is of crucial interest. Though manufacturing has diminished as a share
of the economy, it still employs 11.7 million people, and it tends to trace the
ups and downs of broader business prospects, making it a useful indicator of
overall economic vigor.
The recent manufacturing data has been seized on by many economists as a signal
that the recession is, technically speaking, already over or nearing an end.
“Those are genuine signs that this economy has turned the corner and begun to
recover,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook
However, for now, growth in manufacturing jobs is mostly just a hope. Though
improved business prospects appear to have tempered layoffs, manufacturing lost
65,000 net jobs in August, according to the Labor Department, adding to more
than 2 million jobs in the sector that have disappeared since the recession
“None of these factories are yet convinced that this is a sustainable recovery,
so they’re very cautious about hiring,” said Mr. Baumohl.
Wisconsin is an ideal laboratory in which to assess manufacturing. No other
state has a larger share of its jobs in manufacturing — more than 17 percent,
according to the Labor Department. Today, that translates into a palpable lack
At the original Miller brewery in downtown Milwaukee — now a tiny piece of a
mammoth operation that produces more than 100 million cases of beer annually —
roughly 25 of the 550 workers who labor for hourly wages typically leave the
company in the course of a year. This year, the number is zero.
“It used to be you might leave here and go over there for a higher-paying job,”
said Andrew K. Moschea, a brewing vice president for Miller Coors. “ ‘Over
there’ isn’t there anymore, or it’s laying off.”
The Miller plant is a bright spot in the local economy. Though production of
kegs of beer is down a little, reflecting business at restaurants and bars,
lower-priced cans are up, making for expanded volume.
When Miller recently hired 30 part-time workers to round out its weekend shifts,
paying more than $20 an hour, thousands applied, many from skilled trades that
once paid twice as much.
Rockwell Automation’s machinery, computer software and know-how form the guts of
assembly lines in a wide array of industries.
“The products they produce through the whole range are critical for doing
manufacturing,” said John S. Heywood, an economist at the University of
In recent months, Rockwell has suffered along with much of American industry. As
car sales plummeted, automakers canceled new orders for Rockwell’s machinery. As
the price of oil plunged this year, energy companies scrapped expansion plans,
eliminating demand for Rockwell’s machinery.
In recent years, Rockwell has established a presence in more than 80 countries,
deriving roughly half its revenue overseas. But as the slowdown spread to Asia,
Europe and Latin America, the comforts of being global evaporated.
As Rockwell’s customers grew fearful of losing access to credit, they eliminated
plans for new factories, idled existing plants and put off replacing and
servicing older gear. “It came quick,” Mr. Nosbusch said. “It was steep.”
Rockwell began large-scale layoffs in October 2008 — three percent of its
20,000-plus workers worldwide, including 300 in the United States. Scattered
layoffs continued in the months after. The company also cut working hours,
trimmed wages and eliminated its own contributions to employee retirement
Here in Mequon, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, management trimmed its
production work force from about 240 to 220. It scrapped a shift in its board
shop, where workers in lab coats use sophisticated machinery to attach
capacitors, transistors and other electronics to custom-sized circuit boards.
The circuit boards are the brains of Rockwell’s power-regulating machines.
Production declined by one-fifth this year. But in recent weeks, as Rockwell has
rebuilt its inventory, production has nudged up 5 percent, prompting the
resurrection of the third shift.
Still, worry remains, making future hiring unlikely. Rockwell’s customers have
resumed replacing older gear, but have not begun full-scale expansions, which
would generate much more business.
Factory managers doubt whether American consumers — still reeling from lost jobs
and savings — can snap back vigorously enough to restore manufacturing.
“I’ve got 22 years of experience and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said
Mike Laszkiewicz, 48, vice president and general manager of Rockwell’s power
control business. “This is a tough one. I’m a little uncertain which way this is
going to go.”
In Wisconsin, Hopeful
Signs for Factories, NYT, 13.9.2009,
States Face Drop in Casino and Lottery Revenues for First Time
September 10, 2009
The New York Times
By IAN URBINA
CINCINNATI — Casinos and lotteries in most states are reporting a downturn in
revenue for the first time, resulting in a drop in the money collected by state
and local governments, according to new state data.
The decline comes as states are rapidly expanding gambling in hopes of stemming
severe budget shortfalls, and it indicates that gambling is not insulated from
broader economic forces like recessions, as has been argued in the past.
The drop has led some gambling experts to wonder whether the industry is
reaching market saturation, whereby a limited number of gamblers with a fixed
amount of money to bet is being split across a growing number of gambling
States that have been invested in gambling the longest have been hit hardest.
Illinois reported a $166 million drop in tax revenue in fiscal year 2009, from
2008; Nevada had a $122 million drop, and New Jersey $62 million.
In hopes of enticing more gamblers, New Jersey lawmakers have repealed a smoking
ban, and in Illinois they are considering allowing free drinks on riverboat
“The data shows that states take a real chance in depending on gambling because
this revenue is not likely to keep pace with growing budgetary needs,” said Lucy
Dadayan, a senior analyst at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government
at the State University at Albany, which will release a report on the subject
“In the absence of new types of gambling, it can become a zero-sum game as
states compete for the same pot.”
Others, however, argue that the current decline is temporary, and that the
industry has plenty of room to expand. Some experts expect revenues to bounce
back, but doubt they will be as robust as they were before the recession.
The 12 states that have casinos made $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2009, which
ended June 30, a 7.4 percent drop from last year, according to the state data.
Among the 42 states with lotteries, 38 reported data indicating that they made
$14.5 billion this year, a 2.6 percent drop compared with the earnings from the
same states last year.
Gambling critics have long maintained that it provides short-term revenue at the
expense of long-term social costs, like increased crime and addiction. But the
new data also shows that the revenue collected by states and local governments
is decreasing while competition for it is on the rise. Still, state leaders are
looking for ways to get a piece of the earnings.
Here in Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat and former Methodist minister,
reversed his opposition to gambling and, in conjunction with the legislature,
issued a directive allowing video slots at the state’s seven racetracks.
In Colorado, voters last year backed an increase in betting limits at casinos,
and Missouri voters approved the end of limits on how much a gambler can lose.
“We need those slots like nobody’s business,” said Mildred Cox, 77, who for 28
years has run the concession stand at River Downs here, one of the seven horse
racing tracks slated to receive some of the state’s 17,500 proposed new slot
machines. “Look at this place, it’s desolate.”
Across from her, a crowd of older men, betting tickets in hand, stood staring at
several televisions mounted on the wall showing races in other states and
As a bell rang, the horses sprinted by, competing for a winning prize of $4,600.
But the men barely broke their concentration from the televisions.
“You can’t attract the best horses and the biggest bettors with purses like
that,” said Ms. Cox, pointing outside at a largely empty grandstand.
Thirty years ago, gamblers had to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City to bet
legally. Now, a dozen states have commercial casinos, 12 have “racinos,” or slot
machines and other games that are installed at racetracks, 29 states have Indian
casinos, and 42 states and the District of Columbia, have lotteries.
“When budgets get tight, expanding gambling always looks to lawmakers like the
perfect quick-fix solution,” said John Kindt, a professor of business and legal
policy at the University of Illinois who studies the impact of state-sponsored
gambling. “But in the end, it so often proves to be neither quick nor a fix.”
Crime jumps 10 percent in areas with casinos, personal bankruptcies soar 18
percent to 42 percent and the number of new gambling addicts doubles, Mr. Kindt
said. Predicted state revenue often falls short and plans frequently get tripped
up by legal fights or popular opposition, he said.
In Delaware, for example, Gov. Jack Markell said in March that he wanted to
legalize sports betting in casinos, which he said would bring in $53 million in
the first year to help plug an $800 million budget shortfall. But the plan was
blocked by a federal court in Philadelphia on Aug. 24 on the grounds that it
would undermine confidence in professional sports.
In Ohio, Governor Strickland reversed his stance on video slots at racetracks
based on a “conservative” estimate that the new machines would net more than
$760 million to the state.
But the slots are not likely to arrive here any time soon because a lawsuit is
pending before the Ohio Supreme Court that argues that the plan should be placed
before the voters. The slots may also get overtaken by a proposed constitutional
amendment that will be on the November ballot and would allow four full-fledged
casinos, one each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.
Still, Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president of the American Gaming Association,
said states had plenty of reasons to want to expand gambling.
“Even though our revenues are down during the recession, bringing a casino into
a community will still provide new jobs, new tax revenues, new opportunities for
local vendors and other benefits that didn’t exist before,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said.
“It isn’t surprising that as consumers are tightening their wallets, and with
less discretionary spending for entertainment, they are spending less when they
visit casinos, too.”
About 60 percent of people who participate in casino gambling have cut back on
spending on the activity, according to a 2008 national survey conducted by the
Despite the downturn, revenue from racinos grew this fiscal year, producing $2.9
billion in taxes and fees in 12 states compared with $2.7 billion the year
before, a 6.7 percent increase.
But Ms. Dadayan of the Rockefeller Institute said the racino windfalls might be
short-lived because slot profits usually soften with time as their novelty wears
off and more states add machines.
If Pennsylvania and Indiana, where slots are new, are excluded, the total slot
revenue from the other 10 states with racinos actually fell by $76 million in
fiscal year 2009, a 4 percent decline.
States Face Drop in
Casino and Lottery Revenues for First Time, NYT, 10.9.2009,
State Discriminated Against Mentally Ill, Judge Rules
September 9, 2009
The New York Times
By JAMES BARRON
New York State had discriminated against thousands of mentally ill people by
leaving them in privately run adult homes, which are usually larger than the
disgraced psychiatric hospitals they were intended to replace, a federal judge
ruled in a decision released on Tuesday morning.
Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled that the state was violating the Americans with
Disabilities Act by housing more than 4,300 mentally ill people in sprawling and
often poorly run homes. He said the residents are essentially warehoused with
little hope of mingling with others in the wider community.
Judge Garaufis wrote in a 210-page decision that the state had “denied thousands
of individuals with mental illness in New York City the opportunity to receive
services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.” He also
said the state had failed to show that reforms proposed by the nonprofit group
that filed the case “would constitute a ‘fundamental alteration’ of the state’s
mental health service system.”
“We’re thrilled,” said Cliff Zucker, executive director of Disability Advocates,
the nonprofit legal services group that took the state to court . “This is an
extraordinarily important decision that is going to improve the lives of 4,300
people who are now being warehoused in institutions unnecessarily.”
Disability Advocates had argued that many people in adult homes could be better
served by living in their own apartments, at no greater expense to the state.
The state had said that residents of adult homes already lived in an integrated
The adult home system took shape in the 1960s and 1970s, when New York shut down
large state-run psychiatric hospitals as part of what became known as
deinstitutionalization. State officials turned to profit-making adult homes
because little had been done to prepare for housing the patients once they had
been discharged from the psychiatric wards. Federal disability money was to pay
for the homes and the meals and activities they would provide. The homes were
responsible for bringing in outside psychiatrists and doctors.
Disability Advocates filed the lawsuit in 2003 after a series in The New York
Times described conditions in adult homes based on a review of more than 5,000
pages of annual state inspection reports and 200 interviews with workers,
residents and family members. The Times’s investigation found a number of
systemic problems, including untrained workers and gaps in supervision.
Against Mentally Ill, Judge Rules, NYT, 9.9.2009,
Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case
September 1, 2009
The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
HELENA, Mont. — Robert Baxter was by all accounts a tough man. Even in the
end, last year, as lymphocytic leukemia was killing him, Mr. Baxter, a
76-year-old retired truck driver from Billings, Mont., fought on. But by then he
was struggling not for life, but for the right to die with help from his doctor.
“He yearned for death,” his daughter, Roberta King, said in a court affidavit
describing her father’s final agonized months.
Now, in death, Mr. Baxter is at the center of a right-to-die debate that could
make Montana the first state in the country to declare that medical aid in dying
is a protected right under a state constitution.
The state’s highest court on Wednesday will take up Mr. Baxter’s claim that a
doctor’s refusal to help him die violated his rights under Montana’s
Constitution — and lawyers on both sides say the chances are good that he will
Washington and Oregon allow physicians to help terminally ill people hasten
their deaths, but in those states the laws were approved by voters in statewide
referendums, and neither state’s highest court has examined the issue of a
constitutional right to die.
In Montana, the question will be decided by the seven-member State Supreme
Court. A lower-court judge ruled in Mr. Baxter’s favor last December — on the
very day Mr. Baxter died — and the State of Montana appealed the ruling.
The legal foundation for both sides is a free-spirited, libertarian-tinctured
State Constitution written in 1972 at the height of a privacy-rights movement
that swept through this part of the West in the aftermath of the 1960s. Echoes
of a righteous era are reflected in language about keeping government at bay and
maintaining individual autonomy and dignity.
“The dignity of the human being is inviolable,” the drafters declared.
Lawyers on both sides say the Montana Supreme Court has a tradition of
interpreting the State Constitution with that sentiment in mind, with privacy
rights and personal liberty often outweighing other concerns. The court ruled in
1997, for example, that Montana’s anti-sodomy laws were unconstitutional
invasions of privacy.
The United States Supreme Court followed Montana’s lead in 2003 in reversing one
of its own decisions that had found no such protections for same-sex couples
under the United States Constitution. In 1999 the Montana court held that a
woman’s right to choose abortion was protected, including the choice of her
Because the Baxter case involves only the State Constitution, the Montana
Supreme Court will have the final word, with no appeal possible to the United
States Supreme Court.
But a legal case like the one now under consideration ventures to the frontiers
of the human experience — why people choose to die and what role government
should play at such moments — and invariably pulls on diverse social and
political threads. And here again, a list of unusual Montana factors have
elevated and complicated the debate.
Montana already has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, for example.
As a huge state with a small population — about one million people in an area
more than half the size of Texas — there are pockets of deep rural life where
access to health care, in living or dying, is severely limited.
A substantial American Indian minority, with health care and suicide issues of
its own, has also weighed in as to whether a right for some is a right for all.
“There are moral arguments, philosophical arguments on both sides, bioethical
arguments on both sides, even medical and public health arguments on both
sides,” Anthony Johnstone, the state solicitor at the Montana attorney general’s
office, who will argue the case for the state, said in defense of current laws
that prohibit physician-assisted death.
The state argues that the Constitution confers no right to aid in ending one’s
Some people speaking out about the case, like Bob Liston, are also expressing
sentiments that one might not expect.
Mr. Liston, 54, a research associate at the University of Montana who has spent
most of the last 40 years in a wheelchair because of an auto accident, has been
a passionate advocate for the disabled in arguing for autonomy and respect.
But this time he is arguing just as passionately on the other side, contending
that aid in dying could backfire on people with debilitating conditions, leading
not to more autonomy, but less. Mr. Liston, an organizer for a national
disability-rights group called Not Dead Yet, said he envisioned people like
himself being nudged toward life-ending choices by their doctors or families,
out of compassion or perhaps convenience.
“People with disabilities don’t get to live with dignity, let alone die with
dignity,” he said.
Other opponents of a “right to die well,” as some are calling the argument made
by Mr. Baxter and the group of physicians who joined him as plaintiffs, say that
rural Montanans could be left out, too.
In places like Scobey, in the state’s far northeast corner, where Julie French
lives, the population density is about one person per square mile. Minimal
health care is hours away.
“Before we deal with assisted suicide, we should make sure first and foremost
that everybody has equal access,” said Ms. French, a Democratic state legislator
who opposes an expansion of death rights. “It is not simply whether everyone has
a right to choose; it’s whether they are given all the choices.”
Religious divisions have also surfaced, with many Roman Catholics and
evangelicals siding with the state — arguing that the homicide statutes could be
weakened if a right to assisted death is affirmed by the court — while some
liberal church leaders speak out on behalf of what they say are matters of
“I don’t think God created us to be string puppets,” said John C. Board, an
Episcopal deacon at a church in Helena who supports the Baxter claim. “If we say
that God has given everyone free will, that means God has given you the
opportunity to do things right and do things wrong.”
Kathryn L. Tucker, co-counsel for Mr. Baxter’s estate and the other plaintiffs,
says this case is also about boundaries.
At a time when the limits, if not failings, of medicine are part of the national
debate about health care reform, Ms. Tucker said, what is the power of the
individual to set his or her own course?
“This case is part of a journey,” said Ms. Tucker, who is director of legal
affairs for Compassion and Choices, a national group that advocates to protect
and expand the rights of the terminally ill and is also one of the plaintiffs.
“It’s about empowering patients and giving them the right to decide when they
have suffered enough.”
Montana Court to Rule on
Assisted Suicide Case, NYT, 1.9.2009,
California State Assembly Approves Prison Legislation
September 1, 2009
The New York Times
By SOLOMON MOORE
LOS ANGELES — The California State Assembly narrowly passed legislation on
Monday to reduce the state prison population by 27,000 inmates and the state
corrections budget by about $1 billion.
After several hours of debate in Sacramento, the bill passed 41 to 35, without
any Republican support and only about half of the Democratic majority.
The bill was significantly weaker than a version that the State Senate passed
last month. It will shorten sentences for some nonviolent prison inmates who
participate in rehabilitation programs, reduce parole supervision for some
infirm and nonviolent offenders, and increase monitoring for parolees with
violent criminal records.
Law enforcement groups played a central role in pushing Democrats to strip the
bill of provisions that would have reduced sentences for some nonviolent
offenses and would have established a public safety commission to redo prison
Those excised proposals reduced the savings of the bill for the strapped state
by about $220 million, and the prison population reductions by about 11,000
inmates, said the speaker, Karen Bass, a Democrat who led negotiations last week
to remove the provisions.
The two houses will now have to reconcile the sizable differences between the
two bills. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, initially supported the
more sweeping Senate bill.
California’s prisons now hold about 155,000 inmates, about twice the number they
were designed to hold. The system is so overcrowded that a federal court imposed
a cap and ordered the state to reduce its prison population by more than 40,000
offenders. Contributing to the prison population glut is the large number of
failed parolees; 70 percent of parolees return to prison before completing their
supervised release programs.
At the forefront of the law enforcement groups who played an important part in
shaping the bill is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a
30,000-member prison guard union with one of the most powerful voices in state
Law enforcement groups say they consider the Senate version of the bill to be a
risk to public safety, especially in light of several recent killings in which
parolees are accused. One print advertisement paid for by the prison guard union
pictured two dice in midroll and a caption that accused Mr. Schwarzenegger of
making risky decisions about parole reform that would lead to innocent lives
“For the past few years, you’ve been quietly dumping more and more parolees on
the street, with less and less supervision and no business being free,” the
caption read. “Now 17-year-old Lily Burk is dead.”
Ms. Burk’s body was found in her car at the edge of downtown Los Angeles in
July; the police hours later arrested Charles Samuel, a state parolee, on
suspicion of her murder.
The prison guard union and the governor have been at odds since contract
negotiations broke down in 2007, when Mr. Schwarzenegger rejected demands for
pay raises at the state’s 33 prisons.
Last year, the union threatened to finance a recall campaign against Mr.
Schwarzenegger similar to the one that eventually led to the ouster of his
predecessor, Gray Davis, in 2003.
The union also criticized Mr. Schwarzenegger for proposing the layoff of 1,300
The union declined to comment for this article.
Legislators had their own reservations about the bill.
In Monday’s debate, several brought up recent revelations that Phillip Garrido,
paroled for 1976 crimes of kidnapping and rape, is accused of abducting an
11-year-old and imprisoning her in a backyard encampment for 18 years. And they
warned that men like him would be unleashed on California’s streets if the bill
“What this bill will do is move unrehabilitated felons into your communities,”
said Jim Nielsen, a Republican.
Isadore Hall III, a Democrat who represents South Los Angeles and Compton, said
that Republicans who warned about increased crime and compromised public safety
as a result of the bill were using “swift-boat scare tactics.”
“This bill is not about violent crime,” he said. “This bill is about nonviolent,
Assembly Approves Prison Legislation, NYT, 1.9.2009,
Same-Sex Unions Begin in Vermont
September 1, 2009
Filed at 1:33 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DUXBURY, Vt. (AP) -- After 17 years together, Bill Slimback and Bob Sullivan
couldn't wait another minute to get married. So they didn't.
With Vermont's new law allowing same-sex marriage only a minute old, they tied
the knot in a midnight ceremony at a rustic Vermont lodge, becoming one of the
first couples to legally wed under a law that took effect at midnight Tuesday.
Dressed in suits, saying their vows under a large wall-mounted moose head, the
two Whitehall, N.Y., men promised their love, exchanged rings and held hands
during a modest 17-minute ceremony. Moose Meadow Lodge co-owner Greg Trulson,
who's also a Justice of the Peace, presided.
''It feels wonderful,'' said Slimback, 38, an out-of-work Teamster who is taking
Sullivan's last name as his own. ''It's a day I've been long waiting for, and a
day I truly honestly thought would never come.''
Slimback said he and Sullivan, 41, have long wanted to cement their relationship
with a wedding, but since they couldn't legally marry in New York they chose to
wed even before Vermont's gay marriage era officially dawned.
Vermont is one of five states that now allow same-sex couples to marry.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa are the others.
Vermont, which invented civil unions in 2000 after a same-sex couple challenged
the inequality of state marriage statutes, was a mecca for gay couples who to
that point had no way to officially recognize their relationships.
Since then, other states have allowed gay marriage, as did Vermont, which in
April became the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislative
decree and not a court case.
Some couples -- including many who obtained civil unions in Vermont -- plan to
return to the state to get married. But most are in no rush. City and town
officials say only a handful of licenses had been issued to same-sex couples in
anticipation of Tuesday's start.
''We've waited a long time to do this -- basically, our whole lives,'' Slimback
said Monday. ''We've been waiting for a chance to actually solidify it,'' he
said. He and Sullivan said they never wanted to obtain a civil union because
they believe that's a kind of second-class recognition.
Gay people aren't the only ones taking note of Vermont's addition to the list of
states that allow same-sex unions.
Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-gay group that claims U.S. combat deaths are
God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality, planned to picket
Tuesday in Montpelier, Vermont's capital.
Same-Sex Unions Begin in
Vermont, NYT, 1.9.2009,
After Century of Big Growth, Tide Turns in Florida
August 30, 2009
The New York Times
By DAMIEN CAVE
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The smiling couple barreling ahead on the cover of Liberty
magazine in 1926 knew exactly where to go. “Florida or Bust,” said the white
paint on the car doors. “Four wheels, no brakes.”
So it has been for a century, as Florida welcomed thousands of newcomers every
week, year after year, becoming the nation’s fourth-most-populous state with
about 16 million people in 2000.
Imagine the shock, then, to discover that traffic is now heading the other way.
That’s right, the Sunshine State is shrinking.
Choked by a record level of foreclosures and unemployment, along with a helping
of disillusionment, the state’s population declined by 58,000 people from April
2008 to April 2009, according to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic
and Business Research. Except for the years around World Wars I and II, it was
the state’s first population loss since at least 1900.
“It’s dramatic,” said Stanley K. Smith, an economics professor at the University
of Florida who compiled the report. “You have a state that was booming and has
been a leader in population growth for the last 100 years that suddenly has seen
a substantial shift.”
The loss is more than a data point. Growth gave Florida its notorious flip-flop
and flower-print swagger. Life could be carefree under the sun because, as a
famous state tourism advertisement put it in 1986, “The rules are different
But what if they are not? Or if those Florida rules — an approach that made
growth paramount in the state’s sales pitch, self-image and revenue structure —
no longer apply?
“It’s got to be a real psychological blow,” said William H. Frey, a demographer
at the Brookings Institution who predicted that census data in December would
confirm the findings. “I don’t know if you can take a whole state to a
psychiatrist, but the whole Florida economy was based on migration flows.”
Recall what once passed for normal. Florida grew from 2.8 million people in 1950
to 6.9 million in 1970, and by about three million people each decade after
that. Even during stagflation in the ’70s, Florida added about 200,000 people a
year. More recently, from 2004 to 2006, Florida added about 1,100 people a day,
as housing construction’s proportion of the state economy grew to twice the
Now consider Broward County in 2009. The county, between Miami and Palm Beach,
was one of the first areas to shrink — losing 21,117 people from April 2007 to
April 2009, according to University of Florida data — and its experience offers
a glimpse of what could be on the way elsewhere.
Hollywood, in particular, embodies what the Sunshine State was and might become.
It was founded in the 1920s as “the dream city of Florida” by a transplant from
Washington State named Joseph Young who built ranch-style homes around large
rotaries. After growing predictably — from 22,978 people in 1955 to 139,357 by
2000 — Hollywood has lost 1,562 people over the past year, according to the
University of Florida count.
That amounts to only 1 percent, roughly in line with the rest of the county, but
residents say their rhythms have already changed. Here and in other places
adapting to the end of double-digit growth, the days include less noise, work
and spontaneity, and more goodbyes, doubts and fears of the future. It is, by
all accounts, a life lived under capacity.
Sandra Woodward, 25, grew up here, happy and proud. A secretary with dreams of
working in education, she said eight houses on her block are in foreclosure. She
knows 20 families who have left Florida in the last two years.
On Monday, she waited for her son to finish his first day of kindergarten at her
alma mater, Hollywood Park Elementary. About 10 years ago, Ms. Woodward said,
gesturing toward the parking lot, temporary trailers were needed, as the school
was over-enrolled. This year, the principal counted 469 students registered —
124 fewer than the school can handle.
“I used to go up north to visit my family, and they all wanted to come here, to
be part of this,” Ms. Woodward said. “Now I’m thinking about leaving, too. It’s
Some parents, like Kim Yager, 27, who has three children at the school, welcomed
the drop-off. “It means smaller classes,” she said.
But as cities like Detroit well know, declines in population also compound
downturns and hurt quality of life. Florida, in particular, was not built for
emptying. Its government, since a 1924 constitutional amendment banned a state
income tax, relies heavily on sales and property taxes, which are more closely
linked with population growth.
Without it, and as housing prices and property tax revenues have fallen,
municipalities have been forced to scramble. Broward County’s schools, which
have been losing students for several years, opened Monday with 100 fewer
teachers and a budget of $3.6 billion, down from about $5 billion in 2008.
Facing a deficit of $109 million, the county’s commissioners have also reduced
hours at libraries and parks, while the sheriff reluctantly agreed to cut at
least 177 positions.
The mood is dismal. Jim Findlay, 66, head of the rare books section in Broward
County’s main library, said he had noticed more cutthroat competitiveness among
his colleagues as they wait for expected layoffs. He said he missed the time
when moving trucks meant new arrivals, not departures.
“It weighs on me because there has always been this hope, this expansiveness,
this welcome of the new, this welcome of the unusual and eccentric in Florida,”
he said. “That seems to have come to a halt. Now we’re just consolidating.”
Or stagnating. In downtown Hollywood, chefs now stand outside with their arms
crossed at dinnertime waiting for customers that never come. There are 10
shuttered businesses in the two blocks of Hollywood Boulevard north of Young
Circle, the city’s main shopping district, and one about to close.
Jack Smile, 54, a co-owner of the Jeweled Castle, “a new-age department store,”
said that many of the closed stores had been opened by people who thought that
anything would work because it is Florida, where new buyers are a constant.
He started out the same way 14 years ago after leaving New York. “I came down
here to work less and make more money,” Mr. Smile said. “But the tables turned.”
He has survived by bargaining with customers, and by selling stress kits of
soothing incense and oils. An optimist with a boyish voice, jean shorts and the
body of a bouncer, he insisted that Florida would eventually return to its old
Gary Mormino, a historian at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg,
said baby boomers may be the state’s best shot at another upswing. “The big
question is will they choose the same type of retirement as their parents,” he
Already, the state’s hold on retirees is weakening, with thousands of
disenchanted “halfbacks” moving to Georgia and the Carolinas in recent years.
Mr. Smith at the University of Florida nonetheless predicts modest population
increases when the economy picks up — growth of 150,000 to 200,000 people
Even that would be a downward adjustment from recent history. Yet, for Mr.
Smile, any increase would be an omen of hope.
“We’re holding onto the magic,” he said, standing behind a counter with $3 Fairy
Dust and a Buddha promising prosperity. “The magic is here.”
After Century of Big
Growth, Tide Turns in Florida, NYT, 30.8.2009,
Alabama Clash Over Tennessee Coal Ash
August 30, 2009
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN
UNIONTOWN, Ala. — Almost every day, a train pulls into a rail yard in rural
Alabama, hauling 8,500 tons of a disaster that occurred 350 miles away to a
final resting place, the Arrowhead Landfill here in Perry County, which is very
poor and almost 70 percent black.
To county leaders, the train’s loads, which will total three million cubic yards
of coal ash from a massive spill at a power plant in east Tennessee last
December, are a tremendous financial windfall. A per-ton “host fee” that the
landfill operators pay the county will add more than $3 million to the county’s
budget of about $4.5 million.
The ash has created more than 30 jobs for local residents in a county where the
unemployment rate is 17 percent and a third of all households are below the
poverty line. A sign on the door of the landfill’s scale house says job
applications are no longer being accepted — 1,000 were more than enough.
But some residents worry that their leaders are taking a short-term view, and
that their community has been too easily persuaded to take on a wealthier,
whiter community’s problem. “Money ain’t worth everything,” said Mary Gibson
Holley, 74, a black retired teacher in Uniontown. “In the long run, they ain’t
looking about what this could do to the community if something goes wrong.”
County leaders, who are mostly black, bristle at accusations of environmental
injustice, saying that the ash is perfectly safe and that criticism has been
fostered by outsiders, or even competitors who wanted the ash disposal contract
“That’s the means to their end, that they can keep it out of black communities
on the charge of environmental racism,” said Albert Turner Jr., a black county
commissioner, inviting a visitor to sniff a sample of the heavy, mudlike ash in
a souvenir glass jar. “They would benefit on the backs of the stupidity of
African-Americans who let this trail of money get away.”
Bob Deacy, vice president of clean strategies and project development for the
Tennessee Valley Authority, whose Kingston Fossil Plant was the site of the ash
spill that covered almost 300 acres of land and waterways, said Arrowhead was
chosen because it was reachable by train instead of truck, because it underbid
other sites and because, unlike closer landfills, it had the capacity to handle
all the ash.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup and is
supposed to ensure that its own decisions do not harm minority communities,
defended its approval by saying that the site was “isolated” and that six local
elected officials, including a majority of the county commissioners, “strongly
supported” the ash contract.
Even environmentalists acknowledge that the site, in Perry County, is in many
ways ideal. Most of the problems from coal ash, which contains toxins like
arsenic and lead that have contaminated the water supply at more than 60 sites
nationwide, come from wet, unlined ponds like the one that ruptured in
Tennessee. It is far better, environmentalists say, that the ash should go
somewhere like Arrowhead, a dry storage site dug into a nearly impermeable bed
known as the Selma chalk, some 600 feet above the water table, lined with clay
and polymer and equipped with a leachate collection system to suck up any water
that filters through the ash and dislodges contaminants.
But in Perry County, a lack of trust has permeated the debate. Residents said
they feared equipment failure, flooding, tornadoes or lack of oversight at the
landfill, where the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, whose
notably lax regulation of coal ash permits most landfills to use it as a cover
material for other waste, will be responsible for enforcement.
Many said they did not believe the assertions by local officials that the ash
was perfectly safe, particularly after one councilman insisted, contrary to
widely publicized test results that showed dangerous levels of arsenic, that it
contained no arsenic whatsoever.
“I won’t feel comfortable,” wrote W. Compson Sartain, a columnist for The Perry
County Herald, “until I see a delegation from E.P.A. and T.V.A. standing on the
courthouse square, each member stirring a heaping spoonful of this coal ash into
a glass of Tennessee river water this stuff has already fallen into, and
gargling with it.”
Robert Bamberg, a white catfish farmer and the organizer of Concerned Citizens
of Perry County, a biracial group of landfill opponents, said the group had
identified 212 residences within 1.5 miles of the site. “We’re being taken
advantage of by several groups of powers that be,” Mr. Bamburg said. “There’s a
sense among the population that we’ve been thrown under the bus.”
It has proved difficult for the voters to exert their influence. Even before the
coal ash came to town, two pro-landfill commissioners were voted out of office
on a tide of anger from residents who felt that the 1,400-acre project had been
shoved through with little public comment.
One of the new commissioners was Fairest Cureton, a black high school teacher
who ran on an anti-landfill platform. Since taking office in 2007, and since
landfill managers flew him and other officials to the site of the ash spill in
Roane County, Tenn., on a private plane, Mr. Cureton, now the chairman of the
commission, has adjusted his thinking.
“This gives us an opportunity to fund our schools, to help build our roads, to
create some things in Perry County that will enhance the lives of individuals,”
Mr. Cureton said.
James Murdock, a black minister who catches whiffs of the landfill on evening
walks with his wife, Ella, said he felt betrayed by such turnabouts. “You don’t
even know who to vote for anymore,” he said.
Mr. Cureton reasoned that the ash, a byproduct of burning coal to produce
electricity, could not be more dangerous than the remnants of the coal that
heated his schoolroom growing up, or the ash his father, a farmer, sprinkled at
the base of his fruit trees.
But coal ash from a power plant has a higher concentration of toxins because
mercury, arsenic and other substances that are filtered out by air pollution
controls end up in the ash. Since the spill in Tennessee, the Environmental
Protection Agency has promised to issue new regulations for coal ash,
potentially classifying it as a hazardous waste.
Mr. Cureton replaced Johnny Flowers, who had been a commissioner for 18 years,
and is proud of his efforts to bring development, including the landfill and a
privately run prison (a third major employer is a catfish feed plant), to Perry
County. Mr. Flowers, who like Mr. Cureton is black, said he did not mind his
defeat at the polls because he had done what he thought was right. “The
community,” he said, “don’t know what’s good for them.”
Alabama Clash Over
Tennessee Coal Ash, NYT, 30.8.2009,
Driven to Distraction
Utah Gets Tough With Texting Drivers
August 29, 2009
The New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL
LOGAN, Utah — In most states, if somebody is texting behind the wheel and
causes a crash that injures or kills someone, the penalty can be as light as a
Utah is much tougher.
After a crash here that killed two scientists — and prompted a dogged
investigation by a police officer and local victim’s advocate — Utah passed the
nation’s toughest law to crack down on texting behind the wheel. Offenders now
face up to 15 years in prison.
The new law, which took effect in May, penalizes a texting driver who causes a
fatality as harshly as a drunken driver who kills someone. In effect, a crash
caused by such a multitasking motorist is no longer considered an “accident”
like one caused by a driver who, say, runs into another car because he nodded
off at the wheel. Instead, such a crash would now be considered inherently
“It’s a willful act,” said Lyle Hillyard, a Republican state senator and a big
supporter of the new measure. “If you choose to drink and drive or if you choose
to text and drive, you’re assuming the same risk.”
The Utah law represents a concrete new response in an evolving debate among
legislators around the country about how to reduce the widespread practice of
multitasking behind the wheel — a topic to be discussed at a national conference
about the dangers of distracted driving that is being organized by the
Transportation Department for this fall.
Studies show that talking on a cellphone while driving is as risky as driving
with a .08 blood alcohol level — generally the standard for drunken driving —
and that the risk of driving while texting is at least twice that dangerous.
Research also shows that many people are aware that the behavior is risky, but
they assume others are the problem.
Treating texting behind the wheel like drunken driving raises complex legal
questions. Drunken drivers can be identified using a Breathalyzer. But there is
no immediate test for driving while texting; such drivers could deny they were
doing so, or claim to have been dialing a phone number. (Many legislators have
thus far made a distinction between texting and dialing, though researchers say
dialing creates many of the same risks.)
If an officer or prosecutor wants to confiscate a phone or phone records to
determine whether a driver was texting at the time of the crash, such efforts
can be thwarted by search-and-seizure and privacy defenses, lawyers said.
Prosecutors and judges in other states already have the latitude to use more
general reckless-driving laws to penalize multitasking drivers who cause injury
and death. In California, for instance, where texting while driving is banned
but the only deterrent is a $20 fine, a driver in April received a six-year
prison sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter when, speeding and texting, she
slammed into a line of cars waiting at a construction zone, killing another
But if those prosecutors want to charge a texting driver with recklessness, they
must prove the driver knew of the risks before sending texts from behind the
In Utah, the law now assumes people understand the risks.
The law “is very noteworthy,” said Anne Teigen, a policy specialist with the
National Conference of State Legislatures, an organization of state legislators.
“They have raised the bar and said texting while driving is not just
irresponsible, and it’s not just a bad idea — it is negligent.”
Ms. Teigen said legislators throughout the country were struggling with how to
address threats created by new technology, just as they once debated how to
handle drunken driving.
Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, has said drivers should not text
behind the wheel, and several United States senators recently introduced
legislation to force states to ban texting while driving.
Utah, governed by a Republican legislature with a libertarian bent, may seem an
unlikely state to pursue particularly tough penalties governing driver behavior.
But the issue forced itself onto the legislative agenda here because of what
occurred on the rainy morning of Sept. 22, 2006.
The accident occurred on a two-lane highway just west of Logan, in a verdant
valley in Utah’s northernmost county.
Reggie Shaw, a 19-year-old college student working as a house painter, was
driving west to work in a Chevrolet Tahoe S.U.V. Approaching him, in a Saturn
sedan, was James Furaro, 38, and his passenger, Keith P. O’Dell, 50. The senior
scientists were commuting to ATK Launch Systems, where they were helping to
design and build rocket boosters.
Mr. Shaw crossed the yellow dividing line on the two-lane road and clipped the
Saturn. It spun across the highway and was struck by a pickup truck hauling a
trailer filled with two tons of horseshoes and related equipment.
The two scientists were killed instantly.
At the scene, the investigating officer, Bart Rindlisbacher of the Utah Highway
Patrol, said he could not pinpoint the cause of the crash. Mr. Shaw said he
could not remember doing anything out of the ordinary.
The trooper figured it was an unfortunate case of “left of center,” a catch-all
for a traffic offense that involves crossing the yellow divider.
But a witness told the police he had seen Mr. Shaw swerving several times just
before the accident, raising Mr. Rindlisbacher’s suspicions. The trooper’s
concerns grew as he drove Mr. Shaw to the hospital. He saw Mr. Shaw, in the
passenger seat, pull out his phone and start texting.
“Were you texting while you were driving?” Mr. Rindlisbacher recalled asking.
“No,” he recalled Mr. Shaw responding. (Mr. Shaw said he did not remember the
conversation or much about the accident.)
The trooper was deeply skeptical. He figured out how to subpoena Mr. Shaw’s
phone records. Six months later, with help from a state public safety
investigator, they got the records and their proof: Mr. Shaw and his girlfriend
had sent 11 text messages to each other in the 30 minutes before the crash, the
last one at 6:47 a.m., a minute before Mr. Shaw called 911. Investigators
concluded he sent that last text when he crossed the yellow line.
Still, county prosecutors thought they were unable to charge Mr. Shaw with
something other than “left of center.” For instance, if they wanted to prove Mr.
Shaw guilty of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, they would need to show he
knew of the dangers or should have known of the dangers of texting while
Mr. Shaw, who had retained a lawyer, would not discuss the issue with law
enforcement or prosecutors.
Then Terryl Warner, a victim’s advocate in the county where the accident
occurred, got involved.
Ms. Warner had a personal interest in the case because she knew the family of
one of the scientists.
In July 2007, Ms. Warner, convinced by the trooper’s evidence, wrote to
prosecutors arguing for a vehicular manslaughter charge. She said the dangers of
texting and driving were broadly known, therefore Mr. Shaw should have known
Mr. Shaw had just started a Mormon mission in Canada when he was called home to
face charges of negligent homicide. The trial was set for early 2009.
Then, just before Thanksgiving in 2008, at a hearing, Mr. Shaw looked at the
families of the two dead scientists and decided he could no longer keep
dismissing the phone records that showed he was texting, even though his lawyers
advised him to remain quiet. “It hit me that I was being selfish dragging this
on,” he said. “I decided I’ve got to do whatever it takes to make this come to
an end. If there was anything I could do — spend a year in jail, two years in
jail, whatever — I’d do it.”
He pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide, but his record will be
cleared if he fulfills the sentence imposed by the judge. It included 30 days in
jail, 200 hours of community service, and a requirement that he read “Les
Misérables” to learn, like the book’s character Jean Valjean, how to make a
contribution to society.
Last February, Mr. Shaw spoke to the state House Subcommittee on Law Enforcement
and Criminal Justice, which was considering a ban on texting for motorists. The
measure seemed likely to fail given the legislature’s lack of interest in
previous such efforts. Then Mr. Shaw stood to talk about his crash and started
“I was the one driving and texting,” Mr. Shaw said through tears. “Excuse me. I
apologize. I didn’t know the dangers.”
Ms. Warner, the victim’s advocate, said that moment was a turning point. “Before
he spoke, some legislators were talking and texting,” she recalled. “After he
started talking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
Under Utah’s law, someone caught texting and driving now faces up to three
months in jail and up to a $750 fine, a misdemeanor. If they cause injury or
death, the punishment can grow to a felony and up to a $10,000 fine and 15 years
Alaska is the only other state that takes a similarly tough approach to
electronic distraction, said Ms. Teigen of the National Conference of State
A law passed there in 2007 makes it a felony punishable by up to 20 years in
prison if a driver causes a fatal accident when a television, video monitor or
computer is on inside the car and in the driver’s field of vision. (The law
applies to phones used for texting, but not to phones used exclusively for
calling or to some other devices, like GPS devices.)
The law, which is less focused on texting than Utah’s, resulted from a 2003
accident in which a driver, who prosecutors said was watching a movie on a video
monitor perched on his dashboard, killed two motorists.
These tougher penalties can lead to prickly legal questions.
John Wesley Hall, who just stepped down as president of the National Association
of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the police might have difficulty proving a
driver suspected of texting wasn’t merely dialing a phone. And, he said, there
are serious privacy and search issues raised when an officer wants to confiscate
“The police have no business going into my phone,” he said.
James Swink, the Cache County attorney, expects such challenges, but says that
the police in some cases could simply get phone records later, as in the Shaw
More broadly, Mr. Swink said, drivers in Utah are now on notice that texting
while driving is inherently reckless. And as drivers across the nation become
more aware of that notion, he said, judges and prosecutors will feel more
comfortable asking for big penalties. He said the Shaw case helped to pave the
“Once the word is out there,” he said, “it will become easier for judges to
lower the big boom.”
Utah Gets Tough With
Texting Drivers, NYT, 29.8.2009,
New York’s Disgrace
August 25, 2009
The New York Times
The Justice Department has sued several state juvenile detention systems for
subjecting children to neglect and abuse. The department is now threatening to
sue New York for the same reasons, and rightly so. A recently completed federal
investigation has documented unsafe and, in some cases, heartbreaking conditions
in several New York state detention facilities.
This problem has been festering for decades. Elected officials who have ignored
it will need to clean house as swiftly as possible, closing down the worst
institutions and ensuring that children in custody are protected from abuse in
compliance with federal law.
In an angry letter to Gov. David Paterson, the department describes a hellish
environment where excessive force is commonplace and children risk serious
injury — concussions, knocked-out teeth and fractured bones — for minor offenses
like laughing too loudly, getting into fistfights or “sneaking an extra cookie”
at snack time.
The investigators focused on four facilities — including the infamous Tryon Boys
Residential Center, in upstate Fulton County, where an emotionally disturbed
15-year-old named Darryl Thompson died in 2006 after being pinned face down on
the floor and held there by two grown men. Three staff members who were trained
in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and required to administer it failed to do so.
The medical examiner labeled the death a homicide, but the grand jury declined
to indict the two men involved.
The report notes that the physical restraints used just before Darryl died have
been banned in many parts of the country. But at the time of the investigation,
it says, staff members in New York facilities were still being trained to use
dangerous restraint techniques and used them, often at the slightest
The report further suggests that acts of violence and abuse against children
have been routinely covered up. Officials fail to act in a timely fashion, or at
all, when cronies are caught violating policy in dangerous ways. A 300-pound
staff member who slammed a young woman to the floor, causing a concussion, is a
The section of the letter on mentally ill children, who make up a significant
part of the incarcerated population, is enough to make the reader weep.
Psychiatric services, such as they are, are shamefully inadequate. Children
often get several different diagnoses within the same institution, which makes
it impossible to treat them effectively. Medications appear to be handed out
almost at random, without proper monitoring or clear therapeutic goals. Although
many detained youths have drug problems, treatment programs are in a shambles.
The Justice Department report fully vindicates Gladys Carrión, the reform-minded
commissioner of New York’s Office of Children and Family Services, who assumed
office in 2007. Ms. Carrión has closed many facilities, downsized others, and is
working to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation instead of force.
She has faced resistance from lawmakers, who want to keep juvenile centers open
in their districts at all costs, and the unions, which are committed to some of
the practices the Justice Department finds unconstitutional. Her opponents must
now contend with the federal government, which was bound to intervene.
The Justice Department lays out a list of steps the state must take to bring its
system into compliance with federal law and basic standards of decency. For
starters, it must protect children from excessive force, and provide mental
health care and rehabilitative treatment. If not, the state will almost surely
New York’s Disgrace,
Pinch of Reality Threatens the California Dream
July 22, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LOS ANGELES — Even in the 1930s, Woody Guthrie warned America in a Dust Bowl
song that the California dream could not be had on the cheap. Yet relative to
other places, the state has historically been a pretty good bargain, with a
low-cost, enviable higher education system, subsidized energy and an abundance
of services for those down on their luck.
But three decades of staggering population growth combined with three
high-impact recessions, budgeting by ballot box, federal mandates, an unusual
tax structure and the rising cost of social services have finally produced
disastrous results, and the ramifications are reaching across every aspect of
life in this state.
The California dream is, for now, delayed, as demonstrated by the budget state
lawmakers and the governor agreed upon late Monday. At no point in modern
history has the state dealt with its fiscal issues by retreating so deeply in
its services, beginning this spring with a round of multibillion-dollar budget
cuts and continuing with, in total, some $30 billion in cuts over two fiscal
years to schools, colleges, health care, welfare, corrections, recreation and
The rest of the nation, which has historically looked to California as a model
for fierce economic independence and freewheeling innovation, may now see that
the state looks like every place else — just with better beaches.
“We are now the state that can’t,” said Stephen Levy, the director of the Center
for Continuing Study of the California Economy, a private research organization
in Palo Alto. “It can’t agree on its water problem. It can’t balance its budget,
it can’t decide what to do with prisoners, and it’s still fussing about its
immigrants. And this is not the end of our economic problems. This is the
California, of course, has weathered economic ups and downs for decades and
rebounded in ways that left the rest of the nation eating its dust. The downturn
in the defense industry in the 1990s, followed by plummeting housing prices, was
met with a huge technology boom. When that fell apart, the state roared back
with a real estate boom.
But in the past, the state contended with its problems through a mix of taxes
and cuts. Earlier this year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his fellow
Republicans agreed to increases in sales and vehicle-licensing taxes, but this
time, they refused to approve any tax increase, and the Democrats had too few
votes to force one.
And the protracted national recession has delivered a big hit on the state’s
greatest source of revenue, income taxes on rich people. Further, the state’s
structural deficit has become exceedingly pronounced after years of accounting
tricks and borrowing.
The result is that Californians will find state offices closed three days a
month. The poor will go without health care in a state that practically invented
the health care safety net and as some financially embattled states seek to
expand coverage for children.
Classroom sizes are about to explode, and state universities are furloughing
professors, cutting class offerings and reassessing, in the case of the
University of California, whether the system can remain one of excellence for
residents. All of this did not creep up overnight.
Expansive growth in the first half of the 20th century led to rising housing
prices and infrastructure growth, which came with higher taxes to pay for it
Those increases created an antitax rebellion that begot Proposition 13 in the
1970s, a voter-led initiative that artificially depressed property taxes and
shifted school financing burdens to the state. It also led to the onset of a
culture of ballot initiatives that have hamstrung state budgeters by earmarking
money for programs with one vote and taking away the ability to pay for them
The state’s population — over 38 million today from 23.6 million in 1980 — has
also meant a growing need for costly services for the poor, especially when
revenues are declining. (In the 1930s, when Mr. Guthrie was warning that people
needed do-re-mi to live here, no one was on Medicaid.)
While the state’s property taxes are below average, its personal income tax rate
and levies on capital gains are among the highest; so unlike states that pass
the tax burden around, California can become disastrously imbalanced.
“Volatility is a challenge for budgeting,” said Jed Kolko, the associate
director of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research
organization in San Francisco.
Now, local governments, schools, the state university system and state agencies
find themselves unable to provide the services residents have been used to
“Compared to the post-World War II era, an in-migrant to California now faces
higher cost housing, lower quality K-12 schools, and more expensive higher
education,” said Daniel J. B. Mitchell, a professor emeritus at the School of
Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“He or she also faces job opportunities that more or less mirror what is
available on average elsewhere in the U.S.,” Professor Mitchell said.
The fallout is already evident. Summer school was canceled in many districts. In
Eureka, near the Oregon border, the Old Town Dental Center is about to close.
Its patient base is 90 percent Medicaid, and the state’s program will no longer
pay for anything beyond tooth extractions.
“There are a lot of people that are just not showing up,” said Nicole Eleck, the
receptionist there. “Half our patients are saying, ‘If something bothers me, I
will wait until it needs to get pulled.’ ”
Herrmann Spetzler, the chief executive of Open Door Community Health Centers,
which operates 10 clinics in rural northern California, said clinics that are
the only providers for miles around might close.
“If you sit in our waiting room, you will see the faces of everyone who lives in
our region,” he said. “There is the local judge, the policeman, the mom with
kids and the homeless person. In my health centers, we’ve had $5 million in cut
since July, and we don’t know what the future will bring.”
What comes next is anybody’s guess, but it may be that California’s standing as
paradise is meeting an organic end.
“In the end, we do not know for sure whether the California public really wants
the California dream anymore,” said Bruce E. Cain, a professor of political
science at the University of California, Berkeley. “The population is too
diverse to have a common vision of what it wants to provide to everyone. Some
people want the old dream, some want the gated privatized version, and some
would like to secede and get away from it all.”
Pinch of Reality
Threatens the California Dream, NYT, 22.7.2009,
Massachusetts Takes a Step Back From Health Care for All
July 15, 2009
The New York Times
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
BOSTON — The new state budget in Massachusetts eliminates health care
coverage for some 30,000 legal immigrants to help close a growing deficit,
reversing progress toward universal coverage just as Congress looks to the state
as a model for overhauling the nation’s health care system.
The affected immigrants, permanent residents who have had green cards for less
than five years, are now covered under Commonwealth Care, a subsidized insurance
program for low-income residents that is central to the groundbreaking health
care law enacted here in 2006.
Critics of the cut, which would save an estimated $130 million, say it unfairly
targets taxpaying residents and threatens the state’s health care experiment at
a critical time.
“It either sends the message that health care reform cannot be done, period,”
said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee
Advocacy Coalition, “or it opens the door to doing it halfway and excluding
immigrants from the process.”
Gov. Deval Patrick has proposed restoring $70 million to the program, which
would partly restore the immigrants’ coverage. But legislative leaders have
balked, saying vital programs for other groups would have to be cut as a result.
The cut, which would affect only nondisabled adults from 18 to 65 years old,
would take effect in August unless the legislature approves Mr. Patrick’s
“The governor has made a very good and compelling case relative to providing for
legal immigrants,” Robert A. DeLeo, the speaker of the State House of
Representatives, said Monday. “On the other hand, there is only so much money
that we have.”
With tax collections down by $2.7 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30
and still dropping, lawmakers may have no choice but to make further cuts in the
$27 billion budget approved this month. That makes Mr. Patrick’s proposal all
the more problematic, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a
nonpartisan watchdog group.
“It’s bad timing,” said Michael J. Widmer, the group’s president. “This budget
casualty may be more under the national microscope than others, but there is no
shortage of casualties across the board.”
Because of its three-year-old law, Massachusetts has the country’s lowest
percentage of uninsured residents: 2.6 percent, compared with a national average
of 15 percent. The law requires that almost every resident have insurance, and
to meet that goal, the state subsidizes coverage for those earning up to three
times the federal poverty level, or $66,150 for a family of four.
But the recession has made an already difficult experiment far more challenging.
Enrollment in Commonwealth Care has risen sharply in recent months, to 181,000,
as more people have lost jobs. That increase, combined with plummeting state
revenues, made it impossible to maintain last year’s level of service, said
Cyndi Roy, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office for Administration and
In addition to dropping the immigrant insurance program, Commonwealth Care will
save an estimated $63 million by no longer automatically enrolling low-income
residents who fail to enroll themselves.
Under the 1996 federal law that overhauled the nation’s welfare system, the
30,000 immigrants affected by the loss of coverage also do not qualify for
Medicaid or other federal aid. Massachusetts is one of the states, including
California, New York and Pennsylvania, that nonetheless provide at least some
health coverage for such immigrants.
Laura Porto, who moved here from Venezuela and has had permanent residency for
three years, said losing her state-subsidized coverage would end her treatment
for bipolar disorder, including weekly therapy, monthly consultations with a
psychiatrist and medication.
“I am so afraid — if I lose it, I don’t know what my life is going to be,” said
Ms. Porto, 58, who said she lost employer-sponsored coverage when she was fired
because of her illness. “If I don’t have it, I am going to be in danger, and I
don’t have any other way to have insurance unless I find a job, which is very
difficult right now because no one is hiring.”
Mr. Patrick, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year, said Tuesday in an
interview that dropping insurance for legal immigrants would send the wrong
message about the state’s commitment to universal health care.
“I know we don’t have very much money, but we made a commitment in this
commonwealth to embark down this health care reform path,” he said. “We ought to
do what we can to keep it intact, and rather than just drop these folks who are
good, hard-working, contributing members of our community, I’m just looking for
some way to find a compromise here.”
Mr. Patrick said it was too early to elaborate on what form the curtailed
coverage would take.
Lindsey M. Tucker, health reform policy manager at Health Care for All, an
advocacy group in Boston, said that restoring $70 million to the program might
provide some preventive and emergency care.
“It’s in no way the best solution,” she said, “but it looks like we are going to
need a compromise given the difficult climate.”
If the full $130 million cut survives, hospitals that provide free care to the
poor will need to spend an additional $87 million this year treating immigrants
who lose their coverage, according to the Massachusetts Hospital Association.
That would come on top of a $40 million cut in the state’s Health Safety Net,
which reimburses such hospitals, said Tim Gens, the association’s executive vice
What the state needs, said Philip W. Johnston, chairman of the Blue Cross Blue
Shield of Massachusetts Foundation and a former state secretary of health and
human services, is a dedicated revenue stream to protect its pioneering system
from cyclical downturns in the economy.
The revenue, Mr. Johnston said, should come from an income tax surcharge on the
wealthiest, as House leaders in Washington have proposed for a federal health
plan. “Otherwise,” he said, “the program is going to be subject to the ups and
downs of the economy forever.”
Massachusetts Takes a
Step Back From Health Care for All, NYT, 15.7.2009,
Palin’s Move Shocks G.O.P. and Leaves Future Unclear
July 4, 2009
The New York Times
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and JIM RUTENBERG
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska abruptly announced on Friday that she was quitting
at the end of the month, shocking Republicans across the country and leaving
both parties uncertain about whether she was leaving national politics or laying
the groundwork for a presidential run.
Ms. Palin, 45, the Republican vice-presidential nominee last year, was supposed
to serve through the end of 2010; she said she would cede control of the state
to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell on July 26.
Speaking outside her home in Wasilla, Ms. Palin offered conflicting signals
about her intentions and her motivation.
In her tone and some of her words in an often-rambling announcement, she sounded
like someone who was making a permanent exit from politics after what her
friends have called a rough and dispiriting year.
But her remarks, delivered in a voice that often seemed rushed and jittery,
sounded at times like those of a candidate with continued national aspirations,
as when she suggested she could “fight for all our children’s future from
outside the governor’s office.”
Ms. Palin said that she had decided not to seek re-election when her term
expires at the end of next year and that, given that, she did not think it was
fair to her constituents to continue in office.
“As I thought about this announcement that I would not seek re-election,” she
said, “I thought about how much fun other governors have as lame ducks. They
maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their
overseas international trade missions.”
“I’m not going to put Alaskans through that,” she said. “I promised efficiencies
and effectiveness. That’s not how I’m wired. I’m not wired to operate under the
same old politics as usual.”
The news conference came at the end of a week in which a Vanity Fair article
about Ms. Palin brought renewed focus on many of the criticisms of her as a
candidate for vice president under Senator John McCain of Arizona and set off a
new round of recriminations among Mr. McCain’s advisers about her competence.
But while Ms. Palin has been derided by much of the Republican elite, she
remains extremely popular with many grass-roots members, especially social and
Ms. Palin’s announcement was another unusual marker in what has been a
tumultuous year for this first-term governor since Mr. McCain turned her into a
national figure overnight by surprising his own party and naming her his running
mate. It also underscored the instability in the Republican Party as it tries to
find a strategy and voice in the wake of losses in 2008.
Ms. Palin made the announcement standing with her family. At one point she
described how her children had voted in favor of her doing this — “Four yeses
and one ‘Hell, yeah!’ ” she said — suggesting that the family had had enough of
the scrutiny that had made them tabloid staples.
But at another point she invoked a military quotation, misattributing it to Gen.
Douglas MacArthur, in what seemed to be an effort to wave aside any suggestion
that she was abandoning the fight. “He said, ‘We’re not retreating; we are
advancing in another direction,’ ” she said. (The remark was actually said by
Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.)
Later in the afternoon, as questions reverberated in Republican circles about
what exactly she intended to do, Ms. Palin posted a notice on her Twitter site,
reading: “We’ll soon attach info on decision to not seek re-election ... This is
in Alaska’s best interest, my family’s happy ... It is good, stay tuned.”
Ms. Palin is among a number of governors who are possible contenders for the
Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and whose terms expire in 2010.
Many Republican strategists have argued that it would be difficult for someone
to run for governor in 2010 and turn around immediately, while running a state,
and run for president in 2012. Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota announced last
month that he would not seek re-election when his term expired in 2010, as he
considers a race for president.
Quitting midterm, however, is highly unusual. It set off speculation about what
led her to leave so abruptly. One interpretation among Republicans was that she
had simply underscored how erratic she is as a politician.
“Good point guards don’t quit and walk off the floor if the going gets tough,”
said John Weaver, a former senior strategist for Mr. McCain. “Today’s move falls
further into the weirdness category; people don’t like a quitter.”
But some of her supporters argued that this could actually provide Ms. Palin an
opportunity to recover from what has been a damaging year for her, and prepare
herself for the 2012 race. She has been enmeshed in continuing battles with
members of both parties in her Legislature.
The sheer distance of Alaska from the rest of the country complicated her
ability to take care of the most basic kind of presidential preparation work:
going to Republican Party dinners, developing a network of fund-raisers and
supporters and becoming educated about the issues.
In addition, Ms. Palin just signed a lucrative contract to write a book.
“I think she is trying to determine how she can better get to where she’d like
to be,” said Speaker Mike Chenault of the Alaska Legislature, a Republican from
the Kenai Peninsula. “And she figures that if she resigns, people can’t be
taking so many potshots at her.”
William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and a supporter of Ms. Palin,
said that in the end, this could turn out to have been a smart move.
“Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a little crazy,” Mr. Kristol said. “But
maybe not. What is she going to accomplish in the next year as governor? Every
time she left the state she got criticized for neglecting her duties.”
“She’ll take a little hit for leaving the job early, no question about it,” he
said. “But if she writes this book and gives speeches and travels the country
and educates herself on some issues, that’s good.”
The way Ms. Palin presented her decision seemed to leave open the possibility
that she had been motivated by any one of a number of reasons, including being
sick of politics and wanting to get out or taking pre-emptive action in
anticipation of some embarrassing disclosure.
“It caught everybody by surprise,” said a former Alaska House majority leader,
Ralph Samuels, a Republican who is contemplating a run for governor in 2010.
“I’ve had a million calls today from friends, all political junkies, and
everyone is asking the same questions: Is it national ambition, or does she want
time to write the book, or is she just tired of it? Don’t have a clue.”
John Coale, a prominent trial lawyer and Democrat who helped Ms. Palin create
her political action committee, said in an interview that he had been given no
advance word of her decision.
“She didn’t even tell her brother,” Mr. Coale added.
Mr. Coale said he had spoken to Ms. Palin’s husband, Todd. “And he’s like,
they’re not sure what they are going to do from here on out, but they’re sure
they don’t want to do this,” he said.
Andrew Halcro, a former Republican state legislator who ran against Ms. Palin as
an independent in 2006, said, “From a purely logical standpoint, this doesn’t
make sense.” As governor, Mr. Halcro said, Ms. Palin had the standing to remain
in the news.
“She had 16 months to score some points getting some policy wins and showing
she’s a leader,” he said.
If there was widespread shock over Ms. Palin’s decision in Alaska, there was
also widespread acknowledgment that she had political problems that were
hobbling her in office. Lyda Green, a Republican and former president of the
Alaska Senate who is from Ms. Palin’s hometown and who counted herself a friend
until a falling out in recent years, said she took the announcement as tacit
confirmation that Ms. Palin was running for president.
“The longer she stays in, the more people become disenchanted and see something
they hadn’t seen before,” Ms. Green said. “This has been a pretty precipitous
Reporting was contributed by Jo Becker, Kitty Bennett, Serge F. Kovaleski,
Peter S. Goodman and Kim Severson.
Palin’s Move Shocks
G.O.P. and Leaves Future Unclear, NYT, 4.7.2009,
Justices Rule That States Can Press Bank Cases
June 30, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
The Supreme Court paved the way on Monday for states to enforce fair-lending
laws and other consumer protection measures against the nation’s biggest banks,
striking down a rule that limited such powers to federal banking regulators.
The court concluded that rules issued by federal banking regulators under the
National Bank Act — a law passed in 1864 — could not block, or pre-empt, efforts
by the states to enforce their laws.
The case began with letters sent in 2005 by the New York attorney general at the
time, Eliot Spitzer, to several national banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan
Chase and Wells Fargo, inquiring about their lending practices to minority
The letters referred to “troubling” disparities that suggested black and
Hispanic borrowers had been charged disproportionately higher interest rates on
mortgages compared with those for whites.
The letters asked for the information “in lieu of subpoena” but strongly
suggested that subpoenas might follow if the requests were not fulfilled.
A banking trade group and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency brought
suit to block Mr. Spitzer’s request, contending that the National Bank Act and
rules issued by the Bush administration in 2004 gave that kind of law
enforcement authority to the comptroller and prohibited such efforts by the
states. A federal district court ruled against the states, and the United States
Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.
Writing for a 5-to-4 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia concluded that the
attorney general had not been engaged in the broad “visitorial powers” reserved
by the federal government, in which the government acts like a supervisor with
free access to bank records on demand. The court, he wrote, has always
understood that visitorial powers are “quite separate” from the power to enforce
the law, and the attorney general was acting in the role of
“sovereign-as-law-enforcer” in seeking the information.
Normally, Justice Scalia wrote, the court would defer to an agency’s
interpretation of the law when the terms in dispute are ambiguous. But in this
case, which turned on such terms as “visitorial powers,” he stated that even
though the term was “somewhat ambiguous,” the court could discern “the outer
limits” of the term, “even through the clouded lens of history.” The meaning
that could be wrestled from the phrase, Justice Scalia wrote, did not include
restrictions on “ordinary enforcement of the law” by the states.
The decision brought together an unusual coalition. Justice Scalia, one of the
court’s most conservative members, was joined by the court’s more liberal wing
of John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G.
A decision concurring in part and dissenting in part was written by Justice
Clarence Thomas and was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices
Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr., a group that did not share Justice
Scalia’s view through the clouded lens of history. “The statutory term
‘visitorial powers’ is susceptible to more than one meaning,” Justice Thomas
wrote, “and the agency’s construction is reasonable” and thus should be deferred
In a statement, New York’s current attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, called the
decision “a huge win for consumers across the nation.” In a reference to the
nation’s economic crisis, Mr. Cuomo added, “the court has recognized that fair
lending and consumer protection — the cornerstones of a sound economy — require
the cooperative efforts of both the states and the federal government.”
Seth Galanter, a lawyer in Washington who wrote a brief on behalf of former
comptrollers, said that the worst case envisioned by federal regulators had not
come to pass. While the decision does not block the attorneys general from
enforcing state laws, he said, it does require judicial approval to gain access
to records. “Our concern was really the establishment of 50 state supervisory
regimes, where states could come in and look at the books whenever they wanted
to,” he said.
The federal regulators had argued that their informal approach worked quietly
with banks to address issues like fair lending in a “prophylactic way” that
John F. Cooney, a lawyer in Washington who specializes in bank regulation and a
former deputy general counsel for litigation and regulatory affairs at the
Office of Management and Budget, said that the decision upholds the theme of
federalism that has run through several important cases of this just-ended
Supreme Court term.
He added, however, that the banking decision would now require action by the
legislative branch. “People are going to go to Congress and say, ‘You need to
give us a functioning principle’ to define the boundaries of state and federal
law,” he said. “The ultimate court of appeal will be Congress.”
James E. Tierney, director of the national state attorneys general program at
Columbia Law School, said that a line-drawing exercise by Congress was unlikely
to put state enforcers on the sidelines again.
In the absence of tough regulation of the banking industry by the federal
government, he said, state attorneys general have stepped up to provide consumer
protection and to fight discrimination. He called the case “a stinging defeat
for the large banks and federal regulators who have worked for years to stop
states from enforcing state consumer protection and antidiscrimination laws.”
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, agreed, calling the decision “a
check against the former Bush administration’s attempt to prohibit state law
from protecting consumers.”
Justices Rule That
States Can Press Bank Cases, NYT, 30.6.2009,
It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado
June 29, 2009
The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
DURANGO, Colo. — For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free
for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the
most entrenched codes of the West.
Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment
it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall
from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were
assigned a century or more ago.
Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater
legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other
states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their
aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to
“I was so willing to go to jail for catching water on my roof and watering my
garden,” said Tom Bartels, a video producer here in southwestern Colorado, who
has been illegally watering his vegetables and fruit trees from tanks attached
to his gutters. “But now I’m not a criminal.”
Who owns the sky, anyway? In most of the country, that is a question for
philosophy class or bad poetry. In the West, lawyers parse it with straight
faces and serious intent. The result, especially stark here in the Four Corners
area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is a crazy quilt of rules and
regulations — and an entire subculture of people like Mr. Bartels who have been
using the rain nature provided but laws forbade.
The two Colorado laws allow perhaps a quarter-million residents with private
wells to begin rainwater harvesting, as well as the setting up of a pilot
program for larger scale rain-catching.
Just 75 miles west of here, in Utah, collecting rainwater from the roof is still
illegal unless the roof owner also owns water rights on the ground; the same
rigid rules, with a few local exceptions, also apply in Washington State.
Meanwhile, 20 miles south of here, in New Mexico, rainwater catchment, as the
collecting is called, is mandatory for new dwellings in some places like Santa
And in Arizona, cities like Tucson are pioneering the practices of big-city rain
capture. “All you need for a water harvesting system is rain, and a place to put
it,” Tucson Water says on its Web site.
Here in Colorado, the old law created a kind of wink-and-nod shadow economy.
Rain equipment could be legally sold, but retailers said they knew better than
to ask what the buyer intended to do with the product.
“It’s like being able to sell things like smoking paraphernalia even though
smoking pot is illegal,” said Laurie E. Dickson, who for years sold
barrel-and-hose systems from a shop in downtown Durango.
State water officials acknowledged that they rarely enforced the old law. With
the new laws, the state created a system of fines for rain catchers without a
permit; previously the only option was to shut a collector down.
But Kevin Rein, Colorado’s assistant state engineer, said enforcement would
focus on people who violated water rules on a large scale.
“It’s not going to be a situation where we’re sending out people to look in
backyards,” Mr. Rein said.
Science has also stepped forward to underline how incorrect the old sweeping
legal generalizations were.
A study in 2007 proved crucial to convincing Colorado lawmakers that rain
catching would not rob water owners of their rights. It found that in an average
year, 97 percent of the precipitation that fell in Douglas County, near Denver,
never got anywhere near a stream. The water evaporated or was used by plants.
But the deeper questions about rain are what really gnawed at rain harvesters
like Todd S. Anderson, a small-scale farmer just east of Durango. Mr. Anderson
said catching rain was not just thrifty — he is so water conscious that he has
not washed his truck in five years — but also morally correct because it used
water that would otherwise be pumped from the ground.
Mr. Anderson, a former national park ranger who worked for years enforcing rules
and laws, said: “I’m conflicted between what’s right and what’s legal. And I
For the last year, Mr. Anderson has been catching rainwater that runs off his
greenhouse but keeping the barrel hidden from view. When the new law passed, he
put the barrel in plain sight, and he plans to set up a system for his house.
Dig a little deeper into the rain-catching world, and there are remnants of the
1970s back-to-land hippie culture, which went off the grid into aquatic
self-sufficiency long ago.
“Our whole perspective on life is to try to use what is available, and to not be
dependent on big systems,” said Janine Fitzgerald, whose parents bought land in
southwest Colorado in 1970, miles from where the pavement ends.
Ms. Fitzgerald, an associate professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College in
Durango, still lives the unwired life with her own family now, growing most of
her own food and drinking and bathing in filtered rainwater.
Rain dependency has its ups and downs, Ms. Fitzgerald said. Her home is also
completely solar-powered, which means that the pumps to push water from the rain
tanks are solar-powered, too. A cloudy, rainy spring this year was good for
tanks, bad for pumps.
The economy has turned on some early rainwater believers, too. Ms. Dickson’s
company in Durango went out of business last December as the construction market
faltered. The rain barrels she once sold will soon be perfectly legal, but the
shop is shuttered.
“We were ahead of our time,” she said.
It’s Now Legal to Catch
a Raindrop in Colorado, NYT, 29.6.2009,
More Furloughs Possible for California
June 28, 2009
The New York Times
By BLOOMBERG NEWS
SACRAMENTO (Bloomberg News) — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California said
he would order some 200,000 state workers to take a third furlough day every
month if lawmakers could not agree on how to close a $24 billion deficit.
Mr. Schwarzenegger wants lawmakers to send him a package of spending cuts by
California is set to run out of money in July unless lawmakers can find a way to
close the gap. Mr. Schwarzenegger and his fellow Republicans want large-scale
spending reductions. Democrats are seeking to limit those cuts and, instead,
raise taxes. The state controller, John Chiang, said he would start paying bills
with i.o.u.’s as early as Thursday unless an agreement was reached.
“I cannot force the Legislature to act,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in a statement
on Friday, “so I must do what is in my power as governor to conserve cash.”
Mr. Schwarzenegger in December ordered state workers to take off two unpaid days
More Furloughs Possible
for California, NYT, 28.6.2009,
Putting New York Back Together
June 24, 2009
The New York Times
By RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI
NEW YORK STATE government is not working. This has been true for some time.
But the paralysis and confusion that has overtaken the capital demonstrates the
need to confront this dysfunction directly and take decisive steps to solve it
once and for all. That’s why I’m calling on Albany to convene a state
This is not a partisan criticism. There is enough blame for all to share.
Recently, though, the situation in our state has gone from bad to worse.
There are more New Yorkers unemployed than at any time in 33 years, and the
poverty rate is rising. Our combined state and local tax burden is the highest
in the nation after New Jersey. Our business tax climate is rated the second
worst in the country. And in the face of the worst recession in a
quarter-century, the State Legislature decided to increase spending by 9 percent
while increasing taxes and fees by $8 billion. No wonder a recent poll showed
that more than 20 percent of New Yorkers are thinking of leaving the state in
search of lower taxes and fewer government mandates.
Over the course of New York’s history, our state has held seven constitutional
conventions, one as recently as 1967. Calling another convention would be an
extraordinary step, but it is a necessary and effective way to overcome the
challenges we face. It would be an opportunity for Republicans, Democrats and
independents to come together, take a long hard look at our problems and then
propose real, lasting solutions.
If the State Legislature were to approve the measure in the next few weeks, New
Yorkers could vote on whether to proceed with a constitutional convention this
November. A “yes” vote would move the process forward, allowing voters to choose
a slate of delegates in November 2010. After the convention took place, the
recommendations would be put forward to the people for an up-and-down vote.
The specific measures should be left to the convention itself and then judged by
the voters. But to start the debate I offer seven recommendations for reform.
THE BUDGET PROCESS The governor should be empowered to set revenue estimates on
his own, as the mayor of New York City does, adjusting future spending against
responsible benchmarks rather than unrealistic estimates. The budget should
conform to generally accepted accounting principles, and there should also be a
formal four-year financial plan allowing for transparency and long-term
planning. Finally, if a new budget is not adopted by April 1, the previous
year’s budget should be automatically continued.
TERM LIMITS All statewide elected officials and members of the Legislature
should be term limited to bring new blood into Albany while stopping the
careerism that too often blocks real progress. A citizens’ legislature would be
more effective in addressing New Yorkers’ problems with a fresh perspective.
REDISTRICTING New York’s Legislature has been called the most dysfunctional in
the nation, yet Albany legislators enjoy a 98 percent re-election rate. They
avoid accountability through partisan gerrymandering, which has reduced the
number of competitive elections, depriving millions of voters of real choices.
An independent commission, rather than the legislators themselves, should draw
up district lines to ensure the system is not rigged to reward incumbent
legislators or one party over another.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE Special interests have a disproportionate influence over state
politics in large part because of a weak campaign finance system with high
contribution limits and lax disclosure requirements. Individuals can give up to
$55,900 to gubernatorial candidates and $15,500 for State Senate candidates.
Unions and other special interests exploit loopholes that allow millions of
dollars worth of phone banks, volunteers and other in-kind contributions. There
are no regular audits and minimal fines, and an unlimited amount of money can be
transferred to candidates from party committees.
SUPERMAJORITY FOR TAX INCREASES Too often increasing taxes is the first impulse
for Albany legislators. Requiring a supermajority for tax increases would
provide a powerful check on those who still think we can tax and spend our way
out of economic problems. A supermajority would protect already over-burdened
citizens and attract businesses, improving our long-term competitiveness.
JUDICIAL PAY The integrity of an independent judiciary depends on being able to
attract qualified people who are not beholden to party bosses and power brokers.
Instituting an automatic cost-of-living adjustment on an improved base salary
would take the politics out of judicial pay raises.
SUCCESSION FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR Over the last 40 years, New York has been
without a lieutenant governor three times. The lack of any established process
of succession for the state’s second in command creates the potential for chaos.
In the interest of simplicity, stability and transparency, clear lines of
succession must be established.
Many of these suggestions have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past. What’s
been missing is action. Legislators have not been leading. But we citizens can
take charge and carry out these fundamental reforms through a constitutional
convention. Together we can cure the structural dysfunction of our politics and
hand New York to the next generation better and stronger than it was handed to
Rudolph W. Giuliani was the mayor of New York from 1994 to 2001.
Putting New York Back
Together, NYT, 24.6.2009,
Gov. Sanford Admits Affair and Explains Disappearance
June 25, 2009
The New York Times
By ROBBIE BROWN and SHAILA DEWAN
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, said he had
conducted an extra-marital affair with a woman in Argentina, ending a mystery
over his week-long disappearance that had infuriated lawmakers and seemed to put
his rising political career in jeopardy. He apologized for the affair and the
deception surrounding his trip in a rambling, nationally televised news
conference Wednesday afternoon.
Governor Sanford, 49, admitted that he had been in Buenos Aires since Thursday,
not hiking on the Appalachian Trail as his staff had told reporters.
In revealing an affair that had gone on for about a year — and which he said he
had disclosed to his wife, Jenny, five months ago — he said: “This was
selfishness on my part.”
Mr. Sanford announced on Wednesday that as a result, he was resigning his
position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. His second — and
final — term leading the state of South Carolina ends in 2011.
It took him more than a few stumbling minutes to get to the crux of the matter.
“The bottom line is this,” he said. “I have been unfaithful to my wife.
“I developed a relationship with what started as a dear dear friend from
Argentina,” Gov. Sanford said. “It began very innocently, as I suspect these
things do, in just a casual e-mail back and forth. But here, recently, over this
last year, developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence, I
hurt her. I hurt you all, I hurt my wife. I hurt my boys. I hurt friends like
Tom Davis. I hurt a lot of different folks.”
Surrounded by more than 50 reporters, photographers, aides and spectators in the
rotunda of the South Carolina statehouse, the governor spoke with a quiver in
his voice and was visibly shaken, tearing up at times and rocking on his feet at
the podium. He pleaded with reporters not to pester his family: “I would ask for
y’all’s indulgence, not for me, but for Jenny and the boys.”
The governor’s wife was not in attendance at the news conference. In an
interview with The State newspaper of Columbia, on Wednesday morning, Mr.
Sanford said he had taken an unplanned trip to the South American country to
recharge after a difficult legislative session in which he battled with
lawmakers over accepting a portion of the federal stimulus funding.
He had considered hiking the trail, he said. “But I said, no, I wanted to do
something exotic,” Mr. Sanford told The State. “It’s a great city.”
Only at the news conference did he reveal why he traveled there.
He said that he had seen this woman three times over the past year, but that the
friendship developed eight years ago.
The whispers about the missing governor started as early as Friday, when one
lawmaker and outspoken rival of Mr. Sanford was quietly outraged that the
governor had left the state without a plan for a transfer of power in the event
of an emergency.
“I don’t care how big a problem you had with the person,” Senator Knotts said.
“I had concerns for his safety and the fact that there was nobody leading South
Carolina. There was nobody in a position to make a decision on homeland security
or if there were a prison riot or something of that nature.”
Senator Knotts said that he was content to learn that the governor had been
hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and would be coming home Wednesday. But when he
learned Wednesday morning that the governor was actually in Argentina, he added:
“It all could have been avoided if his staff started out not trying to cover up
The governor was interviewed by The State upon his return from Argentina in
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.
Mr. Sanford created a media frenzy on Monday when his staff acknowledged that
they could not reach him. His wife told The Associated Press that he had gone
somewhere over the Father’s Day weekend, but she did not know where and she was
Only later did the governor reveal that he had told his wife and her parents
several months earlier. He said that “in a formal sense,” he had his wife were
Three of his sons are teenagers, and his youngest is 10 years old.
The news conference was a shocking culmination of a week of contradictory
statements from the governor’s staff.
After a barrage of news media requests, his spokesman, Joel Sawyer released a
statement on Monday afternoon saying, “Gov. Sanford is taking some time away
from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle and the
legislative session, and to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the
wayside. We are not going to discuss the specifics of his travel arrangements or
his security arrangements.”
Then, around 10 p.m. on Monday, Mr. Sawyer sent a “high priority” e-mail alert
to reporters that Mr. Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100-mile
path that does not pass through South Carolina. In a follow-up statement on
Tuesday morning, Mr. Sawyer said, “It would be fair to say the governor was
somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten” and would
return early from his hike on Wednesday.
Mr. Sanford is the third sitting governor to become the central figure in a
major scandal in recent years. Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, Democrat of New York,
resigned a few days after his involvement with prostitutes was revealed in March
2008. Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, Democrat of Illinois, clung to office for weeks
after being accused by prosecutors of influence-peddling, including trying to
sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama; he was impeached and
removed from office by the state legislature on Jan. 29.
A reporter tried to ask Mr. Sanford at the end of the news conference whether he
would resign his office, but Mr. Sanford ignored the question.
Mr. Sanford’s Democratic rivals in the capital immediately pounced on the
apparent confusion in the statements issued by the governor’s office.
“The people of this state deserve complete honesty from Governor Sanford,” said
State Senator John C. Land III, the Senate Democratic leader, in a statement
issued this morning before the news conference.
“The governor’s office misled the media , the lieutenant governor, and the
people of South Carolina. Never in my 32 years as a state senator have I
witnessed a governor and his staff act in a more dishonest, secretive, and
bizarre manner. There is something very wrong here and serious questions need to
be asked about the governor’s six-day disappearance.”
Mr. Sanford recently lost a high-profile battle to reject $700 million in
federal stimulus funding that he said should be spent instead on reducing the
state deficit. After challenging the Obama administration, federal courts and
the state legislature on the issue, he backed down on June 8 and requested the
The governor has maintained that his primary concern in fighting the stimulus
money was not to raise his national profile for a presidential run but to
strengthen the executive office in South Carolina, where the governor has few
powers. But he took his stand against the stimulus so far — appearing on
national talk shows and even writing an opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal
titled “Don’t Bail Out My State” — that it resulted in an order from the state
supreme court that he do the legislature’s bidding.
His conservative home state was divided over his stance, with some people
worried that the state was becoming a national laughingstock while others
cheered the governor as a bulwark against what they called liberal spending
policies and the expansion of the welfare state. Teachers and educators marched
on the capital in protest against the governor’s refusal to accept the funds.
Mr. Sanford has long been known as an iconoclast. As a congressman, he slept on
a futon in his office. To showcase his opposition to pork-barrel spending, he
once brought two live piglets onto the floor of the state legislature.
“It’s all part of the lonely mystique of Governor Sanford,” said Cole Blease
Graham Jr., a professor of political science at the University of South
Carolina, on Tuesday. “He has taken many positions as governor that are
similarly lonely, almost contrarian.”
But Mr. Sanford’s disappearance set a new standard for unpredictability, Mr.
“In a state like South Carolina, where everybody knows everything about
everybody,” he said, “this sure is odd.”
But after the news conference, people in the state — and the nation — knew a lot
more about the governor than they ever thought they would.
Liz Robbins contributed reporting from New York.
Gov. Sanford Admits
Affair and Explains Disappearance, NYT, 25.6.2009,
California to Pay Creditors With I.O.U.’s
June 25, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LOS ANGELES — Signaling that California is slipping deeper into financial
crisis, the state’s controller said Wednesday that his office would soon be
forced to issue i.o.u.’s to scores of the state’s creditors, the first time
since 1992, when 100,000 state employees were paid with them.
Before that budget crisis — which pales in comparison to the current shortfall,
even with inflation adjustments — the last time California issued the documents
was during the Depression, something the controller, John Chiang, alluded to in
his news release announcing the impending action.
“Next Wednesday we start a fiscal year with a massively unbalanced spending plan
and a cash shortfall not seen since the Great Depression,” Mr. Chiang said in a
written statement. “The State’s $2.8 billion cash shortage in July grows to $6.5
billion in September, and after that we see a double-digit freefall.
Unfortunately, the State’s inability to balance its checkbook will now mean
short-changing taxpayers, local governments and small businesses.”
The issuing of the i.o.u.’s would reflect the state’s lack of cash flow and its
legislature’s inability to agree on a way to close a roughly $24 billion budget
gap, as tax revenues have continued to fall in the state. On Wednesday, as Mr.
Chiang made his announcement, legislators continued to debate ways to close the
gap in preparing for a vote on a budget presented by Democrats that was all but
certain to fail on the floor.
Democrats want to close the gap with a mix of vast cuts to social programs and
an increase to cigarette, oil drilling and car taxes; Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has vowed to veto any and all tax hikes, and his
party’s lawmakers agree with him.
In February, lawmakers passed a budget for both 2009 and 2010, but the
legislation, which covered 17 months’ worth of spending, was dependent on the
passage of several ballot propositions that that were rejected by California
voters in May. As a result, the state’s budget gap expanded.
In response, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed $16 billion in cuts. Those
cuts would largely be carried out through the state’s programs for the poor: the
Healthy Family Program, the health insurance program that covers more than
900,000 children; the main welfare program, known as CalWorks, which provides
temporary financial assistance to poor families; and Cal Grants, a college
financial aid program. He also wants to borrow millions from local governments
and release some prisoners early to save money.
Republican lawmakers are more or less on board with the governor other than the
plan to borrow from localities and release prisoners or lay off any corrections
“The consequences of inaction just shot up dramatically,” said H. D. Palmer, the
spokesman for the state’s Department of Finance, in an e-mail message. “This
underscores just how serious this situation is, and why it’s absolutely critical
for the Legislature to get a budget package to the Governor in a form that he
can sign — and do it in a matter of days.”
If all sides cannot come to an agreement by July 2, millions of dollars in the
unusual i.o.u’s will be issued, including $159 million to the Student Aid
Department and hundreds of millions to social services agencies across the
The controller delayed payments for 30 days in February to manage a cash crisis
at that time, but i.o.u.’s represent a far larger shortfall that would likely be
impossible to cover with simple delays. An attempt to borrow money to cover the
shortfalls, which is usually done as the legislature bickers its ways to a
budget this time of year, was impossible this June because the banks that
usually make such loans are unable to do so, and the Obama administration
refused a request to back loans as well.
According to the controller’s news release, the i.o.u’s will carry an interest
rate set by the state’s Pooled Money Investment Board, which will hold an
emergency meeting at his request on July 2 to set the rate. Any rate adoption
would become effective immediately; the i.o.u’s will have a maturity date of
Oct. 1, 2009.
In 1992, Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, issued the i.o.u.’s to state workers;
the workers immediately brought a lawsuit, contending that the i.o.u.’s violated
the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. A federal judge approved a $558 million
settlement, and some workers received additional vacation time.
California to Pay
Creditors With I.O.U.’s, NYT, 25.6.2009,
States Turning to Last Resorts in Budget Crisis
June 22, 2009
The New York Times
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
In Hawaii, state employees are bracing for furloughs of three
days a month over the next two years, the equivalent of a 14 percent pay cut. In
Idaho, lawmakers reduced aid to public schools for the first time in recent
memory, forcing pay cuts for teachers.
And in California, where a $24 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year is the
nation’s worst, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed releasing thousands of
prisoners early and closing more than 200 state parks.
Meanwhile, Maine is adding taxes on candy and ski tickets, Wisconsin on oil
companies, and Kentucky on alcohol and cellphone ring tones.
With state revenues in a free fall and the economy choked by the worst recession
in 60 years, governors and legislatures are approving program cuts, layoffs and,
to a smaller degree, tax increases that were previously unthinkable.
All but four states must have new budgets in place less than two weeks from now
— by July 1, the start of their fiscal year. But most are already predicting
shortfalls as tax collections shrink, unemployment rises and the stock market
remains in turmoil.
“These are some of the worst numbers we have ever seen,” said Scott D. Pattison,
executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, adding
that the federal stimulus money that began flowing this spring was the only
thing preventing widespread paralysis, particularly in the areas of education
and health care. “If we didn’t have those funds, I think we’d have an incredible
number of states just really unsure of how they were going to get a new budget
The states where the fiscal year does not end June 30 are Alabama, Michigan, New
York and Texas.
Even with the stimulus funds, political leaders in at least 19 states are still
struggling to negotiate budgets, which has incited more than the usual drama and
spite. Governors and legislators of the same party are finding themselves at
bitter odds: in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, sued the
Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this month after it refused to send
her its budget plan in hopes that she would run out of time to veto it.
In Illinois, the Democratic-led legislature is fighting a plan by Gov. Patrick
J. Quinn, also a Democrat, to balance the new budget by raising income taxes.
And in Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, has threatened to veto a
25 percent increase in the state sales tax that Democratic legislative leaders
say is crucial to help close a $1.5 billion deficit in the new fiscal year.
“Legislators have never dealt with a recession as precipitous and rapid as this
one,” said Susan K. Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States.
“They’re faced with some of the toughest decisions legislators ever have to
make, for both political and economic reasons, so it’s not surprising that the
environment has become very tense.”
In all, states will face a $121 billion budget gap in the coming fiscal year,
according to a recent report by the National Conference of State Legislatures,
compared with $102.4 billion for this fiscal year.
The recession has also proved politically damaging for a number of governors,
not least Jon Corzine of New Jersey, whose Republican opponent in this year’s
race for governor has tried to make inroads by blaming the state’s economic woes
on him. Mr. Schwarzenegger, who sailed into office on a wave of popularity in
2003, will leave in 2011 — barred by term limits from running again — under the
cloud of the nation’s worst budget crisis. And the bleak economy has played a
major role in the waning popularity of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York.
Over all, personal income tax collections are down by about 6.6 percent compared
with last year, according to a survey by Mr. Pattison’s group and the National
Governors Association. Sales tax collections are down by 3.2 percent, the survey
found, and corporate income tax revenues by 15.2 percent. (Although New Jersey
announced last week that a tax amnesty program had brought in an unexpected $400
million — a windfall that caused lawmakers to reconsider some of the deeper cuts
in a $28.6 billion budget they were set to approve in advance of the July 1
As a result, governors have recommended increasing taxes and fees by some $24
billion for the coming fiscal year, the survey found. This is on top of more
than $726 million they sought in new revenues this year.
The proposals include increases in personal income tax rates — Gov. Edward G.
Rendell of Pennsylvania has proposed raising the state’s income tax by more than
16 percent, to 3.57 percent from 3.07 percent, for three years — and tax
increases on myriad consumer goods.
“They have done a fair amount of cutting and will probably do some more,” said
Ray Scheppach, executive director of the governors association. “But as they
look out over the next two or three years, they are also aware that when this
federal money stops coming, there is going to be a cliff out there.”
Raising revenues is the surest way to ensure financial stability after the
stimulus money disappears, Mr. Scheppach added, saying, “You’re better off to
take all the heat at once and do it in one package that gets you through the
next two, three or four years.”
While state general fund spending typically increases by about 6 percent a year,
it is expected to decline by 2.2 percent for this fiscal year, Mr. Pattison
said. The last year-to-year decline was in 1983, he said, on the heels of a
national banking crisis.
The starkest crisis is playing out in California, where lawmakers are scrambling
to close the $24 billion gap after voters rejected ballot measures last month
that would have increased taxes, borrowed money and reapportioned state funds.
Democratic legislative leaders last week offered alternatives to Mr.
Schwarzenegger’s recommended cuts, including levying a 9.9 percent tax on oil
extracted in the state and increasing the cigarette tax to $2.37 a pack, from 87
cents. But Mr. Schwarzenegger has vowed to veto any budget that includes new
taxes, setting the stage for an ugly battle as the clock ticks toward the
“We still don’t know how bad it will be,” Ms. Urahn said. “The story is yet to
be told, because in the next couple of weeks we will see some of the states with
the biggest gaps have to wrestle this thing to the ground and make the tough
decisions they’ve all been dreading.”
In one preview, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a Republican, said last week
that he would unilaterally cut a total of $2.7 billion from nearly all
government agencies and programs that get money from the state, after he and
Democratic legislative leaders failed to agree on how to balance the budget.
In an example of the countless small but painful cuts taking place, Illinois
announced last week that it would temporarily stop paying about $15 million a
year for about 10,000 funerals for the poor. Oklahoma is cutting back hours at
museums and historical sites, Washington is laying off thousands of teachers,
and New Hampshire wants to sell 27 state parks.
Nor will the pain end this year, Ms. Urahn said, even if the recession ends, as
some economists have predicted. Unemployment could keep climbing through 2010,
she said, continuing to hurt tax collections and increasing the demand for
Medicaid, one of states’ most burdensome expenses.
“Stress on the Medicaid system tends to come later in a recession, and we have
yet to see the depth of that,” Ms. Urahn said. “So you will see, for the next
couple years at least, states really struggling with this.”
States Turning to
Last Resorts in Budget Crisis, NYT, 22.6.2009,
California’s Solution to $24 Billion Budget Gap Is Going to
Bring Some Pain
June 22, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LOS ANGELES — There are not a multitude of ways to close a $24
billion state budget gap, but in California, the answer is probably going to
come down to who gets hurt the most.
While Democrats struggle to preserve programs for the state’s neediest residents
through one-time accounting maneuvers and by passing some of the pain to smokers
and oil companies through fees and taxes, Republicans are holding the line on
new taxes and trying to force large cuts that will have an effect on policies
like health care for children in poor families and the early release of
thousands of prisoners.
Lawmakers passed a budget for both 2009 and 2010 in February, but the
legislation, which covered 17 months’ worth of spending, was dependent on the
passage of several ballot propositions that voters overwhelmingly sank in May.
As a result, the state’s budget gap expanded.
In response, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to allow the government to
come to a “grinding halt,” rather than authorize more borrowing to cover
shortfalls, and proposed $16 billion in cuts. Those cuts would largely be
carried out through the state’s programs for the poor: the Healthy Family
Program, the health insurance program that covers more than 900,000 children;
the main welfare program, known as CalWorks, which provides temporary financial
assistance to poor families; and Cal Grants, a college financial aid program.
Mr. Schwarzenegger also seeks $750 million in cuts to prisons, the slashing of
the budgets for state parks and other agencies and a 5 percent pay cut for state
workers. And he has proposed a plan to borrow $2 billion from local governments,
which has enraged local leaders. Republican lawmakers do not care for taking
money from local governments, nor do they like the prison plan in its entirety,
because it would include the early release of some prisoners; they are otherwise
on board with the governor on this go-round.
Democratic legislators countered with a plan still thick with cuts — $11 billion
— to social programs but proposed several accounting maneuvers that would push
the deficits into the future to compensate for less-severe reductions to the
social programs. For example, the state would push workers’ last paychecks of
this fiscal year, ending June 30, by one day into the next fiscal year, saving
$1 billion. Another proposal calls for withholding 3 percent taxes from
independent contractors, who lawmakers say often fail to pay taxes, putting $2
billion back in the coffers.
The Democratic caucus also rejected borrowing from localities and called for
about $2 billion in tax increases: a 9.9 percent levy on oil extracted in the
state, a $1.50-per-pack tobacco tax and a $15 increase for car registrations
earmarked for state parks.
Republican lawmakers and the governor have said they will reject all tax
increases; such increases were used in the last budget negotiations, which
extracted a huge political price for the few Republican lawmakers who supported
the legislation, with some calls for their recalls by some constituents. The
rejection of the ballot initiatives last month are widely viewed in Sacramento
as a rejection of tax increases, leaving the Democrats hamstrung.
So that leaves Plan C, which will quite likely be very close to what the
governor has called for, only less so. The amount of tax increases the Democrats
proposed are almost equal to the amount the governor wants to borrow from local
While the Democrats cannot pass a tax increase without the Republicans’ support
(a two-thirds legislative vote is required for that), it could lower the state’s
gasoline excise tax and then raise the taxes on cigarettes and oil extraction,
thus calling them “fee hikes,” which can be passed by a simple majority. But the
governor could strike that with a veto. Further, the 5 percent pay cut to state
workers will quite likely land in the mix, as will some of the lawmakers’
California has been hampered by steep drops in tax revenues and by high
unemployment, which rose to 11.5 percent on Friday. The state controller, John
Chiang, has warned that California will not have enough cash to pay its bills if
there is no new budget agreement by late July. Further, both Standard & Poor’s
and Moody’s Investor Service last week placed the state on a credit watch list;
it already has the lowest credit rating of any state.
California normally seeks bank-guaranteed short-term notes to pay its bills in
the summer until tax revenue flows in. Because of the tightening of credit, the
state sought a guarantee from the Obama administration on $5.5 billion in notes,
but that request was rejected.
Obama administration officials have said that California should solve its own
problems, and suggested it has no legal authority to back its bonds. But because
local governments depend on cash from the state to make their debt payments, the
threat of their defaulting could upset the country’s broader municipal bond
“This is something the Federal Reserve would be concerned about,” said Daniel J.
B. Mitchell, a professor emeritus at the School of Public Affairs at the
University of California, Los Angeles, “because there could be ripple effects
outside California. In short, the Obama folks would do best to stop averting
their eyes and instead impose some adult supervision.”
Huge cuts to social programs, even at the levels the Democrats have suggested,
may signal where California spending priorities will be for years. “All of this
against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, scarcity and increasing doubt about
what a public good is,” said Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University
of California, Berkeley, “and whether things that we used to think of as public
goods, like higher ed, should really be privatized because it mainly enhances
the personal income of those who attend.”
The budget mess has also set the stage for broader budget discussions. The
respected California Commission on the 21st Century Economy, is preparing a
large-scale tax system overhaul to propose to the governor and lawmakers. It is
anticipated to suggest, among other things, the abolishing of corporate income
taxes and state sales taxes in favor of a tax program like the value-added taxes
common in Europe.
Political posturing infused the Capitol last week, with the governor and the
Legislature decrying one another. Darrell Steinberg, the Senate president pro
tem, sent Mr. Schwarzenegger a package of mushrooms in response to the
governor’s saying the Legislature was “hallucinating” with its budget plan; the
governor sent Mr. Steinberg a sculpture of a bull testicle, suggesting something
like backbone, only not quite, would be needed to make tough cuts.
Back in the real world, where libraries are laying off workers, parks are
preparing to close and parents are explaining to sobbing 5-year-olds why their
beloved teachers will not be back next year, residents await the final cuts.
to $24 Billion Budget Gap Is Going to Bring Some Pain, NYT, 22.6.2009,
Battle to Control State Senate Rages Unabated
June 11, 2009
The New York Times
By JEREMY W. PETERS
ALBANY — With both Democrats and Republicans continuing to lay claim to
control of the State Senate, the power struggle that has brought business in the
Capitol to a halt the last two days appeared no closer to an amicable resolution
Republicans insisted they would convene the Senate at 3 p.m. and begin passing
legislation regardless of whether they were allowed inside the Senate chamber,
which remained locked under orders from Democrats. Some outraged Republicans
said they would call the Senate to order in the park across the street from the
Capitol if necessary.
“Why won’t you open the doors?” asked Senator George H. Winner Jr., one of the
Republican leaders. “I just hope that cooler heads will prevail and they’ll open
the doors of the people’s house.”
As Democrats continued to assess their legal and political options for
challenging the Republicans’ move on Monday to seize power of the Senate, unity
within the party appeared to strain even further. Democrats met privately
Wednesday morning for about 40 minutes in their conference room on the third
floor of the Capitol. And when they emerged, few were willing to express any
confidence that their leader, Senator Malcolm A. Smith of Queens, would be able
to hang onto his job.
When asked whether Mr. Smith would remain the party’s leader, Senator Jeffrey D.
Klein of the Bronx, the Democrats’ deputy leader, said, “I can’t speculate on
that,” adding, “We live day to day.”
The possibility that more Democrats would defect and join Republicans remained
“There are ongoing discussions and meetings that are taking place on all sides,”
said Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, who was one of several Democrats
considered to be open to switching his political allegiances.
Democrats said they had made no decisions yet about moving forward with a legal
challenge to Republicans, who were able to gain control of the Senate on Monday
by recruiting two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate
of Queens, to vote with them to establish a new Senate leadership with Mr.
Espada as the president pro tempore of the Senate and Dean G. Skelos, a
Republican from Long Island, as the majority leader.
Mr. Smith has asked Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo to investigate whether
there was anything illegal about that deal, a Senate official said Tuesday.
Among the aspects of the deal that Mr. Smith has asked the attorney general to
look into are whether there was any improper quid pro quo between Republicans
and Mr. Espada and Mr. Monserrate, said the official, who spoke on the condition
of anonymity to avoid further inflaming tensions among Senate Democrats.
Republicans characterized Democrats as being in a state of denial.
“The fork is in them,” said Steven Pigeon, the top political adviser to Tom
Golisano, the billionaire from Rochester who helped broker the deal. “I just
think they haven’t admitted it yet.”
Mr. Pigeon said that more Democrats would soon join the new political alliance,
but he would not say which ones or how many.
One of the senators who is believed to be considering breaking ranks with the
Senate Democratic conference, Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan, would not say
Tuesday where he planned to cast his political allegiance. “I am not considering
anything but trying to get passed all the legislation I’ve spent my whole life
fighting for,” he said. Mr. Duane, who did not attend meetings with his
Democratic colleagues on Tuesday, said he had spent all day in discussions with
senators from both parties.
Mr. Duane did not attend the meeting of Democrats on Wednesday morning, and he
has not been seen in the Capitol since Monday.
Mr. Duane is the sponsor of legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in
New York. He has been working to garner the 32 votes necessary to pass the bill,
and he said he would continue to do so.
The chances that the legislation could be acted on soon appeared to grow on
Tuesday after Mr. Espada, who would share power with Mr. Skelos, a Republican
from Long Island, said he would like to see the bill come to a vote.
“I am for same-sex marriage,” Mr. Espada said, adding that he had not yet
discussed the matter with Mr. Skelos, who opposes allowing gay couples to marry,
but has said that he would let Republican lawmakers vote as they chose. “I think
there will be a vote of conscience of the senators.”
Like all other legislation currently before the Senate, the same-sex marriage
bill is stalled until the leadership confusion is resolved. Still, Republicans
were preparing to move forward with action on more than 30 bills on Wednesday. A
list they were circulating Wednesday morning had legislation that dealt with a
variety of subjects — from local sales taxes to a requirement that used
mattresses and bedding sold in the state be sanitized.
Though Republicans claim they now hold a majority, it has been very difficult
for them to assume administrative control over the chamber. The day-to-day
operations of the chamber are managed by the secretary of the Senate, who is
appointed by the majority leader. The current secretary, Angelo Aponte, has so
far refused to resign despite calls from Mr. Espada and Mr. Skelos for him to do
Republicans have claimed that the state’s Constitution precludes Mr. Aponte from
keeping the doors of the Senate locked. Article 3, section 10 states: “The doors
of each house shall be kept open, except when the public welfare shall require
Battle to Control State
Senate Rages Unabated, NYT, 11.6.2009,
State Revenues Buffeted by Downturn
June 5, 2009
The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
DENVER — The carnage in state budgets is getting worse, a report said
Thursday, with places like Arizona being hurt by falling revenue on multiple
fronts, like personal income and sales taxes. Other states are having mixed
experiences, with some tax categories stable, or even rising, even as others
fall off the map.
The report, by the National Conference of State Legislatures, also provided a
scorecard for how well drafters of state budgets read the recession’s economic
tea-leaves — and the short answer is, not very well.
Thirty-one states said estimates about personal income taxes had been overly
optimistic, and 25 said that all three major tax categories — sales taxes,
personal income taxes and corporate taxes — were not keeping up with
Even gloomy-Gus states that saw the recession coming and low-balled their tax
estimates had little room for celebration, the report said. “The handful of
states that have weathered the economic decline reasonably well are starting to
report adverse revenue developments,” it said. “The news is alarming.”
Three states, for example — Alabama, Colorado and North Dakota — said personal
income taxes were coming in higher than expected. But they said they had seen
declines in other tax categories, like corporate taxes (down 33 percent in North
Dakota), severance taxes from oil and gas (down 51.8 percent in Colorado) or
sales tax (down 8.5 percent in Alabama.)
Hardest hit on the income tax collection front was New York, where revenues were
off 48.9 percent compared with the last fiscal year. Corporate income taxes
plummeted most in Oregon, down 44 percent, while sales taxes fell most in
Washington, down 14.1 percent.
There were some winners, at least by comparison. Sales taxes were running ahead
of last year in nine states, led by North Dakota, where they were up 18 percent.
North Dakota was also the strongest among the three states — Alabama and Kansas
are the others — that saw year-over-year increases in personal income tax
Arizona was among 29 states that suffered revenue losses in every major tax
“What this report really underscores is that the states are facing revenue-based
problems,” said Todd Haggerty, a research analyst at the conference, a
nonpartisan group based in Denver. “If there’s been an increased demand for
state services — as there has in many states — it’s putting them into a really
A report issued by the group in April said that spending increases related to
the recession, from more people seeking state services, were compounding the
impact of a decline in tax revenue. Sixteen states were facing
higher-than-anticipated costs for health care, seven were spending more on
public safety and four were seeing cost overruns on programs for the poor like
Worse is yet to come. The total collective budget gap that the states will have
to resolve in the fiscal year that starts, in most states, next month, is $121
billion, compared with 102.4 billion for the year approaching its end, the
report said. Measures on the table to fill those holes, or already in place,
range from the macro (a cut of 25 percent in grants to local governments in
Minnesota) to the micro (elimination of staffing at metal detectors in local
courthouses in Maine).
Two of the gloomiest state capitals next year, the group said, might be found in
Alaska and Nevada, with each state anticipating a gap of more 30 percent between
what it hopes to collect and what will need to spend.
State Revenues Buffeted
by Downturn, NYT, 5.6.2009,
Minnesota Justices Are Skeptical in Senate Case
June 2, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
ST. PAUL — A lawyer for Norm Coleman, the Republican who is fighting a
recount battle with Al Franken, a Democrat, for a Senate seat, faced sharply
skeptical questioning on Monday from justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court in
a crucial hearing on the case.
Mr. Coleman, who served one term before the November election, is challenging
the rulings of a state recount board and a lower court, which declared Mr.
Franken the winner of the race by hundreds of votes.
Associate Justice Christopher J. Dietzen said Mr. Coleman’s argument that
thousands of absentee ballots had been wrongfully excluded had “no concrete
evidence to back it up.” He said, “In my experience, I’ve never seen an offer of
proof like this.”
The lawyer for Mr. Franken was also questioned about whether the differences in
the acceptance of ballots did not show some evidence of the deeper electoral
problems that the Coleman team described.
After an election with 2.9 million votes cast, it is these final five votes on
the court that could settle the seven-month battle.
The court has seven members, but two of the justices served on the canvassing
board that conducted the mandatory recount in the too-close-to-call race and did
not participate in the hearing.
If the justices rule in favor of Mr. Franken, an author and former comedian,
they could order the governor to issue a certificate of election allowing Mr.
Franken to be seated in the Senate. If they agree with Mr. Coleman’s arguments,
the case would bounce back to the lower court for a new vote count using more
relaxed standards of inclusion than some counties in the state used on Election
In his argument, Mr. Coleman’s lawyer, Joe Friedberg, did not contend that there
had been fraud at work in the election, but that thousands of voters had been
blocked from having their votes counted by inconsistently applied rules about
accepting absentee ballots. Whether a person’s vote was counted depended “on
where you sleep,” Mr. Friedberg said. “We have significant disenfranchisement.”
The presiding justice, Alan C. Page, pushed Mr. Friedberg to prove that the
inconsistencies were so egregious that they went beyond what might occur in any
election, and rose to the level of a constitutional violation of equal
protection and due process.
Mr. Friedberg responded that the ballot problem was “horrible,” but Justice
Page, who continued to press the point, did not seem satisfied with that answer.
The issue of consistent rules also played a significant role in the United
States Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, which decided the presidential
election of 2000. In the hearing, Mr. Friedberg argued that the 2000 case showed
that differences between some counties in the handling of ballots could show
The lawyer for Mr. Franken, Marc Elias, argued that Bush v. Gore did not apply
to the issues before the justices. Differences in the acceptance of ballots
statewide did not show deeper electoral problems that the Coleman team
described, Mr. Elias said, but were examples of the reasonable discretion used
by local officials to satisfy state requirements for the review of ballots —
“the grease in the joints, so to speak, that allows the election to take place,”
A decision could come within weeks. The outcome will determine whether Senate
Democrats gain the 60 votes necessary to end filibusters. But Justice Page noted
that the Senate, ultimately, decides whether to seat a candidate, and suggested
that the court’s eventual ruling might merely be “an advisory opinion.” He asked
Mr. Elias, somewhat rhetorically, “Do we have authority to do anything here?”
Mr. Coleman attended the hearing, but not Mr. Franken. Afterward, Mr. Coleman
told reporters that the case had reached “a critical point in the process,” and
that “our goal has been to enfranchise those Minnesotans whose votes have not
been counted.” He declined to say whether he would continue to fight if the
justices ruled against him. “Let’s see what this court does,” he said.
Both Mr. Friedberg and Mr. Elias warned against reading too much into the
justices’ questions. “If I could, I wouldn’t dare,” Mr. Friedberg said.
But an election law expert who listened to the proceedings online said Mr.
Franken had emerged a very likely winner. The expert, Richard L. Hasen, a
professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that while Mr. Coleman’s
side might argue that the election had problems, “the position of the justices
appears to be: ‘You need to do more than that. You need to show us that whatever
problems there were likely affected the outcome of the election.’ And that’s a
tough standard to meet.”
Mr. Hasen also said the Senate would have every right to seat Mr. Franken
provisionally if he won the case, even if Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, did
not sign a certificate of election.
Minnesota Justices Are
Skeptical in Senate Case, NYT, 2.6.2009,
Deep Cuts Threaten to Reshape California
May 31, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LOS ANGELES — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not get the election results he
sought. Now he seems determined to show California voters the consequences.
In a special election on May 19, voters rejected a batch of measures on
increasing taxes, borrowing funds and reapportioning state money that were
designed to close a multibillion-dollar budget gap. The cuts Mr. Schwarzenegger
has proposed to make up the difference, if enacted by the Legislature, would
turn California into a place that in some ways would be unrecognizable in modern
America: poor children would have no health insurance, prisoners would be
released by the thousands and state parks would be closed.
Nearly all of the billions of dollars in cuts the administration has proposed
would affect programs for poor Californians, although prisons and schools would
take hits, as well.
“Government doesn’t provide services to rich people,” Mike Genest, the state’s
finance director, said on a conference call with reporters on Friday. “It
doesn’t even really provide services to the middle class.” He added: “You have
to cut where the money is.”
In less than two weeks, the administration has gone from warning residents that
a vote against the budget measures would send the state — some $24 billion in
the red — into utter turmoil to sanguine acceptance that “the people have
spoken” and that the government must move on.
And so it is that administration officials have been sent off to talk to the
Legislature and hold conference calls about the latest proposed blows to state
programs, while Mr. Schwarzenegger largely tends to other aspects of governing.
He was in Livermore on Friday dedicating the world’s largest laser system (for
sustaining nuclear fusion), and has updated his Twitter feed. “Backstage at the
Tonight Show,” one tweet said.
The measures proposed by the administration to balance the budget, including the
$2.8 billion in cuts outlined on Friday, are unlike any proposed to the state’s
social services in a generation.
Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is threatening to eliminate the Healthy Family
Program, the state’s health insurance program that covers over 900,000 children
and is financed with state and federal money, as well as the state’s main
welfare program, known as Cal-Works, which provides temporary financial
assistance to poor families and a caregiver for the severely disabled.
The $1 billion in cuts to programs for the poor would be met with $680 million
in new cuts to education and a 5 percent salary reduction for state employees,
many of whom are already enduring furloughs.
These proposals, as well as those that would make cuts to state parks, the
prison system and other state agencies, are winding their way through Sacramento
now, where they will be voted on by committees and eventually the full
Some of the proposed cuts are clearly saber rattling on the governor’s part, but
there is a nervous acceptance among lawmakers, advocates for the poor and
outside budget experts that the state is out of money and time.
If lawmakers sign off on closing the health insurance program for children whose
families make too much to qualify for Medicaid, California would be the first
state in the nation to close the popular program. Begun in 1997, the program,
known as S-CHIP, reimburses states at a higher rate than for Medicaid to deliver
health insurance to children and teenagers. With the cuts to Medicaid, the state
would probably increase its number of uninsured people by nearly 2 million, the
California Budget Project says.
“As the nation is debating how to move forward to provide broader health care
coverage,” said Diane Rowland, the executive vice president of the Kaiser Family
Foundation, “for a state to be scaling back coverage for children would be a
major challenge. This program means a lot to working families. It is well run
and well liked by people on both sides of the aisle.”
Further, the governor has gone after some spending not covered by mandates
enacted by voters through ballot measures, a quirk of California budgeting that
has helped create the mess the state is in.
“Certainly the programs that were targeted are not protected by the California
Constitution or required by federal law,” said Jean Ross, the executive director
of the California Budget Project, a left-leaning policy organization that
analyzes the budget.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature has been uncharacteristically silent on
most of the cuts, most likely because lawmakers know that tax increases are not
politically palatable, that huge cuts in some form are in the offing no matter
what, and that any program they wish to spare will quite likely have advocates
among their ranks.
“There is no drawing lines in the sand,” said Alicia Trost, the spokeswoman for
State Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat and president pro tem. “Everyone
knows we’re the majority, and we all know where we stand.”
Deep Cuts Threaten to
Reshape California, NYT, 31.5.2009,
California High Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban
May 27, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
The California Supreme Court upheld a ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday,
ratifying a decision made by voters last year. The ruling comes at a time when
several state governments have moved in the opposite direction.
The court’s decision does, however, preserve the 18,000 same-sex marriages
performed between the justices’ ruling last May that same-sex marriage was
constitutionally protected and voters’ passage in November of Proposition 8,
which banned it.
The court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1
majority, noted that same-sex couples still had a right to civil unions. Such
unions, the opinion said, gives those couples the ability to “choose one’s life
partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized and
protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based
incidents of marriage.”
Justice George wrote that Proposition 8 did not “entirely repeal or abrogate”
the right to such a protected relationship. Instead, he said, it “carves out a
narrow and limited exception to these state constitutional rights, reserving the
official designation of the term ‘marriage’ for the union of opposite-sex
couples as a matter of state constitutional law.”
The 18,000 existing marriages can stand, he wrote, because Proposition 8 did not
include language specifically saying it was retroactive.
Heated reaction to the decision began immediately, with protesters blocking
traffic near the Supreme Court building in San Francisco and advocates for
same-sex marriage making plans for their own ballot initiative.
In Los Angeles, Jennifer C. Pizer, marriage project director for the gay rights
organization Lambda Legal, said the decision “puts it to us to repair the damage
at the ballot box.” One of the state’s largest gay rights groups, Equality
California, sent an e-mail message to supporters pleading for contributions to
raise $500,000 toward “a massive campaign to put an initiative on the ballot and
Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called
the decision “a terrible blow to the thousands of gay and lesbian Californians
who woke up this morning hoping and praying their status as equal citizens of
this state would be restored.”
Those who backed Proposition 8 were elated. Andrew P. Pugno, general counsel for
ProtectMarriage.com, the leading group behind last year’s initiative, said he
and his allies were “very gratified” by the decision.
“This is the culmination of years of hard work to preserve marriage in
California,” Mr. Pugno said in an e-mail message.
Kenneth W. Starr, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law, who had
argued before the justices in favor of Proposition 8, said the ruling
“represents a ringing judicial affirmation of the right of the people of
California to amend the State Constitution at the ballot box.”
The California court ruled last May that same-sex couples enjoyed the same
fundamental “right to marry” as opposite-sex couples. That sweeping 4-to-3
decision provoked a backlash from opponents that led to Proposition 8, which,
after a bitter campaign fight, garnered 52 percent of the vote in November.
Tuesday’s opinion focused on whether the use of a voter initiative to narrow
constitutional rights under Proposition 8 went too far.
Supporters of same-sex marriage, who filed several suits challenging the
proposition after its adoption, argued that the change to the state’s
Constitution was so fundamental that the initiative was not an amendment at all
but instead a “revision,” a term for measures that rework core constitutional
Under California law, revisions cannot be decided through a simple signature
drive and a majority vote, as with Proposition 8. Instead, they can be placed on
the ballot only with a two-thirds vote by the Legislature.
But the justices said the proposition was an amendment, not a revision. It has
been historically rare for the state’s courts to overturn initiatives on the
ground that they are actually revisions, and many legal scholars had deemed the
challenge to Proposition 8 a long shot.
During oral arguments, in March, the justices’ questions clearly anticipated the
reasoning of Tuesday’s majority opinion, with Justice Joyce L. Kennard
suggesting then that even if the initiative took away the “label of marriage,”
it did not undermine the substantive rights involved. Mr. Minter, representing
the plaintiffs, disagreed, arguing that without the word “marriage,” same-sex
couples would find “our outsider status enshrined in our Constitution.”
Chief Justice George’s opinion dealt directly with that point, stating that the
court understood the importance of the word and was not trying to diminish that
importance. But, he wrote, the legal right of people to call themselves married
is only one of the rights granted to same-sex couples in the decision last May,
and so “it is only the designation of marriage — albeit significant — that has
been removed by this initiative measure.”
Karl M. Manheim, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles who had filed a
brief with the court opposing Proposition 8, called the decision a “safe” one
from justices who can be recalled by voters. The change wrought by Proposition 8
was anything but narrow, Professor Manheim said, and claiming that the word
“marriage” is essentially symbolic is like telling black people that sitting in
the back of the bus is not important as long as the front and the back of the
bus arrive at the same time.
In nearly three months since the case was argued, three other states have
legalized same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts and Connecticut, which had
already done so. On April 3, the Iowa Supreme Court, repeatedly citing
California’s decision of last May, struck down a state statute that limited
civil marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
Less than a week later, the Vermont legislature narrowly overrode Gov. Jim
Douglas’s veto of a bill that allowed same-sex couples to marry.
Then, on May 6, Maine’s legislature, too, passed a bill allowing same-sex
marriage, and Gov. John Baldacci promptly signed it.
Initiatives legalizing same-sex marriage are also moving forward in New York and
New Jersey. A similar measure stalled by a slim margin in the New Hampshire
legislature this month but could come up for a new vote in June. In addition,
opinion polls of Americans’ attitude toward same-sex marriage indicate that they
favor allowing it.
The sole dissenting vote in Tuesday’s decision came from Justice Carlos R.
Moreno, previously mentioned as a possible choice by President Obama for the
United States Supreme Court.
Justice Moreno wrote that Proposition 8 means “requiring discrimination,” which
he said “strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our
California Constitution” and, he added, “places at risk the state constitutional
rights of all disfavored minorities.”
Jesse McKinley and Malia Wollan contributed reporting from San Francisco, and
Rebecca Cathcart from Los Angeles.
California High Court
Upholds Gay Marriage Ban, NYT, 27.5.2009,
State of Paralysis
May 25, 2009
The New York Times
By PAUL KRUGMAN
California, it has long been claimed, is where the future happens first. But
is that still true? If it is, God help America.
The recession has hit the Golden State hard. The housing bubble was bigger there
than almost anywhere else, and the bust has been bigger too. California’s
unemployment rate, at 11 percent, is the fifth-highest in the nation. And the
state’s revenues have suffered accordingly.
What’s really alarming about California, however, is the political system’s
inability to rise to the occasion.
Despite the economic slump, despite irresponsible policies that have doubled the
state’s debt burden since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, California has
immense human and financial resources. It should not be in fiscal crisis; it
should not be on the verge of cutting essential public services and denying
health coverage to almost a million children. But it is — and you have to wonder
if California’s political paralysis foreshadows the future of the nation as a
The seeds of California’s current crisis were planted more than 30 years ago,
when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that placed
the state’s budget in a straitjacket. Property tax rates were capped, and
homeowners were shielded from increases in their tax assessments even as the
value of their homes rose.
The result was a tax system that is both inequitable and unstable. It’s
inequitable because older homeowners often pay far less property tax than their
younger neighbors. It’s unstable because limits on property taxation have forced
California to rely more heavily than other states on income taxes, which fall
steeply during recessions.
Even more important, however, Proposition 13 made it extremely hard to raise
taxes, even in emergencies: no state tax rate may be increased without a
two-thirds majority in both houses of the State Legislature. And this provision
has interacted disastrously with state political trends.
For California, where the Republicans began their transformation from the party
of Eisenhower to the party of Reagan, is also the place where they began their
next transformation, into the party of Rush Limbaugh. As the political tide has
turned against California Republicans, the party’s remaining members have become
ever more extreme, ever less interested in the actual business of governing.
And while the party’s growing extremism condemns it to seemingly permanent
minority status — Mr. Schwarzenegger was and is sui generis — the Republican
rump retains enough seats in the Legislature to block any responsible action in
the face of the fiscal crisis.
Will the same thing happen to the nation as a whole?
Last week Bill Gross of Pimco, the giant bond fund, warned that the U.S.
government may lose its AAA debt rating in a few years, thanks to the trillions
it’s spending to rescue the economy and the banks. Is that a real possibility?
Well, in a rational world Mr. Gross’s warning would make no sense. America’s
projected deficits may sound large, yet it would take only a modest tax increase
to cover the expected rise in interest payments — and right now American taxes
are well below those in most other wealthy countries. The fiscal consequences of
the current crisis, in other words, should be manageable.
But that presumes that we’ll be able, as a political matter, to act responsibly.
The example of California shows that this is by no means guaranteed. And the
political problems that have plagued California for years are now increasingly
apparent at a national level.
To be blunt: recent events suggest that the Republican Party has been driven mad
by lack of power. The few remaining moderates have been defeated, have fled, or
are being driven out. What’s left is a party whose national committee has just
passed a resolution solemnly declaring that Democrats are “dedicated to
restructuring American society along socialist ideals,” and released a video
comparing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Pussy Galore.
And that party still has 40 senators.
So will America follow California into ungovernability? Well, California has
some special weaknesses that aren’t shared by the federal government. In
particular, tax increases at the federal level don’t require a two-thirds
majority, and can in some cases bypass the filibuster. So acting responsibly
should be easier in Washington than in Sacramento.
But the California precedent still has me rattled. Who would have thought that
America’s largest state, a state whose economy is larger than that of all but a
few nations, could so easily become a banana republic?
On the other hand, the problems that plague California politics apply at the
national level too.
State of Paralysis, NYT,
First Death for Washington Assisted-Suicide Law
May 23, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
SEATTLE — A woman with pancreatic cancer has become the first person to die
under a law passed last year allowing doctor-assisted suicide in Washington,
according to an advocacy group that pushed for the law.
The woman, Linda Fleming, 66, of Sequim, Wash., died Thursday evening after
taking lethal medication prescribed by a doctor under the law, according to a
news release by the group, Compassion and Choices of Washington. The release
said Ms. Fleming received a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer a month ago,
and “she was told she was actively dying.”
Ms. Fleming was quoted in the release as saying: “I am a very spiritual person,
and it was very important to me to be conscious, clear-minded and alert at the
time of my death. The powerful pain medications were making it difficult to
maintain the state of mind I wanted to have at my death.”
In November, voters approved the Death with Dignity Act, 58 percent to 42
percent, making Washington the second state — after Oregon — to allow assisted
suicide. The laws in both states have been deeply controversial, particularly
among religious groups. Washington passed its law after the United States
Supreme Court in 2006 rejected an effort by the Justice Department to block
Oregon’s law, which took effect in 1998.
In Montana, a state judge ruled in December that doctor-assisted suicide was
legal under the state’s Constitution, but the state is appealing that decision.
Steve Hopcraft, a spokesman for Compassion and Choices, said the group was “not
leading a campaign in any other state right now.”
The Washington and Oregon laws allow terminally ill patients who are at least 18
and have been found mentally competent to self-administer lethal drugs under the
prescription of a doctor.
In Oregon, 401 people used the law through 2008. Since the law took effect in
Washington in March, six prescriptions for lethal medication have been
dispensed, but a spokesman for the State Department of Health, Donn Moyer, said
it had not received any forms saying a patient had used the medication. Under
the law, doctors who write such a prescription have 30 days to report that it
had been used.
Mr. Moyer, saying privacy laws prevented the state from providing information
about a specific death, said he could not confirm Ms. Fleming’s death.
In Oregon, not everyone who received a prescription has taken the drugs.
Some critics fear that physician-assisted suicide will pressure people with
terminal illnesses who have low incomes or are disabled to end their lives to
avoid becoming a financial burden to loved ones. Supporters cite studies that
they say have refuted that idea.
Ms. Fleming, who was divorced, filed for bankruptcy in 2007 with $5,800 in
credit card debt, according to court records and a lawyer who had represented
her, Hugh Haffner.
Mr. Haffner said that when she filed for bankruptcy, Ms. Fleming, a former
social worker, had been unable to work because of a disability and lived in
subsidized housing on $643 in monthly disability checks.
Virginia Peterhansen, who said she had befriended Ms. Fleming about six months
ago through a book group, said Ms. Fleming bought a 1982 Oldsmobile station
wagon days before she was told she had cancer and that she had hoped to learn to
Robb Miller, the executive director of Compassion and Choices of Washington,
said that he had spoken to Ms. Fleming and that, although he was unaware of her
bankruptcy filing, her situation presented “none of the red flags” that might
have given his group pause in supporting her. He said Ms. Fleming’s two children
and her former husband “were involved and supported her choice.”
The family could not be reached for comment.
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
First Death for
Washington Assisted-Suicide Law, NYT, 23.5.2009,
States Barter Fish and Bullets to Save Money
May 23, 2009
The New York Times
By MONICA DAVEY
Minnesota was looking for a bargain on the tiniest walleye fish, known as
frylings, that the state stocks in some of its lakes. Wisconsin needed more of
the longer fingerlings for its fishing lakes. So the neighbors have decided to
share fish — Wisconsin’s frylings for Minnesota’s fingerlings — along with
hundreds of other items: bullets for the police, menus for prisoners, trucks for
bridge inspections and sign language interpreters.
With governors from opposing political parties and residents who often share
only sports rivalries, Minnesota and Wisconsin are being drawn into the unusual
alliance by financial circumstance. The sharing, officials in the two states
say, could save them $20 million over the next two years.
Lawmakers in at least nine other states, and countless cities and counties
across the country, are also engaged in a kind of barter system, often allowing
them to cut the size of government, split their costs and share services. Some
of the makeovers might have made sense at any time, but the urgent political
will to change — cut jobs, close offices and give up power — was absent before
“What you have is an economy that is forcing people to share,” said Joseph N.
DiVincenzo Jr., the county executive in Essex County, N.J., which (for $4
million a year) began accepting juvenile detainees this spring from neighboring
Passaic County, which closed its own facility (to save $10 million a year).
In St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay announced last month that he wanted the city to
become part of St. Louis County, an idea he had raised before but with a new
urgency now. In the two-century-old borough of West Alexander, Pa., residents
shocked some elected officials when they voted to dissolve and become part of
neighboring Donegal Township to save money.
“Hard to believe they voted for it,” said Frank Blakemore, who was, until its
dissolution this year, the mayor of West Alexander, “but it took a lot of
headaches away from us.”
In Michigan, where as many as 10 prisons may be closed to save money, officials
are in talks with other states to keep some of the facilities open by filling
them with out-of-state inmates. Among the possibilities, Michigan workers would
continue to run the prisons, but they would essentially be extensions of the
other states’ corrections systems.
John D. Cherry, Jr., the lieutenant governor of Michigan, said his state had
little choice but to rethink the most basic questions about the role of state
government and whether its size and shape still matched Michigan’s economic
base. Should the state, for instance, be regulating the environment if the
federal government is already doing that?
“We don’t have any easy gimmicks left,” Mr. Cherry said. “It really is a matter
of making fundamental decisions about what remains and what goes.”
The deal between Minnesota and Wisconsin grew out of a budget planning session
in which Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a Republican, and his staff were
searching for ways that counties and school districts might share services. “It
just clicked,” Mr. Pawlenty said, “that the state, too, should figure out who we
could partner with.”
By last month, it had blossomed into a blow-by-blow, 130-page report on the
services they intend to share, like inspecting amusement rides and making
license plates (Minnesota inmates may soon be pressing Wisconsin’s
endangered-species plates). On nearly every front, the two states are
considering buying in bulk, sharing computer systems and swapping intelligence
about contracts that could be found more cheaply.
“We had been talking about it over the years, and we have had some minor
collaborations,” said Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin, a Democrat. “But with
the Wall Street collapse and the effects of that rolled out across the country,
it was time for us to really, out of necessity, intensify those talks.”
Still, some of the efforts to reshape government have faltered or faded away. In
some cases, the arrival of federal stimulus money (“spackle,” in the words of
one budget expert, to patch the most immediate cracks in the state budget)
seemed to have quieted the calls for wholesale government restructuring.
Elsewhere, efforts to make drastic changes were overwhelmed by more immediate
In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, called for getting rid of the
state’s more-than-century-old township system of government, but those
politically sensitive plans were quickly left behind, aides to Mr. Daniels said,
while state lawmakers struggled to resolve next year’s budget and shore up the
state’s unemployment trust fund, which ran out of money.
“It may be that the fiscal crisis will finally move some of these ideas over the
finish line,” said Lori Grange, a senior officer at the Pew Center on the
States, a nonpartisan research group, “but it’s also a testament to how tough
some of these proposals are that even in this climate they aren’t automatic
The real question, budget experts say, is how much all this condensing,
overhauling and sharing will actually save, an issue that has been little
“The financial crisis has given us an opportunity to think about all of this,”
said Mildred E. Warner, a professor in Cornell University’s department of city
and regional planning, “but if you think about it in terms that you’re just
going to save money, one can’t promise that it will.”
In St. Paul, Jason B. Moeckel, a state fisheries official, is helping to draw up
a plan in which Minnesota will share 40,000 walleye fingerlings with Wisconsin
each year in exchange for 400,000 frylings. The fish swap could save Wisconsin
$10,000 a year, and Minnesota $20,000, Mr. Moeckel estimates, as well as at
least $1 million more that Minnesota might otherwise spend building a facility
to grow the smaller fish.
But there are uncertainties. “You’re dealing with a living creature,” Mr.
Moeckel said. “You’re talking about moving fish across state lines.”
He and his colleagues are conducting genetic testing of the fish; introducing a
new strain of walleye into a particular region, he said, could compromise their
ability to reproduce. There are worries, too, about carrying invasive species or
disease between the two states. And the cost of transporting the fish, in
cold-water tanks on trucks, must still be assessed.
“We don’t want to be saving a few dollars in terms of the growing of the fish,”
Mr. Moeckel said, “and then burning a lot more fossil fuels in the
transportation of the fish.”
States Barter Fish and
Bullets to Save Money, NYT, 23.5.2009,
California, Out of Money, Reels as Voters Rebuff Leaders
May 21, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
LOS ANGELES — Direct democracy has once again upended California — enough so
that the state may finally consider another way by overhauling its Constitution
for the first time in 130 years.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned home from a White House visit on Wednesday
to find the state dangerously broke, his constituents defiant after a special
election on Tuesday and calls for a constitutional convention — six months ago
little more than a wonkish whisper — a cacophony.
As the notion of California as ungovernable grows stronger than ever, Mr.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has expressed support for a convention to address
such things as the state’s arcane budget requirements and its process for
proliferate ballot initiatives, both of which necessitated Tuesday’s statewide
vote on budget matters approved months ago by state lawmakers.
“There could not be more of a tipping point,” said Jim Wunderman, chief
executive of the Bay Area Council, a business group that moved forward on
Wednesday with plans to push for a constitutional convention. “We think the
interest is going to grow by orders of magnitude now.”
More immediately, Mr. Schwarzenegger met with legislative leaders to begin the
painful process of slashing state spending after voters rejected five ballot
measures intended to balance the budget through a mix of tax increases,
borrowing and the reallocation of state money.
The only ballot measure to succeed was one that prevented lawmakers and
constitutional officers from getting raises in times of fiscal distress, a sort
of chin-out electoral scowl by voters, who will now probably see their health
care systems, schools and other services erode. On Friday, the state controller,
John Chiang, and the treasurer, Bill Lockyer, are expected to appear before
lawmakers and warn them that the state is nearly unable to pay its bills.
With the special-election results in, the California Citizens Compensation
Commission moved Wednesday to impose an 18 percent pay cut for all elected
officials, while the Bay Area Council began its campaign to rewrite the
Constitution to address some of its more crippling rules and give more financial
control to localities.
The constitutional effort was immediately embraced by the San Francisco mayor,
Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who is a 2010 candidate for governor, and some
political experts suggested that the movement might be perfectly timed.
“The majority of Californians say the state is headed in the wrong direction,”
said Mark Baldassare, the president of the Public Policy Institute of
California, a nonpartisan polling organization. In a March poll of 2,004
residents, two-thirds said the Constitution should be altered, Mr. Baldassare
“I think that we could be at a crossroads here, “ Mr. Baldassare said. “People
in California don’t feel they have the government we need in the 21st century.”
The last time California held a constitutional convention was in 1878-79 when
the state’s founding constitution was rewritten, though a state commission made
revisions to the document in the 1960s and 1970s. Such a convention would have
to be done, of course, through a ballot initiative.
In the meantime, the unpleasant exercise of renegotiating the state budget — the
third time this fiscal year — must be done by June 30 in order to realize the
full value of any cuts.
Facing a $21.3 billion budget deficit, Mr. Schwarzenegger is requesting a $6
billion loan from the federal government, and has proposed a variety of
politically unpalatable cuts, including commuting prisoners’ sentences, taking
away health insurance from some poor children, reducing aid to community
colleges and eliminating a large chunk of financing for shelters that serve
children and women who have been abused.
The Legislature, controlled by Democrats, will hold public hearings on the
governor’s proposals next week and come up with its own suggestions, which would
probably affect fewer vulnerable residents and avoid jeopardizing the loss of
federal education and health care money that requires a state match.
While California has suffered the same fate as much of the nation — high
unemployment, large numbers of foreclosures, general economic sluggishness — its
budget woes are greatly exacerbated by its odd and in many ways outmoded way of
The ballot initiative process — in which legislators or independent groups ask
voters to mandate how the state’s money is spent or not spent — has become at
times an exercise in fiscal self defeat, with voters moving to earmark money for
one special program one year, only to contemplate undoing their own will a few
The state’s legislative districts are highly gerrymandered, leaving the
Legislature influenced by the political fringe of both parties and unable to
agree on practical budget matters or much else. State senators represent roughly
a million people each, larger than most Congressional districts, leaving them
out of touch with local needs. Further, the state is one of only three requiring
a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature on taxes and budgets, which leads
to partisan fighting and long delays.
All of this came into play in the special election on Tuesday.
“There was a both-sides-against-the-middle aspect,” said Bruce Cain, a political
scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, “reflecting the wide
differences between Democrats and Republicans on the budget; a general disgust
with the Legislature and the governor; ballot fatigue; and weariness with voting
for yet another budgetary patch.”
California passed a budget in February contingent on the ballot measures’
winning approval. Even before Tuesday’s vote, the state was $5.8 billion newly
in the hole because revenues had continued to plummet over the spring.
Institutions that rely on state money have already begun to adjust in ways large
The Los Angeles Superior Court will now close once a month. Dental care at
Feather River Hospital in Paradise, near Sacramento, will cease on July 1. The
Santa Clarita fireworks show this Fourth of July will be 10 minutes shorter.
“The state funds 94 domestic violence emergency shelter programs,” said Nicole
Shellcroft, a former director of a targeted shelter in the Antelope Valley.
“With this cut, the majority of them disappear.”
When he took office six years ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger promised to bring badly
needed systemic change to state government. Though he has not delivered on that
promise, he has laid more groundwork for it than his predecessors. He persuaded
voters to let an independent panel redraw the legislative districts, which may
well erode the partisan chokehold many candidates have had on parts of the
Also, if his ballot proposal to conduct open primaries in the state prevails at
the polls next year, political change in Sacramento could be profound.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 22, 2009
An article on Thursday about the possibility that California will hold a
convention to overhaul its constitution misstated, in some editions, the date of
a ballot proposition that would create open primaries in the state. It will
appear on the ballot in June 2010, not next month.
California, Out of
Money, Reels as Voters Rebuff Leaders, NYT, 21.5.2009,
To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies
March 25, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
CARSON CITY, Nev. — For nearly three decades, most states have dealt with
lawbreakers in two ways: lock more of them up for longer periods, and build more
prisons to hold them. Now many governments, out of money and buried under
mounting prison costs, are reversing those policies and practices.
Some states, like Colorado and Kansas, are closing prisons. Others, like New
Jersey, have replaced jail time with community programs or other sanctions for
people who violate parole. Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill this month that
enhances the credits some inmates can earn toward release.
Michigan is doing a little of all of this, in addition to freeing some offenders
who have yet to serve their maximum sentence. And last Wednesday, Gov. Bill
Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat, signed legislation to repeal the state’s
death penalty, which aside from ethical concerns was seen as costly.
Being tough on crime and sentencing has long been the clear path toward job
retention for state lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike. But the
economic crisis is forcing them to take a more pragmatic approach as prisoners
are increasingly seen less as indistinct wrongdoers and more as expenses that
must be reined in.
“When state budgets are flush,” said Barry Krisberg, president of the National
Council on Crime and Delinquency, “prisons are something that governors and
legislators all support, and they don’t want to touch sentencing reform. But
when dollars are as tight as they are now, you have to make really tough
choices. And so now things are in play.”
Recessions tend to prompt changes to corrections policies. After the recession
at the start of this decade, numerous states enacted laws eliminating some long
mandatory minimum sentences; several began to offer early release and treatment
options to some drug offenders. Those changes, though, were far less reaching
than what is happening now and did little to curb exploding corrections budgets.
In the past 20 years, correction department budgets have quadrupled and are
outpacing every major spending area outside health care, according to a recent
report by the Pew Center on the States. With 7.3 million Americans in prison, on
parole or under probation, states spent $47 billion in 2008, the study said.
Faced with such costs, even states known for being particularly tough on crime
are revisiting their policies and laws.
“In Kentucky, our prison budget is approaching half a billion dollars,” said J.
Michael Brown, secretary of the State Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. “And as
dollars get scarce, it forces a tremendous amount of scrutiny.”
The annual cost to keep someone in prison varies by state, and the type of
institution, but the typical cost cited by states is about $35,000, said Peggy
Burke of the Center for Effective Public Policy, a nonprofit group that works
with local governments on criminal justice matters.
The most pervasive cost-saving trend among corrections departments has been to
look closely at parole systems, in which it is no longer cost-effective to
monitor released inmates, largely because too many violate their terms, often on
technicalities, and end up back in prison. In California, among the few states
to mandate parole for all convicts, parole violators — not new offenders —
account for the largest percentage of inmates entering the system.
New Jersey recently began a program for some offenders on parole with technical
violations, like failing to report to a parole officer or changing their address
without the officer’s approval. Rather than being returned to jail, those former
inmates are sent to a center for a clinical assessment of their risks and needs.
With that change, the state is on track to save $16.2 million this fiscal year.
Other states are shortening paroles, or even sentences, to save money.
In Kentucky, Gov. Steven L. Beshear, a Democrat, is about to sign a bill that
makes permanent a pilot program that offers qualifying inmates credit for time
served on parole against sentence dates, in part to avoid a pattern of inmates’
choosing to stay in prison rather than risking later parole violations. The
trial program saved the state $12 million last year. The state has also adopted
a program that gives treatment rather than jail time to select drug offenders.
In California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has called for
$400 million to be cut from the state’s corrections budget, officials are
seeking to remove low-level drug offenders from the parole supervision system
and to provide them treatment options instead.
Like other states making such changes, California is led by a governor who long
opposed such shifts in prison policies. But Mr. Schwarzenegger, as well as other
leaders and lawmakers who are far more conservative, has come around to a view
held by advocates of sentencing and prison reform that longer sentences do
little to reduce recidivism among certain nonviolent criminals.
“In California we are out of room and we’re out of money,” said the state’s
corrections secretary, Matthew Cate. “It may be time to take some of these steps
that we should have taken long ago.”
Several states are also looking at sentencing itself. In New York, for example,
Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, has proposed an overhaul of the so-called
Rockefeller drug laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent
Some states are simply consolidating operations and closing prisons, which is
controversial among lawmakers and often riles a community. Colorado, Kansas,
Michigan and New Jersey have all shut down or announced the closing of at least
one prison. Others are proposing to do so.
Here in Carson City, home to one of the oldest state prisons in the country, the
state estimates it would save $18 million a year by closing the prison. But the
idea has rattled employees, some of whom have followed their parents’ career
paths, and the community, which considers the prison a provider of jobs and an
important piece of Nevada history.
“We are the oldest prison west of the Mississippi,” the warden, Greg Smith, said
during a tour last week. “And the staff here takes a lot of pride in that.”
The 220-year-old prison is older than the state of Nevada, and the buildings,
according to officials, sit on land filled with saber-toothed tiger prints. It
first housed men who gave “firewater” to Indians and is where the state’s
license plates are made. But the prison’s aging facilities have raised questions
about its efficiency compared with modern counterparts.
The lament is similar in Michigan, where three prisons are set to be closed and
more are being studied.
“As the economy has worsened, prisons are the modern-day factory in our rural
areas,” said Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Michigan Corrections Department.
“We built these prisons in the 1980s, and people were adamantly opposed to
having them in their communities. Now we go and try to take them out, and they
don’t want them gone.”
Meanwhile, some states that revised parole and sentencing in boom times are
fighting a different battle: to hold on to the financing that made those changes
In Kansas, for instance, where drug treatment has replaced incarceration for
some offenders and mentally ill offenders have received housing assistance, the
prison population fell in recent years, largely because recidivism also
declined, said Roger Werholtz, secretary of the Kansas Corrections Department.
Now many of those programs have fallen victim to budget cuts.
To Cut Costs, States
Relax Prison Policies, NYT, 25.3.2009,
States Look at Tobacco to Balance the Budget
March 21, 2009
The New York Times
By SHAILA DEWAN
ATLANTA — Mississippi’s tax on cigarettes, at 18 cents a pack the nation’s
third-lowest, has not been raised since 1985. Gov. Haley Barbour, a former
tobacco lobbyist, has long opposed an increase.
But this year, state lawmakers have gone from giving little thought to a tobacco
tax increase to arguing over how much the tax should go up and where the money
And they are not alone. Budget shortfalls are pushing more than 20 states to
look to tobacco for revenue, even those that have long been loath to touch
In the South, where such taxes have been lower than in the rest of the country,
Arkansas has nearly doubled its tax, to $1.15 a pack, and Kentucky’s will
double, to 60 cents, on April 1.
Increases are also under consideration in other tobacco-growing states like
North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. With estimated state budget
shortfalls nearing $50 billion, opponents of smoking see an opportunity to make
headway with the most reluctant lawmakers.
“Everything lined up for us this year,” said Jennifer Cofer, the executive
director of the American Lung Association in Mississippi. “Our state needed
money; we’ve made a great case for it for almost seven years in a row; we have
health care expenditures in astronomical proportions. It’s kind of like, why not
But Ms. Cofer and other lobbyists have abandoned hope of seeing part of the
money go to helping smokers quit or to pay for their health care. The
Mississippi House and Senate have passed bills that differ on the amount of the
tax and whether it should all go to the state’s general fund, or also be used to
pay promised subsidies to local governments and to help people quit smoking, two
proposals that Mr. Barbour opposes. The differences were being hammered out this
“Our position is to just increase the tax,” Ms. Cofer said. “We’re not proposing
or pushing any earmarks.”
A 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by 3
percent to 5 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, and deters young people from picking up the smoking habit.
Tobacco industry representatives have argued that tobacco taxes unfairly burden
smokers, who are mostly working class or poor, and jeopardizes jobs at retailers
like convenience stores, where more than 30 percent of total sales can come from
“Many of these states are asking the very definition of Main Street to bail out
state capitals,” said Frank Lester, a spokesman for Reynolds American, which
makes Camel and other major brands. “It’s just another bailout.”
States whose cigarette taxes are already high are also considering increases. In
Oregon, now at $1.18 a pack, Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski has proposed a 60-cent
increase. In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine is asking the Legislature for a
12.5-cent increase over the current $2.58. New York has the highest state tax on
cigarettes, $2.75 a pack.
In Mississippi, cigarette tax increases in surrounding states have helped dampen
fears that people would cross state lines to buy cigarettes. After a tax study
commission appointed by Governor Barbour recommended an increase, he reversed
his opposition but warned that the tax should be viewed as a matter of health
policy, not a generator of revenue.
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for the Altria Group, the parent company of Philip
Morris, argued that states often overestimated revenues from cigarette tax
increases. From 2003 to 2007, there were 57 state tax increases, Mr. Phelps
said, and in 41 cases they fell short of projections.
“We don’t think it makes a lot of sense to fund what are often important
government programs with a revenue source that is in decline,” he said. “Just in
the last 10 years, sales have declined an average 3 percent a year.”
But Frank J. Chaloupka, an economist and director of the Health Policy Center at
the University of Illinois, Chicago, said cigarette taxes had not reached the
threshold of diminishing returns. “We haven’t yet seen a case where if you raise
taxes you don’t raise revenues,” Mr. Chaloupka said.
New Jersey did see a decline in revenue after its last tax increase, he said,
but other factors, like a comprehensive smoke-free-air law that went into effect
before the increase, drove down consumption.
Tobacco lobbyists have also argued that a 62-cent increase in the federal
cigarette tax that will go into effect in April overburdens smokers and will
drive down state collections. But the federal increase does not seem to have
derailed state efforts, in part because smokers cannot avoid it by crossing
“It’s going to be an additional decline in revenues, but not all that dramatic,”
said Richard Weiss, the director of the Arkansas Department of Finance and
Federal stimulus money has taken the wind out of the tax-increase proposals’
sails in some states. In Georgia, for example, a proposal to go to $1.37 from 37
cents a pack has remained in a legislative committee.
Peter Fisher, the vice president for state issues at the Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids, said he hoped Georgia would consider the increase.
“For a lot of these states,” Mr. Fisher said, “it will come down to the last day
of the session, when they realize they have to get the budgets down and they
need X dollars.”
States Look at Tobacco
to Balance the Budget, NYT, 21.3.2009,
For Cuomo, Financial Crisis Is His Political Moment
March 21, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL POWELL, DANNY HAKIM and LOUISE STORY
This article is by Michael Powell, Danny Hakim and Louise Story.
Andrew M. Cuomo, whose love of analogies is great, often likens his
investigations to a fine opera.
The opening act, he instructs his lieutenants at the New York State attorney
general’s office, is taken up with his investigation and rivets the audience’s
attention. The middle acts are sung by tenors from executive suites, who agree
to change their misbegotten ways.
The final act, in his rendition, is played by Congress or the State Legislature,
which enacts new laws and systemic reform.
Mr. Cuomo, a double-espresso of a politician and an oh-so-careful guardian of
his own media image, now has found his moment like few politicians in the United
States. For months he has given voice to disgust with the abuses and self-regard
within the nation’s financial industry. He has forced the three largest rating
agencies to the bargaining table, persuaded mortgage lenders to agree to rework
their appraisals and sought to force down the cost of student loans by shaming
universities and lenders.
Mr. Cuomo’s use of his office, its powers and its bully pulpit, is muscular. He
has sent his subpoenas to those in plush offices, and dragged out the names of
bonus recipients from American International Group and Merrill Lynch, to loud
applause from many voters.
But with names in hand, the attorney general is experiencing a very Cuomo-esque
moment of agonizing about the propriety of exposure. As he watched Edward M.
Liddy, chief executive of the American International Group, describe death
threats that his employees had received, including a note suggesting hangings
with piano wire, Mr. Cuomo began this week to wonder whether the public baying
had grown too loud, an aide who was with him said.
“There’s a risk it gets so loud it becomes counterproductive,” he said, the aide
recalled. “It’s important to take a deep breath.”
For now, Mr. Cuomo will not publicize the names. Instead, he will give A.I.G. a
few days to persuade the top earners to give back their bonuses. Then Mr.
Cuomo’s staff will contact the holdouts. And then? Perhaps Mr. Cuomo releases a
few names. (He still intends to release the names of Merrill Lynch bonus
recipients, aides said.)
All of that would fit Mr. Cuomo’s profile as attorney general and his practice
of relying more on his acute political antenna than on lawyerly concern with
setting legal precedent. His enthusiasm for the subpoena worries some in the
legal community, not least a few prosecutors.
“Evincing outrage is not a legal strategy, so it remains to be seen what he’s
going to do with his information,” said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia law
professor and former prosecutor.
Eliot Spitzer, his congenitally combative and competitive predecessor, not too
subtly mocked Mr. Cuomo’s subpoena penchant this week.
“Everybody is jumping up and down, serving subpoenas and beating their chest
trying to be tougher than the next person,” Mr. Spitzer said on WNYC radio.
At 51, Mr. Cuomo has spent more than three decades around politics — he managed
the gubernatorial campaigns of his temperamental father, Mario, while still in
his 20s — and his ambition tends to vibrate about him. As Gov. David A.
Paterson’s administration lists perilously close to the waterline, many
politicians expect Mr. Cuomo to try for that office in 2010.
Mr. Cuomo and his staff dart away from such talk; Mr. Cuomo is aware that many
accuse him of wearing the cloth of ambition too publicly in the past. The
attorney general has been known to work more than one reporter on a given day,
but, after much staff negotiation, he declined an interview for this article.
His allies are less shy.
“How do I answer this? Andrew Cuomo will be the governor of the state of New
York,” said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Democrat from Buffalo. “I’m not prepared to
say 2010 or 2014.”
Mr. Cuomo walked through the political wilderness after serving as secretary of
housing and urban development under President Bill Clinton. He wound up
suspending his run for governor in 2002 just before the Democratic primary. Then
he endured a nasty dynastic divorce with Kerry Kennedy.
He ran for state attorney general in 2006, embracing the mantle of Eliot
Spitzer. But once elected, he quickly fashioned a different image.
Mr. Spitzer had focused, to devastating effect, on the cozy dealings and poor
regulation of Wall Street, but Mr. Cuomo retailed himself as tribune of the
His cases ran from a headline-grabbing student loan case to forcing operators of
coal-fired plants to disclose financial risks related to global warming. He
attacked heating contractors in Buffalo, and collaborated with the Securities
and Exchange Commission on a two-year investigation of the state comptroller’s
office run by Alan G. Hevesi that resulted in a 123-count indictment of two
former Hevesi advisers this week.
It was not until 2008 that he turned his gaze on Wall Street. In June, he
reached an agreement with the nation’s largest rating agencies, Fitch, Moody’s
and Standard & Poor’s.
Previously, the agencies had produced “preview” ratings before investment banks
decided whether to pay for the service. Mr. Cuomo forced the agencies to toss
out that arrangement and to demand payments before giving ratings.
Then he sued UBS, the Swiss banking giant, whose managers had hawked auction
rate securities — investments that banks portrayed as being as safe as cash —
even as they sent e-mail messages to each other about their risks. He accused
UBS of securities fraud.
Many financiers assumed that Mr. Cuomo’s interest was fleeting. It was not. He
began talks with Wall Street, and soon enough a banking armada — Citigroup,
JPMorgan, Wachovia, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs among others
— collectively agreed to pay more than $60 billion to reimburse investors.
Mr. Cuomo kept marching deeper into Wall Street. His decision, in part, owed to
common sense, as collapse had exposed decayed underpinnings.
But he also found a vacuum. Much of New York’s political class stood nearly
So when the federal government bailed out A.I.G. in September, Mr. Cuomo
negotiated with Mr. Liddy, the company’s new chief, to cut $160 million in
expense and freeze $600 million in deferred bonuses for the unit responsible for
the credit default swaps.
Mr. Cuomo’s office took after Merrill Lynch. In early December, when it became
public that Merrill’s former chief, John A. Thain, sought a bonus of $10
million, Mr. Cuomo decried it as “nothing less than shocking.”
Then, his staff discovered that more than 700 employees at Merrill had “made a
buck” last year, a minimum bonus of $1 million.
“He’s dug in and come up with important information that wasn’t known, and he’s
exposed failures,” said Michael Garland, a director at CTW Investment Group,
which works with union pension funds.
But Mr. Cuomo missed a beat or two. He did not realize that at A.I.G., the
financial unit had another $165 million set aside for another species of bonus,
known as retention bonuses.
Some, too, complain that he is too quick to settle. In the case of the rating
agencies, the Connecticut attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, pushed on, suing
At this point, Mr. Cuomo stands astride an unusual crossroad. A man of the
political world, he has preferred negotiation to legal challenges.
Peter B. Pope, who was the chief of the criminal division in the attorney
general’s office under Mr. Spitzer, noted, “By throwing sunlight on things, he
has the ability to attract all kinds of other regulators, and that is in the end
probably something that he is anticipating.”
Long known as his father’s dark prince, as a man with sharp political incisors
and many enemies, Mr. Cuomo has crafted a less carnivorous image.
No fund-raiser is too parochial, from Buffalo to the Bronx. He purrs into phones
with legislative leaders and chest bumps with assemblymen.
And his staff members are everywhere. When Assemblyman Hoyt traveled to a block
association meeting in Buffalo, he found one of Mr. Cuomo’s lawyers there,
instructing homeowners about consumer fraud.
Raise the question of his gubernatorial prospects, and Mr. Cuomo changes the
subject. Nor does he take the opportunity to rule out a primary challenge to Mr.
Paterson. He has more cash on hand than the governor, and he has hired the
governor’s former fund-raiser, Cindy Darrison.
It would not be easy for him to challenge a black governor, particularly after
Mr. Cuomo angered many black voters by challenging the former comptroller, Carl
McCall, in 2002.
“I have no doubt he wants to be governor, but my advice now?” Mr. Hoyt said.
“The best politics is to keep on doing what he’s doing.”
For Cuomo, Financial
Crisis Is His Political Moment, NYT, 21.3.2009,
Seed Sampling Bill Gets a Hearing in Montana
March 19, 2009
Filed at 3:24 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- Farmers lined up on both sides of a Montana bill
dealing with how biotech companies sample crops to determine potential illegal
use of patented seeds.
The Montana House bill, introduced by Democratic Rep. Betsy Hands of Missoula,
is being considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee. The measure has already
passed the House on a 57-43 vote.
''This bill is about the family farmer versus the big multinational company,''
Hands told the committee Tuesday.
The bill aims to set rules governing how companies, such as the biotech giant
Monsanto Co., sample farmers' crops to determine if they are planting patented
seeds they did not purchase.
Supporters of the bill say it's needed to protect Montana farmers from legal
harassment that has cost innocent small farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars
in other states. They say farmers' property rights should not be pre-empted by
biotech companies' patent rights.
''These are common rights that everyone should have, including a thief,'' said
Greg Matteson, a farmer from Shelby.
The bill would require that Monsanto and other companies get permission from a
farmer before sampling crops on their land. If the farmer denies permission, the
company could ask a district court for an order to sample the crops.
Monsanto's name came up many times in Tuesday's hearing, but the company did not
However, Monsanto did give a private presentation to members of the committee on
March 11 at the Montana Club, according to Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, who
chose not to attend.
Opponents of the measure told lawmakers it would discourage biotechnology
companies from operating in Montana and shelter farmers who illegally ''pirate''
''We believe the ultimate goal of this bill is to limit the opportunity of
biotechnology coming into Montana,'' said Bing Vonbergen, president of the
Montana Grain Growers Association.
The Montana Seed Trade Association, the Beet Growers Association of Montana and
the Montana Farm Bureau Federation testified against the measure.
On the other side were the Montana Organic Association and a number of farmers
and ranchers who appeared to testify for themselves, including Democratic Rep.
Mike Jopek, a farmer from Whitefish.
EASTON, Calif. (AP) -- California labor authorities are updating their
enforcement policies for rules aimed at keeping farmworkers from dying of heat
stress in the fields.
Len Welsh, chief of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health
says whenever temperatures rise above 85 degrees, inspectors will enforce state
rules aimed at preventing heat-stress illness.
Welsh says one-quarter of all workers on each shift have access to a shaded area
when temperatures top 85 degrees. If more workers ask for shade, employers have
to provide it, and keep drinking water nearby.
The division is holding workshops with thousands of growers and farm labor
contractors. But farmworker advocates say the state needs to raise fines to rule
breakers to be effective.
Seed Sampling Bill Gets
a Hearing in Montana, NYT, 19.3.2009,
March 18, 2009
The New York Times
In last year’s presidential election, as many as three million registered
voters were not allowed to cast ballots and millions more chose not to because
of extremely long lines and other frustrating obstacles. Ever since the 2000
election in Florida, the serious flaws in the voting system have been abundantly
clear. More than eight years later, Congress must finally deliver on its promise
of electoral reform.
At a hearing last week, the Senate Rules Committee released a report sponsored
by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the sorry state of voting. It
said that administrative barriers, such as error-filled voting lists or wrongful
purges of voter rolls prevented as many as three million registered voters from
casting ballots. Another two million to four million registered voters were
discouraged from even trying to vote because of difficulty obtaining an absentee
ballot, voter ID issues and other problems.
The bad news didn’t end there. According to the report, another nine million
eligible voters tried to register but failed to because of a variety of hurdles,
including missed deadlines or changes in residence.
The new study adds to a hefty, and rapidly growing, literature on voting
problems. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida just issued a report on
the many difficulties that ex-felons in that state face when they try to
register, a process that is filled with needless paperwork and bureaucratic
confusion. A newly released report drafted at the request of Ohio’s secretary of
state, Jennifer Brunner, surveys many problems in her state’s voting last year,
including a large number of errors in the state’s computer database of eligible
One of the main reasons voting is in such bad shape is that the states have far
too much leeway in running elections, ranging from what ID they require to the
number of polling places they open and the allocation of voting machines, which
has a big impact on how long the lines are on Election Day. Registering to vote
and casting ballots in federal elections are federal acts, which should be
governed by uniform national standards.
Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, is the new chairman of the
Rules Committee, which oversees elections, and last week’s hearing is an
encouraging sign that he intends to push for new laws.
The most important change Congress can make is to require universal voter
registration. That would put the burden on states to register eligible voters —
identifying them from other government lists such as tax and motor vehicle
databases — rather than forcing prospective voters to navigate the
obstacle-ridden path to the voting rolls. States should also be required to make
registration permanent so voters are not purged from the rolls because of a move
to a new address or a name change.
Congress should enact lenient federal rules for voter identification, allowing
voters to present a wide array of IDs. Far too many states have onerous
requirements that make it particularly hard for poor people and racial
minorities to vote. And it should outlaw vote suppression and other campaign
It can start by passing a bill re-introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a
Democrat of Rhode Island, to ban “voter caging,” a tactic used by political
operatives to erroneously label voters — often racial minorities — as ineligible
and to get their names removed from the rolls.
President Obama championed election reform when he was in the Senate, and
Democrats, who have been far more committed to the cause than Republicans, now
have healthy margins in both houses of Congress. Supporters of a more fair,
efficient and inclusive system of voting should not let this moment slip away.
The millions of registered voters who are being turned away deserve a lot
Still Broken, NYT,
Budget Woes Expose Rifts Over Tobacco Money
January 14, 2009
The New York Times
By DAMIEN CAVE
MIAMI — Lawton Chiles spent his last years as governor battling Big Tobacco,
pushing one of the first major cases against cigarette companies, which resulted
in an endowment of almost $2 billion and a “truth campaign” against smoking that
became a national model.
Now, a desperate Florida stands poised to raid the endowment, cutting it by more
than half to help close a huge budget gap brought on by the economic downturn.
“For the governor to say that this is just a rainy day fund is really
disrespectful of my father’s legacy and what he fought for,” Lawton Chiles III,
55, son of the former governor, said of Gov. Charlie Crist. “They’re just
looking to plug a hole.”
Florida’s proposed withdrawal is perhaps the starkest example of the growing
addiction to tobacco-related money. Since 2001, cigarette tax increases and
diversions of tobacco settlement payouts have become a favorite solution for
budget crises nationwide. But as the current recession deepens, disputes about
how the money should be spent have intensified, even as tobacco money’s potency
has been weakened by past use.
“While states have viewed tobacco as the first ‘go to’ tax for the better part
of a decade, it won’t be anywhere near enough,” said Donald J. Boyd, a senior
fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a research arm of the State
University of New York. “Increases in other taxes — yet to be proposed and
enacted — will be far larger than in the last recession, and the relative
importance of tobacco tax increases will be less.”
At least 17 states, including California and New York, have already sold bonds
based on future tobacco settlement payouts and spent some or all of the money
before they have it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Moreover, cigarette taxes are also less lucrative than they were a decade ago
because cigarette sales in the United States have dropped by more than 20
Nonetheless, two weeks into the year, conservative, tobacco-friendly states like
Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi are considering sizable tax increases on
cigarettes, while some with liberal Democratic governors — including Michigan,
Ohio and New Mexico — are looking at ways to redirect tobacco settlement money
to close budget gaps or for economic stimulus packages.
Florida lawmakers have considered both options. The state is being squeezed more
than most by the vise of falling revenue and rising demand for services. In some
counties, the number of families receiving food stamps has jumped more than 50
percent over the last year, while Florida’s real estate collapse has brought an
especially steep slide in income.
Mr. Crist, a Republican, has already overseen $6 billion in cuts from the
state’s $66 billion budget in the last year. Lawmakers meeting this week for a
special session to deal with a new $2.4 billion deficit, which is expected to
grow, have proposed an additional $1 billion or so in cuts. They are also
calling for increases in traffic fines and raiding reserves to pay for
affordable housing and other programs.
Yet the proposal to tap the Chiles Endowment has stirred up the most debate. It
pits the state’s Republican leaders, with their stated aversion to new taxes,
against the relatives of a populist Democratic governor and health advocates
nationwide who have rarely been pleased with where tobacco money goes.
In Florida and many other states, tobacco money has often been used like an
inheritance from a distant uncle. A 2007 report from the Government
Accountability Office found that only a third of the settlement money paid out
nationally from 2000 to 2005 went to health care or tobacco control.
Mr. Chiles, a Democrat who was elected governor twice, was an anomaly, not only
because he pushed Florida to settle its cigarette case a year ahead of the 1998
master settlement, for $11.3 billion, but also because he allocated large parts
of early installments to the prevention of smoking.
Mr. Chiles died in office in 1998. The next year, the Legislature cut financing
for his antismoking campaign by nearly half, but Gov. Jeb Bush pushed to set up
the endowment in Mr. Chiles’s name, with an initial investment of $1.1 billion
and three $200 million deposits to follow.
The endowment was intended to live beyond the settlement’s tenure. By law,
investment income would support “health and human services programs for children
and elders,” which has amounted to about $55 million annually in recent years.
Peter Fisher, an expert on state tobacco laws at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free
Kids, said Ohio might be the only other state with a similar entity — the Ohio
Tobacco Prevention Foundation. And this, too, Mr. Fisher said, is in jeopardy.
Last year, Ohio enacted a law to clean out its account, with $230 million of its
$270 million going to an economic stimulus package and the rest for health care.
The foundation sued, arguing that the money could be used only for tobacco
prevention; the account has been frozen as the dispute plays out in court.
That may be where the Chiles Endowment also lands. Mr. Chiles’s relatives, who
have no formal control over the endowment, say they have tried to be
understanding. Last spring, when Mr. Crist asked the former governor’s
78-year-old widow, Rhea Chiles, if the state could borrow $354 million from the
endowment, Mrs. Chiles gave her approval.
Mr. Crist later offered to host a dinner in her honor. But by then, the
relationship had curdled. “It was already clear that they were going to come
back and look at another hit on the fund,” said Mr. Chiles, whose father also
served three terms in the United States Senate.
His mother refused the invitation. In a letter dated June 11, Mrs. Chiles told
the governor that “when, in two years, this loan is fully repaid to the fund, I
will be greatly relieved and most happy to celebrate with you.”
They have not spoken since, according to Mr. Chiles. He said his family feared
that another major withdrawal would decimate the endowment.
State lawmakers say they want an additional $700 million, more than half of the
endowment’s current $1.2 billion value. The money would be taken out in June,
and Mr. Crist has said that less may be needed, depending on whether all or part
of a proposed federal economic stimulus can be treated as general revenue.
“I’d rather not to have to use it,” the governor said in a recent conversation
with reporters, referring to the endowment. “That money will be repaid; I think
that’s an important point to make.”
Yet on this issue, the measure is vague; the final version scheduled for a vote
Wednesday says only that “it is the intent” of the Legislature to pay back the
money once general revenue receipts grow by 5 percent a year.
Mr. Chiles said he doubted it would ever be returned, even if the federal
stimulus package came through. “That’s contrary to what the Obama administration
is trying to do,” he said. “They’re trying to get a stimulus out, not to refill
a fiscal hole.”
He said his family was thinking of suing. Several lawyers who were involved in
the state’s original tobacco litigation have already lent their support. If they
go to court, they plan to argue that raiding the endowment violates the law that
set it up with a specific purpose.
“We’re near the bottom in all these indicators of children’s health, and we’re
one of the largest, wealthiest states,” Mr. Chiles said, adding, “It’s part of a
pattern: ‘Let’s patch this up and get out of town before the chickens come home
to roost.’ ”
Gary Fineout contributed reporting from Tallahassee, Fla.
Budget Woes Expose Rifts
Over Tobacco Money, NYT, 14.1.2009,
Illinois Lawmakers Look to Vote on Impeachment
January 3, 2009
The New York Times
By MONICA DAVEY and CARL HULSE
CHICAGO — Illinois lawmakers will be called back into session next week,
which is earlier than expected, in an effort to expedite impeachment proceedings
against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, and, ultimately, some said, to prevent his
appointee from becoming the state’s next United States senator.
In a letter to representatives, Michael J. Madigan, the powerful Democratic
speaker of the Illinois House, said the chamber might be asked as early as next
week to vote on an impeachment committee’s findings against Mr. Blagojevich, a
Democrat who is charged with corruption and accused of trying to sell the United
States Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama.
In Washington, meanwhile, senior Democratic officials say the party leadership
remains determined to prevent Roland W. Burris, a Democrat and former Illinois
attorney general, from joining the Senate because he was appointed by Mr.
Blagojevich. Mr. Burris is expected to try to take a seat when the 111th
Congress convenes Tuesday.
“This isn’t about Roland Burris,” said Joe Shoemaker, chief spokesman for
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “This
is about whether the governor of the state, who has been accused of trying to
sell the Senate seat, made the appointment in an honest, fair and legal way.”
Some highly placed Democrats have begun to question privately why Mr. Burris is
being denied the seat if there are no problems with him personally. They said
Democrats could dispose of the issue — and gain a reliable Democratic vote in
the process — by acceding to the appointment if it met all legal requirements.
But the Senate’s leadership remains united in barring Mr. Burris, and hopes to
delay settling the matter until the Illinois legislature can impeach the
governor and allow a new appointment to be made.
Mr. Blagojevich seemed on Friday to try to raise questions about the motives of
Senate leaders’ efforts to block Mr. Burris, disclosing for the first time that
Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, had — before Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest
on Dec. 9 — called the governor to talk about whom he was considering appointing
to fill Mr. Obama’s seat.
Lucio Guerrero, a spokesman for Mr. Blagojevich, said that Mr. Reid called on
Dec. 3 to discuss possible appointees, and expressed concerns that some being
considered might not be able to win re-election when Mr. Obama’s Senate term
ended in two years. Mr. Burris was never mentioned in the conversation, Mr.
“I think the governor thinks that it shows that Harry Reid may have a horse in
this race, and it’s not Roland Burris,” Mr. Guerrero said.
A person with knowledge of the call, which occurred during a period when federal
investigators were recording Mr. Blagojevich’s calls, said Mr. Reid had seemed
concerned that some candidates mentioned, including Representatives Jesse L.
Jackson Jr. and Danny K. Davis, might be harder to elect than others. Mr. Reid
thought Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general (and daughter of Mr. Madigan)
and Tammy Duckworth, a former candidate for Congress and a veteran of the Iraq
war, had better chances, said this person, who asked not be identified.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, declined to comment on the candidates
discussed, but said Mr. Reid had certainly talked to the governor about the
appointment, just as he had talked to the governors of New York and Colorado
when senators in those states accepted jobs in the new administration.
“It is part of his job as majority leader to share his thoughts about candidates
who have the qualities needed to succeed in the Senate,” Mr. Manley said.
Mr. Manley denied any notion that the earlier conversation about other
candidates had any role in efforts by Mr. Reid and other leaders to block Mr.
“Again, this has nothing to do with Mr. Burris,” Mr. Manley said. “It is about
the man doing the appointing.”
For his part, Mr. Burris plans to arrive in Washington on Monday evening and
hopes to begin working in the Senate the next day, his aides said.
Despite the brewing conflict, Mr. Burris said he had no intention of “making a
scene” at the Senate. “That’s not my style,” he said in an interview. “I’m not
on some ego trip.”
Democratic officials sketched out several situations that could keep Mr. Burris
from becoming a member of the Senate. For example, while the Senate delays
admitting him, Mr. Blagojevich would be removed as governor after a vote next
week by the Illinois House, and then a trial in the State Senate; Lt. Gov. Pat
Quinn would become governor; and Mr. Quinn would appoint a Senate replacement —
all before Mr. Burris was allowed to take the seat.
The impeachment committee will invite Mr. Burris to testify before it, Illinois
House officials said Friday, though a time and day has yet to be named.
Under the developing strategy in the Senate, Democrats intend to prevent Mr.
Burris from making his case on the Senate floor or to steer the appointment to
the Rules Committee for an inquiry in the hope that Mr. Blagojevich leaves or is
forced from office before any showdown.
To reach that point, Democrats plan to enforce a rule requiring that credentials
presented by incoming senators be countersigned by both a state’s governor and
secretary of state.
The Illinois secretary of state, Jesse White, has said he will not sign the
document, and Mr. Burris is seeking a court order requiring him to do so. That
matter is awaiting a ruling in the Illinois Supreme Court, where an answer,
legal experts said, seemed unlikely until at least the middle of next week.
If Mr. Burris were able to get his credentials countersigned, he could by Senate
custom be allowed to go on to the floor and seek to be sworn in along with the
other incoming senators. But at the point that his swearing-in is imminent,
Democrats currently plan to raise an objection and seek to have the question of
Mr. Burris’s qualifications referred to the Rules Committee for up to 90 days or
some defined period.
Mr. Burris’s case is also spilling over into the still-unsettled results of the
Minnesota election. With legal proceedings continuing in the race for the seat
now held by Norm Coleman, a Republican, officials of both parties say it is
unlikely that Democrats would try to seat their candidate, Al Franken, without
final paperwork at the same time that they are trying to deny a seat to Mr.
Burris on those grounds.
Election officials in Minnesota will spend the weekend counting 953 absentee
ballots that were mistakenly rejected in the lengthy recount. But even if the
state certifies the results of the recount next week, the final outcome of the
race is likely to be decided by the courts.
The Minnesota secretary of state’s office received the 953 ballots on Friday,
after both candidates and county officials agreed they should be added to the
tally, but Mr. Coleman’s lawyers said that as many as 654 more ballots should
also be counted, and went to court to include them. Mr. Franken’s lawyers
If after the 953 ballots are counted, Mr. Franken is able to hold on to his
razor-thin lead, which stood at 49 votes Friday, a court challenge would make it
unlikely he would be able to take office when the new Congress was sworn in on
On Friday, the authorities also confirmed that after Mr. Blagojevich was
arrested last month his federal security clearance for classified information
was revoked by the Department of Homeland Security.
Other officials in the state, including the head of the Illinois Emergency
Management Agency, still receive such information when needed, state officials
said. Mr. Blagojevich’s office said briefings were somewhat rare anyway.
Monica Davey reported from Chicago, and Carl Hulse from Washington. Michael
Falcone contributed reporting from Washington.
Illinois Lawmakers Look
to Vote on Impeachment, NYT, 3.1.2008,