State Watch

State Watch

There Goes the High Moral Ground

By 2.19.15

Oregon has long thought of itself as living on high moral ground, embracing that bastion of self-righteousness, environmentalism. The crown has taken some big dents in recent days. Governor John Kitzhaber, just into his fourth term, has resigned. His live-in girlfriend, Cylvia Hayes (also designated “first lady” in recent years; now fiancée), is out as the unsalaried “clean energy” advisor to the governor, with her own office in the State Capitol in Salem.

Things began to unravel in his reelection campaign last fall when the Willamette Weekly reported that Ms. Hayes had been married from 1997-2002 to an illegal Ethiopian alien and had been paid $5,000 for it. She admitted to this and described it as a mistake.

A few days later, KOIN, a Portland television station. reported that she had been involved in a plan to purchase land in Washington state for a marijuana plantation.

She also admitted to this but blamed it on being in an “abusive relationship with a dangerous man” (she soon left him).

It was said that Kitzhaber knew nothing of either matter before the media revelations.

State Watch

Medicaid Expansion Bites the Dust in Tennessee

By 2.9.15

Over the course of just 48 hours last week, Republican Tennessee governor Bill Haslam watched his two-year flirtation with the Medicaid expansion, made available through the Affordable Care Act, get buried by the state legislature.

It was a quick and unceremonious end to what Haslam hoped would be his legacy achievement on health care in the Volunteer State. For roughly twenty-one months, the governor and his policy counsel worked hard to finesse Republican legislators into softening their stance toward his plan, called Insure Tennessee. But in the end, no amount of massaging could win over conservatives in the capitol.

Of course, it’s not that the GOP legislative supermajority has been blind to the healthcare needs of Tennesseans. According to Haslam, it was the legislature that started him down the Insure Tennessee path in the first place when it asked him to identify and suggest ways to address the state’s needs. The problem was that the governor ultimately decided the best fix lay in the expansion of Medicaid services under Obamacare.

State Watch

Texas Cities Are Losing Control of Fracking

By 11.11.14

Overall, conservatives in Texas had a very good election night last week. Republicans took all the statewide offices, as indeed they have in every election since 1994, and claimed virtual supermajorities in both the state house and senate. Even a ballot measure on a light rail project in liberal Austin went down to defeat.

Yet in the midst of this dominance of common sense came one ominous result. Voters in the city of Denton approved a ballot measure banning all hydraulic fracturing within city limits. While municipalities have banned fracking in states ranging from Colorado to Pennsylvania, Denton represents the first time a city in energy-loving Texas has done so. And unless swift action is taken, it may not be the last.

State Watch

In California, Every Love Scene Ever Filmed Is Rape

By 10.2.14

They say Washington, D.C., is Hollywood for the ugly. I can only imagine what this analogy makes Sacramento, which is inhabited by those ambitious California pols who can’t quite make it to Congress.

I’m not sure how those überuglies do the sex up there in Sacramento, and normally none of us should care how these elected frog people get laid. Except that they have now inflicted their ignorance of normal human sexual behavior on the other 38 million people in their state, in the form of a bill that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Monday. The law requires state colleges to impose safeguards that sound more appropriate in an autistic dating game: that is, students must obtain “affirmative consent” before engaging in “sexual activity” and then ensure that said consent is “ongoing throughout a sexual activity.”

State Watch

New England’s Blue-State Blues

By 7.25.14

They call it the “Texas Miracle,” though California doesn’t think there’s anything heavenly about it. Texas’s economic boom, driven by low taxes and a business-friendly regulatory climate under the cocksure leadership of Governor Rick Perry, is the envy of the rest of the country. There’s a running joke that California’s biggest export is its own people, headed straight for the Lone Star State.

But it’s not just California that has the blue-state blues. Outside the West Coast, the most cerulean part of the country is the Northeast, and specifically New England, the six-state region once bound together by Puritan values, now bound together by mandatory sex education classes. But while New England has embraced looser social values, economically it’s a case study in high taxes, obscene spending, and coercive regulations.

State Watch

Six Degrees of Separation?

By 7.21.14

If you were a successful venture capitalist with a few million dollars to spare you would probably look around for something worthwhile to do with your money.

That’s what Tim Draper of Silicon Valley did. He came up with an idea no one else had thought of. That is, divide California into six states. He is not the first one to propose dividing California. That distinction goes to a handful of citizens in its northwestern corner who, in 1852 (two years after California became a state) complained about inattention from the capital and wanted to join forces with some neighboring counties in Oregon. Nothing came of it. As for Draper’s plan, he told the Los Angeles Times, “California has become the worst managed state in the country. It is just too big and too ungovernable.”

State Watch

Jerry Brown’s Magical Mystery Surplus

By 5.29.14

With California’s primary election next Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown is likely to capture close to 60 percent of the vote. According to the latest poll, his two closest Republican competitors, between them, will get 25 percent.

Why the high numbers? Unlike the unpredictable days of Governor Jerry the Younger (1975-83), Brown the Elder is quiet, predictable and exudes stability. These days, voters like predictability and stability.

He was so pleased when he announced recently that the state was running a surplus that he followed up by persuading Democratic legislative leaders to sit down with Republicans to work out a bipartisan “rainy day” plan to use part of this and future surpluses to reduce the state’s huge indebtedness.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the surplus is an illusion. It is true that the state government brought in a gush of cash in April — 2.2 percent more than predicted. This reduced the state’s cash deficit from $16.7 billion to $10 billion. That is an accomplishment, but it’s not a surplus.

State Watch

Vermont and the Single-Payer Frontier

By 4.18.14

These days it seems everyone has a grievance with Obamacare. This includes progressives, who are annoyed that the law isn’t communizing the entire American health care system with sufficient alacrity.

Fed up with the feds, activists are now looking north to Vermont, which three years ago passed a law requiring a single-payer health care system to be in place by 2017 (the first year Obamacare allows states to deviate from the federal model). Dubbed Green Mountain Care, the program would take a page from neighboring Canada and insure the state’s 620,000 residents on government rolls.

State Watch

California’s Vanishing ‘Surplus’

By 3.28.14

Last year, California’s Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed an end to the state’s worrisome and persistent deficit. How did he do it? In the 2012 election he had fed voters the notion that a proposed income tax increase would be spent on education. California voters treat education as a sacred cow, even though the state ranks near the bottom in test outcomes. They passed the ballot issue.

On January 31 last year, the state’s General Fund had a deficit of $15.7 billion. The higher tax rates brought in new money. This, along with internal and external borrowing, made it look as if the deficit had gone with the wind, but it hadn’t. Brown called it a surplus, amid much cheering by the spendthrift legislature. 

Fast forward to the end of January this year. The deficit had been whittled down to $12.6 billion. Some surplus!

State Watch

Two Thumbs Down to Boeing Subsidy

By 12.5.13

It makes your head spin! Two months ago, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have provided some tax relief for all Missourians. Today he is calling for a gigantic tax cut — amounting to an estimated $150 million a year or $1.5 billion over the course of a decade — for one company.

The governor is hoping that would be enough to entice the Boeing Company to locate its 777X commercial airplane assembly plant in north St. Louis County.

In vetoing House Bill 253 earlier this year, Nixon went around the state arguing that cutting state income taxes for individuals and corporations would harm education and mental health. Where is the same concern today in offering a lavish gift to a single, deep-pocketed company?