Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA

With just over two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential primary vote in the country, candidates are scrambling to differentiate themselves and appeal to voters. Last night’s Republican debate was as combative as ever, with Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz dominating much of the fight. In case you missed the action, here’s a quick recap of the highlights in the New York Times. According to the Washington post and a slew of other outlets, Trump, Cruz, and Rubio ‘won’ the debate. Read the Washington Post’s winners and losers take here and a New York Times roundup of pundit opinions here

Also in the Post: Hillary Clinton is not doing nearly as well now as she was during her 2008 campaign. National polls are fickle, the reporter points out, and polls tend to change dramatically after early state primary results are out. But Clinton is not as far ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders as many expected her to be by now. Read more.

 

Sen. Rand Paul’s bill to subject the Federal Reserve to Government Accountability Office (GAO) auditing failed to garner enough of a majority to pass. Sen. Paul and other supporters of the bill are critical of the Fed’s control over interest rates, while opponents fear the consequences of the Fed’s losing its independence. What is interesting in politicalterms is that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator making a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Read more in the Washington Post.

 

In a move that does nothing to appease the coal industry, the Obama administration announced it will pause the process of approving new leases for coal mining on public lands. The Interior Department is conducting an extensive review of the coal leasing program, specifically to determine if the current lease and royalty rates companies pay the government accurately reflect the market value. The administration plans to stop new leases until the review is complete. Read more in the New York Times.

 

Illinois
Gov. Rauner seems to be pursuing an even more aggressive reform agenda than he was last year. He declared today that he and the large state worker union AFSCME are at a contract negotiation impasse, he refuses to fund higher education operations and grants without seeing spending reforms from universities, and he will not consider bailing out Chicago’s public schools unless Mayor Emanuel acts on the governor’s Turnaround Agenda. 

Former US Attorney Dan Webb, who has led previous investigations into Cook County corruption, will lead the investigation into Chicago’s Law Department following the recent scandals. He will examine civil rights claim proceedings, make recommendations, and refer cases of possible misconduct to the city Inspector General. Read more in the Tribune.

 

Meanwhile, video of another police shooting was released yesterday. This one was three years ago, and the video is not nearly as clear as the one from the Laquan McDonald case. Nonetheless, its release and the shooting itself are just as controversial. Read more in the Tribune.

 

Mayor Emanuel is considering a new tax on tobacco and cigars to pay for a summer school program for students considered at risk of dropping out. The tax would raise an estimated $6 million. Some question the wisdom of adding new programs to the city’s offerings when Chicago Public Schools cannot pay for its current programs. According to the Sun-Times, “the answer is part education and part political.” The mayor needs all of the political good will he can muster, and targeting education aid to inner-city youth is the administration’s latest strategy. Read more.

 

The mayor also proposed raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. The Chicago suburb of Evanston passed a local ordinance to do just that in 2014. Read more.

 

In the heated fight for the role of Cook County State’s Attorney, the Democratic party officially endorsed Kim Foxx over incumbent Anita Alvarez and fellow challenger Donna More. More is trying to spin the endorsement to her advantage, saying voters want someone seen as independent from established officials. Read more in the Tribune.

Political Update from S4

Subject: Political Update from S4

Welcome to this week’s update on political news from the capital, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota!
National
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced the country can most likely make it until at least late October before defaulting on debt or needing an increase in the debt limit to make payments. Lawmakers will need to address the issue when they return for Fall session.Read more.

Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, filed a motion to remove House Speaker John Boehner from his post this week. The motion failed miserably, but Rep. Meadows said he wanted to create a “family conversation” among the party. A motion to vacate the chair, as it is called, has never succeeded in the House, and was only attempted once in the history of our government. 105 years ago. Read more.

Officials from the 12 countries working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal have been meeting in Hawaii and are hoping to hammer out the final details of the deal today, but there are still some major obstacles. The US is pushing for 12-year exclusivity rights on biologic drugs (one of the newest innovations in pharmaceuticals), but Australia and other countries fear such a long period will allows prices to remain too high and want it reduced to five years. A final news conference is scheduled for 6:30 PM Central/7:30pm Eastern tonight. Read more.

The Affordable Care Act repeal amendment did not make it into the Senate’s six-year highway funding bill, but reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank did. Conservatives celebrated the expiration of the bank’s charter and are outraged that it might be voted back in place, but President Obama has made it clear that any transportation bill on his desk had better have an Ex-Im reauthorization attached to it.

The Senate passed its bill, but the House is still lukewarm toward it and is on recess until September 8th. This leaves the Ex-Im bank in limbo until at least then. Even if the bank is reauthorized, it will need help from the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, because only two out of five seats on the bank’s board of directors are currently occupied, and the charter requires a quorum of three votes to approve transactions over $10 million. Sen. Shelby’s opinion of the bank is clear: it has “outlived its usefulness and should be allowed to expire.” Read more.

In the meantime, a new three-month highway funding bill passed both houses this week. The bill includes a measure allowing the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) to move $4 billion to cover a budget shortfall, without which the department would likely need to start closing VA hospitals. Read more.

Sens. Joni Ernst, James Lankford, and Rand Paul drafted legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, and over 20 other Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have signed on as cosponsors. Democrats are united in their opposition to the measure so far. Some conservatives are taking their opinions of Planned Parenthood to the next level, threatening to let the government shut down rather than allow any funding to go to the organization. Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz is one of the most vocal of these legislators, and he is encouraging his Republican colleagues to refuse to pass any appropriations bills that do not eliminate Planned Parenthood’s funding. Read more.

Florida senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio has been active in attacking the Obama administration on its Iran policies, but he has been conspicuously absent from the Senate floor. Sen. Rubio has missed more votes than any other candidate since announcing his presidential bid in April, followed by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz. Sen. Rand Paul is holding down the opposite end of the spectrum, having missed just two votes.

HHS announced it will dramatically expand funding to states and community health centers for medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse. The new funding will be provided through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). SAMHSA will award up to $11 million a year to 11 states (Washington, Iowa, Vermont, Kentucky, Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin, Wyoming, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Missouri) to increase access to comprehensive medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders for up to three years. HRSA will make an additional $100 million available to expand and improve the delivery of substance abuse services, focusing on medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse. In addition to these new funding avenues, CMS is offering Medicaid programs the option to receive federal funding to reimburse for substance use disorder treatment through a demonstration project. Read the press release.

Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign is floundering amid low staffing and funding levels, brought on in part by the candidate’s unwillingness to court powerful donors on their terms – he even turned down an invitation to an event put on by the Koch brothers. On top of the campaign’s logistical problems, Sen. Paul’s message of unconventional and fresh ideas is being drowned out by other GOP candidates with more money (like Jeb Bush) and more headlines (like Donald Trump). Read more.

Gov. Christie again made his position against legalizing marijuana clear: “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.” This hardline stance is favored by neither his fellow Republican candidates nor the majority of the American population, but Gov. Christie brushed away those concerns and said if it is true, then Congress will pass legislation to legalize it. Read more.

Illinois
Gov. Rauner vetoed a bill that would have amended the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act to require binding interest arbitration processes to begin if mediation on a collective bargaining agreement between the state and state employees was not successful. Thegovernor said this amendment would prevent his administration from reaching an agreement with AFSCME, the largest public services employee union, and would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Rauner’s general counsel sent out a letter about the newly extended AFSCME contract negotiation deadline of September 30th. In the letter, he stated that the administration was never planning to lock out state employees, and that while the latest “tolling agreement” prohibits striking, agencies should prepare for strikes anyway. An AFSCME representative responded and disputed that claim, saying the administration made no promises against a lockout until the new tolling agreement, and they have “actively recruited retired state employees as strike breakers and failed to deny considering the mobilization of the National Guard to break a strike.”

Bottom line: the contract negotiation deadline for the state worker union and the Rauner administration is now September 30th; workers are not allowed to strike, but the administration is preparing in case they do; and the governor vetoed legislation that would have replaced negotiations with arbitration after a certain time period. Senate President John Cullerton plans to hold a vote to override the veto next week.

After weeks of attacks on the subject from Gov. Rauner, Speaker Madigan filed a bill on Tuesday to stop the scheduled pay increase for legislators. The cost-of-living pay adjustment is an automatic increase, but legislators have foregone it for the past several years. Republicans introduced a bill with the same goal earlier this month, but it did not advance. Speaker Madigan’s bill passed within a matter of hours, but its path in the Senate may not be clear. Read more.

Fitch Ratings, a financial ratings agency akin to Moody’s, lowered Chicago Public Schools’ credit rating to junk status after its latest plan to borrow $1.16 billion by selling bonds. Fitch pointed to the $1.1 billion budget deficit for the upcoming school year and CPS’s reliance on borrowing, as well as its bitter relationship with the Chicago Teacher’s Union, as reasons for its decision. Read more.

Sen. Mark Kirk is already facing a tough battle to keep his seat, with Democratic challenger Rep. Tammy Duckworth leading in several polls and a prominent Republican donor publicly telling him to step down this week. The donor, Ron Gidwitz, later tried to retract his comments, but the damage was done.

Gov. Rauner has not formally proposed a tax on advertising, among other services, but several business groups are already gearing up to fight it. During his campaign Gov. Rauner proposed expanding the sales tax to certain services to rake in over $600 million in revenues, almost $38 million of which would come from a tax on advertising. The business groups say this contradicts the governor’s push for a more business-friendly climate, and Illinois would only be the third state in the nation to apply a tax or similar measure to advertising.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to appeal the remaining 13 corruption counts against him next week. Five of the original 18 convictions were thrown out last week due to improper instructions given to witnesses during his trial, and Blagojevich’s attorney said they are optimistic about overturning the rest of the charges.

New York
Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Cuomo jointly announced that La Guardia Airport will be completely rebuilt by 2021. This will not just be a new coat of paint and a floor shine; entire terminals will be moved closer together and connected to the central hub, more taxiing space will be added to prevent delays, and public transportation will be connected. The airport will still operate while this is happening by building new parking garages in one area and starting construction on new terminals where the old garages were. The project is expected to create 8,000 construction jobs and an unspecified number of additional permanent jobs at the expanded stores and restaurants within the airport. Read more.

Some aviation analysts, however, are skeptical about the claims that the new design will reduce congestion and delays. Read more.

Chirlane McCray, Mayor de Blasio’s wife and the chairwoman of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, announced a $30 million grant program that will expand mental health services to low-income residents. Connections to Care, as the program will be called, will train workers in existing community organizations, from preschools to job placement centers, to identify and respond to mental health problems like depression and substance abuse. The idea is to provide much-needed services by trusted peers directly in communities. Read more.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan appointed Sen. John DeFrancisco as the new Senate Deputy Majority Leader, now that Sen. Tom Libous has officially vacated his seat due to felony corruption convictions. Sen. Flanagan edged out Sen. DeFrancisco for the Majority Leader post in May when Sen. Dean Skelos resigned amid his own corruption scandal.

Despite the two corruption convictions in the state Senate this year, Gov. Cuomo said this week that there is no need to call a special session on ethics. He says lawmakers have not changed their minds on any pieces of legislation because of the verdicts, “so for the taxpayers to spend a lot of money to bring the legislators back to Albany for the same outcome they had several weeks ago makes no sense.” Read more.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will grant the MTA and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey an additional $11.1 million in emergency preparedness funding this year. The agencies will receive a total of $42.9 million, intended for preparing against terrorist attacks. Read more.

And after a weeks-long standoff, Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio reportedly spoke to each other for the first time this week. The mayor said no resolution was reached, but “this is going to be an ongoing thing.”

New Jersey
State Sen. Ray Lesniak, who gained considerable press this past year over his opposition to the Christie administration’s environmental damages settlement with ExxonMobil, will run for governor in 2017. Read more.

The trustees of the state’s three largest pension funds filed an amended complaint against the Christie administration arguing that while the state Supreme Court declared the state cannot be forced to appropriate funds and pay into the pension system at a certain time, the state still owes the money and is not simply off the hook. Read more.

In a separate case, the state Supreme Court will decide whether the state had the right to freeze government workers’ cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) in 2011, or if it will need to reimburse retirees for the losses and reinstate COLAs. Read more.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney has a solution to the state’s rising public employee pension debt: create a federal government loan program that would allow states to borrow about $50 billion at 1% interest over 30 years from the Federal Reserve. Sen. Sweeney, who may be a gubernatorial candidate in 2017, pointed to the 27 states grappling with funding shortfalls of over $10 billion and said, “If it is in the nation’s interest for the federal government to step in and keep Wall Street and General Motors afloat, it should be able to find ways to protect the pensions of middle-class teachers, police and government employees.” Read more.

The state’s overall structural deficit (the basic imbalance between revenues and expenditures) is now at $10.2 billion, only $500 million less than when Gov. Christie took office in 2010. Read more.

Acting Attorney General John Hoffman announced the state will spend $1.5 million “to fully equip the New Jersey State Police road troopers with body cameras” and will offer an additional $2.5 million to help local police units acquire body cameras. State troopers are expected to start wearing the cameras by mid-2016. Read more.

Ohio
The city of Dayton went to court for the second time this year to fight against SB 342, the bill that requires a police officer to be present to issue citations based on automated camera information (e.g. red light cameras). The city’s assistant attorney said the requirements “waste police resources and they’re specifically intended to act as a burden as a de facto ban on photo enforcement.” Read more.

ResponsibleOhio submitted 95,000 new petition signatures yesterday to make up for the election officials’ ruling that they were close to 30,000 signatures short last week. The new signatures need to be validated by August 10th, and the November ballot will be finalized by the 25th. Read more.

Indiana
Gov. Pence vowed to expand charter school opportunities in the state, including opening 22 new charter schools over the next three years. He also lauded the new grant program that will provide an extra $500 per student to charter schools with high ratings and $50 million in construction loans. Despite these funding increases, some national charter school companies say they have better financial support in other states and are unlikely to expand to Indiana. Read more.

Gov. Pence appointed Democrat Jim Schellinger to head Indiana’s economic development agency. Schellinger has served on the agency’s board of directors for the last several years, and he is the CEO of an architecture and interior design company based in Indianapolis. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2008, and he and his wife donated $15,000 to Gov. Pence last year. Read more.

Minnesota
As of August 1st, Minnesota’s minimum wage will rise to $9 an hour, the highest in the Midwest. This is the second stage of a three-stage increase initiated in 2014; next August, the minimum wage will rise again to $9.50. Read more.
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Political Update from S4

National
Now that the US and Iran have reached a deal on the Iranian nuclear program, President Obama is pushing harder for Democrats in Congress to support the agreement. His primary message: this is the best deal we can achieve. Read more.

At a hearing yesterday Republicans made their opposing position quite clear as they denounced the agreement and criticized top officials. Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Secretary of State John Kerry, “I believe you’ve been fleeced.” Read more.

The Export-Import Bank expired on the last day of June, which was a victory for conservative Republicans who saw it as government interference in the free market. The Ex-Im bank may not be dead, however, if Democrats and a group of moderate Republicans attach its reauthorization to the highway funding bill that must be passed by the end of this month. Read more.

That highway funding bill cleared a procedural hurdle late on Wednesday after Democrats and Republican budget-hawks blocked it earlier in the week. The bill would extend policy on federal highway and transit programs for six years, but it only has funding for three. Several senators have been trying to use the bill as a vehicle for controversial amendments on everything from the Ex-Im Bank to defunding Planned Parenthood. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, is limiting the chamber to voting only on amendments related to highways and on two unrelated amendments: one to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is expected to fail; and one to extend the Ex-Im bank’s charter through 2019. Read more.

All this might not even matter because leaders in the House have no interest in passing the Senate’s bill right now. The House already passed a short-term funding measure that would get us through the end of this year, and they are urging the Senate to take it up before highway funding runs out on July 31st. Read more.

The recent uproar over videos published by an anti-abortion rights group claiming to prove that Planned Parenthood illegally sells aborted fetuses does not seem to be going away anytime soon, and it may have a real effect in Congress. Republican leaders have been considering measures to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, including as amendments to the highway funding bill mentioned above. Read more.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, this time in a Louisiana movie theater, President Obama expressed frustration at his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” thus far, and he does not seem confident that this will change before he leaves office. Read more.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is coming under fire for comments he made about wanting to “phase out” Medicare and move to a new system. Bush tried to recover by emphasizing that reforms are needed to make the system work for future generations, but his original comments are sure to be fodder for opposition campaigns. Read more.

The US Chamber of Commerce is disappointed with how their agenda has fared in Congress so far this year. After the group spent $70 million to stock the Senate with business-friendly Republicans, the Ex-Im bank still expired, there is no long-term highway solution in sight, and immigration reform was barely on the radar. The group is now reportedly preparing to challenge some incumbent Republicans in the next elections, which is a significant shift in strategy and could have far-reaching results. Read more.

Illinois
The governor and legislature still have not reached any kind of budget agreement, and there is enough blame being thrown around to make any potential compromise difficult to see. But at least Medicaid payments will be made, thanks to a federal judge’s order yesterday. Read more.

Senate President John Cullerton, presenting himself as a reasonable voice in the midst of this budget battle, is calling for a reset: “His plan is dead. Our plan is dead. Let’s acknowledge that and start moving forward,” he said. Sen. Cullerton asked the governor to send a balanced budget plan to legislators to get the process moving again. “The budget process traditionally starts with the governor submitting a balanced plan that allows the legislature to review and respond appropriately,” he said. Read more.

So far Gov. Rauner is sticking to his guns and demanding concessions on non-budget reforms that Democrats – and even many Republicans with strong unions in their districts – will have a hard time agreeing to. Read more.

Rep. LaShawn Ford introduced a constitutional amendment that would essentially require the state to make payments at the same level as the previous fiscal year if that fiscal year’s budget expired and no new one had been put in place. I wonder what inspired him…

The bills Senate Minority Leader Jim Durkin introduced (presumably at Gov. Rauner’s behest) on workers’ compensation and tort reform have yet to move out of the Rules Committee, which is not altogether surprising. HB 4248 would change the Workers’ Compensation Act to require an employee to prove that his or her injury was caused at least 50% by the workplace in order to receive benefits, and HB 4246 puts several new limits on personal injury lawsuits, including caps on potential awards. The tort reform bill also limits “venue shopping,’ whereby plaintiffs choose the most favorable locations to file their suits in, and it raises the fault requirement for defendants in joint and several liability cases from 25% to 50%.
Cook County Judge Rita Novak rejected Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to restructure two of Chicago’s underfunded pension plans. She ruled the plan’s reduction of the cost-of-living allowance unconstitutional, even though the city would also have contributed more to the plans. In the short term, the ruling means the city will not need to pay almost $100 million into the funds next year, but in the longer term this may be detrimental to the city’s credit rating. Read more.

Illinois became the first state to enact anti-BDS legislation, requiring the state to divest from any companies that boycott Israel. Read more.

Mayor Emanuel named Eileen Mitchell, the vice president of external affairs for AT&T Illinois and a former top aide to Speaker Madigan, as his new chief of staff. His last chief of staff, Forrest Claypool, just moved to a top position with Chicago Public Schools. Read more.

On Tuesday a federal appellate court in Chicago threw out five of the 18 counts against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is currently serving 14 years in prison for an array of corruption charges. The appellate court found that the jury was given improper instructions on the counts concerning President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, and it tossed those five counts. Although Blagojevich will now be re-sentenced, the court did not ask that he receive less prison time; that will be up to the sentencing judge and may not change. Read more.
New York
Gov. Cuomo’s wage board approved a resolution for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, phased in over the next six years. If the resolution is approved by the state labor commissioner, wages will rise to $9.75 statewide and $10.50 in New York City onDecember 31st, 2015. Read more.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced this year’s local government property tax increases will be capped at 0.73%, the lowest in years. DiNapoli’s office says this is due in part to a lower inflation rate, and it will result in about $88 million less in tax revenue growth next year as compared to this year.

The comptroller also said the state pension fund may lower its rate of return due to uncertainty on Wall Street. The fund is currently at $176.8 billion and serves 1 million current and former public workers. Lowering the rate would probably result in higher contribution rates from municipalities in the short term, and DiNapoli said his office will take several factors into account before making a decision. Read more.

On the bright side, the state’s general fund had almost $1.9 billion more than anticipated in June, thanks to strong tax revenues. DiNapoli was cautious about declaring a trend, however, saying, “We are seeing strength in sometimes volatile revenue sources, so it is unclear whether this positive trend will continue in the months ahead.” Read more.

In response to Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory remarks about everyone from immigrants to Sen. John McCain, Mayor de Blasio announced New York City will not do any more business with Trump. City Council member Mark Levine has been pushing for contracts with Trump to be canceled, but since the city does not have the legal grounds to do that, he and the mayor will settle for not conducting any future business with the mogul and presidential candidate.
Although construction on the Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County came to a halt last week after a court ruled that the town board had improperly approved an environmental review, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors wants to give it exclusive gaming rights. If the state allows the 90-mile exclusivity zone around the Lago casino, the recent application for a casino license from Tioga Downs would be threatened since it is just under 90 miles away. Read more.

Gov. Cuomo announced the state will pay over $8 billion into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) capital plan, but he also expects New York City to dramatically increase its contribution to over $3.2 billion. The capital plan is basically the MTA’s investment proposal for maintaining and expanding its transportation infrastructure. Mayor de Blasio has come out in support of the plan, though he and others are curious about where the state funding will come from. Read more.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind was arrested for disorderly conduct while protesting the Iran agreement outside Sen. Charles Schumer’s Midtown Manhattan office. Read more.

Sen. Tom Libous was found guilty of lying to an FBI agent. He now faces up to five years in prison and must forfeit his Senate seat, leaving Senate Republicans dangerously close to losing their majority. Read more.

Gov. Cuomo pledged to help his former cabinet member Barbara Fiala if she were to run for the seat in the special election planned for November. It is a curious move, since Gov. Cuomo has publicly tried to say out of Senate politics, but he has also received considerable criticism from his party for not supporting them enough. Fiala was already being considered as a candidate for the seat for next year, so the choice is not altogether out of nowhere. The district is heavily Republican, however, so it will be an interesting race. Read more.

State Sen. John Sampson was found guilty on three corruption charges today, and he, too, will lose his Senate seat. He was previously the Democratic leader. Read more.

New charges have been brought against Sen. Dean Skelos and his son Adam, expanding the indictment to include two charges of soliciting bribes from a company that lobbied the state. Read more.

New Jersey
Jeb Bush, one of many Republican presidential hopefuls, hosted two fundraisers in New Jersey yesterday and raised over $500,000 from the home state of Gov. Chris Christie, another contender. Read more.
Ohio
Gov. John Kasich announced he will run for the Republican presidential nomination, saying, “I believe I do have the skills” to take on the “daunting challenge” of restoring the nation’s future.
Indiana
Gov. Pence said if state revenues continue coming in strong, he may buy back the rest of the federal loan that was taken out during the Great Recession to maintain the unemployment benefit reserve fund. If this happens this fall, employers will be spared $327 million in the tax penalties they currently pay because of the loan.

Gov. Pence signed two bills that will expand statewide broadband internet access this week. One new law prohibits state and municipal governments from imposing taxes on access to and use of internet services, and the other introduces the Broadband Ready Communities Development Center, which will partner with local governments to facilitate communications projects that expand internet access. Read more.

Indiana received a three-year extension on its No Child Left Behind waiver from the US Department of Education. The waiver exempts the state from some provisions of the law, giving schools “more local control and greater flexibility over how they use federal dollars,” according to state Superintendence Glenda Ritz. The state Department of Education received a one-year waiver last summer. Since the House and Senate have each passed different rewrites of the No Child Left Behind law, we will have to wait and see what ends up being signed into law and if it will continue granting waivers. Read more.

Attorney General Mike Zoeller announced this week that he will join the competition for US Rep. Todd Young’s seat. Zoeller will compete against Robert Hall and state Sens. Erin Houchin and Brent Waltz for the Republican nomination.
Minnesota
Gov. Dayton is not wasting any time in making his goals for the next legislative session –eight months from now – very clear. The governor said he will not sign a tax cut bill unless legislators also send him another funding increase for early childhood education. Minnesota is currently ranked number one in a report on children by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund, and Gov. Dayton wants to keep it that way.Read more.

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