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State of the states - Feb 23

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Feinstein's Water Bomb

Matt Jenkins, High Country News
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is preparing to introduce a legislative rider that would dramatically reduce Endangered Species Act protection for salmon and other fish in California. The amendment would lift restrictions on the amount of water that farmers can pump from the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta for the next two years. But it could also scuttle a delicately negotiated effort to balance protections for endangered fish with the water needs of farms and residents of Southern California.

Feinstein’s effort comes as the state seems bound for the third year of an emergency fishing ban to protect dwindling salmon runs, and as populations of the Delta smelt and other fish continue to crash. And the move is a remarkable turnaround: Just four months ago, Feinstein denounced Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, for trying to introduce a similar amendment at the behest of California water districts.

Feinstein's office declined repeated requests for details and comment yesterday, but insiders familiar with the matter say that the Senator’s reversal is largely due to lobbying by the Westlands Water District. Last year, after three years of drought, the federal government cut water deliveries to many irrigation districts in the San Joaquin Valley. Westlands, which is the largest district of its kind in the nation, was hit the hardest, and saw its supply of water from the Delta dwindle to just 10 percent of the amount it holds contracts for.

Westlands is "a coyote with its leg in a steel-jawed trap," says Jason Peltier, the district’s chief deputy manager. “Short-term, we’re going to pursue every right and legal avenue we have to protect ourselves.”

But pushing aside the federal pumping restrictions intended to protect threatened smelt and endangered salmon would solve only part of the district’s problem. Fish-related restrictions account for just 15 to 20 percent of the cutbacks, according to an independent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California. The vast majority of the water shortage is due to the drought. (For an in-depth exploration, see Breakdown).
(12 February 2010)




School districts ax teachers, blame state for financial meltdown

Lisa Black, Chicago Tribune
Chicago-area school districts already struggling with multimillion-dollar budget deficits are warning of mass teacher layoffs and deep program cuts for the coming school year — an impending crisis they blame on the recession and the state's chronic financial woes.

The state hasn't paid the current school year's education bills in months, despite $3 billion in federal stimulus funding provided over the last two years.

"The state fiscal crisis we are in is absolutely unprecedented," said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

In addition to teaching positions, school districts already have chopped or postponed pool hours, athletic teams and textbook purchases. Others plan to cut band programs, increase class sizes, reduce field trips and use fewer substitute teachers.

A snapshot of some troubled districts:

  • Maine Township High School District 207 in Park Ridge has approved the elimination of 75 teaching and 62 nonteaching jobs.
  • Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202 has discussed cutting up to 160 full-time jobs next year and eliminating the fifth-grade band program.
  • The Chicago Public Schools system faces a budget deficit as high as $900 million for next year, up from about $475 million this year, officials say. The district has laid off more than 500 employees and expects to lay off another 500 this school year. So far, the layoffs have not hit the classroom.
  • Elgin-based School District U-46, the state's second-largest district, has cut 348 jobs — mostly nonteaching — for the current school year. It also closed five swimming pools and canceled the athletic "B" teams. The district predicted a $15 million budget deficit next school year, on top of the $50 million deficit carried over from this year.
  • Naperville's Indian Prairie School District 204 is considering up to $13 million in cuts, including a layoff of non-tenured teachers, increasing registration fees and delaying new textbook and technology purchases.

(22 February 2010)




No money? No library certification in Hull.

Johanna Seltz, Boston Globe
After Hull received the dubious distinction this month of having the only library decertified by the state this fiscal year, officials are scrambling to figure out what it means to local library users.

“The most direct impact will be when people try to check out a book from another [town’s] library,’’ said Kelly Eileen Beazley, chairwoman of the Hull Library Trustees. “Most of them have indicated they would deny’’ borrowing privileges.

The only exception is Quincy’s Thomas Crane Public Library, she said, and possibly the Hingham Public Library, whose trustees will consider the issue at their March 17 meeting.

Hull residents are frequent users of Hingham’s library: The 33,468 items they borrowed last year account for almost a third of what the Hingham library lent to nonresidents last year, according to Hingham’s library director, Dennis Corcoran.

...After the town narrowly rejected a tax override last spring, all town services were cut. Hull’s library budget went from $275,000 in the fiscal year that ended last June to $100,000 this fiscal year. As a result, the library reduced its hours from 45 to 32 a week, staying open five days instead of six.

Volunteers managed to avoid further reductions by raising about $80,000 for the library.

For the coming fiscal year, the town manager’s proposed budget includes a significant boost in library funding, to $220,000.

But town officials were unable to persuade the state Board of Library Commissioners to give the Hull library a waiver to retain its certification. Hull was among 97 libraries that applied for a waiver this year, and the only one that was rejected...
(14 February 2010)




Recession Tightens Grip on State Tax Revenues

Michael Cooper, New York Times
*****The recession can now claim another troublesome record: state tax collections shrank at the end of 2009 for a fifth consecutive quarter, the longest period of continuing state revenue declines since at least the Great Depression, according to a new report.*****

Over all, state tax collections fell to $134.5 billion in the last quarter of 2009, a 4.1 percent drop from the $140.2 billion collected during the same period a year earlier, according to the report, which will be released Tuesday by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

*****While the drop in tax collections was less severe than earlier in the year***** -- the record for the steepest drop was set last spring when tax collections fell by 16.6 percent compared with the same period in 2008 -- *****the continuing declines are putting even more stress on states.*****

*****The revenue decline comes despite the tax increases imposed by many states since the recession began. With less tax money coming into state treasuries and expenses for programs like Medicaid continuing to mount, many states will probably be forced to consider further tax increases, spending cuts and layoffs -- actions that some economists warn could put a drag on the nation's fragile economic recovery.***** [[[ Quite an understatement IMO! ]]]

The Rockefeller Institute report, which was written by Lucy Dadayan, a senior policy analyst, warns, "State tax revenue will continue to be insufficient to support current spending commitments, and more spending cuts and tax increases are most likely on the way for many states."

Oklahoma reported the largest revenue drop in the quarter, a 26.9 percent decline compared with the same period the previous year, followed by Arizona, which reported a 17.1 percent drop. ***Seven states reported growth in revenues, but the report notes that the gains "were often driven by legislated tax increases rather than growth in the economy and tax base."***

***The report predicts that more states will begin seeing revenue growth soon, particularly in sales tax collections as retail sales rebound, but warns that state tax revenue will likely remain below its pre-recession peak "for quite some time."*** [[[ IMO this is overly optimistic to say the least. ]]]

*****Many states are hoping that the federal government will provide them with more aid this year, now that much of the state aid included in the stimulus package has been spent. The National Governors Association, which continued its meeting in Washington on Monday, has warned that the fiscal year beginning in July will be "the most difficult to date."*****

Some states have already tapped so-called rainy day funds, and others have turned to a variety of one-time gimmicks to balance their budgets. Now, many states find themselves in the budgetary equivalent of looking for loose change under the sofa cushions. ***Some governors are even counting on more federal aid in their proposed budgets for next year, even though it is far from certain that the money will be approved.***

***Others warn that doing so would be imprudent. "It would be irresponsible," Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a Republican, said in a recent interview. "It's irresponsible to count money that hasn't even passed Congress."***
(22 February 2010)
Thanks to William Tamblyn for the article and the inserted commentary. -KS

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: flickr/Tramontane

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