MuniLand

Time for gun control in America

Another mass killing in America. Another wave of grief and questioning. After the killing of 20 children and at least 6 adults in Newton, Connecticut, it’s time as a nation that we tighten the control of gun ownership. Australia changed its laws after facing a similar tragedy. After the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting in July that killed 12 people and injured 58 others, I wrote about how Australia approached gun control. It is worth revisiting and engaging the debate:

July 24, 2012 – After the tragic murders in Aurora, Colorado last Friday, the debate over gun control in the U.S. has been reignited. Policymakers would do well to study the case of Australia’s gun-control laws, which were put in place following a comparably tragic incident in 1996. After a man killed 35 people and wounded an additional 21 with two semi-automatic rifles in the Tasmanian town of Port Arthur, Australia passed a law that banned all such rifles, along with semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and then created a restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.

The national government also undertook a gun buyback program. This involved each state and territory establishing and operating a system through which gun owners and dealers could surrender the newly prohibited weapons in return for compensation. Arrangements were also made to compensate firearms dealers for loss of business related to these newly prohibited firearms.

Interestingly, the Australian government only set the policy parameters for the program and left it to each state and territory to establish how to enact it. Because of the variance in the territories’ methods, there’s an interesting data set researchers were able to use to analyze the effectiveness of the program:

In the seven years before the NFA [National Firearms Agreement], the average annual firearm homicide rate per 100,000 was .43 (range .27 to .60) while for the seven years post NFA, the average annual firearm homicide rate was .25 (range .16 to .33).

Get ready for more public toll bridges and roads

Governor John Kasich of Ohio and Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky are forming a bi-state team to research funding options to replace the 50 year-old bridge that crosses the Ohio River and connects their states. The Brent Spence Bridge carries about double the volume it was designed for on Interstate 71. It is an example of valuable U.S. infrastructure in need of replacement. The big question is where the funds will come from. AP has the story:

The two governors were joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and all three said that charging tolls would need to be a part of any financing plan.

“Uncle Sam is not coming in on a white horse to pay for all of this. Those days don’t exist anymore,” [Kentucky governor] Beshear said. “We need to find all kinds of sources.”

The effort to privatize Pennsylvania lottery hits a roadblock

Nothing makes me happier than to see law as the weapon of choice in a fight between public officials. There is a big battle underway in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over the efforts of the governor to privatize the lottery, currently a big source of revenue for the state’s senior citizen programs. I wrote last week about Pennsylvania’s sweetheart lottery privatization deal:

There is a lot of darkness and a web of connections around the efforts to privatize the Pennsylvania state lottery. Tom Corbett, the governor of Pennsylvania, is attempting to force through the privatization before the legislature comes back into session in January and has a chance to review the terms of the 20-30 year deal. Democrats are howling.

One Democrat with a lot of legal authority is howling away, and he has essentially blocked the governor’s efforts to sell the highly profitable lottery to a British firm. The Patriot News writes:

Michigan excludes police and fire unions from “right to work”

Lansing, Michigan is aflame with the anger of union workers who object to how state officials have rammed “right-to-work” legislation through the state house. “Right-to-work” would end the requirement that workers join a union in their workplace if it is unionized. Union workers are especially incensed that the legislation was pushed through during a lame duck session without hearings or debate. The Detroit Free Press reports:

[State Rep. David Rutledge, (D-Ypsilanti)] and many other House Dems decried the manner in which the bills were introduced and passed with no committee hearings or public debate.

“For such a significant policy change that will have lasting repercussions to be taken up with no meaningful debate is absolutely shameful,” said state Rep. Woodrow Stanley, (D-Flint).

The politics of recovery money for Sandy

Several days after hurricane Sandy slammed into the tri-state area, President Obama toured the devastated shore with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and promised to deliver support. Last Friday, six weeks after the storm, the White House sent a $60 billion supplemental budget request to Capitol Hill for recovery funds. The request is likely to get tangled up in ongoing budget and debt-limit wrangling and intra-state politics. New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo is already showing some sharp elbows, as seen in the tweet above from his press conference last Friday with New York’s congressional delegation. Take that Chris Christie.

There seems to be a semi-resigned attitude among the senators from the affected states. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a statement:

“This is going to be a tough fight in the Congress given the fiscal cliff, and some members have not been friendly to disaster relief,” they added.

Pennsylvania’s sweetheart lottery privatization deal

There is a lot of darkness and a web of connections around the efforts to privatize the Pennsylvania state lottery. Tom Corbett, the governor of Pennsylvania, is attempting to force through the privatization before the legislature comes back into session in January and has a chance to review the terms of the 20-30 year deal. Democrats are howling.

The Patriot News tells one side of the story:

Calling the administration’s pursuit of this potential deal “too secretive,” House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, urged Corbett to be more transparent about his plan for privatizing the lottery that he said would cost older Pennsylvanians hundreds of millions of dollars in lost funding for services over the life of the 20-year contract.

“Now, when there is no General Assembly in session, he is trying to hand-deliver a lucrative contract to the lone bidder with no hearings, no legislative approval and no public scrutiny. This whole thing stinks,” Dermody said.

California moves toward open source ratings for city bonds

In the past year, three California cities have filed for bankruptcy. This casts a pall on the bonds of other California cities, because investors wonder if they also contain buried fiscal issues. In an effort to create more transparency, a new open source ratings project was recently launched:

Responding to market concerns about municipal credit quality, the California State Treasurer’s Office has commissioned a San Jose State University economist and a government-bond research group, Public Sector Credit Solutions, to develop a default probability model for city bonds.

The “default probability model” (which is what most credit rating agencies use as a model) was created by former Moody’s executive Marc Joffe of Public Sector Credit Solutions. Here is what the California State Treasurer is hoping that it will do:

Women analysts dominate muniland

Over 2,700 votes were cast by institutional investors to identify the best muniland analysts from the buyside, sellside and credit rating agencies at Smith’s Municipal All-Star Program this week. Analysts from every side of the business were represented among the winners. But the majority of top awards went to women or teams led by women. Women dominate analytical muniland.

The brains of muniland gathered yesterday at Bayards in lower Manhattan to fete the all star research analysts of the tax-exempt world. Amid oil paintings of sailing schooners, the event, organized by Smith’s Research and Gradings, identified the very best municipal analysts across multiple classes of municipal bonds. It’s the Oscars of the municipal space.

Mary Jo Ochson of Federated Investors received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her 30 years of work in the industry. Ochson is “passionate, fearless and smart,” said Terry Smith, president of Smith’s Research, when he gave her the award. I asked Ochson what career experiences may have led her to becoming the 13th inductee in Smith’s Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame. Here is what she said:

America’s blood sport

Five years ago, NFL superstar Michael Vick admitted to running a dogfighting operation. Media accounts detailed the hanging, drowning, electrocution and shooting of dogs. Vick served less than two years in prison and has spent time since his prison release working with the Humane Society to speak out against dogfighting. Two months ago, Vick even got a dog for his family. Vick’s high profile case influenced how dogfighting is treated by the law, according to Rebecca Huss, the Guardian/Special Master in the Vick/Bad Newz Kennels Case:

The Vick case also influenced law by changing dog fighting penalties. Following the case, the maximum imprisonment time for violations of the Animal Welfare Act animal fighting prohibition increased from one to three years, pursuant to the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act. In 2008, the passage of the Food Conservation and Energy Act increased the maximum time for imprisonment for dog fighting ventures to five years. Furthermore, dog fighting became a felony in all fifty states in 2008, with Idaho and Wyoming being the last states to pass laws making it a felony.

Nevertheless, dogfighting persists across America. The cruel blood sport continues to leave a trail of violence and criminality across the country. According to stopdogfighting.net:

Obama goes long renewable energy

President Obama is putting some wind in the sails of the transformation of solar energy to an industrial scale. Lost in the pre-election frenzy in July was this announcement:

The Obama administration announced a plan on Tuesday to open public land in six southwestern states to speed up the development of solar energy, while blocking projects in areas deemed environmentally sensitive.

The plan allows for 17 zones covering about 285,000 acres of federal land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The administration wants to fast track development of large solar power generation plants that would provide electricity to homes and businesses through power grids.

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