MuniLand

Vermont rebuilds while Congress fights

The state of Vermont is struggling to gather funds to repair the flood damage from Hurricane Irene, the state’s worst natural disaster since the floods of 1927. Generally the state would rely on support from the federal government to replace and repair this infrastructure, but the U.S. Congress is locked in a fight over funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of a larger fiscal battle that could shut down the federal government. From CBS News:

Congress is headed for a showdown over disaster relief funding that could bring the government to the brink of a government shutdown again.

House Speaker John Boehner has scheduled a vote tomorrow on a bill that would keep the government operating through Nov. 18. If the Senate and the House do not approve the stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, before the fiscal year ends Sept 30, the government would be forced to shutdown.

The House bill includes $1 billion in immediate funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $2.65 billion for next year, but the Republican measure also includes a provision to offset the FEMA funds with cuts to the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.

Meanwhile up north Vermont is scrambling to make repair funds available from a variety of sources. VTDigger.org reports:

Tri-level sunshine

Centers of power, by their nature, seek to control and hide information, but civil societies and stable governments require transparency to create the bedrock of confidence among their citizens. Every government must commit itself to open dealings and renew that commitment on an ongoing basis. We have good news from the state of Vermont that this commitment has spread to the state and local level.

Transparency at the federal level got a big boost when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. Wikipedia says the Act “allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States Government” and that it also “defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures and grants nine exemptions to the statute.”

Some have argued that Congress has carved out too many exemptions to the law, but there are many instances where the FOIA has been an effective tool for opening up the records of important government actions.  Without FOIA requests from deceased Bloomberg reporter Mark Pittman, for instance, the public would have never learned the details of the Federal Reserve’s facilities that funneled $3.3 trillion to financial institutions during the financial crisis.

Muni sweeps: Hack for change


Hack for Change

Attention Muniland! Do you have an idea for a public web or mobile application? Change.org is sponsoring a Hack for Change on June 18th and 19th and is soliciting ideas for their programming competition. Here are some of the ideas that have already been posted:

    A reviews site that allows citizens to rate and evaluate city government services and departments A site that makes government data more accessible and actionable An app that lists all San Francisco city legislation and allows residents to vote on it An app that notifies police of suspicious activity

Submit your idea today!

Muni Web 2.0 stars

Government Technology reports on the winners of a wonderful competition to create the best municipal Web 2.0 and social media technologies:

Solve the real problems

Unfunded municipal pension liabilities are getting all the attention now, but it’s the burden of Medicaid and health-care expenses that are really crushing state and county budgets. In California, for example, the state will make a $2.4 billion pension contribution to Calpers and spend approximately $16 billion on Medicaid. The federal government kicks in an additional $25 billion.

I first understood this when I listened to the governors of Vermont and Wisconsin testify to the House Oversight Committee on April 14.  Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont explained his approach to bringing his state budget into balance:

This crisis is the result of the greatest recession in history. I didn’t start with changes to collective bargaining and pensions. Our first problem is that health care costs have doubled. Our second cost driver is that corrections have doubled in 10 years.

Issa’s municipal pension hearing

House_Oversight_April_14_2011

Congressman Darrell Issa’s Committee on Oversight and Reform meet today on state and municipal debt.

The hearing was really a dressed up fight over municipal pensions and collective bargaining rights.

The concern is that bond investors, worried about unknown pension liabilities, will increasingly require more yield for the risk of owning municipals. And some think a  solution is to remove the current form of guaranteed pensions.

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