Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Happened to Gloomy Predictions?


By Frank Knapp, Jr.

Economic reports show that most job growth in our country this year has come from small- and medium-size businesses. That trend will only accelerate, according to the recently released Small Business Index from the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Nearly 3.8 million new jobs will be created by small businesses with fewer than 100 employees in 2011, says the report. That will be enough alone to lower the U.S. unemployment rate by 2.4 percent. The survey, conducted in January, also found that only 2 percent of small businesses planned to lay off workers.

Major health insurance companies nationwide are reporting dramatic increases in small businesses offering health insurance to employees. This reverses a trend for small businesses dropping insurance because of affordability.

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By John Shepley

As a small business owner, I support legislation to increase Maryland’s inadequate minimum wage because it makes good business sense. It’s an important part of our economic recovery and economic progress. I know businesses can pay a better minimum wage and still make a profit -- it helps the business prosper.

Opponents of this legislation like the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Retailers Association, and the Restaurant Association tell you the time is not right to increase the minimum wage because the economy is weak. What they don’t want you to remember is that for them the time is never right. In 2005, they opposed legislation to raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15. They opposed federal legislation to raise the minimum wage in 1996, in the middle of the longest economic expansion in our nation’s history. Then president of the Maryland Retailers Association, Tom Saquella, cut to the chase when he said about their opposition in 1996, “A lot of it’s philosophical.”

So let me cut to the chase: If my business, a small nursery in rural Harford County, can profit and grow when paying a wage that people can thrive on, then there’s no reason any viable business cannot do that too. Unless, that is, their philosophy is getting in the way of good business sense.

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By Kelly Anthony

The battle between Governor Walker and public employees in Wisconsin shines a spotlight on people who are normally behind the scenes in our communities – the public workers.

Teachers, firefighters, street cleaners, police, child abuse caseworkers – these public employees are the heartbeat of our communities. Wisconsin breaks open a debate about how these workers are treated, and the impact on citizens’ pocketbooks. Unfortunately, that debate has become more political theater than substance, with pundits advancing ideological points over honest debate. Here in the “Show Me State” we prefer to look at hard facts.

The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently issued a report on the lot of public employees in the state of Missouri. They made no-nonsense comparisons between public employees and their counterparts in the private sector. The findings may surprise you – and they will certainly alarm any Missourian that believes an effective government needs to attract the highest quality employees, and keep them for the long term.

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By Clare S. Richie

Georgia’s unemployment trust fund is in the red. Since the end of 2009, the state has amassed a $635 million debt to the federal government so that it could provide unemployment benefits to Georgia’s growing number of laid-off workers.

Georgia’s first interest payment of $24 million is due this fall. Already cash-strapped, Georgia’s best option to make this interest payment, repay its loan and avoid federal tax increases on employers is federal relief. A poor alternative would be redirecting state funds from critical services such as education, health care or public safety in order to pay back the loan.

The unemployment trust fund is used to make weekly payments to eligible workers who are laid off due to no fault of their own. Employers contribute to the trust fund through federal and state unemployment insurance (UI) taxes. These contributions are used to build up the trust fund during strong economic times, creating a reserve that can be used to make payments during periods of high unemployment.

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By Emily Eisenhauer

Several bills before the Florida Legislature seek to make it harder for those who are out of work through no fault of their own to get unemployment compensation. Community service requirements, mandatory drug testing, and limiting the number of weeks all seem to be based on the idea that people who are getting benefits don’t deserve them or are not looking hard enough for a job. But in this economy, that doesn’t make sense, and these proposals will make it harder for the system to do its job.

Florida lost almost a million jobs in the recession that began in late 2007, and over 1.1. million people remain unemployed in the state. Last year, 2010, was better, in that the state added 43,500 jobs. But that just means for every job added, there were still 25 people looking for work. Right now almost half of the people out of work have been looking for a job for over 6 months, and over one-third have been looking for more than a year. In recent weeks the media have covered many stories of people who have been applying for any job they can find, and still coming up empty.

Florida already has one of the strictest unemployment compensation systems in the country. In any given week between 15 and 20% of people who submit claims are rejected by the state for not providing sufficient proof of work search or other eligibility reasons. Florida has the fourth lowest maximum weekly benefit in the country - $275 – with an average weekly payment of $230. That means that on average unemployment benefits replace about 38% of a worker’s previous salary. It’s hard to imagine that people surviving on 38% of their salary wouldn’t be out doing everything they can to get a new job.

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By Mark Cooper

Why would anyone pay a $150 for something that costs $100? They wouldn’t if they had a choice, and that’s the problem with new nuclear reactors. Wall Street knows that new reactors cost too much and won’t fund them. But MidAmerican wants to build them, so the company is looking to the Iowa ratepayer to play the fool.

MidAmerican’s 636,000 customers in Iowa are captive customers; they can’t shop for the best power deal. Historically, when a utility wants to add new generating capacity it must build the plant and begin producing electricity before seeking to recover the costs from its customers. They can only recover costs that are reasonable and prudent. And the utility’s rate of return on its investment in the new plant should be commensurate with the risk the utility faces in undertaking the project.

MidAmerican, through HSB 124 and SSB 1144, wants to turn the whole process on its head. As a result, all three of these traditional consumer protections would be dramatically weakened.

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By Phil Schoggen

Tennessee is considering a proposal to amend the state Constitution to prohibit any tax on incomes or payroll. This resolution would render the state forever dependent on our sales tax, now one of the highest in the nation.

Buried deep in the proposal is a provision that would skirt the Constitution and abandon traditional procedure by declaring that posting an internet notice of the amendment on the Tennessee Secretary of State's or the Tennessee General Assembly's web site would satisfy the Constitution's requirement for official public notice. In the past this notification requirement has been met by publishing notices in newspapers across the state. The purpose of changing the publication method is to reduce the cost of providing the notice.

The problem with the proposed method of providing public notice is that 35 percent of Tennessee households do not have internet access at home and 25 percent do not have internet access anywhere. Voters and community leaders are accustomed to receiving notice in the traditional manner, in their local newspaper. No one knows how effective such a notice would be if published on the internet only. If the public remains uninformed about such serious change in the method of providing a notice, it amounts to legislative action without public awareness.

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By Jackie Rodríguez

I am not to blame for the unemployment crisis in Florida. Yes, I have been unemployed. And yes, I have collected unemployment to support myself and my family. After two years since I was last laid-off, I finally found a new opportunity just a month ago. It was not easy, and I do not blame myself. But I do point my finger at the economy and the greed of our current economic system that only looks out for those on top.

The news is all a flurry with the idea that unemployed people, like I was just a few days ago, are the ones to blame for the situation we find ourselves in. This round of “blame the victim” is nothing less than despicable, shameful and downright dishonest. Let’s look at the facts behind the blame game.

In Florida, for every job created last year there are 25 people who still need a job. Our state has a whopping 12 percent unemployment rate. While there are one million unemployed people in our state, less than half are receiving unemployment insurance. Nationally, profits have more than recovered from the worst of the economic crisis, raising 12 percent since 2007, but unemployment continues to grow.

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By Talat Hamdani

As a proud New Yorker and the mother of a first responder who lost his life on September 11, 2001, I am saddened to learn that Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is planning on holding congressional hearings on March 10 on the "radicalization of American Muslims."

My son Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a Muslim American. He was one of those brave 2,976 people who tragically lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As The New York Times eulogized, "He wanted to be seen as an all-American kid. He wore No. 79 on the high school football team in Bayside, Queens, where he lived, and he was called Sal by his friends... He became a research assistant at Rockefeller University and drove an ambulance part-time. One Christmas, he sang in Handel's Messiah in Queens. He saw all the Star Wars movies, and it was well known that his new Honda was the one with "Yung Jedi" license plates."

Even though my son bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on that fateful day, after the tragedy there were still some people who smeared his character solely because of his Islamic faith. False rumors were spread that he was in league with the attackers and that he had secretly fled. It was only when his remains were identified that this ugliness finally came to a close.

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Arvonne Fraser

By Arvonne Fraser and Aviva Breen

Should Esther, the city clerk in Lake Wobegon, be paid $250 a month less than Joe who shovels the sidewalk and sweeps the floor in city hall? That was the kind of hypothetical question posed when the Minnesota Legislature passed the Local Government Pay Equity Act in 1984. Never mind that the fictional Esther was a widow, taking care of an aged mother, while Joe, the maintenance man, was single and a cousin of the mayor. That was just life. Everybody in town was glad Esther had a job. In those days only the town banker and city council members knew who got paid what.

Twenty-six years later, thanks to the pay equity bill, picture Jolene, now the town's clerk who makes just a bit more than her husband, Brian, who plows the town's streets in winter as a maintenance man. Together they support their three children, pay their property taxes, and are saving to help their kids through college. They are pleased that Aunt Esther's social security is better than it would have been because under the law her pay was adjusted.

Now, there are efforts to repeal this pay equity law. In December, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce issued a report saying the legislation is too costly and no longer necessary. Some state legislators agreed and have introduced proposals for repeal. Apparently they agree that a penny saved is a penny earned, but where's their sense of proportion when the state's deficit is in the billions of dollars?

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José J. Rodriguez


By José J. Rodríguez, and Paul Sonn

Since January 1, more than 180,000 of Florida’s lowest-wage workers -- people caring for the elderly, serving food at the local diner, and cleaning and securing our office buildings -- have been denied an annual cost of living adjustment required by law. Acting in violation of the Florida Constitution, the state failed to implement a legally mandated 6 cent increase in our minimum wage for 2011.
Paul Sonn

Back in 2004, Florida voters overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment -- by a lopsided 78 to 22 percent margin -- creating a state minimum wage and indexing to inflation so that it keeps pace with the rising cost of food, clothing, electricity and other necessities. Voters realized that without such protection, the ability of minimum wage earners to provide for their families would fall each year as prices rose but the minimum wage remained stagnant.

On New Year’s Day, seven states with laws like Florida’s -- Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- increased their state minimum wages to keep pace with inflation. Florida did not.

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By F. Scott McCown

Maybe you’ve heard that our state is short of money because of the recession. Perhaps you think the state can just cut spending or that the problem doesn’t affect you. Well think again.

Our state isn’t just a little short of money. Merely to maintain critical public services, at their current levels, costs at least $27 billion more than we have. In other words, we only have three-fourths of the money we need.

If you try to fill this big of a hole with only cuts in spending, you cut into the state’s muscle and bone.

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By Charles H. Kuck

From the perspective of a lifelong Republican, I am always troubled when the State Legislature starts looking at ways to “fix” a problem by getting the government more involved in the lives of its citizens, rather than less involved. That is absolutely the case with the currently pending legislation on immigration. A detailed review of HB 87 and SB 40 reveals that these bills do not reform illegal immigration nor do they enforce laws related to illegal immigration. What they do is increase taxes on every citizen of Georgia by increasing government regulation, create unfunded mandates for every county, city, town, and village in Georgia, and create new private rights of action against every Georgia polity that will result in hundreds of lawsuits that will drain taxpayer coffers and result in little, if any real change on the issue of illegal immigration.

This type of legislation is popular because it gives the perception that the state is doing something, which the federal government is purportedly not doing—enforcing federal laws on illegal immigration. The problem with this notion is two-fold. First, the federal government is doing more than it has EVER done in enforcing the laws on undocumented immigration. The Obama Administration is spending literally billions of taxpayer dollars building fences, hiring border patrol agents, detaining undocumented immigrants and actually deported 400,000 people last year—a record. Second, these proposals do not create any greater degree of enforcement than already exists under current state and federal law.

By September 30, 2013, everyone arrested in Georgia is going to be run through the Secure Communities program, and if they are unlawfully present in the United States they are being held for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to pick up within 48 hours.

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By Lew Prince

The Republicans in the Missouri Legislature are trying to overturn the clearly expressed will of the people in order to give gigantic welfare checks to some of America’s biggest corporations.

Nearly 1.6 million Missourians voted to raise the minimum wage in 2006. Only 501,657 voted against the proposition. That’s a three to one margin.

To put this in perspective, in the same election, Democrat Claire McCaskill beat Republican Jim Talent by less than 49,000 votes. That means over a million Republican-leaning voters saw the need to raise the wages of the poorest working Missourians. According to exit polls, the minimum wage proposition was favored by Democrats, Independents and Republicans; liberals, moderates and conservatives; urban, suburban and rural voters; low-income, middle- and high-income voters; and voters of all ages.

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By Sherece West

Despite the notion that fixing the nation’s public schools may require an “act of superman,” a coming together of not just educators, education officials, policymakers, parents and students, but education grantmakers as well, might actually be the “force of nature” needed to turn around our failing schools.

A few months ago, I attended the largest gathering of education funders for a conference that focused on “fulfilling the promise of excellence and equity.” I hope that participants of the Grantmakers for Education conference wrestled with some startling findings from a new study. Every year, grantmakers give billions of dollars in grants for education. But only a few of them provide funding to address the specific needs of all students, especially those most in need – lower-income and other underserved students – and an even smaller number supports efforts to solve our education crisis, according to a report recently released by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) (, a watchdog group based in D.C.

In “Confronting Systemic Inequity in Education: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy,” Kevin Welner and Amy Farley examine the system-wide issues that feed the cycle of unequal educational access and opportunities faced by students from marginalized communities. Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Farley argue that education reform cannot take place without breaking this cycle, and this requires change in the way philanthropy directs its resources.

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By Chris Liu-Beers

As the legislature returns to Raleigh, all eyes will be on the budget with its projected shortfall of over $3 billion. But observers expect a slew of bills on other issues as well, including one that always attracts controversy: immigration.

No doubt it will be tempting for some lawmakers to try to implement Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law here in North Carolina. But as we have already learned from Arizona, this approach is shortsighted and misguided.

Anti-immigrant forces want to ban undocumented immigrant families from renting apartments or sending their kids to school. These kinds of policies are unworkable and inconsistent with our values.

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