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    Tuesday
    Apr252017

    Amid Shutdown Talk, States and Cities Seek Clues to the Future

    Whether and how Congress passes a budget this week could indicate what's to come when negotiations start for the next year, which will be the first full budget under President Trump.
    BY  APRIL 25, 2017

     

    As lawmakers in Washington work to avoid a shutdown of the federal government this week, the tenor of the negotiations could provide a window for states and localities into what to expect from future budget debates on Capitol Hill.

    “The big picture is how well the Republican conference gets along in terms of this run-of-the-mill budget stuff,” says Dan White, a director at Moody’s Analytics. “If they take it down to the wire, that portends some very uncertain fiscal times over the next couple months.”

    The federal government has been running on a continuing resolution that funds agencies at 2016 levels. Congress has until midnight on April 28 -- this Friday night -- to agree on a spending plan for the remainder of the federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, or approve another short-term resolution.

    In the aftermath of the Republican party’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), observers are eyeing the amount of drama it takes for Congressional leaders to agree on the budget. A political squabble now over closing out fiscal year 2017 wouldn't bode well for hopes of getting through a new fiscal 2018 budget, which must be approved by Oct. 1.

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    Tuesday
    Apr252017

    The Emerging Strategy for Capitalizing on Women's Unprecedented Interest in Politics

    Women have mobilized in large numbers to run for office before. Women-in-politics advocates want to make sure it's sustainable this time.
    BY  APRIL 25, 2017

    Jean Sinzdak could see right away that this year would be different for women in politics. For the first time in her 12 years of running a seminar for women interested in public office, she had to start a waitlist.

    Registrations for the “Ready to Run” program, run by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), began pouring in after the presidential election. Whether it was Hillary Clinton’s loss or Donald Trump’s victory despite multiple sexual harassment accusations and a video that shows him brag about grabbing women, the election results have been a mobilizing force.

    “We had a lot of women who said, ‘I never considered running myself, but this year I woke up or I realized I had to do it,’” says Sinzdak, the associate director for CAWP.

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    Friday
    Apr212017

    The Week in Public Finance: Ballmer's Data Trove, Grading Pension Health and a New Muni Bond Threat

    BY  APRIL 21, 2017

    This Goes Way Beyond Open Data

    You might not peg former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers as a government data geek. But Steven Ballmer stepped into that role in a grand scale this week when he unveiled his privately funded, years-long project to help citizens easily track how government spends their money.

    Called USAFacts, the website contains federal, state and local aggregated data on revenue and spending, as well as on debt, population, employment and pensions. Want to know about pension debt? Two quick searches reveal that unfunded liabilities in state and local retirement systems have more than quadrupled since 2000. At the same time, the median age in the country has increased by 2.5 years.

    As a businessman used to the corporate world, Ballmer wants to make government financial reports more readable. To that end, the site has introduced the first government "10-K report" -- the private sector's version of an annual financial report. It aggregates data from all U.S. governments and gives progress reports on government programs, provides financial balance sheets and gives data on key economic indicators.

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    Wednesday
    Apr192017

    As the Clock Ticks, Senate Stalls on State-Run Retirement Plans

    Congress could overturn a rule that allows states to create private-sector retirement programs. But it only has a limited time to do it.
    BY  APRIL 19, 2017

    The U.S. Capitol (FlickrCC/Geoff Livingston)

    Late last month, Congress voted to overturn an Obama-era rule that cleared the way for cities to create retirement programs for private-sector workers that didn't have one through their employer. But a similar resolution targeting the rule as it applies to states is stuck.

    For the past three weeks, that resolution has lingered in uncertainty as the Senate stalls on taking an up or down vote. Many believe that signals an opportunity. "Based on the conversations we've had with staff and colleagues working on this," says Cristina Martin Firvida of AARP, which supports the Obama-era regulation, "I think there are a number of senators who still have a lot of questions about the state rule."

    The rule, which was issued by the Department of Labor, reaffirmed cities' and states' legal right to help support private-sector savings programs for small businesses. Seven states are implementing such programs, while another dozen states and cities are considering them.

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    Friday
    Apr142017

    The Week in Public Finance: Pay to Play, High Investment Fees and the Small Business Credit Crunch

    BY  APRIL 14, 2017

    Pay to Play? Hardly.

    Pennsylvania is going with passive funds. That was the message this week from State Treasurer Joe Torsella, who says he plans to move the state’s $1 billion in actively managed public equity (stock) funds over to index funds within six months.

    Index, or passive, funds are known for their lower fees and lower volatility. Rather than managed by a trader, these funds are built using computer models that are designed to mimic the performance of stock indexes like the S&P 500. Torsella expects the shift to save at least $5 million a year in fees.

    The treasurer’s announcement is part of an effort to return faith in the office after his predecessor left in disgrace amid a pay-to-play scandal. Former Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty in 2015 to federal charges that he used his office to influence future investment deals and other contracts as a way raise cash for a failed gubernatorial bid.

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