Arizona voters pass tax on the rich to pay teachers more

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Highlights

1) National: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the presidential election on a platform promising support for public education, a major expansion of public-private health services to deal with COVID-19 and the mental health and addiction crisisinfrastructure investment and clean energy, a public option for Obamacare, ending the prefunding mandate for USPS pensions, federally-funded paid leave, and an end to private prisons. They have also promised to proceed cautiously on any proposals to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac federally-supported mortgage agencies.

2) National: At the state level progressives also won some significant victories despite having a disappointing day nationally, especially in state legislatures. The lowest number of state chambers changed hands in 76 years. For details see the National Conference of State Legislators Postelection Partisan Legislative Control Map, and listen to the interview of NCSL Executive Director Tim Storey and Director of Elections and Redistricting Wendy Underhill. [Video, about 13 minutes]

3) National: Voters in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia passed ballot measures aimed at increasing benefits for veterans and their families. “Virginia residents also voted, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, for a veteran car tax exemption. The measure allows veterans who have a 100 percent, permanent disability as decided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to exempt one automobile or pickup truck from state and local property taxes.” 

4) National: Tuesday saw big wins for the progressive prosecutors movement in Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Corpus Christi, Orlando, Michigan, and Austin. 

5) National: Democracy is being well served as Secretaries of State have taken the lead to ensure that every vote is counted and misinformation is refuted. “Ms. Boockvar said at a news conference on Thursday evening that she was unaware of any credible fraud accusations and said the tweet that Mr. Stepien had highlighted preceded her election and her oath of office. ‘Partisan politics have no place in the Pennsylvania Department of State,’ she said.” 

joint statement from the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the National Association of State Elec­tion Directors (NASED) said, “We would first like to thank local election officials, the millions of voters and the thousands of election workers for their participation throughout the 2020 general election. Our nation’s democracy functions best when its citizens come together to support free and fair elections. 

“Over the course of the election, more than 100 million ballots were safely and se­curely cast, both in-person and by mail. Election offices nationwide are now dili­gently counting every eligible ballot cast. While the media has already called many races, it is important to remember these results are unofficial and numbers will continue to change until they have been reviewed and certified by election of­ficials. Please know, this is standard for each election.

6) NationalTax ballot initiatives were a mixed bag. “Voters in the battleground state of Arizona approved a measure, Proposition 208, to impose a 3.5 percent surcharge on income above $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for married couples. That will have the effect of raising the top state income tax rate from 4.5 percent to 8 percent. The ballot measure, backed by Democratic leaders and labor groups, specified that revenue raised from the surcharge will go to education-related expenses like hiring teachers, raising teacher salaries, and career and technical education programs for high school students.”

In California, Prop 15, which would have taxed properties based on current market value rather than purchase price and increased property taxes on commercial properties for funding to local governments and schools, is on the way to failing

7) FloridaHow does big developer money overwhelm governing for the common good? A case study from Manatee County. Dennis ‘Mitch’ Maley, an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times, picks up the story. “Sure, the relatively small population of citizen activists and good-government watchdogs who follow local government closely will applaud a well-intended, grassroots candidate, and if that person is willing to put the time and effort into engaging the community, they can raise the modest sum of money that should and very much used to be required to campaign effectively. But the financial influence that a government like the Manatee County Commission has grown to have in the recent decades of hyper-growth has meant that those seeking not so much an effective government as one that will bend to their will possess a much larger incentive to hijack the process by purchasing influence.”

8) Illinois: Big money donors, including billionaire hedge fund executive Ken Griffin, beat back a tax raising initiative which promised to alter the state constitution so that legislators could legally implement a progressive income tax. “Now, the state faces the prospect of higher taxes on everyone, more austerity, or both. ‘There will be cuts, and they will be painful,’ [Gov.] Pritzker warned. ‘And the worst thing is the same billionaires who lied to you about the ‘Fair Tax’ are more than happy to hurt our public schools.’” In a recent behind the scenes talk reported on by Institutional Investor, Griffin opposed a further federal economic stimulus package for beleaguered Americans, warning of “socialism.” The defeat of the tax initiative may also hurt Illinois’ bond ratings. [Sub required] 

9) National: In Chicago, unions including the Chicago Teachers, the United Electrical Workers, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, SEIU Local 73, and Government Employees Local 704 “announced that they are prepared to take part in mass protests, including a general strike, to defend democratic rights and the peaceful transition of power. (…) For some, the idea of coup seems implausible. That’s why United Teachers Los Angeles called members together in regional meetings to learn what a coup might look like and how the election count might unfold. Using this PowerPoint, UTLA members learned about significant deadlines and decisions on the way to the next president taking office.”

10) PennsylvaniaOn Philadelphia’s streets, as the crucial vote count proceeded, a homeless man hoped—and voted. “Spruill avoided the crowd. He avoided the swarms of police officers, and he never looked up to see the police helicopters circling overhead. ‘I like things quiet,’ said Spruill, 58, who sat on a folded-up futon on the sidewalk of Camac Street. ‘I don’t need any trouble.’ Spruill has done his job. He voted weeks ago by absentee ballot, which means his vote may be among the paper ballots still being counted inside the convention center, one of 360,000 votes left to count in Pennsylvania that could decide the presidential election.” 

11) Think Tanks: This Thursday, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) will be holding a webinar to explain the results of the 2020 state elections, including ballot measure results. 1 p.m. ET.

12) Think Tanks: When do state legislators assume office after the general election? Ballotpedia has a guide.

Education

13) NationalBye Betsy DeVos. Writing in Slate, Dan Kois says “So long, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos! It wasn’t just that you were unqualified to lead America’s educational system, as someone who never worked at a public school, attended a public school, or took out a school loan. It was that you were the opposite of qualified, an early example of the Trump administration’s elitist disregard for the very role of government agencies themselves. You sailed into the Department of Education as if sailing into port on one of your yachts, buoyed by your belief that public schools are a “dead end,” your declaration that government ‘sucks,’” and your family’s hundreds of millions of dollars donated to Republican causes.”

The Washington Post reports that with Trump out, President Biden plans a number of important changes in education policy, and that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association are under consideration are two teachers-union leaders. The Post also reports “Democrats for Education Reform, a centrist group that supports Obama-era accountability measures, is pushing several names and hoping for a secretary who will be open to their views. That will be a challenge, given that Biden aligned himself closely with teachers unions, who oppose much of the group’s agenda. In an email to supporters obtained by Chalkbeat, the group’s president pointed to three big-city school leaders: Sonja Brookins Santelises of Baltimore City Public Schools, Janice K. Jackson of Chicago Public Schools and William Hite of the School District of Philadelphia.”

14) National: In an interview with Liza Featherstone on progressive gains in last Tuesday’s elections, Jennifer Berkshire says voters supported public schools even in some conservative-leaning districts. “’Voters routinely come together across party lines to increase school spending,’ Berkshire explained. ‘If you look at Wisconsin, counties that went big for Trump also voted to hike their own taxes to invest in schools. You see this pattern all over the country.” Arizona even passed a statewide tax hike to bring in nearly $1 billion in new dollars to its underfunded school system, a measure that, Berkshire notes, enjoyed bipartisan support.”

15) National/Think Tanks: Noliwe Rooks, author of Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education, will be on a panel discussion next week on racism in America. Rooks’ work “explores how race and gender both impact and are impacted by popular culture, social history and political life in the United States. She also focuses on race, capitalism and education, as well as Black women and material culture.” Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. The event, in partnership with the College of Human Ecology (CHE), is free and open to the public; registration is required.

16) Arizona: In a major win for the Red For Ed movement, which coordinated a series of teacher strikes two years ago, voters have approved Prop 208, which will boost taxes on high earners in order to provide more money to public schools. “The results of Tuesday’s vote show Arizonans still like the idea of pumping more money into schools even if it means higher taxes for some residents. Polling ahead of the vote showed broad public support for the proposal crossing party lines, with two-thirds of respondents saying they approved of the tax. But the result ended up much closer. (…) Teacher unions helped fund the Arizona initiative, saying school districts pay staff too little to attract and retain talent.”

17) CaliforniaWall Street likes the fact that voters approved “a parcel tax levy on properties in San Francisco and a $7 billion bond measure in Los Angeles. The San Francisco Unified School District’s parcel tax would increase teacher salaries. The $7 billion general obligation bond measure floated by Los Angeles Unified School District would improve school facilities. San Francisco’s Measure J authorizes a $288 per parcel tax starting July 1, 2021. ‘The approval is credit positive for the district, because the parcel tax will legally replace an existing parcel tax, under Proposition G, which continues to face a court challenge that has prevented the district from accessing the revenue,’ Moody’s wrote.”

18) California: Pro- and anti-charter school forces each gain a seat in the LAUSD board elections. “Charter school supporters spent millions of dollars on behalf of Franklin and Koziatek and attacking their opponents, dramatically outspending the union in this week’s election as well as the March primary. Total combined spending from both sides was almost $17.5 million.” 

19) CaliforniaA “ progressive wave” in the East Bay may bolster public education. “For the Oakland school board, progressives are poised to take three out of four seats, despite an estimated $840,026 from billionaires Michael Bloomberg, oil heiress Stacy Schusterman and Silicon Valley investor Arthur Rock to support pro-privatization candidates.  The winning campaigns of Sam Davis (D1), Vancedric Williams (D3), and Mike Hutchinson (D5) all had a serious ground game with a tremendous amount of support from the teachers’ union whose membership phone-banked and text-banked throughout the pandemic.”

20) California: T.I.M.E. Community Schools, one of two new charter schools expected to open in Montebello Unified School District next year, received a big pot of money: a $325,000 grant from The Walton Family Foundation.” Last year, Montebello Unified denied the petition on the basis that:

  • The school has no location in the district.
  • The plan lacks details about its curriculum.
  • There are no state-required physical education classes.
  • The school will offer only three college board-approved AP classes.

“The school is currently accepting applications from students who will be in ninth and 10th grades next year.”

21) California: The California infrastructure bank is going to act as a conduit issuer of bonds to stabilize some charter schools.  “The bond proceeds, according to the IBank staff report, would be used to acquire facilities housing John Henry High School in Richmond, Desert Sands Public Charter & Antelope Valley Learning Academy in Lancaster and Hardy Brown College Prep in San Bernardino from American Education Properties, LLC, a for-profit company with a national portfolio of charter schools. The facilities have a total value of $88.2 million, according to the staff report.” [Sub required]

22) Illinois: A Gulen-linked charter school chain has reached a civil settlement with the Justice Department to pay $4.5 million over “allegations it improperly steered federally funded technology contracts to ‘chosen vendors.’” The Chicago Sun-Times reports that “the not-for-profit charter operator, which denied any wrongdoing, is based in Schaumburg and runs 30 taxpayer-financed schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. All of its revenues come from managing government-funded schools.” 

23) Maryland: A charter school may open in Sabillasville in northern Frederick County. “The community decided to pursue this option after other ideas to keep the school a part of Frederick County Public Schools were rejected by the Board of Education. (…) But there is a possibility the board could choose an alternate option for the school. In addition to the charter school idea, the board is also considering allowing open enrollment at the school. Open enrollment would allow students from nearby crowded schools to attend Sabillasville Elementary. School superintendent Terry Alban has said that if this option is chosen, families who choose to attend Sabillasville Elementary will be provided transportation.”

24) Tennessee: Republican Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Education have announced $5 million in grants to be distributed to charter schools across the state

25) West Virginia: A group seeking to start what may become West Virginia’s first charter school is demanding the Monongalia and Preston county boards of education approve it by today or face a lawsuit. But Monongalia County superintendent, Dr. Eddie Campbell says there’s still more time. “‘I think he’s (Treu) looking at it as one way, which is advantageous to his cause,’ Campbell said. ‘We’re looking at it from the standpoint that we want this to be a fair procedure and it’s the intent of our board to review that application in completely good faith.’”

Infrastructure

26) National: “Even after the pandemic is over, we’re likely to face both persistent economic weakness and a desperate need for more public investment,” writes Paul Krugman. “But McConnell effectively blocked infrastructure spending even with Donald Trump in the White House. Why would he become more amenable with Biden in office?”

The public finance sector seems more hopeful than Krugman. Officials, according to the Bond Buyer, “are optimistic a Joe Biden presidency will mean strong financial support for state and local governments as well as robust infrastructure legislation. (…) Biden ‘has a deep understanding of municipal finance and the roles that tax-exempt bonds play to build American infrastructure,’ said former President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Steve Benjamin, who is the mayor of Columbia, S.C., and president of Municipal Bonds for America. Benjamin dealt with Biden when the former vice president was spearheading the Obama administration’s implementation of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” [Sub required]

27) Maryland: The Purple Line light rail P3 continues to attract public opprobrium and verbal brickbats. A reader writes to the Washington Post: “The Purple Line—a.k.a. Hogan’s Folly—is indeed a mess. That conclusion is shared by millions of folks in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The decision to build it relied on bureaucrats with no skin in the game and was made without seeking outside expert advice. It is now established that the Purple Line should never have been built. It is a taxpayer folly like a Disney fantasy.”

That said, public officials are trying to dig out of the mess—though they are racing against the clock to prevent the bankruptcy of the partnership. “The bank representing the bondholders on the Purple Line construction has agreed to postpone any “enforcement action” until Nov. 30, giving the project’s concessionaire more time to try to reach a settlement with the state, according to project documents. Industry experts say such a “forbearance agreement” grants a borrower more time to reach a deal — in this case, for the concessionaire to try to salvage the project’s $5.6 billion public-private partnership — to prevent potentially having to default on its debt. Saving the partnership also would benefit the state, experts say, because the Maryland Department of Transportation wouldn’t have to secure a new private partner to complete the light-rail construction, which would add time and costs.

“U.S. Bank probably wants PLTP to take more time to try to preserve the partnership, experts say, because it would protect the investors who bought the project’s $313 million worth of private activity bonds.”

28) Maryland: Well let’s hope the actuaries and engineers do a better job on Gov. Hogan’s other super-P3 project to build toll lanes on I-95 and I-270. Stay tuned because there are at least as many moving parts as on the Purple Line project. “Maryland has yet to calculate a cost to relocate underground utility pipes and fiberoptic cables as part of the Hogan administration’s express toll lanes plan, but the state remains optimistic that the companies hired to finance and build the lanes will minimize impacts to key infrastructure, Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said on Thursday. Slater was asked about utility relocation by a member of the Prince George’s Council, Deni Taveras (D), during a hearing on the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program, often referred to as the annual ‘road show.’ Her questioning followed an Oct. 28 Maryland Matters report that identified publicly, for the first time, the list of nearly two dozen companies that have buried assets in the potential path of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plan to add four lanes to the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Interstate 270.”

29) TexasAustin voters approved a $7.1 billion light rail system known as Project Connect. “Though not on the ballot as a bond proposal, the plan is expected to lead to some form of municipal bond finance as federal funding is obtained. Proposition A dedicates 8.75 cents of the city’s operation and maintenance portion of the property tax rate to the project. Austin expects to receive federal funding for about 45% of the project’s total cost, and the Capital Metro Transit Authority is using its capital expansion fund for the project. The initial investment includes 27 miles of rail service and 31 stations, according to CapMetro.” [Sub required]

30) Virginia: Fairfax County has partnered with Transdev to launch a publicly funded driverless connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) pilot project. Last year Amalgamated Transit Union workers struck against Transdev, accusing the company of unfair labor practices and bad faith bargaining. 

Criminal Justice and Immigration

31) NationalGoodbye Stephen Miller. Lowen Liu, writing in Slate, says “Who Stephen Miller is doesn’t matter, in other words. Because while Stephen Miller was in the White House, thousands of children were forcibly marked with the trauma of being caged away from their parents, and hundreds may never see their parents again. And it happened on a scale far below what he’d pushed for. It’s difficult to write that dispassionately, and without some embarrassment: One would prefer to discuss federal policy without losing one’s ****, and yet no other response feels commensurate or honest.”

32) National: “Scary thoughts” for the private prison companies. On Wednesday, the day after the election, CoreCivic dropped 17% and GEO Group 12%. In the year to date, CoreCivic’s stock price has dropped over 65%, and GEO’s over 44%. 

On Thursday morning, i.e. a day before the election was declared for Biden/Harris, CoreCivic held its quarterly earnings call. On the CoreCivic call, the company’s prospects under the Biden administration were front and center. Company officials dutifully avoided the subject of the elections in their presentation, but it occupied a considerable portion of the question and answer period with analysts at the end of the call. So keep your eyes on how GEO and CoreCivic do this morning, the first trading day after the presidential election results came in. With the victory of Joe Biden, who has pledged to abolish it, the private prison industry may take a stock hammering and perhaps be searching for new investors to prop them up or buy them out. 

Jordan Sherman, an analyst with Ranger Global Real Estate Advisors asked CEO Hininger, “Scary thought, considering what people think about private prisons these days. Maybe you are getting credit for that, but I’m just kidding. Just a question on, so obviously, there is some concern with the Democrats—if Joe Biden wins, and I would think that the concern would be less now with a—if the Congress doesn’t turn over. But I’m just wondering, in your experience, and I gathered from all your comments that you think these concerns are not well founded in either history or in your expectations? But how long will it be? Say, Joe Biden’s elected and we have a Republican Congress, how long will it be before we start to see whatever policy that the new administration has for immigration and private prisons taking shape? When will the rubber start hitting the road to sort of demonstrate that life is not going to be as bad as feared with the change in administration?”

33) CaliforniaProposition 25 to end cash bail goes down to defeat. “The victory marked a surprising end to an unlikely marriage between an extreme “abolitionist” wing of the criminal justice reform movement and California’s billion-dollar bail bond industry. Traditionally enemies, together they undid a years-long effort from the California Legislature that could have created one of the most significant justice system changes in a decade. (…) ‘It was a case of the kind of far left and far right converging and not a lot of space left in the middle to get rid of cash bail,’ said Keramet Reiter, a criminologist at UC Irvine. Proposition 25’s failure will likely cast a long shadow on justice reform in California. Lawmakers are barred from taking another crack at cash bail that is similar to the one voted down Tuesday. They might also be hesitant to take it up again, saying the voters have already spoken. That has longtime advocates on edge.”

Public Services

34) National: President-elect Biden has promised to “establish minimum collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees” and “revive an Obama-era rule requiring additional disclosures for union-busting activities by management.” Biden notes that “states have decimated the rights of public sector workers who, unlike private sector workers, do not have federal protections ensuring their freedom to organize and collectively bargain.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders says “this victory is especially meaningful for public service workers who have fought day after grueling day against a raging virus,” and promised that “AFSCME will be flexing our political muscle and making our voices heard over the next two months in Georgia’s two Senate runoff elections.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a statement saying “we look forward to working closely with an administration that will embrace and fight for the values we hold dear: justice and opportunity for all; strengthened public schools that work for all kids; economic security, starting with decent wages, good jobs and the right to a union; a belief in truth and science; and universal access to healthcare and college. We can’t wait to get started.”

33) International: Writing in Jacobin, Anton Ösgård explains how privatization hobbled Sweden’s response to the coronavirus. “Sweden also has chronic shortages in medicine, after the privatization of the pharmacies and dismantling of the state stockpile. Added to that, the state’s own vaccine production has been privatized. All in all, the previously consolidated, socialized health care system has been smashed to pieces, turned into discrete units in competition with one another. Swedish COVID-19 patients are now reliant on a global network of just-in-time production, on wards made “efficient” by cutbacks and lower staff density, instead of the previously well-prepared, meticulously planned system that guaranteed care even in the face of multiple possible crises. (…) The Sweden of new public management, privatizations, and an increasingly precarious labor market has fared far worse than its neighbors.” 

Everything Else

34) California: Rey Fuentes, Skadden Fellow at the Partnership for Working Families and co-author of the report Rigging the Gig, joined CounterSpin to discuss what happened in the Prop 22 referendum. Corporate cash swamped the campaign for gig workers’ rights, and the proposition passed. [Audio, about 13 minutes]