Democratic governors would like a highway funding long-term solution. Nineteen members of the Democratic Governors Association want an end to serial temporary extensions. Their letter to House and Senate leaders pushes for a “robust and long-term federal commitment.” Congress has not passed a long-term highway bill in ten years. The House plans to mark up its “long-term” bill (a six-year bill that’s funded for only three years) on Thursday, but Congress won’t have time to complete its work by October 29, when the current short-term funding measure expires. Governors notwithstanding, more serial extensions seem likely.
In California, no funding fix for MediCal. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed bills that would increase health benefits and tax credits for the poor. That’s because MediCal, the state’s $91 billion version of Medicaid that provides health care to 1 in 3 Californians, faces a funding shortfall. Brown had called a special legislative session to decide whether to extend a $1 billion tax on health plans or cut MediCal services. Lawmakers did neither. The state will now wait until next year to address healthcare financing and other costly programs.
Bad things happen when a tax that funds a football stadium gets an “illegal” ruling. The National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals’ University of Phoenix Stadium opened 9 years ago and carries $266 million in debt. A rental-car tax covers about a third of that tab—or it was supposed to, until a state judge ruled last year that the tax is illegal. (Vehicle taxes, per the state constitution, are supposed to pay for roads, not stadiums.) Now, the state has to refund tens of millions of dollars to car rental agencies while it appeals the ruling. The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority that issued the stadium bonds faces funding cuts and maybe a credit downgrade.
In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel needs to change a rule to raise property taxes. City law prevents a property tax increase of more than 5 percent or the rate of inflation without a separate city council vote to override the ban. But the mayor needs a much bigger increase–about 12 percent—to fund pensions, or about $543 million over four years. What’s a mayor to do? He's changed the rule (registration required) in his proposed revenue ordinance to exempt increases dedicated to pension funding. This way, aldermen only have to vote once (on the tax increase), not twice (the tax increase and the rule override).
Church conversions: From retail shop to storefront sanctuary. In south Jackson, Mississippi, storefront churches are on the rise. Owners of empty retail space donate their properties and avoid property tax, since churches don’t pay the levy. Hinds County Tax Assessor Charles Stokes says storefront churches “are popping up everywhere,” but he’s quick to add that he isn’t against them, as long as they’re “legitimate” and have all necessary paperwork.
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