June 19, 2012

Headlines
PA: Liquor store privatization bill sputters in House
NJ: Christie orders stepped-up inspections by state of halfway houses
NC: Privatizing I-77 tolls could reduce drive options
FL: Connected company muscled state agency out of Internet contract
FL: Transportation secretary: Tolls are road to Florida’s future
VA: Leadership drama consumes U-Va.
When ALEC takes over your town – opinion

PA: Liquor store privatization bill sputters in House

A plan to sell off the state’s roughly 600 wine and spirits stores has the support of the governor, but it’s still stalling in the House. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said his bill’s not dead, but he won’t say whether the votes are there to pass it. …Barry McCowin of Harrisburg said he’d like the state to sell off its wine and spirits stores, but he’s not holding his breath.Not this year. It’s going to drag out, I tell you, because if I had to bet on it, I wouldn’t think so, because that’s revenue for the state,” said McCowin.  Another Harrisburg resident, Khalif Omar, runs a barbershop near a state liquor store. Omar is no fan of privatization. “We were just talking about that in the barbershop, as far as being privately owned.  Privately owned, that means more children are going to have underage drinking. There’s not going to be state control over it no more,” said Omar. The bill comes with requirements to keep alcohol out of the hands of underage people. Critics have said privatization would result in job losses for those who work in state stores, and deny the state a source of dependable income. Essential Radio

NJ: Christie orders stepped-up inspections by state of halfway houses
Gov. Chris Christie ordered new inspections on Monday of New Jersey’s large, privately run halfway houses, saying his administration would ensure that the system operated “effectively and safely.” …The system has existed since the 1990s, and state regulation has long been lax — The Times found that the halfway houses, many of which are as large as prisons, have been plagued by violence, drugs, gangs and escapes. Mr. Christie, a Republican, has deep ties to the company that dominates the halfway-house industry in New Jersey and across the country, Community Education Centers. His close friend and political adviser William J. Palatucci is a senior executive of the company, and Mr. Christie has often visited and praised its facilities…At least 181 inmates and parolees escaped halfway-house custody in the first five months of 2012 — a 35 percent decline when compared with a similar period in 2009, before Mr. Christie took office. Roughly 5,100 people have escaped since 2005, The Times found. New York Times

NC: Privatizing I-77 tolls could reduce drive options
Funding road construction with future toll lane revenues is becoming the norm. Drivers can choose to pay the toll or deal with congestion.  But if the free lane is less of a choice, some drivers worry they could be taken for a ride. “Horrible at five o’clock, from five to seven,” said Laurin Lindley, who lives in Huntersville. For her and other residents, Interstate 77 is the lifeline when traveling north or south. …The 2011 plan called for expanding I-77 to include a toll in the middle lane traveling in both directions to Cornelius. The new 2012 proposal calls for two hot lanes in each direction and then expanding that project beyond the Catawba Avenue exit with one toll lane going all the way to Mooresville. “It will force people if they want to get home,” said Charlotte City Councilwoman Claire Fallon, “because you only have two regular lanes.” Fallon believes the fewer free lanes will be congested, pushing people to pay.  Fox Charlotte

FL: Connected company muscled state agency out of Internet contract
In 2009, with more than a quarter of all Floridians without broadband access to the Internet at home, state officials lined up to get some of the $7 billion in federal stimulus money to finance state-based programs to increase access. Enter Connected Nation, a little known but well connected Washington-based company. It won the Florida contract to use $2.5 million to map the broadband gaps for use by policy makers and telecommunications companies. A year later, when the state won a second grant for $6.3 million to extend the broadband efforts, Connected Nation, a non-profit company, believed it had signed up to be part of a public-private partnership with the state that entitled the firm to a no-bid shot at that money too….Now, the broadband mapping contract negotiations are behind schedule; the federal government has warned the state that it could lose what’s left of the grant and Florida’s broadband expansion efforts lag behind many other states. “It’s distracted and kept us from doing as much as we might have done,’’ said Bill Price, director of Broadband Services for the state. Miami Herald

FL: Transportation secretary: Tolls are road to Florida’s future
The secretary says he understands resistance, but the concept works elsewhere…Prasad said an expansion of toll facilities is a fact of life because other funding sources are drying up…Prasad has been advocating for increased tolling facilities since Gov. Rick Scott named him the state’s transportation chief last year. He is pushing ahead with plans to toll portions of Interstate 4 in Orlando, interstates 275 and 75 in Tampa and extend the existing toll facilities on Interstate 95 in Miami into Broward County. All of those tolls will be new lanes, with the existing lanes remaining free. The idea that people would willingly take a toll lane when a free one is available may not make much sense to the average Jacksonville resident.  The Florida Times Union

VA: Leadership drama consumes U-Va.
A week of chaos set off by the removal of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan led to a showdown Monday on the historic Grounds between the ousted leader and the governing board, which named an interim replacement.  Washington Post

When ALEC takes over your town – opinion
…The state has named a budget commission to grapple with Woonsocket’s money woes. Ultimately, though, a receiver may have to be appointed — which is to say, a person not beholden to the voters, who would nonetheless have the power to abrogate union contracts and do whatever else he or she deems necessary to erase the deficit. Incredibly, the two Woonsocket legislators have pushed for a receiver, despite the pain that it would likely bring their city. Or maybe it’s not so incredible. It turns out that one of them, Jon Brien, is also on the national board of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Although ALEC is probably best known for its support of the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, the conservative group has a very clear agenda for dealing with state budgets. It wants to shrink them. Although Brien has denied that he is applying the ALEC philosophy to his small city, it looks, in fact, as if that’s exactly what he is doing. It’s not pretty. New York Times

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