But when firearm mortality is viewed state by state, a strong variation emerges. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Massachusetts had the lowest death rate of just 3.4 per 100,000 in 2019, the latest year data is available. Alaska and Mississippi are tied for the highest: 24 deaths per 100,000. The following map and table provide specific numbers for each state.
One way to put a quick sheen on pension funds’ balance sheets is to issue municipal bonds at a lower rate of interest than the pension fund is expected to earn. These “pension obligation bonds” (POBs) have a long and checkered history. The first one was sold tax-exempt by the city of Oakland, Calif., in 1985. It stirred up a hornet’s nest at the IRS, which quickly realized that the lower tax-exempt interest rate was subsidized by Uncle Sam in a no-brainer for the pension fund that in theory could just invest in taxable bonds to make a profit, even without risking money in stocks. Congress was prodded to prohibit the use of tax-exempt debt where there is a profit-seeking investment “nexus,” and thus was born a thick book of IRS “arbitrage” regulations. Consequently, POBs must now be taxable, with a higher interest cost.
When interest rates are low, as they are today, the underwriters and many financial consultants come out of the woodwork to pitch their POB deals. The lure is always the same: “Over 30 years, you will save money because history shows it’s almost a certainty that stocks will outperform low bond yields,” even if they are now taxable. I’ve written extensively on the foreseeable cyclical risks of selling POBs when the stock market is trading at record high levels: The underwriters and deal-peddlers will sneak away with their fees from the deal, and public officials will be left holding the bag whenever an economic recession or stock-market plunge drives the value of their pension funds’ “new” assets below the level of their outstanding POBs. The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has long opposed POBs for this reason, among others. POBs make sense to me only when they are issued in recessionary bear markets.
In the face of the pandemic, states across the geographic and political spectrum — including Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico and New York — are actively considering tobacco tax increases during their legislative sessions. Last month, a bipartisan supermajority in the Maryland Legislature moved to increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1.75 per pack, the first increase in nearly a decade, and to establish a tax on e-cigarettes to fund tobacco cessation and health programs.
The growing legislative momentum comes after voters in Colorado and Oregon approved tobacco tax increases in ballot measures last November. Colorado, which had not raised tobacco taxes in 16 years, will collect an estimated $175 million in revenue during the 2021-22 budget year for tobacco cessation and health programs. In Oregon, higher tobacco taxes will generate an estimated $160 million per year and help to fund the care of people with mental illnesses and other conditions.
Author(s): NANCY BROWN, AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION
Recent research also tells us something about just who the urban emigrants have been. They haven’t been middle-aged people with families. For the most part, they haven’t had middle-class incomes. They have been young people, unattached and economically stressed. Among Americans age 18-29, Pew reported, 11 percent said they had moved in 2020 for virus-related reasons. Within the low-income population cohort, the figure was 9 percent — roughly twice as high as the overall U.S. number.
But even these figures are misleading. Very few of these movers were uprooting themselves and striking out for new locales. Many of them were college students whose campuses had closed down due to virus concerns and who were moving back in with their parents on a temporary basis. In June, a full 61 percent of those who had relocated for pandemic reasons had moved in with one or more family members. In November, the number was 42 percent.
Though the nation’s vaccine availability will probably improve substantially in the coming months, officials at this moment are wading through what could be the most contentious phase of the rollout — a collision of relentless demand and constrained supply. “We’ve got to take care of the most vulnerable,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a recent news briefing when asked about priority for individuals with disabilities and underlying conditions.
At the heart of the debate around how to allocate vaccines is a conundrum: Should scarce vaccine be given to one young person, say a supermarket cashier who interacts with hundreds of people a day, because that may protect five elderly people from being infected? Or should the vaccines go directly to five elderly people?
Author(s): SOUMYA KARLAMANGLA AND COLLEEN SHALBY, LOS ANGELES TIMES
In the months leading up to the first COVID-19 vaccine shipments, Washington state health officials agonized over which residents should be vaccinated before others. They surveyed 18,000 people and convened focus groups, debating race, age and essential occupations.
But unlike some other states, the state Department of Health (DOH) neglected to plan for basic logistics that would have allowed for quick vaccination of those most vulnerable to the disease.
They didn’t enlist the National Guard. They didn’t centralize vaccine appointments. Key scheduling and reporting software arrived late. Providers were given vials but no strategy to process patients.
The Washington state Legislature, which has proposed legislation in the past to tackle issues such as data privacy and the use of facial recognition tech, is now reviewing a bill that would regulate the use of “automated decision systems” and AI technology within state government.
According to the bill, these systems use algorithms to analyze data to help make or support decisions that could result in discrimination against different groups or make decisions that could negatively impact constitutional or legal rights.
As a result, Senate Bill 5116 aims to regulate these systems to prevent discrimination and ban government agencies from using AI tech to profile individuals in public areas.
Then there are states like Hawaii, where cratering tourism has left the state in a $1.8 billion budget hole, with tax revenues not expected to recover until 2024. Florida and Nevada are also missing their frequent flyers after tax receipts plummeted by 7.9 percent and 13 percent, respectively. States dependent on taxing energy and mining, such as Alaska, North Dakota, Texas and West Virginia, have seen their own devastating budget hits. And sales-tax-dependent states like New York wound up in worse shape than those reliant on less volatile revenue streams like Vermont, where 32 percent of revenues come from property taxes. In all, 26 states saw their tax revenues decline in the first 10 months of 2020.
But every state’s been a winner this past year with the federal government, whose aid to states and localities rose an astonishing 42 percent. What might have been a $331 billion budget shortfall due to COVID-19 instead came to a $165.5 billion dip, according to Moody’s, and that’s before counting $79 billion in state rainy day funds. Federal aid also propped up businesses and households, which led to economic activity and hiring that boosted state and local tax revenues, while also hiking taxable unemployment benefits. Having the Federal Reserve goose the stock and housing markets with super-low interest rates didn’t hurt either.
California is pushing shots into arms at a much faster clip than it was just a month ago — closing in on the national average, with vows to accelerate even further — but the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations varies greatly from county to county within the Golden State.
A Southern California News Group analysis of state data found that smaller counties with fewer people and less complicated logistics are leading the pack in vaccinating their residents: Little Mono, with 14,526 residents, ranked No. 1, managing to vaccinate one out of every three residents. On its heels was tiny Alpine, population 1,209, getting shots into 27 percent of its residents.
Author(s): TERI SFORZA, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that $63 billion – possibly more – has been paid out by state unemployment offices. California’s unemployment system alone says it paid out more than $11 billion to scammers in 2020. But who are these scammers? And how have they been able to collect upwards of $63 billion – including at least $330 million from Ohio? Here are some answers.
At least 70 percent of the bogus unemployment claims originated overseas in countries such as Nigeria, according to Haywood Talcove, CEO of the security firm LexisNexis Risk Solutions, citing data from a dozen states (Ohio isn’t one of them) that have hired his firm to help secure their unemployment systems.
A large portion of these scams are conducted by organized crime rings with names like “Scattered Canary” and “Yahoo Boys,” Hall said. “They literally just live in compounds and all they do, 24/7 is try to figure out how to trick people into stealing their identity and, you know, stripping their bank account of funds,” he said.
Among all county employees, 1,226 staffers received $5.9 million in overtime related to the new coronavirus health crisis last year and saw their paychecks grow thanks to federal CARES Act stimulus money awarded to Erie County. But of the nearly $6 million in Covid-19-related overtime paid out last year in federal funds, 54 political appointees received $1.3 million of it. In other words, those 4.4 percent of the workers got 22.1 percent of the money.
These government administrators would not typically receive overtime pay. However, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz allowed all non-union, managerial confidential employees to accept overtime pay for their Covid-19 related work because he said his administration received explicit guidance that CARES Act federal stimulus money allows non-union managers to collect it.
Receive from above, take from below. Such is the essence of one theme of the 2021 state budget plan unveiled last week by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The Democratic governor’s budget plan has a basic premise: Red ink will be washed away only if his request for a bailout from the federal government happens.
Cuomo’s new budget assumes the federal government will give New York at least $6 billion over two years as part of a broader $1.9 trillion Covid-related stimulus package being negotiated by Democratic President Joseph Biden and the Democratic-led Congress.