Capitol Comments

Over the last decade public opinion about marijuana seems to have shifted dramatically in favor of reforming and decriminalizing existing state marijuana laws.  In 2012 Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana.  Over 20 other states permit the use of medical marijuana in various forms.    This year voters in several more states will consider ballot initiatives that would legalize marijuana use for recreational or medicinal purposes.  Highlighted below are several key states to watch on election day.

Econ Piggy

The unemployment rate fell in 31 states in September, whilst 15 states unemployment rate stood below 5 percent, signaling a return to healthier labor-market conditions reports US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Forty-two states had unemployment rate decreases from a year earlier, five states had increases, and three states had no change. The US unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent in September and was 1.3 percent lower than in September 2013.

The first lab-confirmed case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S. was confirmed by the CDC in Dallas, Texas on Sept. 30, 2014. The man, identified as Thomas Eric Duncan, had traveled from Liberia to Texas and passed away on Oct. 8, 2014. Two healthcare workers treating Mr. Duncan subsequently became infected, but have since been cleared and released. The CDC confirmed that a fourth case was diagnosed on Oct. 24, 2014 in a medical aid worker in New York City who had returned from serving with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea. The patient is currently in isolation in a New York City hospital.

Arizona voters this fall will get final say on a proposed constitutional amendment allowing the state to opt out of certain federal laws. Under the proposed amendment, Arizona could decide, via referendum or legislation, that the state would not use its resources to carry out any given federal action. If such a situation were to occur, state and local governments would be prohibited from using personnel or financial resources to enforce the federal law.

With Election Day 2014 less than a week away, voters in five states will decide on ballot propositions specifically addressing voting rights and election administration.

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded almost $170 million in grants to help put long-term unemployed Americans back to work as part of the Ready to Work Partnership initiative. The grants, which range in value from $3 million to $10 million, will go to 23 partnerships and serve individuals across 20 states and in Puerto Rico. A few of the grantees – like the Memphis Bioworks Foundation – will support projects in multiple states.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled against a local businessman - Jackson T. Stephens Jr., who is also board chairman of the Club for Growth - thus allowing a question about the state's minimum wage to remain on the ballot. Mr. Stephens argued that supporters of the initiative did not hit a key deadline for submitting their petition and that some of the signatures on that petition were forged. 

On Election Day 2014, voters in Arkansas will decide if the 30,000 people in their state who earn the minimum wage should get a raise for the New Year. The ballot measure, called the Arkansas Minimum Wage Initiative, would give minimum wage earners a $0.25/hour raise on Jan. 1, 2015 - equal to about $40 more a month for a full-time worker. The measure would raise the wage twice more over the next two years, until it reaches $8.50 in 2017.

Voters in several states will consider the fate of transportation-related ballot measures in next week’s election. I have a refresher on the statewide measures in play as well as some local and county ballot measures to watch. Plus a number of items on how transportation is playing as an issue in a number of fall campaigns and how it could be on the agenda for state legislatures next year. As always, I also have my regular roundup of items on the future of the federal transportation program, state transportation funding efforts, public-private partnerships and tolling and state multi-modal strategies.

The Council of State Governments has been collecting data on governors’ salaries for The Book of the States since 1937. Governors’ salaries in 2014 range from a low of $70,000 per year to a high of $187,818, with an average salary of $134,390. When adjusted for inflation, the average salary in 2014 is very close to what it was 77 years ago, the first year CSG started collecting data.

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