Capitol Comments

Registered apprenticeship programs combine structured learning with on-the-job training and upon completion, participants receive an industry issued, nationally recognized credential that certifies occupational proficiency. Program duration ranges from one to six years with a majority lasting four years.

The U.S. Department of Labor is now accepting applications from public and private partnerships to receive one of approximately 25 grants to expand registered apprenticeship programs in high-skilled, high-growth industries like healthcare, biotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing. The grants will be worth $2.5 million to $5 million each with a total of $100 million awarded.

Two new reports and a variety of recent developments in states lay bare the challenges of relying on the gas tax as a revenue source to meet transportation needs. I also have updates on some of my “States to Watch in 2015” and the usual roundup of recent items on MAP-21 reauthorization, public-private-partnerships and tolling, and state multi-modal activities.

In a ruling that may have implications for other states, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the law strongly supported by Florida Gov. Rick Scott that would have required drug testing for applicants of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the federal welfare program known as TANF.

In a unanimous ruling (see the text here) on Dec. 3, 2014, the panel of judges said it was unconstitutional to force applicants to surrender their rights to receive assistance.

The comment period closed for the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan rule on Dec. 1. The total number of comment submissions is on track to reach close to 2 million -maybe even exceed it.  Between now and mid-spring the EPA will be busy sifting through comments to aid in crafting the final rule scheduled to be released in June, 2015.  State environmental agencies, the agencies responsible for developing compliance plans, had much to say about the EPA proposal and most states submitted comments.

On December 2, 2014, the White House released an update fact sheet on the nation's preparedness to detect, treat and prevention Ebola in the United States and abroad. 

The federal government has designated 35 Ebola treatment centers in 12 states and the District of Columbia. These hospitals are recognized for their biocontainment capability to treat Ebola and other infectious diseases. The goal is to reach 50 Ebola treatment...

Econ Piggy

Recently, Inc. surveyed entrepreneurs and executives from 300 fast growing companies about which issues they consider the biggest impediments to U.S. growth. The top answer? Political gridlock in Washington. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said political gridlock on Capitol Hill is hampering the economy’s performance. Government regulations came in second at 54 percent and health care costs were third at 50 percent (irrespective of health care reform, which was a separate category and came in at 44 percent of respondents).

Today the EPA released its proposed update to the air quality standards for ground-level ozone.  The proposal lowers the ground-level ozone standard from 75 parts per billion, where it’s been since 2008, to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion.   EPA estimates most areas will be in compliance with the standard by 2025. 

A revised ozone standard of 70 to 60 parts per billion was recommended by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, a scientific panel that advises EPA in setting the national ambient air quality standards...

Econ Piggy

According to The National Association of State Budget Officer's State Expenditure Report, total state spending (including both state and federal funds) grew by an estimated 5.7 percent in FY 2014, a significant jump from the 2.2 percent growth rate in FY 2013. In FY 2012, year-over-year total state spending fell by 1.1 percent. The recent boost in state expenditures is due primarily to a jump in spending from federal funds, which increased by 7.6 percent in FY 2014. Spending from state funds, on the other hand, grew by 4.8 percent.

Following the deluge of major transportation funding packages passed by states in 2013, elections and other factors combined to make 2014 a somewhat quieter year on that front. But as 2015 legislative sessions approach, a large number of states appear poised to tackle transportation funding. While some states are holdovers from years past as a result of previously unsuccessful efforts, there are also a handful of relative newcomers to the list this year. Their reasons for addressing the issue now and the urgency with which they are approaching it may vary, but there are plenty of common justifications and common solutions that already appear to be emerging.

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