Best of #StateReads: California Diverts Funds From 9-11 Plates

  • May 30, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads details how California is diverting money from its September 11th memorial license plates to areas other than homeland security, how Illinois legislators feathered their own nests when rewriting pension laws and how a political spat could keep 200 candidates off the June 12th South Carolina ballot.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to dvock@stateline.org.

“Calif. 9/11 fund raided for deficits” — The Associated Press 

California drivers who pay extra money for specialty plates to finance scholarships for victims of the September 2001 terrorist attacks might be in for a shock: The state stopped funding those scholarships seven years ago. Money from selling the plates is supposed to fund scholarships and other homeland security efforts, writes Hannah Dreier (@HannahDreier), but much of the $15 million has been diverted to uses with little or no connection to homeland security. A fifth of it went to fill budget holes; other funds were used for livestock disease and workplace safety programs.

“Anarchy, chaos behind Colorado civil unions bill may have long-lasting effects” — The Denver Post

Confusion reigned in the waning days of Colorado's legislative session and a special session that followed, especially over the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples. Lynn Bartels (@lynn_bartels) and Tim Hoover (@TimHoover) try to sort out all of the back-and-forth that eventually led to the demise of the civil unions bill in this tick-tock piece. Most of the action centers on House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Republican with a razor-thin majority in the chamber. Roughly five Republican House members supported the proposal, meaning it could have passed if it had come to a floor vote. But a solid majority of McNulty's Republican caucus opposed it. The result, in the words of one lawmaker, was “anarchy and chaos.”

“When it came to pensions, state officials looked out for No. 1” — Chicago Tribune 

In the latest installment of its “Pension Games” series, the Tribune examines how Illinois lawmakers gave themselves pension payouts that no other state employees could qualify for. One of the authors of the law, former state Senate president Emil Jones Jr., got an extra $41,000 a year when he retired because of the perk, note Tribune reporters Jason Grotto(@JasonGrotto) and Ray Long (@RayLong). Jones says the pension boost rewards legislators who otherwise max out on their pension benefits but who must continue paying into the system while they serve as lawmakers. But the Tribune says that argument does not hold up: “Jones would have had to double his pension contributions to cover the high benefit he is receiving, records show, even after generous contributions from the state, healthy investment returns and the extra 16 years of payments he put in.”

“Realignment plan for California prisons causing new friction” — Los Angeles Times 

In a cost-saving measure, California is handing more responsibility for checking up on recently released prisoners to localities. But the transition has been a difficult one, writes Jason Song (@LATJasonSong). “City and county efforts to keep tabs on nearly 6,000 felons released in L.A. County alone,” he explains, “have also prompted confusion and anger, jockeying among agencies for millions in public money and warnings that public safety employees are facing new dangers.”

“Ballot Bomb 2012” — Free Times (Columbia, S.C.) 

Corey Hutchins (@CoreyHutchins) explains how South Carolina's arcane filing process and one lawmaker's grudge could mean that 200 candidates for a variety of political offices will be kicked off the ballot. Hutchins singles out Jake Knotts, a Republican state senator, for escalating the conflict. Knotts' allies filed a lawsuit which triggered the crisis after noticing a defect in the filings for Knotts' would-be primary opponent, Hutchins writes. Then Knotts blocked attempts to fix the problem with legislation. “The primary is now less than three weeks away. And it's a mess,” Hutchins writes. “And as it stands now, incumbent lawmakers like Knotts, who might have been able to fix it, haven't done so — and on June 12 many of them will be running unopposed.”

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