This week's collection of #StateReads highlights ballooning state payrolls, how the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania has transformed one town there and a “university” in Georgia that provides free college courses to immigrants in Georgia who were denied access to the state's top colleges because of their immigration status.
Some of the budget deficits endured by states in recent years could have been mitigated if state politicians had implemented different compensation and pension policies for state workers, finds an analysis of state payroll data by three Bloomberg reporters, Mark Niquette (@mniquette), Michael Marois (@MichaelMarois) and Rodney Yap (@RodneyYap). In this first story in a six-part series about state pay, they looked at payroll data for the 12 largest states in the country, finding that California state employees collected the highest average salary of the states analyzed, as well as nearly $1 billion in overtime last year.
More traffic, more business and higher prices are three of the ways the natural gas boom has had an impact on Towanda, Pennsylvania, according to Boomtown, a multimedia package by Scott Detrow (@scottdetrow) that examines the impact of Pennsylvania's fracking boom through the lens of Towanda. It isn't the first time the town in Bradford County has seen an economic boom, according to Detrow. Coal production peaked in the late 19th century, while a lumber boom followed soon after. With lower natural gas prices leading to less drilling, some in town fear that their gas boom days are nearing an end.
Chad Livengood (@ChadLivengood) reports on how, and why, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder changed course on so-called “right to work” legislation, which makes it illegal for workers to be required to join a union. Snyder had previously sought to avoid the issue, but newfound support for the measure from the state's Chamber of Commerce as well as increased public support for the measure swayed the governor, according to Livengood, despite frantic attempts from the state's labor unions to defuse his support.
A group of university professors in Georgia has banded together to offer free classes to immigrant students illegally in the state who were barred entry in 2010 to the state's top five colleges and must pay out-of-state tuition elsewhere, reports Libby Sander (@chronicle). The project, dubbed Freedom University, has evolved from a single freshman seminar to an operation offering classes to 60 students in history, literature, ethnic studies and intellectual thought, along with offering help applying to other colleges and securing financial aid. One institution that accepted one of the students, Hampshire College in Massachusetts, has created an endowed scholarship for students in the program.