QUOTE OF THE DAY
Sacramento Bee: CA Pension “Reform” Leaves Thousands of State Workers Untouched
Three months after lawmakers enacted public pension rollbacks, a new measure has surfaced that would exempt thousands of public transportation workers from the law.
The bill's author and its union sponsors say it's a necessary, narrow and reasonable tweak to the pension statute that will keep billions of federal dollars flowing into California.
But one of the state's leading pension reform advocates said it's another example of organized labor flexing its muscle to undo the retirement changes.
"If the Legislature does this," said Dan Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform, "they're selling out to the unions."
The Teamsters and two other unions sponsored the bill, which would exclude 20,000 local and regional mass transit workers statewide from the higher pension contributions and lower retirement benefits passed last year.
Reuters: Fed keeps stimulus in place as economy "paused"
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left in place its monthly $85 billion bond-buying stimulus plan, saying economic growth had stalled but indicating the pullback was likely temporary.
Describing the nation's job market as continuing its modest pace of improvement, the Fed repeated a pledge to keep purchasing securities until the outlook for employment "improves substantially."
"Growth in economic activity paused in recent months, in large part because of weather-related disruptions and other transitory factors," the central bank said after a two-day meeting.
A report earlier on Wednesday showed the economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter as inventory investment slowed and government spending plunged. Analysts said Superstorm Sandy in late October also disrupted the recovery.
The Fed has kept overnight interest rates near zero since late 2008 and it has tripled its balance sheet to about $3 trillion through its purchases of securities, which are aimed at pushing longer-term borrowing costs lower.
While the recovery from the 2007-2009 recession has been stubbornly tepid, the Fed's policy committee voiced confidence it would remain on track with continued help from monetary policy.
"The committee expects that, with appropriate policy accommodation, economic growth will proceed at a moderate pace and the unemployment rate will gradually decline toward levels the committee judges consistent with its dual mandate," the Fed said.
A report on Friday is expected to show the U.S. jobless rate remained stuck at 7.8 percent for a third straight month in January. The Fed repeated that it would keep overnight rates near zero until the unemployment rate hits 6.5 percent, as long as inflation does not threaten to exceed 2.5 percent.
AP: GDP Shows Surprise Drop for US in Fourth Quarter
The U.S. economy posted a stunning drop of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, defying expectations for slow growth and possibly providing incentive for more Federal Reserve stimulus.
The economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. That's a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter.
The surprise contraction could raise fears about the economy's ability to handle tax increases that took effect in January and looming spending cuts.
Still, the weakness may be because of one-time factors. Government spending cuts and slower inventory growth subtracted a total of 2.6 percentage points from growth.
And those volatile categories offset faster growth in consumer spending, business investment and housing -- the economy's core drivers of growth.
Washington Post: Can traditional school systems be replaced by charters?
When activists from the District and across the country gathered Tuesday at the U.S. Education Department to call for an end to school closures, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued a statement in solidarity: “It’s time to fix, not close, our schools,” she said.
A few miles away, Andy Smarick argued the opposite: it’s time to close, not fix, our schools.
A crowd of edu-minded folks gathered at Busboys and Poets to hear Smarick explain his way of thinking and debate his conclusions with a panel including D.C. Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Smarick, of the reform-oriented nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, formerly worked as an executive for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and as New Jersey’s deputy state superintendent of education. He’s the author of a 2012 book, “The Urban School System of the Future,” in which he outlines what he thinks it will take to improve public education.
It boils down to this: Traditional urban school systems are broken and can’t be fixed. They have to be replaced. And charter schools should be the blueprint.
LA Weekly: Education Providers Leap at Chance to Partake in First L.A. Unified Parent Trigger
At the failing 24th Street Elementary School in West Adams, the site of the first Parent Trigger in the Los Angeles Unified School District, an interesting competition appears to be brewing.
If you remember, parents at 24th Street Elementary dropped a signature petition on L.A. Unified officials on January 17, starting a process in which they may be allowed to institute changes at that chronically low-ranked school as part of the California law called the Parent Trigger.
Now the 24th Street Elementary School Parents' Union and advocacy group Parent Revolution are announcing that they've received eight "letters of interest" from education providers that want to come in and help the parents clean up the mess at that school. Such overwhelming "interest" is a first for a Parent Trigger.
The previous two Parent Triggers in Compton and Adelanto, California, weren't so popular with education providers -- that's because long, dragged out legal battles were expected and unfolded.
This time around, they are leaping at the chance to partake in a Parent Trigger.
WSJ: Obama's Thunderdome Strategy
Few are the men and women in American public life who haven't heard Mr. Dooley's famous aphorism: "Politics ain't beanbag." John Boehner, currently serving out his community service as speaker of the House, appears to have been meditating on Mr. Dooley's cautionary wisdom. At the Ripon Society last week he said the Obama administration was trying "to annihilate the Republican Party."
Better late than never, Speaker Boehner now sees that Barack Obama's notion of political competition is Mad Max inside the Thunderdome: "Two men enter, one man leaves."
Last week during the president's second inaugural address, if one can employ that hallowed phrase to describe this speech, Mr. Obama used the occasion to defend entitlement programs by whacking his defeated presidential opponent: "They do not make us a nation of takers."
Illinois Policy: Illinois credit downgrade prompts delay of bond sale
This morning Illinois was forced to delay a $500 million bond sale – essentially, borrowing $500 million to finance state government operations. The delay was due to a drop in lender confidence in Illinois’ credit worthiness.
This setback comes on the heels of Illinois’ latest downgrade by Standard & Poor’s rating service to a level of A-minus. S&P now rates Illinois’ ability to repay its debt as the lowest in the nation. The firm also assigned Illinois a negative outlook, meaning another credit downgrade may be on the horizon.
This is Illinois’ 11th credit downgrade by the three major credit rating agencies since Gov. Pat Quinn took office in 2009. The downgrade reflects the downward spiral of the state’s finances and the failures of its governance.
CARTOON OF THE DAY