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Midterm Election Countdown: The Northeast Regional Review

By Daniel Anderson

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Voters in the Northeast will have the opportunity to overhaul their governments this November due to tight races across the ballot. Although four marquee gubernatorial races have garnered the lion's share of headlines thus far, there are a total of eight governor's mansions, 23 other state executive offices, 78 U.S. House seats, five U.S. Senate seats, 1,731 state legislative seats, 24 statewide ballot measures, three local ballot measures, 147 judicial offices and 63 school board seats in the nation's largest school districts up for grabs.

Ballotpedia and Judgepedia are providing comprehensive coverage of all these elections from now to November. Click the links below for more detailed information on each race.


The Tuesday Count: Marijuana legalization advocates target 2016

Edited by Ryan Byrne

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GMO-labeling and marijuana legalization are two movements with different success rates at the ballot box. Momentum is building behind the movement to legalize recreational marijuana, and inspired proponents are aiming to put the issue on a number of state ballots in 2016.[1] The GMO-labeling movement, on the other hand, hasn't won a statewide ballot battle yet, but that could change in 2014.[2] Recently, GMO opponents have successfully enacted local bans in Jackson County and Josephine County, Oregon, and will now have the chance to do so in Maui County, Hawaii.[3]


Preview of 2014's most competitive gubernatorial races

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2014 Gubernatorial Election Preview

General election date
November 4, 2014
Table of contents
Alaska
Arizona
Colorado
Connecticut
Florida
Illinois
Kansas
Maine
Massachusetts
Wisconsin
See also
State executive official elections, 2014
Gubernatorial elections, 2014
State Executives Portal
See also: Alaska Gubernatorial election, 2014

Race rating: Lean Republican

Alaska Locator Map with US.PNG
An otherwise sleepy race for governor in Alaska became intriguing following the August primary thanks to unorthodox ballot groupings and post-primary candidate shakeups. As thousands of ballots headed overseas in late September, voters pieced together the dynamics of the race as the ballot was still unsettled.

The confusion centered on efforts by liberal-leaning forces to rearrange the ballot to give their candidates a fighting chance against Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, who won his party's August primary. Parnell's ratings and polling numbers projected a comfortable ride to a second term in 2014, which drew concerns from liberal groups that the process was rigged for the incumbent.[4] Democrat Byron Mallott received the highest number of votes in the combined Alaskan Independence-Democratic-Libertarian (A-D-L) primary and was heading to the general election along with Parnell, Libertarian candidate Carolyn "Care" Clift, independent candidate Bill Walker and Alaska Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers, until the Democratic Party's central committee voted 89-2 to support an alternative "fusion" ticket pairing Mallott as the running mate for Walker.[5][6][7]

The spontaneous formation of the "Alaska First Unity Ticket" caused a dramatic shakeup of the general election tickets for both governor and lieutenant governor, requiring the withdrawal of lieutenant gubernatorial candidates Hollis French (D) and Craig Fleener (I), and relegating Mallott to the lieutenant gubernatorial slot.[8][9] One of the driving forces behind the ticket merger was the initial decision of the Alaska AFL-CIO, a top Democratic campaign contributor, to boycott involvement in the governor's race, echoing the popular complaint among Parnell opponents that the overcrowded configuration of challengers all but guaranteed a runaway victory for the incumbent.[5] The Alaska Republican Party challenged an order allowing the unity ticket, but Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled against the party's challenge on September 29.[10][11]


State Legislative Tracker: Pennsylvania pursues marijuana legalization

Edited by Joel Williams
This week’s tracker includes a look at Pennsylvania's attempt to legalize marijuana.


Pension Hotspots: Phoenix, Arizona, and San Diego County, California

By Josh Altic

The Pension Hotspots Report is a monthly publication about local pensions and pension reform efforts.

A new public citizens review process released statements about Proposition 487 in Phoenix in an attempt to clarify the pension reform initiative for voters. Meanwhile, in San Diego County, California, pension fund investors drew harsh criticism by placing all of the county's pension assets on the line in a new high-risk, all-or-nothing investment strategy, hoping to drastically boost the fund's health.

As of September 26, 2014, nine pension related measures have been proposed in 2014. Three of these have been approved and one was defeated. Court decisions removed the initiatives in Pacific Grove, California, and Ventura County, California, from the ballot, leaving three measures scheduled for voter decisions.

The state's first Citizens' Initiative Review releases pro and con statements about Phoenix Proposition 487:

In a new effort to clarify issues, a Citizens' Initiative Review process made its debut by reviewing Phoenix Proposition 487, a reform proposal for the city's underfunded pension system. The review was conducted by an independent panel of voters which investigated and discussed arguments in favor of and opposition to the measure and read the full text of the initiative and various analyses so the members of the panel are able to explain the nuances of the proposal in terms the average voter can understand. The review process was sponsored and organized by Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, which chose 20 panelists at random from diverse Phoenix demographics, including political parties, ethnicity, age and gender. A super majority of the panel voted to approve the following list of reasons to vote in favor and against Proposition 487:[12][13][14]

Reasons to vote in favor:

  • Proposition 487 makes future public retirement benefits more similar to private-sector retirement plans, leaving current benefits intact.
  • The initiative provides additional money-saving reform, while honoring previous commitments.
  • The city's pension system is only 64 percent funded, leading to increased taxpayer liabilities, which, if ignored, could lead to cuts in city services and increased taxes.
  • The 401(k)-style plan offered by Proposition 487 will give employees more control over their retirement plans.
  • Proposition 487 should end pension spiking by limiting pensionable pay, saving taxpayers as much as $385 million over 20 years.

Reasons to vote against:

  • Although Prop. 487 was designed to not affect police officers and firefighters, the impact on public safety employees is unclear, and the initiative could have unintended consequences.
  • Proposition 487 has some language that could prompt expensive litigation due to lack of clarity.
  • Proposition 487 is unnecessary because of 2013 pension reform and contract negotiations have already taken steps to fix the city's system.
  • Most city employees only receive moderate benefits, averaging $30,000 per year.
  • Proposition 487 was funded by money with undisclosed sources, specifically from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.

Tyrone Reitman, executive director at Healthy Democracy, said of the process, “An incredible group of randomly selected voters from across Phoenix reviewed Prop 487, clearly demonstrating the value of this new public service to voters, whether it's on city-wide or state-wide level. We hope this project supports the voters of Phoenix during this election, while also charting a new course toward engaging voters in (ballot initiative) elections across Arizona.”[13]

Questions of risk vs. reward surround the all-or-nothing approach used by San Diego County's pension fund manager:

2014 Pension Measure Count
Number proposed:
8
Coming up:
3
Decided measures:
4
Number approved:
3
Number defeated:
1
States: California
Arizona
Missouri

San Diego County pension fund managers have come under fire from critics of their new method, which puts essentially all of the fund's assets on the line. Hoping for magnified profits in the event of good investment performance, but risking decimating loss in the event of negative returns, the investment group will be hailed as heroes if things go well. If investments go south, however, they will be reviled as villains and blamed for the county's potential financial downfall, since employees and retirees could wake up with almost nothing left in their fund.[15]

Salient Partners, the group managing the fund, chose to use high-risk, high-leverage investment under pressure to raise the asset-to-liability ratio of the only 79 percent-funded pension system. Leaders in the investment group made the ambitious decision to increase the fund's investment from 35 percent of assets to 100 percent. In other words, instead of risking only a portion of the fund on Wall Street ventures, Salient Partners is putting all of the fund's assets on the line.[15]

This strategy flies in the face of what other pension systems are doing. The city of San Diego, for example, is entrenched in a conservative, low-risk plan for allocating its money and the Los Angeles fire and police employees pension fund recently pulled all of its funds out of hedge-fund investments. CalPERS as a whole has moved away from large investments and risky futures since its devastating losses during the 2008 recession.[15]

While supporters call San Diego County's move brave and bold, opponents compare the move to a gambler putting his entire bankroll on the table, risking all his money on one bet. They go on to say that this move is even more irresponsible since the money and livelihood of others is at risk. The county invests $10 billion on behalf of more than 39,000 active or former public employees. On July 1, 2014, Lee Partridge of Salient Partners was authorized to spend the county’s entire $10 billion fund to put at least $20 billion at risk.[15]

Barry Ritholtz reported:

I am not fond of forecasts, so instead, I will offer one of two likely outcomes: Eventually, San Diego County’s pension fund blows up. The losses are spectacular, and the county taxpayers are saddled with billions in new tax obligations. Alternatively, the townsfolk figure out how much risk is being put on their shoulders, and fires everyone involved, from the pension board to the advisers to anyone who voted for these shenanigans.

I have seen this movie before. I know how it ends.[16]

—Barry Ritholtz[15]

Moreover, critics are careful to point out that the fund's management shares none of the risk it is imposing on the pension fund, since it receives an annual $10 million in management fees regardless of investment performance.[15]


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References

  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Time
  2. Governing, "Why GMO Labeling May Finally Win Voters' Approval in Colorado and Oregon," September 12, 2014
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named ruling
  4. Cook Political Report, "2014 Governors Race Ratings," May 16, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 Alaska Dispatch News, "Walker, Mallott to join forces in governor's race," September 1, 2014
  6. Ballot Access News, "Constitution Party Has Enough Valid Signatures in Alaska," August 25, 2014
  7. State of Alaska Division of Elections, "August 19, 2014 Primary Candidate List," accessed August 19, 2014
  8. The Anchorage Daily-News, "Walker chooses Fleener as running mate in Independent bid for governor," October 14, 2013
  9. State of Alaska Division of Elections, "2014 General Election candidates," accessed September 5, 2014
  10. Tribtown.com, "Expedited ruling sought in lawsuit alleging error in Alaska governor's race decision," September 18, 2014
  11. Alaska Dispatch News, "Judge rules Walker-Mallott ticket can stand," September 26, 2014
  12. The Arizona Republic, "Independent group highlights pros, cons of Phoenix pension act," September 24, 2014
  13. 13.0 13.1 Morrison Institute for Public Policy, "Arizona Citizen's Initiative Review offers key findings on pension ballot issue," accessed September 26, 2014
  14. Morrison Institute for Public Policy, "Citizens’ Initiative Review of Proposition 487: Pension reform," accessed September 26, 2014
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 San Diego Free Press, "Questioning San Diego County Pension Fund’s Excessive Risk," September 23, 2014
  16. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.