Above the Fold 04.08.09

Municipal bonds blow up…Ultra shovel ready contractors want stimulus scratch…Nation’s largest county health system in pain… Jobless seek ‘green’ edification…Politically driven donations up in down economy…Rock, paper, scissors for Minn. Senate seat?…Okla. wants IT…Plague (of errors) hits state school safety data…

Municipal bonds, long a crutch mechanism for small cities and counties across the country have soured since the economy tanked the New York Times reports. “We’re little,” Bob Phillips, a part-time mayor and full-time pharmacist, said, “and we depend on people wiser than us in financial ways to keep us informed, tell us what things mean, and I really didn’t think we got that.”

State and local governments are benefiting from the law of supply and demand, the Washington Post reports. Over-eager construction firms are putting bids much lower than expected, making Transportation Secretaries across the country jump for joy. “Our bottom line is more bidders and better prices,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari. “This we like.”

Los Angeles County’s public health system is facing an expected budget gap of $1.2 billion by 2011, the Los Angeles Times reports. The agency has been without a leader for a year now and is looking for new sources of revenue amid growing financial challenges. “We have a number of proposals that we think are achievable,” said William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive. “I can’t share them yet.”

USA Today is reporting that community colleges and technical schools are tailoring programs to newly laid-off workers who are looking to change career tracks. 5 million jobs have been lost since December 2007, 663,000 of which left in March. Observers are betting the farm on fields such as wind- and solar-energy technology, which they say has a good chance of giving laid-off workers another start.

Capitol Weekly reports that state elected officials have solicited about $8.3 million in just over sixty days in politically driven charitable donations. Observers believe this year’s pace is faster, despite the terrible economy. “We may be seeing only the tip of the iceberg,” said Ross Johnson, chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces the state’s election laws. Governor Schwarzenegger has channeled some $5.2 million since Jan. 2008 from an array of interests – including GE and its affiliates, Deloitte Consulting, Aga Khan University Foundation, PG&E, Edison International, California Conference of Carpenters, University of Phoenix and others, Capitol Weekly found.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting that comedian-turned-politico Al Franken has extended his lead in the U.S. Senate race, after several hundred disputed absentee ballots broke in his favor. The legal dispute between Mr. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman has entered into its fifth month, and despite today’s ruling by a three-judge panel Coleman’s spokesman Ben Ginsberg said the judges erred in permitting only 351 rejected absentee ballots to be counted, “We will be appealing this to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

Oklahoma attempted to bring themselves into the information age yesterday. The House passed legislation to streamline and consolidate technology among the state agencies, the Associated Press reports. The bill would also consolidate technology contracts, making purchases of IT services and equipment easier. Oklahoma is still one of only four states without a central technology officer.

The Detroit News is reporting this morning that an investigation of theirs found that Michigan’s safety statistics are so inaccurate they might not offer any guidance at all. One example from an elementary school reported nine explosions that should have been “expulsions”. “The state and federal school safety data isn’t worth the paper or computer database that it’s stored upon,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services.

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