Above The Fold 05.18.09

The kids got their priorities…Ni hao Governor…New disease man on the block hales from NYC…Baiting business roils the locals in Philly…Daddy needs a few bucks, son, just for a few years…Hoosiers getting testy over food stamp snafus…Florida wonders if their state IT systems can work without anyone behind the controls…National League of Cities wants the thimble during the next round of Monopoly…

The Wall Street Journal reports there are few jobs in places like Portland, Ore., Austin, Tx., Seattle, Wash. and others, but no one told the young and educated job seekers who continue to flock to these areas. Apparently, these places are holding on to the 25 year-old-demo just because they’re hip areas to live. “A lot of people figure there aren’t jobs anywhere, so they might as well be where they want to be,” says Mark McMullen, a senior economist at Moody’s economy.com. City governments might have to put up with higher unemployment rates, but having an excess of young talent will be a boon once the economy turns around, industry observers say. “I’m hopeful people will stick around,” says Portland mayor Sam Adams. “Even if they come to my city without a job, it is still an economic plus.”

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. has been chosen to become the new ambassador to China, the Salt Lake Tribune reported this weekend. President Obama said, “I can think of no more important assignment than creating the kinds of bridges between our two countries that will determine the well-being, not just of Americans and Chinese, but also the future of the world.” The Governor, who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, had planned to be in China this week on business with senior Chinese officials to discuss climate change, clean energy development and carbon capture technology, but was canceled due to swine flu concerns, the paper reported. To read a more intimate picture of the Utah Governor’s affection for China, click here.

New York City’s health commissioner will also be leaving his native lands for a post with the federal government, the New York Times reports. President Obama announced on Friday that he has chosen Dr. Thomas R. Frieden to be the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I think the administration selected Tom Frieden because he can take public health to a new place,” Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit public health advocacy organization, told the Times. “He’s a transformational leader.” Given the recent outbreak of H1N1 virus, and the push to reform America’s health care system, many industry observers believe the new director will have his hands full with the CDC post.

The practice of luring business and real estate developers into empty office buildings or abandoned lots is hitting a wall in Philadelphia, the Wall Street Journal reports. Tax abatement have used since the late 90s to revitalize Philadelphia’s downtown, but residents who are suffering property tax increases think the breaks are overly generous. “This abatement has got to go, and some assistance needs to be handed out to people struggling to stay in their homes,” said one of the protesters, Junette Marcano, a retired nurse living in a row house about five miles north of Center City. In Philly, business and real estate are taxed under the “unimproved” value of the property for 10 years.

City and county governments in California are bracing for new revenue shortfalls, but as the Sacramento Bee reports, they’re also fighting a proposal that would have Gov. Schwarzenegger “borrow” from local property taxes. “Siphoning off local property taxes at a time we need every penny will further devastate our community and hurt everyone in our city,” Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said. Most city and county leaders express doubt that California will be able to repay whatever money it borrows within the three-year window outlined in the proposal. “We’re just not in a financial position to float a loan to the state for three years at the expense of public safety and other vital services our citizens demand and expect,” said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties.

From October 2007 to September 2008, the percent of Hoosier food stamp recipients who were improperly denied or terminated doubled from 5.9 percent to 12, or about 75,000 per month, the Fort Wayne Gazette reports. The increasing error rates coincide with the roll out of the state’s $1.16 billion modernized welfare program being built by Affiliated Computer Services and IBM Corp., giving fuel to advocates’ claims of mismanagement. Not only were food stamp applications doled out less accurately, but applications were also being processed more slowly. State officials think the legislature has been slow to address the obvious problems plaguing the system. “Republicans in Senate leadership chose to ignore the issue,” said Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville. “I don’t understand the reticence, the lack of initiative by the Senate to act on this issue.”

Officials in Florida are working on “continuity-of-operations plans” for the state’s enterprise systems in the event of a pandemic or outbreak. The state has no plans to keep its mission-critical enterprise platforms up and running, Government Computer News reports, but it does have disaster recovery and emergency management plans for its systems that will be used to help carry the load. “Some states say they’re ready for a pandemic, but Florida never made that claim,” he said. “We’re going to have our staff and systems as ready as they can be.”

The National League of Cities is looking for a $5 billion loan from the Treasury to start a new municipal bond isurer, Bloomberg reports. The Mutual Bond Assurance Co. would be the first publicly owned U.S. financial guarantor designed to avoid pressure to produce 15 to 25 percent annual returns for their shareholders. Private sector bond insurers agree with the need to recalibrate municipal bond assessments, but believe their better equipped to help. “We agree with the National League of Cities that additional bond insurance capacity is sorely needed in the municipal finance market,” Tom McLoughlin, chief executive officer of National Public Finance Guarantee, MBIA’s new “muni-only” entry, said. “However, we believe the private sector can provide it on a more cost-efficient and effective basis.”

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