Congressmen Ami Bera, David Cicilline, Rodney Davis and Adam Kinzinger talk problem solving.
Even as hyper-partisan polarization in Congress brings 2011 to a disappointing end, we continue to find hope in local and state stories of common sense collaboration that works. Close to home, many elected officials are rolling up their sleeves and working together creatively to serve their constituents and, in many instances, save money at the same time. Here are four more examples of bipartisanship delivering good results. Washington, listen up!
Alaska – Bipartisan Governance
“Build, energize, and protect,” is the motto of the Alaska Senate Bipartisan Working Group, the only such coalition in the nation to lead a state senate. Senate President Gary Stevens notes that the accomplishments of this group over the past two legislative sessions prove elected officials can “set aside partisan politics and work together to meet the challenges facing the State of Alaska head-on.” All 10 Democrats and six of the 10 Republicans in the Senate belong to the working group. Many committees are co-chaired by leaders from both parties, and, although some members have very strong ideological beliefs, the Juneau Empire reports that they “typically agree to not pursue some of the most divisive issues as a condition of membership.”
Idaho – Access to Higher Education
The timing could hardly have been better when legislators came together across the political spectrum in Idaho in 2007 to create a scholarship fund for economically disadvantaged students. With the cost of college rising faster than wages and educational debt exceeding that of credit cards, young people from moderate-income families were watching their hopes of a college degree evaporate. The Idaho Opportunity Scholarship Fund was intended to provide some relief. But the same economic downturn that hurt families and students also cut into state revenues, and Idaho was unable to find the full $100 million to start the fund. Members of the House and Senate stepped forward in a bipartisan manner again in 2010 and passed a bill encouraging citizens to assist by contributing directly to the fund when they file their annual tax returns.
New York – Energy Efficiency
Moderate-income residents can reap real benefits from The Power New York Act of 2011, passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law this past summer. Touted as a model for other states, Power NY sets up a public-private fund to provide low-cost loans to home- and business-owners who want to save money and conserve energy by retrofitting older buildings, but who cannot otherwise afford the upfront costs of doing so. Homeowners who previously saw their dollars going ‘out the window’ to pay to heat and cool drafty structures can now invest those dollars back into other expenses, jobs and the economy. Loans of up to $13,000 for residences and $26,000 for businesses are paid back over time through a line item on future utility bills.
Texas – Criminal Justice
Texas has a reputation for being tough on crime, but bipartisan leaders have taken bold steps to make sure that the state is smart on crime, as well. Faced with unsustainable prison costs and forecasts of rising need, Democratic Senator John Whitmore and Republican Representative Jerry Madden challenged researchers from both “very liberal and very conservative think tanks” to get their heads together and figure out what to do. The result was legislation passed in 2007 that focuses on treatment of alcohol- and drug-addicted offenders and aims to cut the return-to-prison rate in half. A portion of the expected cost savings is being redirected into visiting nurse programs for low-income pregnant women.
Blair is a citizen leader from Alexandria, VA.