A new economic day in Washington

US Capitol Building

KAI RYSSDAL: Washington was the place to be today. After all the sharp talk during the campaign, well-mannered press conferences were the chosen method of communication. Soon to be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went first. President Bush took second-place today. Both of them promising bipartisanship and collegiality. John Dimsdale and Hillary Wicai are in Washington for us. Hi everybody.

HILLARY WICAI: Hello.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Hello, Kai.

RYSSDAL: John, let's start with you. Seems to me the place we really oughta begin is Nancy Pelosi this morning, she's the Speaker presumptive, says she's only got a hundred hours to do a whole lot of things.

DIMSDALE: Well, you gotta know she's been anticipating this for years. And she's been ready with a list of priorities. In fact, she was ready with a sartorial choice yesterday. She was wearing, as Hillary found out, purple.

WICAI: Which I, of course, think is a mix between red and blue.

RYSSDAL: Red and blue. Very good. Very political.

DIMSDALE: Bipartisanship here.

RYSSDAL: Absolutely.

DIMSDALE: But hers is a very economic agenda. In the first hundred hours of a Democratic majority, she's promised several big changes in energy policy like repealing subsidies for oil companies, or developing alternative fuels. There are health care issues: promoting stem-cell research, giving the government the right to negotiate cheaper drug prices for people on Medicare. They want to cut student loan interest rates. And the Democrats are also talking about ending incentives for businesses to send American jobs overseas. And that's raised some business concerns that the new majority might be protectionist and might oppose future trade agreements. And, finally, there's the signature economic issue for Democrats this year: And that's raising the national minimum wage. For the first time in 10 years. It's interesting, President Bush today allowed as how he could work with that, he could find some common ground with the Democrats as long as there is some way to shield the costs to small businesses.

RYSSDAL: Mm-hmm. And of course we're talking here the federal minimum wage. But, Hillary, state-level minimum wages were on the ballot in half a dozen states last night. They all passed, too, didn't they?

WICAI: That's right. Minimum wage was a big winner last night. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio all passed minimum-wage hikes. And they were going to go up anywhere from a buck to a buck-seventy an hour. And it doesn't stop there, Kai. The minimum wage in those states will now be linked to inflation. So, as inflation goes up, so will their minimum wages. That means last night's results total 28 states, plus D.C., have now raised their state minimums above the federal minimum.

RYSSDAL: Not just a couple a dozen issues on the ballot last night. There were hundreds of propositions. What else was out there that state voters were thinking about?

WICAI: Well, land use was a hot issue on yesterday's ballots for sure. And you could consider it a backlash against a Supreme Court ruling last year that said it was OK for a Connecticut city to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development. That's the key: private. So 12 states voted on whether to restrict or ban the use of eminent domain for private purposes. Now, 10 of the states approved those restrictions. Both California's and Idaho's measures failed. They included a thing called regulatory takings, which is a process that allows residents to file a claim against the government if their property value go down because of a government regulation. So, perhaps, voters in California and Idaho looked at Oregon which passed regulatory takings a couple years ago. And that state now faces more than $5.5 billion worth of claims.

RYSSDAL: One other thing I wanted to touch on with you, Hillary, was tobacco taxes. That was on the ballot in about four, five states. Some mixed results there, really.

WICAI: There were mixed results. Four states voted on whether to hike tobacco taxes. Two passed, two failed. The two that passed in Arizona and South Dakota will use the money to fund education and early childhood development. The two that failed in California and Missouri would have used the new tax money e to fund health programs, like Medicaid in Missouri. Tobacco companies reportedly spent about a hundred million dollars to fight those measures.

RYSSDAL: One more thing out there that we ought to mention. This Arizona thing: Somebody's not going to be getting very lucky?

WICAI: No, it's a big loser. Arizona's proposition to award $1 million to one lucky voter just for showin' up and votin' went down in flames. Maybe the voters there were worried aobut constitutional questions, about the ability to buy votes, I don't know. But the voters of Arizona just might want to reconsider that particular measure. Consider this, Kai: The odds of winning that million dollars would have been much better than the four-and-a-half-million to one chance of winning the state lottery's million-dollar jackpot.

RYSSDAL: Perfect. Hillary Wicai and John Dimsdale in our Washington bureau. Thank you both.

WICAI: You bet.

DIMSDALE: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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