Paul Ryan Elected as Speaker of the House

Rep. Paul Ryan was officially elected as the 54th Speaker of the House on October 29. His first major test will be the ability to get a long term highway funding bill to the President’s desk.  Before leaving the position, former Speaker John Boehner was able to get a budget deal and a debt ceiling suspension through the House. Boehner formally resigned as Ohio’s 8th congressional district Representative on October 31.


The GOP House steering committee selected Kevin Brady to replace Speaker Ryan as Chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. His main competitor was Ohio Representative Pat Tiberi who will chair that committee’s subcommittee on trade.


Obama Signs a Two-Year Budget

On November 2, President Obama signed into law a two-year budget agreement which suspends the debt limit until March 2017. The agreement also lifts sequestration caps on defense and domestic spending for FY 2016 and FY 2017. Offsets for these costs were found through Medicare and Social Security program reforms/cuts/savings. These include a 20% cut to Social Service Disability Insurance benefits, new Social Security fraud prevention measures, a block to Medicare Part B premium increases, and an equalization of payment rates for hospital owned outpatient departments and hospital-owned physician offices. The agreement also permits the auctioning of the government controlled wireless spectrum, the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and changes to tax regulations for business partnerships. Finally, the agreement included a policy rider that repeals an ACA provision that requires employers with more than 200 full-time employees to automatically enroll new employees in the their health coverage.


Now that the agreement has been signed into law, Appropriations committees in the House and Senate must work to pass an omnibus budget to allocate the funds. They have until December 11 when the Continuing Resolution currently keeping the government open expires.  Total spending is capped at $1.1 trillion. Speaker Ryan had been contemplating how/if they will reopen the appropriations process, given the looming deadline. However, in the Senate, leaders have begun laying the groundwork for an omnibus bill, using the Military Construction - Veterans Affairs bill (HR 2029) as a vehicle. A number of energy and environment riders are being discussed including one that would block the EPA from its planned expansion of the definition of protected waters. The Mil-Con bill is at the top of the Senate’s agenda with work expected to be completed on it by the end of the week.


House Passes Multiyear Surface Transportation Bill

On November 5, following three days of debate, during which over 130 amendments were considered, the House approved by a vote of 363 to 64, a bipartisan, multiyear surface transportation bill to reauthorize and reform federal highway, transit, and highway safety programs.


The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 (the STRR Act) helps improve the Nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, refocuses programs on addressing national priorities, provides more flexibility and certainty for states and local governments, accelerates project delivery, maintains a strong commitment to safety, and promotes innovation to make the transportation system and programs more effective.  The legislation was introduced in the House by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO), and Highways and Transit Subcommittee Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC.)


Conference committee work has begun to reconcile both chambers’ plan. House and Senate staff are meeting this week to begin work and a bicameral deal is expected to be reached quickly. Conferees have been named, and been made public by Democratic and Republican leadership. They are expected to hold one or two meetings the week of November 16.


The House’s plan, similar to that of the Senate, contains six years of infrastructure projects but only contains a funding source for three of those years. In the House version, after the first three years, a funding source must be identified or the last three years of projects would be suspended. Also, in a last minute change to the bill, the House version is funded partially by surplus capital from the Federal Reserve. They did not include the Senate’s reduction to Federal Reserve dividends for national banks as an offset. Both bills would reauthorize the Export-Import bank through September 2019 despite opposition to the bank from numerous Republican leaders, including Speaker Ryan. Finally, the House provides less money for infrastructure and more for safety than does the Senate’s version. Congress has until November 20 before the current stop-gap highway bill expires.  


Senate Blocks EPA Clean Water Bill

On November 3, the Senate fell short of advancing legislation to repeal environmental regulations that bring more waterways and wetlands under federal protection, a victory for the Obama administration on rules that have faced a series of legal and political setbacks over the past few months.


The regulations, written by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were scheduled to go into effect earlier this year, but a federal court blocked them temporarily in early October while a group of states mount legal challenges.  Issued in May, the rules would put about 3% more waterways under federal jurisdiction, meaning a federal permit would be required to release pollutant substances into those waters, and access could be restricted altogether. Major waterways are already under the protection of the Clean Water Act and wouldn’t be affected.


The EPA says the rules are necessary to clarify which waters fall under the Clean Water Act after two Supreme Court rulings, in 2001 and 2006, called into question whether and to what extent 60% of U.S. waterways, especially smaller streams and wetlands, fall under federal jurisdiction.  Supporters of the bill said the EPA regulations would pose federal intrusion on states’ rights, impose difficulties on farmers and ranchers, and create uncertainty for all concerned.  However, supporters of the regulations said they were needed to protect the drinking supply of 117 million Americans, and that farming activity would be exempt.


Companies apply for permits under the Clean Water Act for a host of industrial activities, such as building roads and bridges and discharging waste material like sewage.


DOT Announces TIGER Grant Awardees

On October 29, the Department of Transportation announced TIGER grant awardees. Overall, $500 million was awarded to 39 projects in 34 states. 629 applications were submitted. An entire list of successful projects along with their description can be viewed here.


ACA Open Enrollment Began November 1

The 2016 enrollment period for health insurance offered through the health care exchange opened on November 1. A number of new features have been added to including one that shows consumers how much insurance would cost after ACA subsidies are taken into account, and what out-of-pocket medical expenses consumers can expect to incur. The administration’s coverage goal is 10 million people by the end of 2016, an increase of just under 1 million from the 2015 year-end goal of 9.1 million. Midlevel ACA health policies have on average increased notably in cost this year. Premiums for the second lowest cost silver plans (used as a benchmark for health premiums) have increased by 7.5% in states that use the federally run exchange compared to last year’s 2% increase. Premiums climbed as high as 35.7% in Oklahoma and as low as a 12.6% decline in Indiana. Approximately 80% of individuals will be able to find a plan that costs under $100 a month once subsidies are taken into account according to CMS. The average premium is projected by CMS to be $240 in 2016.









New Jersey held its General Assembly elections on November 3, along with county, municipal and school board elections. One Senate seat, the fifth legislative district (including parts of Camden and Gloucester counties), was up in this cycle. Incumbent Democratic Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez ran unopposed.


Overall, incumbents were widely re-elected to the Assembly with only a handful of Republican legislators losing to their Democratic challengers. Democrats picked up 4 seats bringing their total to 51, their largest majority in over 30 years. Republicans held on to 29 seats (down from 31). Below are brief summaries of races where at least one new individual was elected to the General Assembly.


First Legislative District: Atlantic (part) - Cape May - Cumberland (part) Counties

Republican incumbent Sam Fiocchi was defeated by Democrats R. Bruce Land. Democratic incumbent Bob Andrzejczak was re-elected.


Fifth Legislative District: Camden (part) - Gloucester (part) Counties

Democrats Arthur Barclay and Patricia Egan Jones handily defeated their Republican opponents, Kevin Ehret and Keith Walker. They will replace outgoing Democratic Assemblymen Gilbert Wilson and Angel Fuetes.


Eighth Legislative District: Atlantic (part) - Burlington (part) - Camden (part) Counties

Republican Joe Howarth joins his running mate incumbent Maria Rodriguez-Gregg in the Assembly. Both ran unopposed. Howarth is replacing retiring Republican Assemblyman Christopher Brown.


Eleventh Legislative District: Monmouth (part) Counties

Democrats Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey narrowly beat their incumbent Republican competitors Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande.


Sixteenth Legislative District: Hunterdon (part) - Mercer (part) - Middlesex (part) - Somerset (part) Counties

On election night, Democrat Andrew Zwicker was leading incumbent Republican challenger Donna Simon by 29 votes, making it the tightest Assembly race. Zwicker’s lead has appeared to have grown by 10 with provisional ballots (that are still being counted). However, at the time of writing the race remains too close to call. The losing candidate has until November 14 to file for a  recount. Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli was re-elected.


Twenty-Second Legislative District: Middlesex (part) - Somerset (part) - Union (part) Counties

Democrat James Kennedy was elected to replace retiring Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender. Democratic incumbent Jerry Green was re-elected.


Twenty-Fourth Legislative District: Morris (part) - Sussex - Warren (part) Counties

Republican Gail Phoebus was elected to replace retiring Republican Assemblywoman Alison McHose. Incumbent Republican Parker Space was re-elected.


Thirty-First Legislative District: Hudson (part) Counties

With no incumbents running for re-election in the district, Democrats Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti handily defeated their Republican opponents. They are replacing retiring Democratic Assemblymen Jason O'Donnell and Charles Mainor.


Thirty-Third Legislative District: Hudson (part) Counties

Democrat Annette Chaparro was elected to replace retiring Democratic Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia. Incumbent Democrat Raj Mukherji was re-elected.




In terms of county elections, below is a brief summary of races where at least one non-incumbent won, along with any ballot question results:


Atlantic County

Republican Maureen Kern was elected as the 2nd District’s Freeholder. The Republicans swept the elections in Atlantic County and were able to easily maintain their majority on the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Incumbents Dennis Levinson, James Curcio, Frank Formica, and James Bertino were re-elected.


Burlington County

Republicans Kate Gibbs and Ryan Peters were elected to the Board of Chosen Freeholders, defeating Democratic incumbents Aimee Belgard and Joanne Schwartz. As such, Democrats lost their majority on the board.


Camden County

Democrats Susan Angulo and William Moen Jr. join Democratic incumbents Jeffrey Nash and Jonathan Young Sr. on the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Camden also elected Democrat Gilbert “Whip” Wilson to the position of Sheriff, replacing outgoing Sheriff Charles Billingham.


Cumberland County

Newly elected Democrat James Quinn joins Cumberland’s Board of Chosen Freeholders. Incumbent Joseph Derella was re-elected. Overall, Democrats preserve their 4-3 majority.


Middlesex County

74% of individuals voted yes to the Public Question “Shall the governing body of the County of Middlesex prioritize funding to programs which provide transportation services for individuals in need of dialysis, chemotherapy or other regular medical services as a means of offsetting recent federal and state funding cuts?”


Morris County

Republican newcomers Christine Myers and Deborah Smith, and incumbent Republican John Cesaro were (re) elected to Morris’ Board of Chosen Freeholders.


Passaic County

Democrats swept Passiac County’s Freeholder elections. Newly elected Cassandra Lazzara and incumbents John Bartlett and Hector Lora allowed Democrats to retain control of the board.


Salem County

Republican Melissa DeCastro appears to have narrowly defeated Democrat Charles V. Hassler in an extremely tight race for a seat on the county’s freeholder board. DeCastro led by 11 votes on election night. After provisional ballots had been counted, DeCastro’s lead narrowed to 7 votes, making her the winner. Democrats are expected to challenge the results.


New Jersey Legislative Priorities for the Lame Duck Session

-Funding the New Jersey Pension

-Funding for the Transportation Trust Fund

-Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield OMNIA



Governor Christie’s Cabinet/Staff Changes

Richard Badolato was formally nominated as Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance. He has served as Acting Commissioner since August of this year.


Ford Scudder, COO of Laffer Associates, will be nominated to the position of State Treasurer. Current Acting Treasurer, Robert Romano, will be responsible for management and operation of Treasury activities.


Richard Hammer, Assistant Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, will become that department’s Acting Commissioner. He replaces Jamie Fox.






Focus on Ohio’s election largely centered around ballot measures, one of which would have legalized the personal and medical use of marijuana. There were also a number of local races, local ballot initiatives, and proposed levies up this cycle.


Statewide Ballot Initiatives

State Issue 1 would create a bipartisan redistricting commission tasked with drawing legislative districts in the state. It was strongly supported by a vote of 71% to 29%. This redistricting commission “establish[es] the bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission, composed of 7 members including the Governor, the Auditor of State, the Secretary of State, and 4 members appointed by the majority and minority leaders of the General Assembly.” It is mandated that “a bipartisan majority of 4 members” is required “in order to adopt any final district plan, and prevent deadlock by limiting the length of time any plan adopted without bipartisan support is effective.”


State Issue 2 would prohibit the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit. It was also passed by a vote of 52% to 48%. This measure was included largely in response to the way state issue 3 was phrased. Specifically it “Prohibit[s] any petitioner from using the Ohio Constitution to grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel for their exclusive financial benefit or to establish a preferential tax status.” It also “Prohibit[s] from taking effect any proposed constitutional amendment appearing on the November 3, 2015 General Election ballot that creates a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel for the sale, distribution, or other use of any federal Schedule I controlled substance.” As such, had state issue 3 been successful, this initiative would have overridden its authority.


State Issue 3 would grant a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes. It failed to pass with 64% of individuals voting no compared to 36% who voted yes. In addition to traditional opposition to marijuana legalization, this initiative also attracted opposition from individuals who might otherwise have supported marijuana legalization. Specifically, this group opposed the provision which would have “Endow exclusive rights for commercial marijuana growth, cultivation, and extraction to self-designated landowners who own ten predetermined parcels of land in Butler, Clermont, Franklin, Hamilton, Licking, Lorain, Lucas, Delaware, Stark, and Summit Counties.”


Local Election Results

In Columbus (Franklin County), City Council President Andrew Ginther  (D) defeated Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott (D) to become the next mayor of the city.  Current Mayor Michael Coleman, mayor since 2000, did not run for reelection.  This was a non-partisan race, with the two top vote getters from the May primary facing off. 


Toledo elected a new Mayor on Tuesday. Democrat Paula Hicks-Hudson was handily elected to replace the late D. Michael Collins. She will be up for re-election in two years, when Collins’ term would have ended. She is the first Democrat to be elected to the position since 2006. The late D. Michael Collins was an independent as was his predecessor. Incumbent Councilor Mike Craig did not seek re-election for District 3 and will be replaced by Peter Ujvagi.



In general, voters were more supportive of levies for schools, mental health agencies, social services and a slew of other levies compared with levies put to the electorate in past elections. This increased support is partly due to improving economic conditions across the state. Notable levies that were successful include a $1 million property tax for Sinclair Community College, and a Franklin County property tax for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo failed to get a permanent levy passed last year.









PA Budget Talks Continue

Budget-related meetings resume in Harrisburg, although there is increased optimism of a budget being passed before Thanksgiving.  Education funding, a natural gas severance tax, pension reforms and liquor privatization are acting as the main obstacles.


House GOP Leader Dave Reed's memo to members last week relayed, "We are making progress towards the framework of what could lead to a final budget compromise."  Governor Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan stated there are serious negotiations taking place behind closed doors, and there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”


Governor Wolf’s $2.4 billion revenue-generating proposal was defeated in the House in October. The plan included both a half-a-percentage-point hike of the personal income tax (PIT), from 3.07 percent to 3.57 percent, and an increase of the state’s current tax on natural gas drilling.


For more than 130 days, Pennsylvania's government has been in a partial shutdown as the Republican-controlled Legislature battles the Governor’s proposal. 


Pittsburgh’s New Campaign Contribution Limits

Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman’s legislation setting new limits on campaign contributions unanimously passed Pittsburgh City Council on October 20 with Councilwoman Darlene Harris abstaining. It was signed into law by Mayor Bill Peduto on October 28. Gilman’s ordinance establishes new contribution limits on municipal elections. Contribution limitations are the same as those imposed federally by the Federal Election Commission, presently $2,700 for individuals and $5,000 for political committees per election. Primaries and the general election are considered separate. However, donations cannot be made for a primary and general election at the same time. The plan also requires campaigns to report monthly starting five months from the election and creates an searchable electronic finance report database. Any contributions made prior to October 28, 2015 are not counted towards individuals’ or political committees’ totals. Full text of the ordinance can be viewed here.


In a separate piece of legislation, Councilman Gilman also revives and reforms the city’s Ethics Hearing Board which has not met in years. Specifically, his legislation would create a nine-seat board. Seven of the members would be nominated by an advisory panel with approval from the Mayor and Council and would serve three-year terms. The Council President and Mayor would each be able to pick the other two members. This ordinance also passed with unanimous support. Councilwoman Darlene Harris expressed opposition to the bill and abstained. Full text of the ordinance can be viewed here.

Pennsylvania Elections

Pennsylvania held a number of judicial elections, including for three vacancies on the Supreme Court, as well as a number of local elections.


Statewide Judicial Elections

Democrats swept statewide judicial elections for Supreme Court, Superior Court and, the Commonwealth Court on November 3. The three vacancies on PA’s Supreme Court will be filled by David Wecht, Kevin Dougherty, and Christine Donohue meaning that Democrats will now hold a majority (five) of the court’s seven seats. Alice Dubow defeated Republican Emil Giordano for the Superior Court seat. Michael Wojcik defeated Republican Paul Lalley for the Commonwealth Court seat.


Elections for the State Legislature

Republicans retook the 37th Senatorial District from the Democrats. Guy Reschenthaler will replace Matt Smith who resigned in June 2015 to become president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce. His Democratic opponent was Heather Arnet.


Also, Senator Dominic Pileggi (representing the 9th Senatorial District) and Representative Tim Krieger (representing the 57th Legislative District) were elected Tuesday to the Delaware and Westmoreland Courts of Common Pleas, respectively. As such, both will vacate their seats in January of 2016. In Philadelphia, Representative Cherelle Parker was voted into Council and will be vacating her seat as the representative for the 200th Legislative District.



In Philadelphia, Democrat James (Jim) Kenney was elected to replace outgoing Mayor Michael Nutter. Democrat Lisa Deeley joins incumbent Democrats Anthony Clark and Al Schmidt as city Commissioners. All three ran unopposed. Democrats Helen Gym, Derek Green, and Allan Domb will join re-elected Democratic incumbents Blondell Reynolds Brown and Bill Greenlee on the city’s council at large. Republican David Oh was narrowly re-elected. However, Republican incumbent Dennis O'Brien was narrowly defeated and will be replaced by Republican Al Taubenberger. Democrat Cherelle Parker will replace outgoing Democratic Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco for the 9th District.


Voters in the city of Philadelphia supported all three ballot questions. The first ballot question establishes and defines the functions of a new Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs. The second creates of a new Department of Planning and Development that will oversee the city’s planning, zoning, development services, and housing & community development functions. The third allows the city to borrow nearly $160 million for “transit, streets & sanitation, municipal buildings, parks, recreation & museums, and economic & community development.”


In Montgomery County, Republican Joseph Gale joins Democratic incumbent Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Val Arkoosh. Democrat Kevin Steele was elected as the county’s District Attorney.


In Delaware County, Thaddeus Kirkland beat Republican Wendell Butler for Mayor of Chester.


In Bucks County, Democrat Brian Galloway narrowly lost to incumbent Republican Charles Martin for the third County Commissioner seat. Incumbent Democrat Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Republican Robert Loughery were re-elected to the other two seats.


Central Pennsylvania

In Cambria County, Democrats were able to regain a majority of county Commissioner seats. Incumbent Tom Chernisky and current Adams Township Supervisor William Smith, both Democrat, came in first and second respectively. Republican incumbent Mark Wissinger, who came in third place, was also re-elected. Incumbent Republican and current President Commissioner, Doug Lengenfelder, was not re-elected.


Similarly, in Centre county, with the re-election of Democrat Michael Pipe  and election of Mark Higgins, Democrats were able to gain control of the Board of Commissioners. Incumbent Steve Dershem came in third and was re-elected. Incumbent Republican Chris Exarchos who came in fourth was not re-elected.


Allegheny County

Democrats took all three open seats on the Allegheny County bench.  The three Democrats who were winners in the primary, Jennifer Staley McCrady, Dan Regan and Hugh McGough, will take office in January.  All eight sitting judges, including Edward J. Borkowski, Thomas E. Flaherty, Beth A. Lazzara, Anthony M. Mariani and Donna Jo McDaniel in criminal division; Alan D. Hertzberg in civil division; and Kathryn M. Hens-Greco and Dwayne D. Woodruff, in family division, were up for retention and easily kept their seats.


Beaver County

GOP newcomers Sandie Egley and Daniel Camp oust incumbent Democrat Joe Spanik and gain majority on the Beaver County commissioners' board.   Incumbent Democratic Commissioner Tony Amadio narrowly held on to his seat. This is the first time in nearly 60 years the GOP has taken control of the courthouse.


Butler County

Republicans Leslie Osche and Kimberly Geyer oust Democrats Jerry Johnston and Kevin Boozel for the Butler County commissioners seats.  This is the first female majority ever on the three-seat board.


Washington County

The battle over a seat on the Washington County commission continued November 9, when the county election board members began counting about 75 provisional ballots.  Currently, Democratic incumbent Harlan Shober is ahead of Republican challenger Mike McCormick by 36 votes. Although McCormick was leading late on election day, a count of 815 absentee ballots put Shober into the lead Thursday.  McCormick and Shober are fighting over the third remaining seat on the commission. Incumbents Diana Irey Vaughan, a Republican, and Democrat Larry Maggi won reelection. The board of elections will soon set a hearing date to decide the challenges, and the ballots have been sealed and placed under lock until the hearing.


Westmoreland County

Democrats reclaimed a majority on the board of commissioners for the next four years, ending the GOP’s leadership.  Incumbent Ted Kopas and political newcomer Gina Cerilli defeated first-term Republican incumbent Tyler Courtney to help the Democrats retake the majority the party held for more than a half-century before losing it four years ago.  Incumbent Charles Anderson secured the GOP's lone seat on the board.




















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