IDEAS WORTH STEALING

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Problem: Vacant housing hinders economic development, weakens the tax base and imposes significant costs on already-struggling municipalities and their taxpayers. These properties have a devastating effect on neighbors, local businesses and governments at all levels: increases in vacant housing bring increases in crime, reduction of property values and decline of the quality of life, even in previously stable communities.

Solution: The Cook County Land Bank, the largest geographic land bank in the country, was created in January 2013 as a public/private partnership to revitalize communities by redeveloping vacant land and finding new uses for abandoned buildings. The Land Bank’s goals are to reverse the cycle of neighborhood decline and promote economic development and neighborhood stabilization. Recently, and on a national stage, the Cook County Land Bank partnered with the Federal Housing Finance Agency to launch the Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative (NSI), a pilot program that will allow Fannie Mae, as one of the largest holders of foreclosed property in the county, the ability to help the CCLBA aggressively pursue its geographic strategy by focusing on 13 Chicago and Cook County neighborhoods.

Problem: Access to college aid programs is a major impediment to low-income students applying to and enrolling in college. Numerous studies show that many college applicants, especially those who are low-income, have very little understanding of college tuition levels, financial aid opportunities, and how to navigate the admissions process. Because of the complexity of the financial aid system and the lack of information about the availability of college aid, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of students who are eligible for financial aid do not complete the necessary forms to receive said aid each year.

Solution: Delegate Andrew Platt is proposing legislation in Maryland to use tax assistance preparation services for low-income families to help them complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application for their child. This approach has already been proven effective by the Coalition for Evidence-based Policy. Platt’s legislation will create a grant program to cover the cost of the tax preparation provider to provide this service, which is $90 per family. He plans on using the open-source software used in the field experiment, have the Maryland Department of Education and the Maryland Higher Education Commission fine tune it, and then work to create partnerships with online tax preparation companies, like Turbo Tax, to offer the service alongside online tax preparation and submission, using the free, open sourced software.

Problem: The City of South Bend created the first open data portal in Indiana in 2013, but the distribution of information through this platform has not had a measurable impact to further conversations with residents on how to improve city services beyond anecdotes.

Solution: Mayor Pete Buttigieg helped launch S.BEND reports, which helps breakdown big data on the performance of city services into more manageable and relevant information for residents. Through the Director of Community Outreach the City codes and catalogs each neighborhood’s priorities, then gathers data about city services like Vacant and Abandoned Home Initiative or Code Enforcement and reflects meaningful information, like the total amount of pounds of litter removed from illegal dumping in the neighborhood, while providing context regarding how the neighborhood fares relative to the rest of the city. By making this open data portal more accessible to city residents, S.BEND reports helps elicit action, including an increase in neighbor compliance with Code Violations, which reduces operational costs for the city – as city crews do not have to abate violations- while improving the quality of life in the neighborhoods.

Problem: Currently, many small businesses and historically underutilized businesses struggle to gain access to capital and small business loans. While Texas, like many other states, has recently legalized intrastate online crowdfunding to let businesses raise capital in exchange for equity or debt, experience in other states indicates that established small businesses—especially those in underdeveloped areas—struggle to attract investors and gain the financial and technical expertise necessary to fully utilize crowdfunding to raise capital.

Solution: Representative Eric Johnson has authored legislation to establish more flexible crowdfunding regulation requirements for a specific class of small business development entities that serve historically underfunded businesses. By allowing these businesses to leverage crowdfunding through less intrusive requirements, they can maximize their impact on small businesses and boost the economic impact around Texas.

Problem: States across the Western region vary in their access to and use of renewable energy sources. Many states continue to rely heavily on fossil power-plants, with high pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Other states, such as California, have excess renewable energy sources during parts of the day, but lack access to ready markets for their green energy. There are also challenges to integrating some renewable resources, such as wind and solar, since they are subject to weather patterns that may not match demand.

Solution: Senator Bob Hertzberg proposed a new plan to help improve how Western states trade and integrate renewable energy resources, like solar, wind, geothermal and others. His plan would guide the development of a new regional electricity market and grid operator to manage diverse needs across the West. Participation in the marketplace would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deliver power more efficiently, avoid costs for duplicative infrastructure, increase transmission-grid efficiency, and raise awareness of energy availability and pricing. By coordinating these efforts across the Western region, Hertzberg plans on dramatically increasing access to reliable and less expensive sources of renewable energy, helping to reduce pollution across the region.

Problem: The Arkansas tax system places a far greater burden on low- and middle-income Arkansans than the top 20 percent of earners in the state. High-income Arkansans pay about six percent of their total income in state and local taxes while households at the state average and below pay nearly twice that amount.

Solution:Representative Warwick Sabin sponsored “The Working Families Opportunity Act,” a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which is the nation’s most effective tool for reducing poverty among working families and children. The WFOA provides a break to working Arkansans who currently shoulder a disproportionately high tax burden. WFOA credits help people make ends meet while working at low wages so that they can stay employed and take advantage of opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families.

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@ Governing.com