Friday Roundup: Student loans, rideshare regulations, net neutrality, congestion pricing, and pension gaps

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

Stateline: To help strapped borrowers, states turn to student loan ombudsmen 

The U.S. government says a combined 43 million people owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loans. About 4.6 million people were in default at the end of last year…

Since 2015, at least four states have enacted a student loan “bill of rights” or created an ombudsman or something similar, according to Higher Ed Not Debt, a coalition of unions and other liberal groups seeking action on the student debt issue…

Washington became the first state this year to enact bill of rights legislation, which calls for an “advocate” and licensing of loan servicers. Connecticut (in 2015), California (2016), and Illinois and the District of Columbia (2017) have enacted similar laws.

MyNorthwest: Seattle begins on path to regulate rideshare rates

The Seattle City Council passed a resolution Monday that will put the city on a path to higher rideshare rates.

…City staff will now begin drafting legislation that will regulate rideshare rates in Seattle. Harrell noted that it is an attempt to equal the playing field between taxis and rideshare companies.

…“The council ignored the testimony of dozens of drivers and riders and more than 20,000 people who signed a petition to keep rideshare affordable,” Uber’s General Manager for the Pacific Northwest Alejandro Chouza said. “Today’s vote was another step toward nearly doubling the per mile rate for rideshare and making Seattle an even more expensive place to live, all apparently at the request of the Teamsters and to protect market share for taxi.”

The Register-Guard: Governor signs net neutrality bill

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill Monday withholding state business from Internet providers who throttle traffic, making the state the second to finalize a proposal aimed at thwarting moves by federal regulators to relax net neutrality requirements…

Brown’s signature makes the state the second to enact such legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. It also stakes out the state’s claim to a moderate approach, compared to others: Five weeks to the day before Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill in his state to directly regulate providers there.

Seattle Times (guest opinion): Congestion tolls work in London and Stockholm, why not Seattle?

What can Seattle and its inhabitants learn from these other cities that have implemented road user charging?

The first lesson is that charging people to drive is one of the best ways to reduce road congestion given that infrastructure spending is insufficient to eliminate road congestion in large cities with a scarcity of available land. On the first day of opening the London Congestion Charge in February 2003, road traffic decreased by 20 to 25 percent.

Even more telling is Stockholm’s experience after a congestion charge was first introduced as a trial between January and July 2006. A referendum was held in September of that year, where a (slight) majority voted in favor of retaining the charges. This led to the reintroduction of the charges in August 2007, which have been operational ever since.

Pew Charitable Trusts: The State Pension Funding Gap: 2016

Many state retirement systems are on an unsustainable course, coming up short on their investment targets and having failed to set aside enough money to fund the pension promises made to public employees. Even as contributions from taxpayers over the past decade doubled as a share of state revenue, the total still fell short of what is needed to improve the funding situation.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the pension funding shortfall and the budgetary challenges facing individual states, but without new policies that commit states to fully funding retirement systems, the impact on other essential services—and the potential for unpaid pension promises—will increase.