The third edition of “The 50 State Project” by Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call was issued in April. This report reviews the tens of thousands of bills passed by state lawmakers during each session and examines trends across the country and what drives a bill to receive the most attention.
The report found trends in these 10 areas:
As the most recent sessions of state legislatures came to a close, budget and tax issues continued to remain the top priority in 13 states. California, Minnesota and Tennessee are focused on spending budget surpluses; while other states, including Alabama and Louisiana, are recording large deficits and looking for ways to turn their state budgets around.
Oher notable budget highlights include:
- While Alaska will close the year at a $3.8 Billion deficit, its large cash reserve means it is likely not to see any negative backlash.
- Arizona was able to lower the tax rate as was promised by the state’s newest governor, Doug Ducey.
- In lieu of a tax hike, Connecticut is reviewing the approval of a $500 million reduction in state spending that includes workforce reduction and cuts to the state’s social safety net.
- With no agreement between parties, Illinois still stands without a budget for 2016.
- The best case scenario for Kansas’ fiscal year, ending June 30, is a $50 million deficit. The state is looking to make cuts to agency spending including highway projects and delaying payments to the state’s pension program.
- North Dakota experienced a $1 billion shortfall in the budget cycle ending this February. The Governor made a 4.05% cut to all agencies receiving state funding.
- Oklahoma’s $1.3 billion deficit has forced two sets of spending cuts across all agencies, three percent in December 2015 and four percent in March 2016.
- After an 8-month budget impasse, it still remains unknown whether or not Pennsylvania will raise or lower their tax rates.
- Falling energy prices mean a $145 million budget deficit for West Virginia.
Education remains an important topic of discussion in many states. Of all important issues identified in the 50 states, 10 percent were centered around education. Colorado has some of the lowest per student funding in the country, dropping well below the line legally allowed by the federal government. Massachusetts has some of the best schools in the nation, but there is a continued disparity between wealthy and low-income areas.
Other notable education highlights include:
- In Arizona the state’s school system was illegally underfunded for several years. After a lengthy legal battle, the state has been ordered to pay $3.5 billion in restitution.
- Georgia is looking to cut
-back its state sponsored HOPE scholarship program as demand continues to exceed the dollars designated.
- Idaho’s legislature has approved a 7.4 percent increase in funding for the state’s education system.
- A tough sell to Iowa’s legislature, Governor Terry Branstad reallocated tax dollars allocated for school infrastructure project to water quality control projects.
- In Kentucky¸ Democratic leaders continue to clash with the Governor over a proposal to provide scholarships to students attending community and technical colleges.
- Louisiana continues to rank one of the worst states for K-12 public education in the country. A 40 percent cut to all higher education budget since 2008 does not help and students are being expected to pay 65 percent more than the 2008 tuition rate. As a result, many students are leaving the state, causing an inability to meet workforce demands in many high-demand fields.
- Now the ninth largest state, North Carolina continues to struggle with education issues because state spending lags greatly behind the state’s growth, and re-segregation of school continues to cause disparity issues.
- Pennsylvania continues to see a need for more money to be put into public schools. Much of the public school costs are put on the individual districts; thus wealthier areas are still succeeding academically but poorer areas have seen class sizes balloon and cuts to staff such as nurses and guidance counselors.
- In Ohio, the pendulum continues to swing on the use of state testing to track results and accountability. Ohio’s one-year experiment with the PARCC tests ended after complaints across the state. Meanwhile, officials are waiting to see if new charter school oversight laws improve performance. More recently, questions have arisen about attendance at online schools.
- South Dakota lawmakers approved a half-cent raise to boost teacher pay, which is currently the lowest in the nation.
- Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has included education improvements in his school agenda. These include pay raises for teachers, additional dollars toward school maintenance projects, and additional dollars toward getting students to obtain a college degree.
- Washington’s underfunding of schools was reviewed by the Supreme Court, and the state must come up with a plan to fully fund schools by 2018 lest they be given a $100,000 per day fine.
- Michigan’s unemployment rate is now below 5 percent, which is considered a solid number by The 50 State project. Despite that number, the economy is still under scrutiny because of the state’s heavy reliance on manufacturing.
- The state Supreme Court in South Carolina ruled in November 2014 that the General Assembly had not done its job to ensure all students received a basic education, and gave policymakers until the end of their session to address the issue. Bills were working their way through the legislature but reforms had yet to become law.
- In New York, Governor Cuomo proposed a program that would grant 12 weeks of paid family leave, which would be the most generous leave policy in the country. Senate Republicans are resisting this proposal.
- Wisconsin’s roads are the fourth worst in the nation, and lawmakers have been lacking in a long-term solution to fix the problem. Options currently under consideration include raising the gas tax, upping vehicle registration fees, and implementing a toll system.
A final major trend uncovered in this report is the rising opioid abuse in at least seven states. Pennsylvania has made prevention of abuse a top priority, and Maryland, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Maine are all working to develop public awareness campaigns to empower law enforcement to combat the issue. West Virginia is being hit the hardest by the opioid crisis and continues to face high death rates, stiff hospital costs, and increased crime.
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