Capitol Comments

CSG this week issues a new brief in our Capitol Research series entitled “Transit-Oriented Development.” Using the possibility of development around future high-speed rail stations as a jumping off point, it examines the policy options available to states to try to shape how that development occurs. While high-speed rail has suffered a number of political setbacks in recent months, it remains on track in some parts of the country. But regardless of whether high-speed rail is coming to your state any time soon, there is a great deal of useful information in the brief about the role states can play in shaping the kinds of communities Americans say they want and that best serve our citizens, the environment and the economy. I encourage you to read the brief, which examines the benefits of transit-oriented development, the role of state governments in encouraging it, and the experiences of California and many other states in adopting related policies. If the brief piques your interest, there is an abundance of other worthwhile reading I can point you toward as well.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its first annual report to Congress in response to a new statutory requirement that the department identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives, either within departments or government-wide, which have duplicative goals or activities.

As states face growing budget gaps and policymakers are forced to make tough choices to balance budgets, several states have also established commissions to evaluate the operational and outcome efficiencies of state government and to develop recommendations for improvement. Here is a preliminary list of those commissions and their findings:

Congress this week approved and the President signed legislation to extend federal highway and transit programs for seven months as Washington appears ready to get to work on a new multiyear reauthorization of those programs that officials hope to have in place later this year. Meanwhile, we learned a bit more this week about the shape reauthorization might take from the man in charge of a key House committee and from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. And just in time for the debate in Congress, a number of organizations and individuals are offering reauthorization resources and once again weighing in on what the legislation should include as well as the future of transportation policy.

The ongoing debate between states officials and the federal government over who has ultimate authority to site interstate transmission lines took a significant twist last month when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unlawful for Department of Energy (DOE) to classify areas as national interstate electric transmission corridors (NIETC) and deem them eligible for fast-track approval without first consulting with the impacted states. The ruling was made in the case of California Wilderness Cooperation v. U.S. Department of Energy. 

American pediatricians declared last week that teens should be prohibited from using tanning beds, according to CNN News. The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging its members to actively work for legislation banning tanning beds for teens.

At least three states have legislation filed to do just that.

Last month, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hosted a series of field hearings and listening sessions around the country to gather input on policies for a new long term authorization of federal transportation programs. Among the common themes heard at the events: the need for stability and predictability in federal transportation funding, the desire to explore more public-private partnerships and innovative finance mechanisms amidst a realization that they may not be applicable in all states or for all projects, the impact of environmental review processes on project delivery and the desire for greater flexibility for states and localities in spending federal transportation dollars. Here’s a roundup of some of what was heard at the sessions, based on written testimony and various media and blogger accounts.

Gov. Quinn is proposing drastic cuts in human services in his state of Illinois. Both prevention and treatment services for drug and alcohol abuse are on the chopping block.

News comes today that all prevention services aimed at youth to prevent the use of alcohol and drugs could be eliminated. One Illinois newspaper quotes the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association CEO, “we are looking at 32,000 youth that may not receive prevention services, which increases the risk that use will occur."

Perhaps lost somewhere this week between news of President Obama’s budget and transportation plan and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of high-speed rail in his state is the fact that today, February 17th, marks the two-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act, which provided $48.1 billion for transportation infrastructure projects around the country, has received plenty of criticism for not doing enough to revive the economy but also won praise from state governments who saw the infrastructure funds as a godsend during what was otherwise a period of slashed transportation budgets. And, as I reported in a CSG National Report last year, some states themselves won a fair amount of praise for their efforts to meet deadlines, select worthy projects and report on their activities. While the one year anniversary of ARRA in 2010 produced a flood of reports looking at the legislation’s impact, I could find only a handful commemorating this anniversary.

In recent weeks, a new word has emerged in the public discourse surrounding state’s fiscal difficulties: bankruptcy. States are facing colossal fiscal pressures, including mounting public pension obligations which now represent a trillion dollar unfunded gap, according to the Pew Center on the States.  

Grant opportunities will be available through 2015 as long as states meet certain benchmarks along the way, Joel Ario, the Department for Health and Human Services official in charge of implementing the health insurance exchange provisions of the Affordable Care Act, told attendees at a webinar powered by The Council of State Governments Knowledge Center.