Government

This article reviews developments in interstate relations pertaining to uniform state laws, interstate compacts and administrative agreements, civil unions and same-sex marriage, and other pertinent interstate legal matters since 2011.

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The results of the Supreme Court’s long conference are in! The court granted a total of 11 petitions.

Two cases stand out as having a particular impact on CSG members. In Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, legislative congressional redistricting authority is on the line. And in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the constitutionality of a common judicial conduct rule prohibiting candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds is being challenged.

Relatively few state legislative seats were up in 2013 and the only major change was in functional control of the Virginia Senate, where the Democrats eked out control. Republicans, however, continue to dominate the legislative branch across the country by controlling 26 state legislatures, compared to only 19 held by Democrats. Only four states have divided legislative control, representing near historic lows of split control. 

Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast just days before the 2012 presidential election, bringing nearly everything to a halt except Election Day itself. The successes and setbacks election officials experienced in dealing with power outages, polling place changes, ballot delivery and poll worker shortages heightened awareness about the importance of emergency measures to help ensure the effective administration of elections. This article examines the key findings of the National Association of Secretaries of State Task Force on Emergency Preparedness for Elections, providing a closer look at the state laws and contingency planning work that can make a difference when disaster strikes.

Several amendments on the 2013 ballot attracted significant attention, most notably a proposed Colorado amendment that would have raised income tax rates and increased school funding but was rejected by voters. Notable amendments approved by voters include a Texas amendment authorizing use of $2 billion from the state rainy day fund to pay for water projects, a New York amendment allowing operation of up to seven casinos and a New Jersey amendment increasing the minimum wage. The level of state constitutional amendment activity was on par with recent odd-year elections, with only five states considering amendments in 2013, and a good deal of attention focused on qualifying measures for the 2014 ballot.

As the end of the Great Recession recedes into the past, governors maintain a “steady as she goes” approach to governing. Perhaps “cautiously expansive” best describes governors’ budget and policy agendas in 2014. The same five issues surfaced this year as last year as being part of most gubernatorial agendas: education, taxes, jobs, health care and public safety. State chief executives continue to finesse their plans for advancing their states as highly educated, economically vibrant, healthy and safe. More governors this year than last year consider state budget balance, rainy day funds and reserves, debt reduction and pensions. Many of these governors are calling for creating, funding and replenishing rainy day funds, applying surpluses to pay for infrastructure and undergirding pension trust funds. Some governors did venture into relatively new areas, given the times, by calling for serious investment in the arts as a roundabout way to influence state economic and cultural development.

Party polarization continues to sustain gridlock in Washington and produce state-federal tensions. States could reduce Washington’s polarized gridlock by eliminating partisan gerrymandering and reforming primary elections, but states also are more polarized along red and blue lines. Polarization contributes to coercive federalism, and states are on the defensive in their relations with the federal government. State-federal conflicts over the Affordable Care Act, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, REAL ID and other issues marked 2013–14. Many observers tout state innovation as a counterbalance to Washington’s gridlock, but many innovations are polarizing because they are produced by one-party states and thus lack bipartisan traction. The federal government also pre-empts some state innovations and nationalizes others. The U.S. Supreme Court decided eight federalism-relevant cases during its 2012–13 term and four in early 2014, with 10 to be decided as of April 2014.

The nation’s state treasurers provide a wide range of financial management services to their constituents. They work to safeguard the financial interests of citizens through the professional management of college savings plans, unclaimed property programs and professional debt management efforts. Many are also actively involved in financial literacy efforts and they regularly offer their input and expertise on financial efforts at the federal level that have the potential to impact state treasuries.

This year’s Supreme Court docket includes many cases of interest to the states on controversial subjects like affirmative action and legislative prayer and more esoteric subjects like abandoned railroad rights-of-way and federal court abstention.

The release of voluntary interim financial information by governments is an idea that has been discussed for years. The concept seems simple enough, but in practice governments have found it difficult to implement. In the summer of 2013, the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers—known as NASACT—released a series of 10 best practices aimed at helping states realize this vision of voluntary interim financial reporting.

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