Policy Area

The year 2003 will be etched in the future news reports and analyses as a year of major change occurring to governors. The most startling event was the recall of Gov. Gray Davis of California. The California gubernatorial recall and replacement votes highlight the fact that some elected governors faced situations in which they could lose their office without being beaten by a challenger at the ballot box, becoming ill or dying. One other unique aspect about the current governors is that there are eight women serving as governor in 2004 – the highest number of women serving at one time in the office. As we move through the first decade of the 21st century, we continue to find new faces in governors’ offices.

In what was once one of the fastest growing areas of state government, legislators now employ stringent criteria to determine when new professions should be regulated. Consequently, many emerging professions opt for credentialing in the private sector, although for some of these, a circular relationship is developing between private and public credentialing. Other trends and issues for professional regulators include new technological tools, shifting economic terrain, increased consumer involvement and international trade agreements.

The states have expanded their role in environmental protection over the past three decades and now implement most of the federal environmental statutes. With this heightened responsibility has come an increase in state financial commitments to pay for these programs and the states have met this responsibility for years. During the past few years, however, the fiscal crisis in the states, coupled with many new federal environmental rules and a lack of new federal money, has left the states with at least a $1 billion annual gap in the amounts they need to implement current federal law. These shortfalls have been documented in several studies. This situation, if not corrected, may lead to greater risks to the public from exposure to environmental hazards. The federal government should consider providing funding or other relief to the states for further implementation of federal rules.

Government accountability, advancing technological progress, and market reforms combine to influence the future direction of our state chief financial officers. Well-managed state financial organizations are not just about managing cost; they are also synonymous with the rigor of control, the delivery of accountability, the execution of technology, and the expectation of well-managed change.

Legislatures are vital, strong, effective institutions. They are where the people and their representatives come together to debate conflicting values and interests, set priorities and shape public policies. They are the political institutions closest to the people and drive representative democracy. This essay describes the organization and work of state legislatures, identifies the trends shaping state legislatures and the challenges confronting them and briefly describes the critical policy issues legislatures faced in the 2003 legislative sessions.

How can we take a bird’s eye view of the economic development landscape and the features on it that are causing state legislators to rethink their workforce development strategies? As industries look farther afield for skilled workers, particularly in high-tech sectors, the states are doubling their efforts to educate and train people in order to attract and grow industry domestically. A state-by-state overview of new job creation initiatives follows the overview.

The office of lieutenant governor is gaining recognition for its power and possibility. Lieutenant governors are unique officeholders with many having power in both the executive and legislative branches. In states in which the lieutenant governor is elected as a team with the governor and does not preside over the Senate, a trend is emerging. Lieutenant governors are being named to lead state departments and major authorities.

These are challenging times for the state judicial branches. Funding has been cut, relations with the other branches of government are frayed, and election campaigns for judicial office can be injudicious. Significant innovation is occurring nonetheless. Effective practices in one  jurisdiction are being spread nationally. Reentry courts for felons released after long incarceration is one example of the reliance federal and state officials are placing on such court innovations.

The office of secretary of state is evolving into a position that demands increasingly specialized skills and knowledge, particularly a thorough understanding of technology and e-government policies, and for some, experience in international trade. Recent policy trends show that election reform and e-government are demanding an increasing amount of time and effort for these state executives. For those secretaries that handle election matters, the job also comes with a new level of media and public interest in how elections are run and administered.

California’s recall election gave voice to voter dissatisfaction with the state’s direction and resulted in a return to the type of moderate Republican governor that had led the state throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s. While exciting, it does not represent a sea change in California politics.

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