Book of the States 2009

Effective management of water resources is critical to the economic sustainability and security of the U.S. Increased population, intensified use and climate change will continue to affect scarce water supplies. Governments, at all levels, will need to adopt collaborative strategies as our actions, or inactions, will have major repercussions on our ability to maintain our global competitiveness.

As states prepared for their 2009 legislative sessions, policymakers faced a series of grave economic crises on multiple fronts not experienced in many decades. States face enormous budget shortfalls with the combined budget shortfall for the remaining six months of this year (fiscal year 2009) and the two upcoming fiscal years estimated to total between $350 billion and $370 billion, a chasm of truly staggering proportions. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this gloom and doom, there are a number of bright sparks on the state economic landscape that require emphasis. For instance, the depreciating U.S. dollar has enabled U.S. exports to flourish, the automobile industry in the South remains a solid engine of growth and a number of enterprising projects across the country offer the promise of high-tech, high-wage jobs.

Energy infrastructure is vital to the nation’s economy and the citizens’ way of life. It supplies the nation with the energy required to conduct its daily operations, from supplying needs for industrial manufacturing to heating homes, running computers and fueling cars. The country requires an efficient energy generation and delivery system to keep the economy functioning smoothly, yet the infrastructure is aging, stressed and underfunded. At the same time, demand for energy continues to grow. States play a vital role in regulating and stimulating the creation of infrastructure, as well as siting new energy infrastructure. State officials are therefore in a position to institute policies that mitigate the infrastructure deficit and ensure energy reliability.

Early college high schools provide low-income, minority and other at-risk youth the opportunity to earn a high school diploma and as much as two years’ postsecondary credit within five years of high school entry. While many programs are still relatively new, emerging research suggests that students in early college programs perform better than their peers, as measured by attendance rates, enrollment in college-track mathematics courses, state assessment scores and other indicators. A small but growing number of states have enacted state-level policies to provide the unique funding mechanisms and supports that maximize student success in early college high schools.

Economic uncertainty in January 2008 evolved into a full-blown recession by the year’s end, impacting everything in its wake, from state budgets to mortgages and from college endowments to car loans. American consumers dealt with rising food costs, plummeting home values and jobs cuts while riding a rollercoaster of fluctuating gas prices. The downturn has meant the loss of sales, income and property taxes, which could have serious ramifications for important state government functions such as emergency management and homeland security. Complicating the fiscal challenges is the first transition of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to a new administration. This has led to a debate over the continued placement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency within Homeland Security. Yet even as that discussion ensues, the most destructive hurricane to hit U.S. soil since 2005—Ike—and the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, serve as reminders that an all-hazards approach to emergency preparedness and experienced leadership are the real answers to threats, whether they are natural or man-made.