As the Midwest’s legislators look for ways to reduce infant mortality, prevent maternal deaths, and improve long-term outcomes for mothers and children, one policy option is to invest in home visiting.
The idea of bringing preventive services and resources to the place where families live has captured more interest, and funding, during this decade.
Eight years have now passed since the Great Recession rocked state finances, and since that time, state policymakers have had to settle for a modest recovery and still deal with a difficult fiscal environment. In a July presentation to state legislators, John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, detailed just how different — and more challenging — this period has been compared to other post-recession eras.
Since 2011, year-to-year revenue growth in the states has never reached the historic annual average of 5.5 percent, and for fiscal year 2018, the nation’s governors were recommending an increase of only 1.0 percent (and just 0.17 percent in the 11-state Midwest).
“That’s a notable item eight years into a recovery, and it isn’t because we’re cutting taxes and having to balance our budget as a result,” Hicks said during his presentation at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting’s Fiscal Leaders Roundtable. Instead, this slow rise in state spending reflects a “new normal” in tax collections, the result of only moderate increases in gross domestic product and, on top of that, a gap between changes in U.S. gross domestic product and the taxes being collected by states.
Illinois has become the first state in the Midwest to offer automatic voter registration, a tool for increasing electoral participation already being tried in eight other states. SB 1933 received unanimous approval in the Illinois House and Senate. Under the measure, voters will be registered when they visit the Illinois secretary of state and other state agencies for services. Individuals will be able to opt out of the system.
One high school in North Dakota might want to launch a “technology academy” where its 12th-graders intern and earn credits toward graduation at a nearby Microsoft campus. Another school could change the way it awards credits, moving away from required “seat time” and toward a model based on students’ mastery of the subject area or on their practical learning experiences. Or perhaps some middle schools would like to create “accelerated learning environments,” where students can earn high school credits in subjects such as
Whatever the idea, if it has the potential to advance education, the North Dakota legislature wants to make sure the state’s statutes and regulations aren’t standing in the way, Sen. Nicole Poolman says.
Over the next two years, Indiana will invest an additional $20 million in a pilot initiative that provides low-income families with access to pre-kindergarten programs. First established in 2014, On My Way Pre-K currently serves nearly 2,300 students in five counties.
Additional state dollars will expand the initiative’s reach to 15 more counties. To participate, students must be 4 years old and reside in a family at or below 127 percent of the federal poverty level. (For the original five counties, the income thresholds could be loosened.) The state also will provide funding for in-home, online early-childhood education in parts of the state that lack high-quality providers.
Ohio has become the latest state in the Midwest where community colleges will have the chance to develop and provide bachelor’s degree programs for students. Under HB 49 (the state’s budget bill), these programs must be limited to applied and technical fields and be approved by Ohio’s chancellor of higher education. To get the go-ahead, a community college must show that its four-year program has buy-in from a regional industry or area businesses — for example, they agree to offer work-based learning and employment opportunities to students. In addition, the degree must meet a regional workforce need and fill a void not already met by a four-year college.
In 2016, drivers distracted by their phones or other devices caused 1,230 crashes on Iowa roads, nearly double the number from a decade ago, state statistics show. This year, the state’s lawmakers passed two bills to crack down on these motorists.
Indiana has become the latest state in the Midwest to raise the gas tax and user-based fees to generate more revenue for its transportation infrastructure. The 10-cent increase on motor fuels takes effect on July 1; it will result in Hoosier motorists paying a total of 28 cents per gallon of gasoline. In subsequent years, through 2024, Indiana’s gas tax will be indexed to inflation, though annual increases will be limited to 1 cent per gallon.
Some Medicaid recipients in Wisconsin will have to submit to drug screenings and tests if federal officials give the OK to a demonstration waiver submitted by the state in April. This new requirement would apply to childless adults who are eligible for health insurance through the BadgerCare Plus program. As a condition of eligibility, individuals would have to complete a state-administered questionnaire. If the answers indicate possible abuse of a controlled substance, a drug test would be required. For anyone who tests positive, Medicaid eligibility would be contingent on completing a substance-abuse treatment program.
A quarter-century has passed since a U.S. Supreme Court decision limited the ability of states to collect taxes from the remote sales of out-of-state retailers. Legislators wanting to secure that taxing authority — which they say is critical to maintaining state revenue bases and helping brick-and-mortar businesses — believe a reversal of Quill Corp. v. North Dakota may finally be on the horizon.
“I do believe Quill will get overturned; it’s just a matter of time,” North Dakota Sen. Dwight Cook says. And one of the U.S. states most reliant on the sales tax as a revenue source, South Dakota, might bring the case that “kills Quill.”
A year ago, South Dakota lawmakers passed a bill requiring most retailers without a physical presence in the state to remit the state’s sales tax. SB 106 applies to sellers with 200 or more annual transactions in South Dakota or whose gross revenue from sales in the state exceed $100,000. This year, Indiana (HB 1129) and North Dakota (SB 2298) passed “economic nexus” laws of their own.