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Voters decided only 28 state-level ballot propositions in 2015, as direct democracy activity continued to cool in the 21st century. High profile issues included rejection of marijuana legalization in Ohio, selection of the chief justice in Wisconsin, and sales tax changes in Michigan and Washington.

The solar PV industry provides great opportunity for creating jobs, saving energy and putting money back into local economies. However, it faces many hurdles to growth, including limited understanding of its economic and environmental benefits, project costs and the absence of best practice standards. This article discusses these impediments and progress to address them.

Despite concerns about the long-term solvency and sustainability of the federal highway trust fund, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act passed by Congress in December 2015 did not include what many said was a much needed increase in the federal gas tax, which has remained unchanged since 1993. Congress instead offset a transfer of general funds to supplement gas tax revenues by tapping a Federal Reserve surplus fund among other sources. The action came at the end of a year in which eight states did raise their own gas taxes. With the fuel efficiency of the nation’s vehicle fleet improving and the greater adoption of electric vehicles on the horizon, some states are also looking to a new revenue mechanism that some believe could one day replace the gas tax—a mileage-based user fee. Concerns about how the fees would be administered and whether it could ever be done as efficiently as the gas tax are causing doubts it will be ready in time to help fund the next long-term iteration of the federal program when the FAST Act expires in 2020.

Due to advances in technology and drilling techniques, most notably hydraulic fracturing, vast reserves of untapped natural gas in shale formations are commercially viable, resulting in a significant increase in natural gas production over the last decade. However, this increase in production has raised concerns over environmental impacts such as water pollution, seismic activity, and air quality. This article provides an overview of some of these concerns and how state legislatures are addressing these issues. 

Only three governors were elected in 2015. Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi are the only states that hold their gubernatorial elections during the year prior to the presidential election. This means that these three states can be early indicators of any voter unrest that might unleash itself more broadly in the next year’s congressional and presidential elections, and we saw some of this in the two races where candidates were vying for open seats. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) was elected to a second term, running in a state that strongly favored his political party. Both Kentucky and Louisiana have elected Democrats and Republicans to the governorship in recent years, and each race was seen as up for grabs by many political pundits. In the end, each election resulted in the governorship turning over to the other political party.

State and local governments have been reshaping their finances since the Great Recession. They have been struggling with three major sources of fiscal stress: slow tax revenue growth, growth in pension contributions that has been heavily concentrated in a few states, and Medicaid spending growth driven by recession-related enrollment. In 37 states, pension contributions plus state-funded Medicaid grew by more than state and local government tax revenue between 2007 and 2014, in real per-capita terms. In response to these strains, state and local governments have cut infrastructure investment, slashed support for higher education, cut spending on K–12 education, cut spending on social benefits other than Medicaid, reduced administrative staff and reduced most other areas of the budget.

Critical to state education and economic goals, adult learners will represent a majority of college students in the near future, yet they are largely an untapped resource. States and higher education institutions must adequately address their unique needs, concerns and expectations with comprehensive, proactive and targeted strategies that reflect this new reality.

Chapter 8 of the 2016 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

Looking to the global marketplace for economic development and paying attention to export and import trends is no longer an option for state policymakers—it is a necessity.

The level of constitutional amendment activity in 2015 was generally on par with recent odd-numbered years but somewhat lower than historical rates of activity in odd-numbered years and dramatically lower than in even-numbered years. Several measures attracted considerable attention, including two amendments on the Ohio ballot: a failed amendment that would have legalized recreational marijuana and a successful amendment changing the process for state legislative redistricting. A number of amendments in other states dealt with road building, including a failed Michigan amendment that would have increased the sales tax to boost transportation funding, a successful Texas amendment allocating excess revenue from sales taxes to a highway fund and a successful Louisiana amendment providing funding for a transportation infrastructure bank.

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