Policy Area

As the 2007 legislative sessions begin, term limits are in place in 15 states and fully affecting membership in 13. A recent study, “Coping with Term Limits,” suggests that state legislatures are making adjustments to respond to the challenges created by term limits and that these legislatures are continuing to effectively make laws, implement budgets, represent constituents and balance the executive in spite of those challenges.

In 2006 state fiscal conditions were very healthy. Tax collections either met or surpassed expectations in all 50 states; spending growth was above average; balances were at near record levels; and only two states were forced to make mid-year budget cuts. The overall outlook for fiscal 2007 remains positive, although there are signs that state fiscal conditions have peaked. States have budgeted for less expenditure growth, are anticipating a reduction in revenue growth, and are preparing for future spending demands.

Last year in their State of the State addresses, governors laid out measured approaches to fiscal management that emphasized a long-term perspective, budget balance and best practices to help strengthen states. Governors pushed tax cuts, and their spending initiatives were modest. State chief executives seemed hesitant to make grandiose promises even as the revenue situation eased. The 2006 elections and possibilities for dramatic political change help explain this hesitancy.

State governments are examining the prospect of interlocal shared service initiatives as a means of reducing service delivery costs and providing tax relief, as well as streamlining local services, eliminating duplicative services, and enhancing governmental responsiveness and transparency. In an effort to effectively encourage the development and implementation of shared services, states should: provide financial support or incentives; collect and disseminate concrete information regarding the benefits of shared service initiatives; establish shared service performance measures; develop a central point of information to field questions from communities who are in the process of developing, implementing, or sustaining shared services; and work to ensure that the long-term interests of the taxpayers are paramount.

More than a year has passed since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but the fallout continues. Three separate reports on the disaster from the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate and the White House have resulted in numerous criticisms, recommendations and requirements. Whether these reactive measures will result in a better prepared nation is yet to be determined. Underlying all of the challenges is the ongoing struggle between adequate funding and saving human life and property during a disaster. Given the recurring demands on state budgets as well as federal programs, this pressure shows no sign of abating. 

The 2006 elections reversed a decade-long Republican trend as 20 Democrats and 16 Republicans won their races in 2006. This means that in 2007, the 50 states will be in a partisan split with 28 Democratic governors and 22 Republican governors—the exact reverse of the split going into the 2006 gubernatorial elections.

On May 11, 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act. The law sets minimum standards for the creation and issuance of state-issued driver’s licenses and ID cards if they are to be accepted as valid identification for federal purposes. Initial estimates have shown Real ID  implementation will xceed $11 billion over five years. The burden of compliance with Real ID will prove challenging and costly for states.

For an office traditionally understudied by academics, 2006 was a year which saw three new reports quantifying the office. Each shows that the office of lieutenant governor is a risen power. Data shows approximately one in every four governors in the nation for the past 100 years once served as lieutenant governor, and no office in the past 25 years had a better success rate of becoming governor. In addition, the office of lieutenant governor was the only statewide elected office to see an increase in real income in the 30-year period ending in 2005.

The No Child Left Behind Act is the most ambitious piece of education legislation ever enacted by Congress. Designed to promote accountability and prod states to address educational inequities, NCLB includes significant provisions regarding assessment, sanctions for low-performing schools and districts, teacher quality and standards for educational research.

The Internet age is transforming the office of secretary of state. States are expanding the content of their Web sites by adding public disclosure records and new transactions. At the same time, the availability of personal information on government sites and a lack of confidence in electronic voting machines are ongoing concerns.