Policy Area

This essay describes some recent patterns of state financial activity – how the state governments obtain their revenues, the types of activities on which they expend their resources, their reliance on economic resources such as borrowing and the state of their financial assets. The analysis relies primarily on data from U.S. Census Bureau surveys of state and local government finances, the most complete set of comparative information available. It is primarily a retrospective look, using the information for fiscal year 2000 and comparing that with trends from prior years. The final section looks at a few present-day issues and prospects for state finances.

Legislatures are the engines of representative democracy in the American states. They are the arenas in which the processes for choosing policies, setting priorities and reaching settlements among conflicting values and interests take place. This essay points out trends and directions in which state legislatures are moving, the significant issues confronting them and offers a framework for thinking about the current condition of state legislatures.

The number of states engaged in amending and revising their constitutions in 2000-2001 was the lowest in 30 years. Legislative and constitutional initiatives were the only methods used to amend state constitutions during the biennium, and three states accounted for almost half of the proposed amendments. While some constitutional trends continued from the 1990s, there were also notable differences.

Chapter 7 of the 2002 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

Chapter 3 of the 2002 Book of the States contains the following articles and tables:

As states continue to implement the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, they will need to address issues such as rapidly approaching time limits on federal assistance and the importance of enhancing supports to promote job retention and advancement. In addition, as Congress considers the reauthorization of TANF and other income-security programs, states will want to give close attention to both programmatic aspects of any reauthorization proposal and to their impact on state and local flexibility.

When comparing the use of initiatives and referenda, one can argue that the initiative process has the greater impact on the day-to-day operations of state governments. Little debate surrounds the use of the referendum process because most of the issues that are placed on the ballot by state legislatures are there because the law requires a public vote. For this reason and because of the fact that great controversy surrounds the initiative process itself, this article will focus on the use of the statewide initiative process.

Census 2000 data reveal a new set of patterns, featuring a new cast of demographic actors. States and regions have begun to steal the show from cities, suburbs and countryside. In this article, states are grouped into three broad categories according to their distinct demographic trajectories: the Melting Pot states, the New Sunbelt states and the Heartland states.

During the past 10 years, states have become the primary environmental-protection stewards of the nation. Five policy indicators show the growth of the states’ role: delegated programs, fiscal commitments, enforcement of environmental laws, development of innovative programs and contributions to environmental information. This article reviews research conducted over the past 15 years at The Council of State Governments, the Environmental Council of the States and elsewhere that documents this growth.

Judicial leaders are defining a new vision of court reform that goes beyond court reorganization and administration. The new reform issues go directly to the heart of the fairness and integrity of the justice system, the relationship of the judiciary to lawyers and other branches of government, the relationship of courts to citizens and the role of judges in serving specific needs of their communities. However, since September 11, 2001, courts are also facing increasingly urgent challenges relating to funding and security.

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