Policy Area

A vital tool for policymakers across the region, Comparative Data Reports (CDRs) offer a snapshot of conditions on a number of issues. Published annually, the CDRs track a multitude of revenue sources, appropriations levels, and performance measures in Southern states, and provide a useful tool to state government officials and staff. CDRs are available for adult correctional systems, comparative revenues and revenue forecasts, education, Medicaid, and transportation.

CSG South

On December 12, 2005, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) awarded The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) Southern Office, the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), a grant to determine pension portability among public health employees in the United States. RWJF focuses on the pressing health and healthcare issues facing the United States and is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and healthcare of all Americans.

In order to meet the requirements of the grant, the SLC conducted a survey of the administrative entities managing the pensions of public health employees in all 50 states to determine their rules and regulations regarding pension portability for this category of public employee. Based on the responses to the survey questionnaire and additional research, the SLC researchers were able to ascertain whether the pension plan in a state permits an employee to purchase service credits for prior periods of qualified employment in another jurisdiction, both in another state and within the state; whether the pension plan is a defined benefit (DB) or defined compensation (DC) plan; the minimum amount of time required for an employee’s pension benefits to be fully vested; the existence of any recent legislative activity related to the portability of retirement plans of public health officials in each state; whether any federal tax laws impact on the pension portability of these public health employees; and the existence of pension portability in other public employment sector categories.

Based on the information gleaned from the survey responses and additional research, this report contains:
» Details on the current status of the different elements of our nation’s retirement infrastructure;
» Information on the public health employee landscape, including a snapshot of current and expected shortages and other workforce challenges facing this employment category;
» Analysis of the survey responses on pension portability from the 50 states;
» Federal tax implications relating to pension portability in the states;
» Information from other non-health, public sector categories on pension portability; and
» Issues for consideration by state policymakers that would help create an environment to retain and attract professionals to the public health sector.

CSG South

Most provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill will expire in 2007. The USDA and Congress have been seeking input on a new Farm Bill through a series of public hearings throughout the end of 2005 and early 2006. The 2007 Farm Bill will be crafted at a time unlike that of any other in the legislation’s long history. A host of factors will affect discussions and deliberations on the future of the Farm Bill and U.S. farm policy. Among them are the growing federal deficit, ongoing negotiations of the Doha round of the World Trade Organization, political and leadership situations in Congress, and current farm sector conditions, among many others. These four major influences provide some context for understanding the debate that is ahead on the Farm Bill.

If there is one thing the past year has taught us, it is to expect the unexpected. No one could have foreseen some of the events our nation has experienced during calendar year  2005—events that have had tremendous impact on citizens and, by default, also on governments. Uncertainty spawned by unpreventable natural occurrences, coupled with longstanding issues faced by state governments, has made this year an interesting one, to say the least. However, state governments continue working to learn from the past and make informed decisions for the future.

While the national economy began to ease its way out of the recession two years after economists declared an end to the debilitating condition, state economic development organizations continued their ardent efforts to further economic development in 2005 as though the recession was still nipping at the nation’s heels. States’ ardent drive for local economic advancement expanded in several areas, from increased efforts to lure filmmakers to developing comprehensive information Web site portals for businesses seeking to relocate.

Governors did seem to concentrate heavily on their education budgets this year, and then on the budgets of other activities that are primary to the mission of state government. Yet threaded through these addresses is a stronger consideration of a multi-pronged and multi-year view of government operations—understanding state education services on a continuum from pre-kindergarten to work force retraining, for instance. Governors are aware of the federal government’s slowing financial support as well as its poor reaction to Katrina and what this means for state coffers.

The clash over cash to corporate projects is headed to the country’s highest court, and is also the subject of a new bill in Congress. What emerges from those two branches of the federal  government may go a long way toward solving state and corporate uncertainty about incentive programs. Details of a case in North Carolina may offer some guidance as to what lies ahead.

Only two governorships were contested and decided in the elections of 2005—those in New Jersey and Virginia. In both political situations the races seemed very close in the campaign “horserace” polls, yet in the final vote count, the Democratic candidates won by nearly nine points in New Jersey and by nearly six points in Virginia. This continued the Democratic Party’s control over these two gubernatorial chairs and left the 50 states split with 28 Republican governors and 22 Democratic governors holding office in 2006.

Congress reauthorized the nation’s welfare bill along with the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The legislation substantially changes TANF’s work participation requirements. States will need to meet a 50 percent participation rate for all families receiving assistance, including those in separate state-funded programs. The rate will be adjusted downward for any caseload decline occurring after 2005. The new participation requirement will present a challenge to many states. Current work participation rates generally fall substantially below the new requirement. Also, many states have depleted their TANF reserve funds, leaving them little flexibility to develop new strategies to increase work among caseload participants.

Court security proved to be a danger that could bring the branches of government together. A series of summits brought together officials from all three branches of government at the local, state and federal levels. The result was A National Strategic Plan for Judicial Branch Security. Other dangers were not adequately addressed, especially those resulting from efforts for politicize the judiciary in ways that pose fundamental threats to longstanding checks and balances among the branches of state government.

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