Book of the States 2004

Coercive regulatory trends have displayed considerable continuity since the late 1960s, including a shift of federal aid from places to persons, increased policy conditions attached to federal aid, rising preemptions, federalization of criminal law, encroachments on state tax systems, hollowed intergovernmental institutions, and reduced cooperation within major intergovernmental programs. Two other trends—unfunded federal mandates and federal court orders—have become less significant. A newer trend has been the state-friendly federalism jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1991, although the Court’s 2002–2003 term did not advance this trend. State activism in forging new policies and bucking federal policies continues as well, and is likely to intensify in response to rising partisan polarization.

A survey of municipal leagues and county associations in 41 states reveals several state legislatures initiated actions to assist general purpose local governments by broadening their discretionary authority and establishing special assistance programs. Nevertheless, more than one-half of the respondents reported the legislatures had imposed additional mandates since  1990 and one-third reported the imposition of additional restraints. Only two respondents indicated court decisions generally favored local governments, six reported narrow interpretation of local powers and the remaining respondents reported mixed decisions.

An effective system of interstate cooperation is essential to the operation of U. S. federalism. The research reported here shows that, on average, a state belongs to 25.4 interstate compacts and, during the 1990s, joined other states in 25 legal actions and enacted 7.7 uniform laws. However, the variation both across and within states as to the degree and type of cooperation reflects the tension between cooperation and competition.

Reduced levels of state constitutional activity and no major new trends were recorded in 2003, a typical “off” year. Among developments were a comprehensive tax and spending proposal and an official constitutional commission, both in Alabama, and the historic use of the state  constitutional recall election in California.