Policy Area

Telecommunications used to mean earnest debates about regulation, legislation and taxation, the instruments of government. It was about the telephone network. But popular demand for mobility and computing technology has forever changed that discussion. The communications technology industry is in the midst of a long-term transition away from the public switched telephone network towards always-on networks that use Internet and wireless technologies. Old distinctions no longer apply. These new networks are built as much around individuals as technology.

Interstate compacts are a uniquely American invention, allowing multistate problem-solving in the face of complex public policy and federal intervention. This article provides a brief history of compacts, examines a 2004 survey of interstate compact administrators and briefly looks at new and emerging policy areas in which interstate compacts may play an important role. Finally, it describes The Council of State Governments’ new service developed as a result of this work—the National Center for Interstate Compacts.

Very rarely are living governors replaced because of incapacity. The infrequency of such events is no excuse for ambiguous resolution mechanisms; yet, several states have gaps in their legal provisions. Clarity in the grounds and procedures for replacing a governor who can no longer perform the duties of office is difficult to achieve, but the alternative is to flirt with avertable crises. Below we highlight which states seem remiss, and we catalogue some pertinent issues, without endorsing any one model as the optimal approach to this knotty question.

Public libraries will continue to be buffeted by budget shortfalls at state and local levels. The rapid changes brought about by the Internet and electronic resources, as well as copyright, privacy issues, and censorship concerns, have presented major problems. Public libraries have adapted with new forms of service and new organizational structures.

Exploding health care costs have created a health insurance affordability crisis in the United States. According to a Families USA analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, roughly 81.8 million people under age 65, or one out of three, were without insurance for some or all of 2002 and 2003. Not only has the number of people without insurance increased, but even individuals who maintain their coverage have seen higher out-of-pocket expenses as employers and insurers have instituted additional cost-sharing mechanisms. Given the situation, it is not surprising that health care is a top priority for state policy-makers. As the 2005 legislative session begins, the search is on for solutions that will both stabilize health care spending and allow more people to access affordable insurance products.

Coercive federalism has shown great continuity since the late 1960s, as characterized by a shift of federal aid from places to persons, policy conditions and earmarks attached to federal aid, preemptions, federal encroachments on state taxation, federalization of state criminal law, defunct intergovernmental institutions, reduced federal-state cooperation within major intergovernmental programs, and federal court litigation. However, unfunded federal mandates and federal court orders mandating major state institutional change have become less prevalent. State policy activism remains vigorous, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s state-friendly federalism jurisprudence has stalled since 2002.

State treasurers are the chief financial officers of the states who assume the duties of assuring the absolute safety of all taxpayer dollars as well as guaranteeing the prudent use of public resources that fund vital government programs. In several states, treasurers also improve the financial security of our citizens by providing college savings opportunities, financial education and returning unclaimed property.

In an effort to contain costs while also providing better consumer service, government agencies throughout North America are developing business plans and restructuring professional and occupational regulatory agencies. Increased technology use is bringing new security problems along with enhanced access for all stakeholders. The professional licensing stakeholder community is expanding to include international regulators.

The discipline of emergency management is at a critical juncture in history. Even before the horrific events of September 11th, 2001, emergency management and other public safety disciplines had recognized the growing implications and reorganized to deal with the growing threat of terrorism. The national effort towards achieving “homeland security” is challenging the resources, relationships, organizational responsibilities and fundamental principles of the entire emergency response community. The relationships between the community of emergency management and the new and evolving dynamic we call homeland security is yet to mature or be defined so that a clear and achievable future path to greater national security and safety can be pursued.

The intergovernmental balance has shifted to the national government. Federal deficits, debt service, defense spending, and entitlement pressures will reduce discretionary spending, and could rekindle interest in decentralization and devolution. State leaders need to network horizontally and vertically to rebalance the federal system.