Policy Area

During 2004, alarms sounded in many states both because of the conduct of the 2004 judicial elections and where improving state finances did not translate into adequate funding for the courts. The losers are the members of the public and businesses with disputes for which they cannot obtain resolution.

Probation and parole play an essential and critical role in the administration of both criminal and juvenile justice. They supervise the vast majority of offenders, and their caseloads continue to grow. In response to the pressures of increased workload, static or declining budgets, and limited public and political support, six strategic trends have emerged. These trends characterize the efforts of probation and parole to meet their mandates and improve their effectiveness.

The following is a summary of the research conducted over the past three years by Joint Project on Term Limits. The project is a cooperative effort by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and a group of legislative scholars.

Judicial elections in 2004 were in the spotlight again, mostly for the wrong reasons. Many campaigns were costly and negative in tone. A few candidates signaled how they would decide types of cases. Positive developments include new and active campaign oversight committees, and public funding for appellate candidates in North Carolina.

State transportation departments that supply roads, bridges and transit face tough challenges. With the U.S. population projected to grow steadily, increasing vehicle miles traveled, and booming freight traffic, officials are squeezing efficiency from current funds even as they seek more. In coming years, it will be important to build a case for the value of transportation with the public and explore a variety of construction and financing approaches.

Whereas the redistricting round of the 1990s can be described as the round of racial and ethnic predominance, the 2000 round showed a growing emergence of partisanship as the predominant pattern of conflict. The experience of state legislatures in the latest round should provide an overall pattern for state legislative redistricting agencies to weather the terrain and successfully create plans in the future. The future political and legal terrain will continue to be complex and multifaceted.

States are recovering from the recent fiscal crisis, but many will need to cut spending further or increase taxes to bring spending and revenue into line. In addition, states must confront fiscal pressures in Medicaid, elementary and secondary education, and other areas, and will face risks from actions to reduce the federal budget deficit.

In a global economy it will be difficult for states to maintain an economic base as low-cost producers of goods and services. States must, therefore, foster innovation and entrepreneurship in order to bring advanced technologies to market ahead of their global competitors. If our country is to maintain its current standard of living, then government must support innovation, particularly in science and technology, where it already has a competitive advantage over other nations.

State financial management leaders are working to offer increased services and transparency even as they contend with the need to accomplish more with limited resources. Government accountability, innovation in technology and strategic partnership initiatives will usher states into an exciting era of positive change.

In 2004, states turned an important corner on the road to fiscal recovery. Compared to previous years, revenue collections have recovered healthily, although they are not vastly surpassing budgeted estimates as they did in the late 1990s boom. The news isn’t all good, however. Expenditure pressures remain immense. Pent-up demand for spending in areas that were cut during the fiscal crisis still exists, while K–12 education and Medicaid battle each other to consume ever larger pieces of the budget pie. Federal budget deficits and their inevitable effect on domestic spending also will wear heavily on states as grants-in-aid are reduced or eliminated.