Policy Area

Severe weaknesses in the financial health of the nation’s public retirement systems rank as yet another force currently buffeting state and local government finances. Further compounding the problems faced by these public retirement funds are the following developments: the precarious financial position of private sector pensions and the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; the looming shortfalls expected in the Social Security and Medicare programs in coming decades; and the low personal savings rates of most Americans, coupled with the high rates of consumer and household debt. Given that the baby boomer generation is rapidly nearing retirement age and that America’s senior population is growing faster than the number of younger workers needed to cover their retirement needs, policy-makers across the country are paying a great deal of attention to this unfortunate confluence of events.

The maturation of the welfare state has altered partisan political and policy interests. Republicans are rediscovering the virtues of national power once celebrated by Alexander Hamilton, while Democrats are returning to their Jeffersonian roots.

States are in danger of losing federal HAVA funds unless action is taken in 2005. Despite a successful election in 2004, several issues face states to assure voter satisfaction and service.  If states fail to act, Congress may do so.

One of the most crucial linkages in contemporary international relations involves the multifaceted and complex one shared between the United States and Mexico, a relationship that spans centuries and extends into myriad different arenas.

This article, based on the author’s book, Heavy Lifting: The Job of the American Legislature (CQ Press, 2004), explores the factors that indicate whether a legislature is “good” or not.  Neither a legislature’s appearance, structure, nor it’s product ought to be considered indicative. A legislature’s performance of its principal functions is what counts. Legislatures do best at representing constituencies and constituents, next best at lawmaking, and least well at balancing the power of the executive. Critical to legislative performance of the latter two functions are leadership and standing committee systems.

The increase in the level of two-party competition, particularly in the Southern states, has produced many parties which are cohesive and disciplined to capture public office and govern once that office has been attained. More parties are using preprimary endorsements to control nominations. They have become multimillion dollar organizations and contribute to their state candidates and rival the national parties in fundraising capability. Governors and their legislative parties are governing more effectively.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been stalemated in their attempts to reauthorize the nation’s welfare bill. The stalemate between the House (following the administration’s lead) and the Senate over work requirements, childcare dollars and superwaivers has left the original welfare bill unchanged through several “continuing resolutions.” In the meantime, states’ welfare programs have weathered an economic downturn. While nationwide caseloads continued to decline, some states experienced significant increases in their caseloads. While all states funded a broad array of services as well as basic assistance through their welfare programs, there was considerable variation in funding emphasis. States’ flexibility could be curtailed in the future, however, if reauthorization proceeds along the lines proposed.

Before launching into the analysis of the 2004 state legislative elections, it is instructive to go back two years to the last major legislative elections. The year 2002 was a banner year for the Republican Party in legislatures; they seized eight legislative chambers and claimed bragging rights by taking the majority of legislative seats nationwide for the first time in 50 years.

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.