Policy Area

Teaching quality seems likely to remain a state concern for the long-term, even though policymakers will come to see, if they haven't already, that it isn't a magic bullet. The impetus for that continued focus comes not only from the states’ pressing needs for well-qualified teachers, but also from the federal government.

The American federal system has been shaken by the impact of recent traumatic events, especially the threats to homeland security and the states’ fiscal crises. These developments have produced deep seated tensions across a wide range of intergovernmental relationships. Recent trends toward coercive relations may be ameliorated by strategies fostering contingent collaboration.

Most states have initiated various cutback-management strategies in the past two years to deal with budget shortfalls and projected deficits. However, restructuring state agencies has emerged as the most popular approach to the current financial crisis. State agencies are likely to continue to privatize some of their programs and services as a cost-saving tool, although the rate of savings has been moderate. A growing number of states are using performance measures in their budgeting, although they are not widely used as an efficiency tool in state agencies.

Medicaid stands out as the program hit hardest by the economic downturn and rising health care costs. Governors, legislative leaders and Medicaid officials around the country see the program’s current cost trajectory as unsustainable in both the short-term and the long-term. Yet, states have faced similar situations before. As in previous eras of runaway cost growth, state leaders are marvelously adept at developing coping mechanisms. Emerging trends in state responses to the Medicaid crisis may indicate the future direction of Medicaid policy.

With continued threats of terrorism facing the country, states are struggling to maintain basic public safety programs while taking on the additional responsibility — and costs — of homeland security. The year 2002 produced a National Strategy for Homeland Security and legislation creating a new federal Department of Homeland Security, but little funding has been provided to support enhanced preparedness efforts by states. It will be important for states to think and plan regionally, utilize mutual aid and leverage limited resources to meet the challenge of making communities safe from terrorism and natural disasters.

This article traces past and current trends in parole and probation. Lessons from history are framed in the context of implications for future trends in the 50 states. It discusses parole and probation’s public value in terms of public safety and justice, along with the cost-benefit  implications of past, current and future trends.

2002 was a major election year for legislatures, with over 85 percent of all seats up for election, resulting in more than 26 percent turnover among legislators in election states. The Republican Party netted more than 175 legislative seats across the country and wound up with more seats than the Democrats for the first time in 50 years. Republicans now hold control of 21 state legislatures, compared to 16 for the Democrats. Twelve legislatures are split between the two parties and Nebraska is nonpartisan.

The states’ current fiscal crisis is due not only to the country’s economic downturn but also to changes in fiscal federalism that have exposed state fiscal systems to the impacts of federal policymaking, economic developments and demographic changes to greater degrees than in the past. Essentially, the states face growing long-term contradictions between escalating spending pressures and eroding tax bases over which states have only limited control. Short-term crisis-management actions, such as cutting spending, increasing taxes, accelerating tax collections, delaying bill payments, expanding gambling and using up reserves, are damaging, stopgap tactics. Long-term solutions will require more fundamental remedial fiscal reform by both the federal government and the states.

Results-based decision-making in state government has gained considerable interest as part of government accountability. Use of outcome information by elected officials and managers in budgeting and improving services to citizens still falls far short of its potential. This article provides suggestions for more effective collection and use of performance information.

Until recently, literature about the effects of term limits was by necessity speculative in nature. However, a recent multistate study undertaken by three legislative organizations and a team of political scientists has begun to outline the changes taking place in term-limited state legislatures.
 

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