Policy Area

A continuing and leading trend in 2006 in state ethics issues is a fundamental re-examination of the core characteristics embodied within and mechanisms used to implement ethics oversight. In some states, this review emanates from the apparent absence of institutional processes to address public sector conduct widely viewed as unethical. In others, this reassessment of ethics administration standards, including agency independence and internal operation, accompanies executive and legislative consideration of additional measures for ethics reform. Significantly, all the state efforts appear directed at enhancing rather than diminishing ethics oversight.

State legislatures show signs of departing from their customary professional licensing approach as new professions gain state licensure without initiation by a profession or the public. Unprecedented measures are being enacted, some on behalf of the licensees. Agencies in many states are focusing on emergency preparedness for displaced professional populations.

Although relatively few state constitutional amendments were considered in 2005, several developments attracted significant attention, including the defeat of electoral-reform initiatives in Ohio and California, the passage of same-sex marriage bans in Kansas and Texas, the nationwide movement to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s eminent domain ruling in Kelo v. City of New London by considering additional statutory and constitutional protections for property rights, and the decision by Colorado voters to suspend for five years a Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) provision that is the strictest tax and expenditure limitation in the country.

The use of 311 and similar mechanisms of non-emergency call management systems has emerged as a viable alternative for increasing citizen access to government, and improving government responses to the issues of greatest concern to citizens. This article describes the state of best practices for 311 systems and suggests ways to extend those successes throughout state and local government. Improving technology allows the exploration of widespread adoption and integration with other systems. Challenges and alternatives of designing and offering a 311 system are provided as recommendations to assist public managers in decision-making.

Following 2005 elections, the big picture of partisan control in states remains the same. Republicans control 20 state legislatures and Democrats are in charge of 19. Ten states have split control. The Nebraska legislature is unicameral and also nonpartisan. Even with Democrats retaining governors’ mansions in the two off-year election states, they still lag substantially in control of governorships—28 Republicans to 22 Democrats.

While the past few years have held a tremendous amount of change for state procurement officials, 2005 demonstrated that the role of the procurement official has become more complex. The procurement official is now expected to be a leader in the charge to streamline the procurement process and eliminate procedures that are perceived as adding delay and cost without any commensurate benefit. These demands for change are occurring at a time that government’s reliance on purchased services and commodities is increasing; the services and commodities are less routine; and the role that public procurement plays within the executive branch is becoming more important to the success of essential government programs.

Most facets of coercive federalism—including federal aid shifted from places to persons, conditions and earmarks attached to federal aid, pre-emptions, limits on state taxation, federalization of criminal law, defunct intergovernmental political institutions, reduced federal-state cooperation in major programs, and federal-court litigation—remain vibrant. Only unfunded mandates and court orders requiring major state institutional change are less prevalent. State policy activism remains vigorous, but the Supreme Court is not enamored with state authority.

Hiring private sector contractors to perform functions and services that would otherwise be performed by government employees—now called “outsourcing”—is not new to state government, especially for Information Technology (IT). Many states have outsourced key IT functions and services, including all or part of their networks, since the 1990s. In fact, as early as 1999, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) gave recognition awards to states with outstanding public-private partnerships. What has changed for states are (1) the increased importance of using IT outsourcing in ways that tangibly enhance efficiency and costeffectiveness; and (2) emphasis on successfully managing the outsourced IT function.

National-state relations have undergone a major transformation since 1965, when Congress sharply increased the pace of enactment of regulatory preemption statutes including those in regulatory areas that had been the exclusive preserves of the states. Protection of the reserved regulatory powers of the states against further congressional encroachment will necessitate enactment of new interstate regulatory compacts and/or uniform state laws.

Most state budgets were in very good shape at the end of fiscal year 2006, and election-year budgets for 2007 will lead to tax cuts. But beyond 2007 states will face challenges, including the need to fund or constrain rapid Medicaid growth, pressures to strengthen pension funding and begin financing newly disclosed liabilities for retiree health care, and the need to respond to large cuts in federal grants.