Policy Area

Propositions again were a prominent feature on ballots in 2006, with voters in 37 states deciding on 226 statewide measures. The number of citizen-initiated measures, 79, was the third highest ever. The most common issues were eminent domain (12 states) and same-sex marriage (nine states). Michigan voters approved a measure to ban the use of racial preferences, and South Dakota voters repealed an abortion ban.

Strong tax collections in recent years have bolstered state treasuries and paved the way for initiatives in health care and education reforms. However, states are likely to face challenges from slowing tax collections, a resumption in Medicaid’s traditional spending growth, pressures in K-12 education, and new accounting requirements for employee health benefits.

After several years during which the number of state constitutional amendments had dropped from previous levels, amendment activity increased slightly, in that the number of amendments proposed in 2006 equaled the number of amendments proposed in 2004 and 2005 combined, and the number of amendments adopted in 2006 exceeded the total for 2004–05. Eight states enacted amendments prohibiting legalization of same-sex marriage, and another eight states approved amendments restricting use of the eminent domain power for private purposes. Multiple states approved amendments increasing the minimum wage and regulating the use of tobacco settlement funds. Also of note were a Michigan amendment banning affirmative action, a Missouri amendment ensuring continuation of embryonic stem cell research, and a Florida amendment requiring future constitutional changes to obtain 60 percent of the popular vote.

In recent years the movement of women into state-level offices has slowed following several decades of gains. This pattern of stagnation did not change following the 2006 elections which produced only modest changes—most positive but some negative—in the numbers of women officials. Efforts to actively recruit women for elected and appointed positions will be critical in determining what the future holds for women in state government.

The new Democratic majority in Congress and the governorships will alter some federal policies and frustrate some presidential policy initiatives, but the centralizing course of federalism will endure, and most facets of coercive federalism will persist. State policy activism will remain vigorous, but the Supreme Court is not likely to resuscitate its federalism revolution.

An analysis of Census Bureau population estimates detailing the distribution of racial and ethnic groups within and across metropolitan areas since Census 2000 reveals the following: Hispanic and Asian populations are spreading out from their traditional metropolitan centers, while blacks’ shift towards the South is accelerating; the fastest growing metro areas for each  minority group in 2000–2004 are no longer unique, but closely parallel the fastest growing areas in the nation; Of the nation’s 361 metropolitan areas, 111 registered declines in white population from 2000 to 2004, with the largest absolute losses occurring in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; and a strong multi-minority presence characterizes 18 large “melting pot” metro areas, and 27 large metro areas now have “majority minority” child populations.

State-local relations remain complex in 2007: Constitutional and statutory distribution of powers between states and general-purpose local governments differ in the various states. Trends include the creation of state control boards for local governments suffering fiscal distress, continued imposition of mandates and restraints, and increased use of joint powers authority.

At 36 million people, the number of foreign-born Americans is at its highest point in history. Two-thirds of the foreign-born population reside in just six states—California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey. However, the foreign-born are increasingly settling in other parts of the United States—especially in the South—bringing new cultures, languages, racial and ethnic diversity, economic opportunities and challenges for policymakers.

In the November 2006 election, voters gave Democrats their biggest legislative victory in more than a decade, awarding them with a sizable majority of all legislative seats. Democrats now control more state legislatures (22) than they have since the 1994 Republican landslide marked the beginning of a 12-year stretch of political parity between the two parties in state legislatures.

Unfunded state pension liabilities continue to grow but should stabilize in the near term. While pension fund performance may improve, states will now grapple with new disclosure requirements related to other post-employment benefits, which may be even larger. Post-retirement benefits will continue to be a factor in determining state credit ratings.