Mixed messages of the current economy keep at bay a full recovery from the Great Recession that officially ended in June 2009. The drop in oil prices has put money in consumers’ pockets, but these consumers seem wary of returning it into circulation, with many using the extra cash to pay off or reduce personal debt. In some ways, governors are similarly disposed as they map the policy and budget way forward for their respective states. Several chief executives are asking for more stringent laws, constitutional requirements, for budget balance or regarding the payment of debt, to keep their states on a path toward fiscal sustainability. Watch words this year include “cautious optimism” and “continuous improvement.”1
Several amendments on the 2013 ballot attracted significant attention, most notably a proposed Colorado amendment that would have raised income tax rates and increased school funding but was rejected by voters. Notable amendments approved by voters include a Texas amendment authorizing use of $2 billion from the state rainy day fund to pay for water projects, a New York amendment allowing operation of up to seven casinos and a New Jersey amendment increasing the minimum wage. The level of state constitutional amendment activity was on par with recent odd-year elections, with only five states considering amendments in 2013, and a good deal of attention focused on qualifying measures for the 2014 ballot.
As the end of the Great Recession recedes into the past, governors maintain a “steady as she goes” approach to governing. Perhaps “cautiously expansive” best describes governors’ budget and policy agendas in 2014. The same five issues surfaced this year as last year as being part of most gubernatorial agendas: education, taxes, jobs, health care and public safety. State chief executives continue to finesse their plans for advancing their states as highly educated, economically vibrant, healthy and safe. More governors this year than last year consider state budget balance, rainy day funds and reserves, debt reduction and pensions. Many of these governors are calling for creating, funding and replenishing rainy day funds, applying surpluses to pay for infrastructure and undergirding pension trust funds. Some governors did venture into relatively new areas, given the times, by calling for serious investment in the arts as a roundabout way to influence state economic and cultural development.
Party polarization continues to sustain gridlock in Washington and produce state-federal tensions. States could reduce Washington’s polarized gridlock by eliminating partisan gerrymandering and reforming primary elections, but states also are more polarized along red and blue lines. Polarization contributes to coercive federalism, and states are on the defensive in their relations with the federal government. State-federal conflicts over the Affordable Care Act, the Common Core State Standards Initiative, REAL ID and other issues marked 2013–14. Many observers tout state innovation as a counterbalance to Washington’s gridlock, but many innovations are polarizing because they are produced by one-party states and thus lack bipartisan traction. The federal government also pre-empts some state innovations and nationalizes others. The U.S. Supreme Court decided eight federalism-relevant cases during its 2012–13 term and four in early 2014, with 10 to be decided as of April 2014.
This article reviews developments in interstate relations pertaining to uniform state laws, interstate compacts and administrative agreements, civil unions and same-sex marriage, and other pertinent interstate legal matters since 2011.
Declining budgets, the need for court reforms and efforts to rein in court power necessitate examining how courts work with or lobby other branches of government. This article examines existing research on how courts do intergovernmental relations work and focuses on the need for the development of best practices.
This year’s Supreme Court docket includes many cases of interest to the states on controversial subjects like affirmative action and legislative prayer and more esoteric subjects like abandoned railroad rights-of-way and federal court abstention.
Elections continued to be the focal point of study and attention by federal policymakers after long lines developed in some locations during the 2012 election. The President’s Commission on Election Administration looked at election practices and made recommendations in January 2014. Congress continues to focus on military and overseas voters and also introduced voting-related bills in response to the commission. The Supreme Court negated the continued use of preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice for approval of voting changes, which is likely to lead to new legislation related to voting.
Relatively few state legislative seats were up in 2013 and the only major change was in functional control of the Virginia Senate, where the Democrats eked out control. Republicans, however, continue to dominate the legislative branch across the country by controlling 26 state legislatures, compared to only 19 held by Democrats. Only four states have divided legislative control, representing near historic lows of split control.