Voters looked favorably on ballot propositions in 2014, approving 67 percent of the 158 measures they decided. Marijuana advocates scored important victories in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., and minimum wage advocates continued their unbroken run of successful measures in five more states.
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.
Oregon’s reputation for ballot accessibility stems from vote-by-mail, but the state continues to use technological innovation to build an elections system that is convenient, transparent and secure. While new technology can involve upfront investments, innovation substantially reduces the cost of running elections.
Governors continue to be at the forefront of governmental activity in the 21st century. They are in the middle of addressing the problems facing the country’s weak economy. The demands on governors to propose state budgets and keep them in balance have continued to increase greatly since the recession began as severe revenue shortfalls hit the states. This places severe limits on the states’ abilities to address many growing needs of people and businesses trying to live through such tough times. The varying political viewpoints on what and how state government should work on this continuing set of problems only makes it harder for elected leaders to achieve agreements over policy needs and governmental responsibilities.
Voters decided 31 state-level propositions in 2013, a slow year for citizen lawmaking. The most controversial measures were a tax increase in Colorado and GMO food labeling in Washington. Voters also decided a large number of local ballot propositions, addressing a number of high profile issues, including minimum wage, marijuana legalization and pension reform.
America’s infrastructure needs are great. As concerns about federal transportation programs endure, state governments are making strides to address their needs. While major transportation funding packages got much of the attention in 2013, states are implementing numerous strategies to address needs related to bridges, highways, transit and future funding.
As of early 2014, 20 states plus the District of Columbia have passed measures permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and two states—Washington and Colorado—have legalized the use, cultivation and distribution of small amounts of marijuana for all adult users. While the federal prohibition of marijuana remains in effect, a growing number of states are considering and implementing other regulatory models for marijuana. This article discusses these trends and looks to the future of federal-state relations in this area.