Local governments in the United States are the most important providers of services to their respective residents and also are major regulators of business firms and individuals. The U.S. is home to 89,476 local governments: 3,033 counties, 19,492 municipalities, 16,519 towns and townships, 37,381 special districts and 13,051 independent school districts. Powers exercisable by individual local governments vary considerably and are determined by the state constitution, state statutes, state administrative regulations and court decisions.
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has public ratings on all 50 states and certain U.S. territories based on an analysis of a range of factors as outlined in its U.S. State Ratings Methodology. In addition to the ratings provided on general obligation bonds or ratings linked to the general credit rating of a state, such as appropriation secured bonds, hundreds of other state tax and revenue-supported obligations are rated. Similar to the broader municipal bond market, the range of bond security types issued by states is very diverse and runs the gamut of sales tax, gas tax, hotel tax, income tax, lottery revenue, liquor profits, and insurance premium assessments. The diversity of issuance in the state sector reflects the broad service and infrastructure responsibilities each state is responsible for funding.
2012 was marked by a shift to political poles. Both parties built on their leads in regional strongholds, with Republicans picking up 59 seats in the South and Democrats adding 168 to their total in the East. The number of divided governments dropped to a 60-year low, while outsized legislative supermajorities climbed to historic highs.
The movement of women into state-level offices has slowed in recent years after several decades of gains, and following the 2012 elections, the numbers of women in both state legislative and executive branch offices increased only slightly. 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 State of State Addresses: Settling in for the Long Haul1
Governors were more likely this year than last to address a broader range of issues in their state of the state addresses. At least two-thirds of them considered five issues in 2013, compared to just three issues in 2012. Education, jobs and taxes remain hot topics, but health care and public safety also moved up the list. Health care was the second most mentioned issue by governors this year, not a surprise since the start date for implementation of the Affordable Care Act is less than a year away. Also, governors’ consideration of gun control and safety issues was not unlikely given the tragic mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut in 2012. Governors seemed hesitant to pursue expansive budget and policy agendas, recognizing that fiscal recovery from the Great Recession will remain sluggish.
Career technical education is a vital part of education improvement efforts and will play a vital role in enhancing the nation’s economy by providing skills preparation aligned to current and future labor market demands. Career technical education provides a robust opportunity for meeting the labor and education demands of the global economy.
Governors continue to be in 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 during the ongoing recession as severe revenue shortfalls have hit the states. This places severe limits on the states’ abilities to address the 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.
Family caregivers are the backbone of our nation’s system of long-term services and supports for older adults and people with disabilities. The economic value of their contributions is estimated at $450 billion per year. It is critical that states support the efforts of these caregivers, to help them avoid burn out and protect their own health.
With more and more people relying on smartphones and tablet computers to conduct their everyday business, mobility is rapidly becoming a must-have capability for state government agencies, including election offices. State efforts to transform and modernize voting through mobile technology took center stage during the 2012 presidential election cycle, with the introduction of new smartphone apps, tablet voting programs and emergency texting options for voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy. This article outlines some of the key state mobile initiatives for the 2012 election cycle, along with some potential options that may enhance the voting experience in the future.
Innovation is the buzzword of this economic recovery: Two-thirds of our gross domestic product growth is attributed to it and jobs in these industries pay 70 percent more than other jobs. Yet politicians have a difficult time pulling away from traditional economic development programs that focus on shovel-ready projects or consumption-driven programs like Cash for Clunkers. Part of this reluctance, I believe, stems from a misunderstanding of what innovation actually is.