CSG South

The current farm bill reauthorization takes place in an environment more heated than any in recent times. Trade and budget concerns combined with growing domestic fiscal policy demands will make the 2007 Farm Bill a very difficult piece of legislation to craft. Public and political engagement in agriculture has declined as the number of Americans living on farms has steadily dropped over the past several decades. This translates into a considerably weaker political position for agriculture as farm policy competes at the table with numerous other sectors of the economy. To make sense of some of the complexities associated with the crafting of the 2007 Farm Bill, this document will explore a few of the major forces shaping the Farm Bill debate.

CSG South

The severe economic distress of the 1980s produced an interest in state action to help rural citizens and communities. One result of that interest has been the creation of statewide offices and agencies whose primary mission is to study rural concerns and develop policy options to address rural needs.

We are again in an era when interest in such offices is at a peak level. Four state “rural centers” were created in 2004. Another has been created this year in Indiana, and a serious effort in Alabama fell just short of success. The current level of interest led SLC to form a Rural Development Task Force, and the Task Force encourages states to consider establishing such centers. As an aid to such efforts, the Task Force offers these profiles of four rural centers in the South: North Carolina, Louisiana, Maryland and Texas.

The intergovernmental balance has shifted to the national government. Federal deficits, debt service, defense spending, and entitlement pressures will reduce discretionary spending, and could rekindle interest in decentralization and devolution. State leaders need to network horizontally and vertically to rebalance the federal system.

States vary greatly in how they identify and define “ethics” in the public sector. Meaningful and accurate comparisons of remedial state ethics processes are therefore difficult to easily render. However, ethics governance that involves standards of conduct and protections against conflicts of interest within the states often shares common traits. These traits include the creation of boards designed with oversight independent of appointment authorities, often delegated a trio of educational, advisory, and enforcement authority, in order to administer uniform standards and financial disclosure for public officers. These bodies share a vital goal of securing increased protection to the broader public interest by recognizing and limiting the inherent or acquired personal and familial conflicts of interest of those public servants who make and implement public policy and expend public funds.

Recent events in our society have been the catalyst for rapid change in the way motor vehicle agencies do business. The need to balance highway safety, customer service and security of the homeland has created a challenge that very few industries will ever have to face.

In the last decade, many rural areas have been left behind. Yet federal and state rural development efforts have not proven up to the task. As a result, it’s time for a bold new approach to revitalizing rural America based on building competitive rural economies.

This article notes the importance of the United States Constitution’s full faith and credit clause relative to sister state recognition of same sex marriages in Massachusetts, interstate commerce clause in removing barriers to trade, and interstate compact clause in promoting interstate cooperation, and summarizes developments involving interstate administrative cooperation and controversies.

Ballot propositions continue to drive the policy agenda in the states, and 2004 spilled over into the presidential election. The most popular issue was marriage, with 13 states approving constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

State park agencies have experienced significant growth during the last decade and made progress in personnel, funding and operations. The economy had an early positive impact on state parks during the mid to late parts of the last decade. Recent reductions in state revenues have begun to erode the progress made during the 1990s. State parks are challenged by reduced funding levels, decreases in visitation, and reduction in full-time staff. Entrepreneurship, external funding sources, and increased state park revenue generation are ongoing trends for state parks.

Severe weaknesses in the financial health of the nation’s public retirement systems rank as yet another force currently buffeting state and local government finances. Further compounding the problems faced by these public retirement funds are the following developments: the precarious financial position of private sector pensions and the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation; the looming shortfalls expected in the Social Security and Medicare programs in coming decades; and the low personal savings rates of most Americans, coupled with the high rates of consumer and household debt. Given that the baby boomer generation is rapidly nearing retirement age and that America’s senior population is growing faster than the number of younger workers needed to cover their retirement needs, policy-makers across the country are paying a great deal of attention to this unfortunate confluence of events.