Policymakers across the country are facing one of the most challenging sessions in decades, due in large part to the economic woes caused by the Great Recession. From health care reform to the end of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, here are some of the top issues facing legislators this year according to the policy staff at The Council of State Governments.
Probably the biggest issue facing almost all states this year is gaping budget holes caused by a slow economic recovery in the states. The federal Recovery Act helped ease some of the pain caused by the Great Recession, infusing states with $224 billion for education, health care and programs like unemployment benefits. Now, that money is all but spent and, Congress is unlikely to approve any additional stimulus money.
States are facing a funding cliff in Medicaid programs. The federal government provided enhanced matching funds as Medicaid rolls swelled, but that funding ends after June. Medicaid enrollments remain high and states also need to begin planning for the 2014 expansion of Medicaid eligibility required under federal health reform.
Educational Standards, Assessment and Accountability
More than 40 states plus Washington, D.C., have adopted Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative of educators and experts to improve education in English language arts and math. Many states that adopted common core in 2010 will begin transitioning to the new standards this year. This will mean big changes to teacher professional development, teacher pre-service programs, textbook adoption and purchasing, curriculums and communicating those changes to parents and other stakeholders.
Ensuring Energy Affordability
With the economic recovery in the states lagging the national progress, legislators will need to look at ways to keep energy affordable. While alternative energy sources and the use of best available technologies are good environmentally, they initially cost more. Finding ways to keep energy affordable is especially important for lower-income constituents, who typically spend a disproportionate share of their overall income on energy.
U.S. Infrastructure and Funding
With 45 percent of the nation’s roads in less than good condition and 12 percent of bridges deemed structurally deficient, states need to invest large amounts of money into road projects just as the source of those revenues is drying up. Gas taxes have traditionally been the source of road funding, but people are driving less or driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. Some states and the federal government are considering gas tax increases this year.