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Nebraska coalition aims for property tax reform, stable school funding

Omaha World Herald | Posted on February 24, 2017

Nebraska taxpayers, farmers, ranchers, teachers and others ratcheted up the pressure for reducing property taxes.Sixteen organizations representing thousands of state residents announced they have joined forces as Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education.Leaders said the new coalition represents an expansion of efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on property taxes, while providing adequate and sustainable education funding. The coalition includes the Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Farmers Union — two groups that often differ on agricultural issues.

South Dakota squashes COOL attempt

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on February 24, 2017

South Dakota’s legislature has scrapped a move to require country-of-origin labeling on meat sold in that state.

How States Engage in Evidence-Based Policymaking

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

Evidence-based policymaking is the systematic use of findings from program evaluations and outcome analyses (“evidence”) to guide government policy and funding decisions. By focusing limited resources on public services and programs that have been shown to produce positive results, governments can expand their investments in more cost-effective options, consider reducing funding for ineffective programs, and improve the outcomes of services funded by taxpayer dollars. While the term “evidence-based policymaking” is growing in popularity in state capitols, there is limited information about the extent to which states employ the approach. This report seeks to address this gap by: 1) identifying six distinct actions that states can use to incorporate research findings into their decisions, 2) assessing the prevalence and level of these actions within four human service policy areas across 50 states and the District of Columbia, and 3) categorizing each state based on the final results.

Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

States have regained much of the fiscal and economic ground they lost in the Great Recession, but not all have fully rebounded, despite more than seven years of recovery. Some states are in a stronger position than others as they try to gauge how long the economic recovery will last and how President Donald Trump’s promises of action on federal taxes, trade, and health insurance could affect their finances. The slow pace of tax revenue growth has left many with little or no wiggle room in their budgets. Twenty-three states still collect less tax revenue than at their recession-era peaks, after adjusting for inflation, and most have a thinner financial cushion than they did before the last downturn. In addition, 18 states’ employment rates still trail 2007 levels. Despite these challenges, personal income in all states has bounced back above pre-recession figures, though growth has fallen short of historic norms. The primary objective of Fiscal 50 is to provide insights into states’ long-term fiscal health on a range of metrics. This tool is not meant to be a comprehensive assessment of a state’s finances or a replica of state budget statistics that are published by a variety of experts. Rather, Fiscal 50 selectively presents data and analyses that help states look beyond their current budgets, size up their progress over time, consider different ways to measure performance, and easily compare their outcomes with neighbors or peers that have similar resources and challenges.

Expect More Conflict Between Cities and States

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

With the federal government and most states controlled by conservative Republicans this year, Democrats are looking to Democratic cities and counties to stand up for progressive policy. But they may want to temper their expectations. State lawmakers have blocked city action on a range of economic, environmental and human rights issues, including liberal priorities such as minimum wage increases, in recent years. And the stage looks set for more confrontation between cities and states this year. Already, state lawmakers in Texas and Arkansas are weighing bills that would ban cities from declaring themselves “sanctuaries” and withholding cooperation with federal immigration officials. Lawmakers in Kentucky, Virginia and six other states are considering preventing localities from allowing transgender people to use some restrooms that match their gender identity. In Montana, one lawmaker wants to prevent local governments from banning texting while driving. While legislators say they’re trying to ensure consistency in state policy, so-called state preemption laws often expose political differences between state leaders — many of whom hail from rural districts — and city leaders.

In Tide of Red Ink, Some States Show Surpluses

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 24, 2017

California, Georgia, Idaho and Utah are among the states that have put themselves on a solid fiscal footing by avoiding deep tax cuts, enacting targeted tax increases, and diverting some surplus money into “rainy day” funds to be tapped in leaner times. By taking those steps, and by forgoing the temptation to rely on a single revenue source, those states are in good financial shape heading into this year’s legislative sessions. Their strategies may be instructive for other states. Another step states can take to avoid a budget crisis is to not cut taxes too deeply even when it appears economic times are good or getting better. Take Georgia, for instance. It has a surplus. That’s partly because Georgia’s economy is growing faster than much of the rest of the nation. But Georgia also resisted cutting taxes in recent years, while modestly projecting revenue and diverting excess amounts into the state’s rainy day fund, said Wesley Tharpe, research director at the progressive Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

State of the States 2017

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 23, 2017

Part Two: Budget Winners:Thirty-one states are facing budget shortfalls for fiscal 2017. So how have the 19 states with good-looking books managed it? While some of it may be due to factors beyond their control (think California, for example, where its sheer economic size, growing population, and diversity in business make it different than any other state) others have husbanded resources and promulgated policies that have enhanced their ability to cope. We look at those states to see if there are steps that the states with shortfalls can adopt which might help them cope with stagnant economic growth.

Oregon revenue forecast: State to bring in $200 million more than expected

Oregon Live | Posted on February 23, 2017

regon's economy is growing fast enough to generate nearly $200 million more in tax revenue for the state's next budget than had been expected, state economists said Wednesday. That means the state's $1.8 billion budget shortfall has shrunk to $1.6 billion. Although the new revenue will be welcome in Salem, it still leaves lawmakers with a massive budget hole to address. The gap is driven by rising costs in the state's public pension system and Medicaid, as well as three unfunded directives passed by voters in November. In a presentation at a joint meeting of the House's and Senate's revenue committees on Wednesday, state economist Mark McMullen told lawmakers that the takeaway from the forecast was "so far, so good." Half of the extra $200 million comes from unexpected revenues in the current two-year budget, which will likely be carried over to the 2017-19 budget cycle, McMullen said.

Supporters applaud proposed noxious weed program

The Missoulian | Posted on February 23, 2017

A bill that could pump more than $2 million annually into the fight against noxious weeds in wildlife habitat drew unanimous support from weed managers, wildlife managers and conservation and livestock groups.House Bill 434, known as the Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement Act and brought by Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, creates a new grant program and advisory council administered by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Under the act, the Legislature could appropriate up to $2 million to weed control from funding the state receives through the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, a federal excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition.“What we see is a stealth problem really infringing on wildlife habitat,” Flynn, who has been outspoken about noxious weeds in his four terms as a legislator, told the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

Minnesota farm loan program wins approval in time for spring

Ag Week | Posted on February 23, 2017

Minnesota senators voted 62-0 in favor of the bill Thursday, Feb. 16, following House members' action a week earlier. The legislation does not provide loans for farmers to buy seeds, fertilizer and other things they need in the spring, but it does help them pay mortgages and other major expenses that affect how much money they have available for spring planting. "The Rural Finance Authority is an important program and provides much needed assistance to farmers across our state, but it has run dry," said Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, who sponsored the legislation.