October/November Trends

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Trends and Transitions: October/November 2009



Living Without Health Insurance

Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas have the highest percentages of uninsured residents, while Massachusetts, Minnesota and Vermont have the lowest. These are the results of a Gallup survey conducted from January through June. Gallup interviewed 178,000 people—1,000 a day—on whether they had health insurance. The results show that the percentage of uninsured adults in every state has either increased or remained statistically unchanged since 2008.

Water Worries

In the last five years, nearly every region of the United States has experienced water shortages, and they’re expected to increase as the population grows, the climate changes, aquifers shrink and droughts persist. At least 36 states are anticipating local or statewide water shortages by 2013. Capturing rainwater and diverting or storing it can save on water use.
Rainwater can be used to flush toilets, wash pets or cars, and even provide refreshment,
after it is treated. Landscaping, however, is the most common and easiest way to use stored rainwater.

Despite the advantages of rainwater “harvesting,” Western state water laws have been interpreted to prohibit the practice in Colorado, Utah and Washington. These laws are based on the “first in time, first in right,” doctrine that assigns ownership to the person who first claims to use water beneficially from a stream or aquifer. Thus, collecting rainwater has been considered to harm downstream water right holders.

The Southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, however, have broadly interpreted the laws and allowed for rainwater harvesting. Colorado, Utah and Washington may soon be joining these states. Colorado passed two laws this year encouraging the reuse of rainwater. The first allows rural residents who have or would qualify for a well, to collect rainwater. The second establishes a pilot program for large scale catchments. Lawmakers in Utah and Washington also considered legislation in 2009, but did not pass any. The Washington Department of Ecology is currently clarifying the state’s water collection laws, however, and Seattle has obtained a master water permit allowing residents to collect rainwater.

 Fighting MS

Multiple sclerosis gained attention in at least 17 states during the 2009 session. Lawmakers passed resolutions to raise awareness, and considered bills to support research and improve access to drugs.

Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas adopted resolutions to raise awareness about the disease, mostly by creating a Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week.

Colorado also passed a bill to allow an option to contribute to MS research on state income tax forms. And Delaware has a similar bill awaiting the governor’s signature.

MS, a chronic disease of the nervous system, affects the brain and spinal cord by damaging the myelin sheath, which surrounds and protects nerve cells. An estimated 250,000 to 350,000 people in the United States have it. Women are affected by the disease almost twice as often as men, and whites are two times as likely to develop it as are other races.

Symptoms include thinking or memory problems, visual disturbances, fatigue or weakness, loss of sensation, or difficulty with coordination and balance. While there is no known cure, drugs can be used to slow the progression of the disease and to treat symptoms.

Costs for treating people with the disease amount to billions annually, including costs absorbed by state Medicaid programs. 

Opinion of State Government Down

The favorability ratings of state governments have declined from a year ago, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted last July. Overall, 50 percent of the public now holds a favorable opinion of their state government, down from 59 percent in April 2008. The decline in positive views has been greater in states with large or moderate budget shortfalls than in states with small budget gaps. 

The Allure of Gambling Revenues

When New Hampshire authorized a state lottery in 1964, it became the second state in the country (along with Nevada) to legalize gambling. Since then, every state but Utah and Hawaii has followed suit.
Two major changes during the last 45 years have been behind this trend. First, the country has become more permissive of gambling. Second, fiscal pressures on the states have increased. States have taken on added responsibilities in health and education, but have been constrained by increasing opposition to raising or reforming taxes.
The current wave of gambling expansion has been rolling for more than four decades, but the white caps are most visible around recessions. The last big surge came three years after the end of the eight-month downturn in 2001. A year and a half into the current recession, states already have debated various proposals for major expansions to their gambling laws.

In 2008, Arkansas voters approved the creation of a state lottery. In Colorado, voters approved a large increase in casino wage limits and allowed casinos to operate 24 hours a day. In the last two years, Illinois (2009), Maryland (2008) and Ohio (2009) have authorized slot machines at new establishments. In 2008, Delaware officials added roulette to their gambling facilities, and in 2009 the state authorized sports betting (although legal complications have arisen since). 

Not all states have jumped on the gambling bandwagon, however. California, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wyoming considered and declined to pass several gambling bills. Legislation still is under consideration in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Pressure to find new revenue sources is likely to increase throughout this recession and even after its end. This may add momentum to the gambling wave that in 45 years has reached all but two states.