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  • Jon Kuhl
    Public Affairs and Media Manager
    Washington, D.C.
Jan. 10, 2013

NCSL Identifies Top 10 Issues Facing States in 2013

State Lawmakers Home In On Budgets, Health Care and Corrections in the New Year

A bevy of challenges will greet the nation’s 7,383 state legislators as many states begin their 2013 sessions. In consultation with state legislative leaders from across the country, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) compiled a list of issues most likely to be at the top of many states’ agendas in 2013.
“We are just at the beginning of 2013, but it is already shaping up to be a big one for state lawmakers,” said William T. Pound, executive director of NCSL. “State legislators have a lot on their plates as legislative sessions across the country begin, but as our nation’s state legislatures have proved time and again, they’re up for the task. Our federal lawmakers in Washington should take notice– they might learn a thing or two.”
The following top 10 issues are not ranked in any particular order. A more comprehensive version of the list is included in the January issue of State Legislatures magazine.
Stabilizing Budgets
The combination of a weak economic recovery and the looming fiscal cliff spells uncertainty for state budgets. The growth in tax collections has slowed, with officials in nearly three-fourths of the states projecting total tax revenue growth for FY 2013 between 1 and 4.9 percent. Revenue increases and tax cuts will be heated topics of discussion, as states examine ways to deliver vital services with fewer resources.
Addressing Health Care
2013 will be a decision year for states, as numerous aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) take effect. States must decide whether to expand Medicaid eligibility and establish state-based insurance exchanges. Other decisions include reforming health care delivery—with many states experimenting with the medical home model and switching to payment models that reward results rather than quantity of services.
Protecting Public Pensions
States are in the midst of a multi-year wave of rebuilding public pension plans to combat long-term funding problems. States took aggressive action in 2012 to stabilize their pension systems, but will continue to do more in 2013.
Saving on Corrections Costs
“Justice reinvestment,” the strategy of targeting resources to less costly, but more effective programs, has been embraced by both parties in at least half the states. Given how successful such programs have been at reining in costs while reducing crime, more states will likely follow suit in 2013.
Ensuring Future Energy
Technological advancements, such as the advent of hydraulic fracturing, have revolutionized the energy industry. In 2013, states will turn to related issues, including how to properly regulate these new technologies and how to build the infrastructure necessary to ensure a secure, reliable and affordable energy supply.
Paying for Transportation Infrastructure
States will be facing a well-documented and worsening transportation funding crisis. Forecasters agree the nation as a whole is spending only about one-third to one-half of what is required to maintain, improve and expand roads and transit systems adequately. To help pay for the much-needed improvements, state lawmakers will consider several different funding and finance options such as gas tax increases, public-private partnerships, tolling and mileage fees. Lawmakers may also look at measures that make state transportation programs more efficient.
Strengthening Education
Education is high on legislative agendas most years, and this year will be no different. Legislators are expected to continue to pass significant reforms to improve student achievement. With state funding for education a continued concern, lawmakers will be considering reallocating a portion of their precious state dollars to school districts only after they have demonstrated higher student achievement. Legislatures will also continue to debate school choice options, like vouchers and parent trigger laws, in addition to reforming charter school policies.
Creating Jobs
State legislatures will continue to look for ways to boost economic development to create jobs, especially manufacturing jobs. Some states will consider incentives, such as granting tax rebates to certain types of businesses to encourage the growth of manufacturing jobs.
Educating the Workforce
It’s hard to consider how best to create jobs without considering whether the workforce is prepared for them. Yet, although the benefits of a college-educated citizenry are widespread, barriers persist for many in receiving a college degree. Of interest to many state legislatures is funding higher education more strategically by looking at results rather than student enrollments. This method considers, for example, graduation rates, transfer rates, the number of degrees awarded, and the number of minority graduates.
Helping Strengthen Families
The recession, long-term unemployment and reduced state revenues have squeezed human services programs at the same time needs have increased. Fifteen percent of families are living below the federal poverty level, use of food stamps has increased 70 percent in the last five years and one-fourth of all children are owed child support.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.