The Leaflet: The Top Issues Facing States in 2016

Published January 14, 2016

In November 2015, The Heartland Institute published Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues, an informative and concise booklet examining 10 of the most useful public policy solutions to important issues facing states in 2016. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have gained significant momentum among the states and with legislators in recent years. Highlighted below are some of the key takeaways for each policy area.

Budget and Tax Solutions. Oklahoma and Utah have addressed pension reform in a sustainable way, at a time when most state pension systems across the country are diverting money away from essential government services and creating pressure for tax increases. Arizona, Kansas, and Missouri, among other states, passed welfare reforms in 2015 that aim to move people from government dependency to self-sufficiency, and many other states are expected to do the same in 2016.

Education Reform Solutions. Students in the United States perform poorly compared to their counterparts in other countries, even though per-pupil spending in America is far higher. Many states have responded by expanding school choice through increased access to charter schools, vouchers, education savings accounts (ESAs), parent trigger programs, and tax credits. For example, Nevada’s new ESA program may serve as a model for other states. In addition, some states are fighting back against Common Core State Standards and Common Core-related testing mandates.

Energy and Environment Solutions. The debate over environmental protections has shifted as energy production in the United States has increased over the past decade. This is due to several factors, including the development of effective horizontal drilling techniques and the rise of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, and because concerns related to global warming have diminished. Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia have taken steps to roll back their renewable energy portfolio mandates. Additionally, states are warming up to the safety and benefits of fracking and are beginning to recognize how costly and ineffectual many climate change regulations have been.

Health Care Solutions. Indiana and Pennsylvania, among other states, are considering reform of their certificate of need laws, which restrict competition among health care providers and drive up costs. Twenty-four states have opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, seeking instead to fix some of the problems that have plagued the program for years.

Constitutional Solutions. State elected officials are increasingly concerned by the national government’s lack of fiscal discipline. Many are considering the use of Article V of the U.S. Constitution to restore the role of the states and to prevent burdening future generations with ever-greater government debt. Six states passed seven Article V resolutions or bills in 2015, and all 50 states either saw bills introduced or recently adopted Article V resolutions.

The Heartland Institute is happy to provide free copies of Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues, send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus, help organize an event, or provide additional research on these issues. If you have any questions or comments, please contact State Government Relations Manager Nathan Makla at [email protected] or call 312/377-4000.

What We’re Working On

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: Should Alaska Reestablish an Income Tax?
The fall of global oil prices has led to a $3.5 billion deficit for Alaska’s upcoming budget. According to U.S. News & World Report, Alaska has been using savings to balance its budget at an estimated rate of $10 million a day. In order to close the deficit, Gov. Bill Walker (I) has introduced a budget plan that implements a series of tax hikes, including a reestablishment of the state’s personal income tax, tobacco and alcohol excise tax hikes, and several business tax hikes.

In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans argues Alaska should avoid reestablishing the income tax and preserve the state’s economic competitiveness by leaving more money in the pockets of the state’s citizens and businesses to spend, save, and invest. Instead of tax increases, the state should look to limit the rate at which budget spending increases moving forward. Read more

New York State Superintendent Imposes Collective Bargaining Changes in Buffalo
Tom Gantert, senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capital Confidential, covers in this Heartlander article a recent decision by New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to impose a superintendent’s proposed revisions to a collective bargaining contract, despite objections from the teachers union on the other side of the table. The ruling was handed down on November 9. Gantert reports the changes apply only to the five worst-performing schools in the City of Buffalo. The Buffalo City School District has 57 schools.  Read more

Energy & Environment
Hundreds of Democrats Challenge President’s Climate Policies
A coalition composed of hundreds of Democratic Party officials and state and local officeholders from 32 states sent a letter to President Barack Obama outlining their objections to his climate change policies. H. Sterling Burnett, managing editor of Environment & Climate News, notes the letter takes aim at the centerpiece of Obama’s climate change agenda, the Clean Power Plan. The coalition, referring to itself as CoalBlue, says it has “serious and overriding concerns” about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new emissions rules for power plants. The letter, which was signed by 177 state legislators, 278 local elected officials, and 148 Democratic Party officials, argues an energy policy “focused on clean is not enough.” Energy production must also be affordable and reliable, the letter states. Read more

Health Care
Attempts to Roll Back CON Laws Underway in Virginia
Virginia is one of 36 states that have certificate of need (CON) laws. CON laws are intended to slow the growth of health care prices, promote consolidation of health care providers, and limit the duplication of services. In this Consumer Power Report article, Heartland Editor Justin Haskins examines eight legislative reforms designed to scale back some of the state’s CON laws that are being advocated by three Virginia state delegates in the General Assembly. “Few Americans know the substantial and detrimental effects certificate of need laws have on the quality of health care in the 36 states that have chosen to enact them. These laws not only reduce access to quality care, they place a substantial degree of power to make important health care decisions in the hands of government bureaucrats, ignoring the professional opinions of highly educated doctors and other medical experts.” Read more

Report: IRS Spending Millions on Redundant Tech Systems
Andrea Dillon writes in this Heartlander article about a recent report from the U.S. Department of the Treasury which found the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on needlessly redundant information technology systems used to verify tax data. “The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report says the IRS’ inability to decide between two report verification systems, the obsolete Electronic Fraud Detection System and the newer Return Review System, costs taxpayers about $1.5 million every month.” Read more

From Our Free-Market Friends
Mercatus Center Study: State Certificate-of-Need (CON) Health Care Laws Limit Patient Access
In a recent Mercatus Center Study, George Mason University Professor Thomas Stratmann and Ph.D. student Matthew Baker examine state data on MRI, CT, and PET scans, three critical services restricted by CON regulations in 21 states. They find that CON laws reduce access to quality health care services and severely limit the number of small providers in a state. Read more