The Top States Issues for 2017

Published December 29, 2016

With 2016 coming to a close, most state lawmakers heading back to their state capitols to tackle many important issues. Highlighted below are some of the biggest problems facing the states.

Budget and Tax. States are seeking ways to create a better business climate to attract jobs and businesses. Some states have been passing right-to-work laws, pushing tax reform, and reforming their public pension systems, while others have increased taxes and regulations.  More states are likely to implement work requirements and other welfare reforms to help move people from government dependency to self-sufficiency.

Education Reform. Education outcomes in America continue to lag globally, 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. In addition, some states continue to fight back against Common Core State Standards and Common Core-related testing mandates.

Energy and Environment. America has become a leader in energy production despite efforts to discourage the use of traditional energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and oil. 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. With the Clean Power Plan on life support state lawmakers are much more likely to consider pro-environment, pro-energy, and pro-jobs solutions in 2017.

Health Care. States continue to look at ways to help expand competition and reduce the cost of health care – even with the future of the Affordable Care Act uncertain. Solutions being discussed include using telemedicine, rolling back certificate of need laws, and embracing direct primary care. Nineteen states opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and now it is likely more expansive waivers seeking instead to fix some of the problems that have plagued the program for years are more likely to be approved by the next administration.

Constitutional Reform. 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.

The Heartland Institute’s Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues is an informative and concise booklet examining 10 of the most useful public policy solutions to important issues facing the states. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have gained significant momentum among the states and with legislators in recent years.

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 John Nothdurft Director of Government Relations at [email protected] or call 312/377-4000.

What We’re Working On

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: Dramatic Gas Tax Hike Won’t Help Alaska Maintain Its Roads
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines a budget proposal from Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) that includes a doubling of the state’s gasoline tax from 8 cents per gallon to 16 cents per gallon on July 1, 2017, and it would then increase to 24 cents per gallon on July 1, 2018. Taxes on maritime fuel, aviation gas, and jet fuel would also rise at the same rate. Increasing the tax on the sale of motor fuel, Glans says, increases the cost of transportation, which harms all consumers, including many low-income people, and that it is not appropriate to add the burden of additional tax or fee increases on households that are already cash-strapped. He recommends Alaska legislators should instead explore more modern and efficient ways to fund road construction and traffic infrastructure, such as privatizing roads and establishing toll systems. Read more

Health Care
Research & Commentary: Florida Considering Block Grants for Medicaid
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans discusses Medicaid funding and how block grants are a reform state legislators should consider to improve their funding and program flexibility. Block grants, he writes, modernize Medicaid and give states the flexibility to experiment with their Medicaid programs, and help to find new and better ways to provide care for the needy. Read more

Tax Credit Scholarship Programs Save Taxpayers Billions, Report Finds
In this article for School Reform News, managing editor Teresa Mull writes about a new report from EdChoice that finds publicly funded private school choice programs save taxpayers billions of dollars when students leave government schools. The report analyzed the fiscal impact of 10 tax credit scholarships in seven states, representing 93 percent of all scholarships awarded in tax credit scholarship programs today and found these programs generated cumulative net savings worth between $1.7 billion and $3.4 billion from when they were launched to 2014. This adds up to between $1,650 and $3,000 per scholarship student. Read more

Energy & Environment
Utah Counties Sue Federal Government to Halt ‘Illegal’ Coal Leasing Moratorium
In this article from Environment & Climate News, managing editor H. Sterling Burnett reports on six Utah counties that are suing the U.S. Department of Interior in Federal District Court to overturn a moratorium on federal coal leases the secretary of the interior issued in January 2016. The six counties party to the lawsuit, Beaver, Carbon, Garfield, Kane, Piute, and San Juan counties, are asking the court to enjoin the moratorium for violating the Administrative Procedure Act, and to award the counties the costs involved in fighting the suit. The counties, which are economically dependent upon coal, claim DOI and the BLM violated the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act by unilaterally issuing the moratorium before carrying out a required pre-moratorium impact statement. Read more

From Our Free-Market Friends
Texas Public Policy Foundation Releases: Restoring Liberty through the States—and the People
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has released Restoring Liberty through the States—and the People which they say is a “road map for America to re-center federal governance on only constitutionally enumerated powers,” and will “maximize liberty and prosperity by leaving all other governing authority with the states, or the people.” “The principles of liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise that have guided Texas to levels of unprecedented prosperity underscore our commitment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation to provide a similar vision for national leaders.” said Brooke Rollins, President and CEO of TPPF. “That is why we are pleased to release Restoring Liberty through the States—in which we offer solutions to re-center the discussion on our greatest assets: the people and the states that make up our great nation.” Read more