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Top issues for 1993: budget, education, health care.

The top three issues of the 1993 legislative sessions will be budget, education and health care, in that order, according to preliminary results from an NCSL survey of state leaders and selected committee chairs, Issues Outlook, 1993.

With responses in from nearly every state, results from the annual survey clearly identify budget issues as a major concern. Leaders in more than half the states foresee revenue shortfalls and the need for general fund budget reductions in 1993 due to slow recovery from the recession. Looking farther ahead, more than half the states report that there simply isn't enough revenue to maintain current programs for the next three to five years. Leaders in at least 11 states say that tax reform is at the top of their "to do" list.

In several states the projected shortfalls for FY 1993 are very serious. For example: California projects an $11 billion shortfall or 25 percent of the general fund budget; Maryland expects a $500 million shortfall or 8 percent; Minnesota may have an $840 million shortfall or 5 percent to 6 percent; and Texas projects as much as a $7 billion shortage, which could be close to 20 percent of the general fund budget.

Education policy is the next priority for most respondents. The issues here include funding for K-12 and higher ed, school reform and improvements. In Michigan, where the economy is reeling from huge job losses in the automotive industry, leaders say they will bring business, education and labor together to create an education and job training system that will provide a seamless transition from school to the workforce.

Reform, cost containment, access to medical care, Medicaid and Medicare are the big issues in health care and will be top priorities in at least a third of the states. Virtually all respondents ranked health care cost containment as a major issue, while increased access to health care is also an objective for 1993. Most respondents emphasized that reconciling these twin objectives has become a critical problem for the states due in large part to federal mandates and ineffective federal policy.

Leaders from seven states--California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, West Virginia and Wisconsin--said the federal government must pick up the ball on health care. "Health care problems cannot be addressed solely by the states," said West Virginia House Speaker Robert "Chuck" Chambers. "Health care problems in this country require a national consensus and a national solution."

States like Oregon and Minnesota, where health care reform measures hang on federal approval, are frustrated by what they see as inflexibility at the federal level. Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe considers "reluctance on the part of the federal government to relax restrictions pertaining to the passage of the Minnesota Health Care Cost Containment legislation of 1992," as its most serious area of concern in state-federal relations. New York Senate President Pro Tem and Majority Leader Ralph J. Marino considers the states' stand-off with the federal government over Medicaid requirements to be "far more significant in the short and long run to the future of federalism" than any other issue and voices concern over an "apparent reluctance on the part of the federal government to foster variances and innovations."

In Utah, where House Majority Leader Rob Bishop put Medicaid funding at the top of his priority list for the 1993 session, legislators are expected to work on co-payments and eligibility tests for Medicaid and to look at fixedfee approaches for Medicaid services. Legislators will also "plead with the federal government to leave us alone before we bankrupt ourselves, "Bishop says.

Thirty-eight states say they will work toward state solutions for health care problems. Arizona will look at health insurance reform. Wisconsin leaders say that in the absence of a federal plan, they will work on a state program to cover their uninsured and underinsured people.

Economy and Jobs Big, Too

Leaders in nine states--California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia--say their state's economy will take the forefront as they look at policy for adding new jobs. Leaders in eight states--California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia--say that defense cuts will need to be addressed.

Susan Foreman, director of California's office of Federal and International Relations, said that unless the economy improves dramatically in the next 60 days, economic development will be a major issue for the Legislature in 1993. "Three major concerns are the high unemployment in Southern California from defense cuts, the large number of base closures and high unemployment in the state's urban areas," she said. A package of legislation on rural economic development is also expected from the Senate in 1993.

"Urban problems stemming from the LA riots will continue to be on our minds," she said, "and we are awaiting recommendations from our special committee for economic revitalization of our inner cities."

Connecticut's House Speaker Richard Balducci says defense cuts are hurting his state. "We must shift our economy to eliminate the level of dependency we now have on the federal government," he said. "We must initiate programs, such as tax incentives and low interest loans, that will encourage defense industries to explore the diversification market."

The New Hampshire Legislature will continue to work toward an improved economic climate through the use of public and private partnerships, tax incentives and cuts in regulation. Speaker Harold W. Burns says his state needs to expand its economy to replace jobs lost because of changes in business and the closing of Pease Air Force Base.

Michigan also will be looking at ways to stimulate the economy, according to Republican leader Paul Hillegonds. He says an economic stimulus package will focus on taxation and regulatory obstacles to private investment in Michigan. That means a look at unemployment insurance, environmental permitting, health care costs, interstate trucking deregulation and education accountability, he says.

Transportation and mass transit will be top issues in Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri and Nevada; and improvement in the infrastructure are high on leaders' lists in Alaska, Indiana and Michigan.

Old Favorites Hang On

Old favorites that show up among the top three priorities in other states include: reapportionment in Alabama, corrections in Arkansas, ethics in New Mexico and gun control in Virginia. Abortion tops the list in Arkansas and Virginia; and Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska will struggle with welfare reform and costs. Arkansas, California, Kansas and Montana will be embroiled in workers' comp issues; and auto insurance policy is high on the list in Michigan and South Carolina. Gaming issues will be priorities in Connecticut and New Mexico. Alabama, Nevada and South Dakota will examine solutions to water problems. New York and Pennsylvania hope to solve tax and local government finance issues.

Thinking Ahead

Oregon stands out from other states in the scope of its priorities for the 1993 session. Legislators intend to "reinvent state government" and will implement several pilot programs that attempt to "transform how we manage government," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Bradbury. Oregon intends to rank all state services in much the same way it did health care, Bradbury said. It will establish a set of criteria to prioritize services so that human resources can be compared to education and to public safety, and so forth, he explained.

Also looking ahead are leaders in New York who say something must be done about the proliferation of overlapping and duplicative state and federal programs. "The federal government should retreat to the broadest possible goals and performance standards so state and local government can be innovative where they have to," said Senate President Pro Tem and Majority Leader Ralph J. Marino. "It will be a difficult transition, but at some point those delivering the services must have a far greater voice in how they do it," he said.
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Author:Randall, Sharon
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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