By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
The National Conference of State Legislatures has unveiled its list of the top 11 issues of 2011 that are expected to dominate work at statehouses. State budgets top the list for the fourth straight year. Maintaining transportation and infrastructure also made the list.
“Money is the starting and stopping point for virtually every state program and service. Based on our latest ‘State Budget Report,’ we are expecting that budget cuts will again be deep, controversial and painful,” William T. Pound, NCSL executive director, said in a statement.
A bipartisan organization, the NCSL provides state legislators with research and technical assistance.
The top five issues identified by the NCSL are redesigning higher education, interpreting and implementing health reform, jobs for American workers, reforming state pensions, and balancing budgets.
The group cautions that the worst may be yet to come for state budgets. NCSL’s report, “State Budget Update: November 2010,” shows some states continue to struggle with ongoing shortfalls.
Through mid November, 15 states reported new fiscal year 2011 budget gaps totaling nearly $27 billion. And more gaps loom as state policymakers prepare to craft their fiscal year 2012 budgets.
Maintaining transportation and infrastructure is ranked at No. 11. The issue dropped five spots from the group’s 2010 list.
The NCSL reports that with states now seeing the end of federal stimulus money for transportation projects it could spell trouble for road projects. To make matters worse, there is a continuing decline in income from the fuel tax that leaves a widening gap between available revenue and actual money needed for infrastructure maintenance and new transportation projects.
With little appetite for raising transportation fees and taxes, the group reports that lawmakers will be forced to cut their transportation budgets or consider legislation to establish public-private partnerships, and other alternative funding options.
States – like truckers – continue to await a sweeping new federal transportation reauthorization that could provide new money and potentially change the way federal funds are distributed.
The full 2011 issues list can be viewed here.
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