State budgets stay tight

National Conference of State Legislatures

Budgets, elections and criminal justice will be among the top 10 issues facing state lawmakers as three-dozen legislatures prepare for regular sessions next month, according to an annual forecast released yesterday by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Despite successfully closing a collective $200 billion budget gap during the past three years and now reaping the benefits of an improving economy, some state legislators will still have to decide whether to cut spending and increase fees. That's because state tax revenues generally lag months behind national economic trends, members of the bipartisan organization said.

Although not cited by NCSL, severe budget pressures on legislatures have affected state technology initiatives and programs, many of them scrapped or suspended. Chief information officers have said technology purchases and projects have spurred the need for a business case and greater accountability.

Elections will also play a major role in many of the issues next year in the White House and Congress and in states. About 78 percent of state legislative seats are for the taking, and a change in a few could change party control in 22 chambers, NCSL members said.

Association members indicated that the impact of technology on criminal justice will continue next year, including an expansion of DNA offender databases, review of post-conviction remedies and statutes of limitations for certain crimes based on DNA evidence availability.

"And some states will consider updating systems for housing and sharing crime information to help track offenders and investigate crime, as well as for antiterrorism efforts," the group said.

Issues such as the antiquated power grid infrastructure, education testing and funding, air quality, prescription drugs, workers' compensation, consumer protection, and obesity will also get a lot of attention from many state lawmakers.

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