American state legislatures will set to work in January on a variety of critical issues--some raised by the voters in November and others the result of the nation's decision to give George W. Bush a second term.
Voters were decisive on measures like same-sex marriage. They were more divided, however, on tort reform, education funding and gambling. And although they sent President Bush back to the White House with a Republican majority in Congress, they nearly split political control of state legislatures down the middle.
Fiscal issues will dominate this year's state legislative sessions, but there are plenty of other major topics that state lawmakers will address. Here's a sample of 10 key issues that promise to cross state borders and test political wills this year.
1 MEETING FISCAL CHALLENGES
When it comes to taxes, legislatures clearly are in a more conservative mood than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite four straight years of closing more than $235 billion in budget gaps, legislators have addressed fiscal pressures by avoiding any mention of taxes. Instead, they have used a mixture of cuts, fee increases and rainy day fund withdrawals.
Even though Arkansas and Virginia recently increased taxes to address specific needs, "tax" is the new four-letter word in most legislatures. Lawmakers are reluctant to spend political capital on increasing revenues, especially when there is little reward. Although pressure on the revenue side of state budgets has eased in recent months, there is still growing demand on the expenditure side as programs and services seek recovery from many years of budget cuts.
As lawmakers craft their FY 2006 budgets, will …