Big Issues of 2017: There's Plenty to Ponder beyond Presidential Politics

By Lays, Julie | State Legislatures, January 2017 | Go to article overview

Big Issues of 2017: There's Plenty to Ponder beyond Presidential Politics


Lays, Julie, State Legislatures


Where will the new jobs be created? What will happen to Obamacare? How will infrastructure improvements be funded? If the wall is built, who will pay for it? What government regulations and executive orders will be reversed? Do the states stand to gain or lose from these changes?

Any time there is a switch in the White House, there's a fair amount of uncertainty in the states about what it means for them and for state-federal policy. Now that Republicans hold the presidency, both houses of Congress, 66 state legislative chambers, both chambers in 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships, the impact could be huge.

And this year, so is the uncertainty.

Every state, along with D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, will hold legislative sessions in 2017, and the vast majority open this month. The few that start later in the year might benefit as the first few months should bring a little more clarity to what states can expect from the Trump administration.

Slow revenue growth, especially in energy-dependent states, along with not knowing when there might be another economic downturn, emergency or other pricey surprise, have motivated states to rebuild their budget stabilization or "rainy day" funds. Data-driven analysis may offer some innovative solutions to limited budgets down the road, but for now, legislators must find enough funds to meet ever-rising Medicaid costs, needed repairs for transportation infrastructure, growing pension obligations and the everyday costs of funding education and criminal justice systems.

A big focus this year will be on jobs, which is a priority for the new administration as well. Like balancing budgets, creating jobs has been a perennial priority of lawmakers for years. They will be considering how to weigh the needs of businesses against the rights of workers in discussions on workforce development, job training for the future, pay equity, paid family leave and the minimum wage.

Beyond the budget and jobs, state legislatures have an abundance of other policy issues to deal with in 2017.

1. The Future of Health Care Reform

Everyone wants to know what will happen to the Affordable Care Act. Since its passage in 2010, more than 20 million people have gained health coverage, many through the health exchanges created by the law, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in March 2016. Because of federal subsidies, which lower prices significantly for those who qualify, officials estimate that more than 70 percent of consumers can find plans this year that cost them less than $75 a month.

Those federal subsidies face an uncertain future with the new administration and Congress. But without them, up to 12 million Americans might not be able to afford coverage, especially since health insurance costs everywhere continue to rise. Lawmakers will be learning all they can about the pros and cons of any alternatives presented.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia also have expanded Medicaid coverage to millions of people under Obamacare. Their fate remains unclear. Those state budgets, however, will certainly feel the sting this year when the federal share of the Medicaid costs drops from 100 percent to 97 percent.

During the campaign, Trump promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and turn the Medicaid program into a block grant. Some worry this will result in less money altogether, but others see opportunities in having more control over how the money is spent.

If block grants are instituted, legislators will likely be debating what limits and requirements to place on Medicaid eligibility to make the program more affordable for states. Ideas include setting work requirements, charging a premium or requiring proof of legal residency.

Whatever happens, legislators will be looking for new options and innovations for a healthy future. …

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