Thursday, September 21, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Several Arkansas universities reported record enrollments this fall, while the size of the freshmen class at other institutions has gone down since last year.
            Each campus compiles official enrollment figures on its 11th day of the fall semester. Different universities begin their fall semester on different dates, so not every campus submitted its enrollment report to the Department of Higher Education on the same day.
            The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville enrolled its largest freshman class, of 5,065 new students. This year is the first time the number of freshmen at the Fayetteville campus has exceeded 5,000.
            About 49 percent of the freshmen at Fayetteville are from Arkansas, which matches the rate of last year. The university’s student population has grown remarkably in the past several years, in large part because of an influx of out-of-state students. Total enrollment at Fayetteville is now 27,558. That is a growth of 364 students over last year.
            Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia has also been growing in the past few years, and this fall’s enrollment reflected a couple of records. The freshman class of 870 is the largest ever at SAU and total undergraduate enrollment is a record 3,450.
            Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, Arkansas Tech at Russellville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock all reported declines in the size of their freshman class. 
ASU enrolled 1,644 new students last year and 1,427 this year. Arkansas Tech enrolled 1,591 freshmen last year and 1,561 this year. UALR enrolled 1,564 last year and 1,325 this year.
The reasons for a decline in enrollment vary, but a major factor is the decision by campuses to raise admission standards and focus on retention of students. 
Arkansas must increase the number of college graduates if we intend to be competitive in the global economy, according to elected officials and leaders in business and higher education.
ASU did report a record number of graduate students, 4,336, and a record number of doctoral candidates, 291. Also, a record number of 663 high school students are taking classes for college credit through the university.
Freshman enrollment at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway grew slightly, from 1,880 to 1,937. University officials were pleased that the incoming class was the strongest academically in university history, in terms of test scores and grade point averages. This year’s freshman class at UCA has an average ACT composite score of 24.3 and an average 3.5 grade point average.
The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith saw an increase of 3 percent in the number of new students enrolling this fall. UAFS now has 1,105 first-time students.
Recruiting more international students and expanding the size of online classes are two methods that have potential for increasing enrollment at several Arkansas universities.
Financial stress is a reason that many students fail to complete their higher education. Academic Challenge Scholarships, which are funded by the lottery, are the state’s most popular program. More than 31,000 students have earned the scholarships since the lottery began in 2009.
Lottery sales in August set a record, because of interest in a very large Powerball jackpot. The Arkansas lottery had total revenue of $49.3 million in August. Of that amount, $8.9 million will go for scholarships.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas has made progress in placing foster children with relatives, bringing the state’s rate for family placements to the national average.
            Nationwide, 29 percent of foster children are placed with family members and in Arkansas the rate is 28.8 percent. Two years ago the rate in Arkansas was 14 percent.
            Increasing the number of family placements has been a goal of the Children and Family Services Division. The improvement was commended by the governor and legislators who focus on foster care issues, although everyone involved noted that the state needs to continue making progress.
            Last year division officials said that the child welfare system was in crisis. High caseloads were causing unacceptably high turnover rates among family services workers. 
New workers needed time to learn the details of individual cases, which slowed the processing of placement and caused more children to remain in the system for longer periods of time. 
The number of children under state care grew to more than 5,000 and showed little sign of slowing down. Last year, estimates were that the number of children in foster care would quickly grow to 5,800. However, the reforms put in over the past year have slowed growth and the number of foster children in Arkansas is a little more than 5,000.
The legislature approved the governor’s proposals to add staff, recruit more foster families and streamline the regulatory process. Family services workers have received raises. The division plans to add 228 new employees over the current fiscal biennium.
Average caseloads have gone down, from 28 per worker to 22. A national standard for child welfare caseloads is 15.
The number of cases in which investigations are behind schedule has also dropped, from 721 to 51. Overdue investigations prevent children from leaving the system and getting placed with a family. Moving children from one home to another can be emotionally traumatic, and judges with jurisdiction over placements require certainty that case workers have done all they can to further the children’s best interests.
Another major factor in the state’s improved child welfare system is that religious and faith-based organizations have made it a goal to recruit new foster parents. Since 2016 the number of foster homes has grown from 1,549 to 1,821. Division officials attributed much of that success specifically to The Call and Christians 4 Kids.
In the legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers did more than increase funding for child services. They also approved Act 1116, which requires case workers to conduct an immediate assessment when they take custody of a child, in order to locate a non-custodial parent or a relative.
The list includes parents of half-brothers and half-sisters of the child in state custody. It also includes “fictive kin,” which is defined as a person whom the child identifies as having played a significant and positive role in the child’s upbringing.
The division will work toward more goals, such as finding homes for foster children who are traditionally harder to place, such as teenagers and children with special needs. Also, even though the number of placements is better on a statewide average, there are particular counties that still need a great deal of improvement.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The ACT is the most important standardized test for high school students in Arkansas, and every year parents and educators anticipate the releasing of test scores to see how our students are performing.
            In the past decade Arkansas students have shown steady improvement because more of them are taking college preparatory courses. However, their average scores have usually been slightly below the national average and on par with neighboring states.
            This year marks a dramatic shift in how Arkansas administers the ACT tests and interprets the composite scores. For the first time, every student in the eleventh grade took the test, rather than merely those students who had plans to go to college.
As recently as 2013 a third of high school juniors in the state did not take the ACT, but now Arkansas is one of 17 states nationwide in which all eleventh graders take it.
Earlier this year, 34,451 high school juniors took the ACT. They are now seniors. In 2013 the number of Arkansas juniors who took the test was 25,875.
As a result of dramatically expanding the number of test takers, the average score went down from 20.2 last year to 19.4 this year. The best possible score is 36.
The ACT has four subject areas – English, reading, math and science. Nationwide and in Arkansas, students performed best on the reading section. Our average score was 19.7, down from 20.7 in 2016.
In math Arkansas students’ average score was 19 this year, compared to 19.6 last year. In English it was 18.9 this year and 19.8 last year. In science the average score in Arkansas fell from 20.2 in 2016 to 19.5 in 2017.
In spite of the declines in average test scores, the state’s top education officials were encouraged by the results. First of all, a large number of new students was added to the cohort, which is the official terminology for the group taking the test.
The total number of test takers grew by 35 percent over the past four years, so the slight decline in average scores is not a cause for great concern. Those new test takers are the students who never planned to go to college or pursue academics, and they generally take the ACT only once.
Students planning for college often take the test more than once in order to bring up their score. The average score of students who took the test only once was 16.5, and for students who took it multiple times the average score was 21.1.
The state Department of Career Education offers evening and weekend classes for students who score below a 19 and want to improve their scores on a second attempt at the ACT.
Students who score below 19 must take remedial course work in college. Those classes bring their academics up to college level, and the student does not earn college credits for passing them. 
Arkansas students must score a 19 to qualify for Academic Challenge Scholarships, which are funded by the state lottery.
In several neighboring states all high school juniors now take the ACT. In Louisiana the average score was 19.5, in Mississippi it was 18.6, in Missouri it was 20.4 and in Tennessee it was 19.8.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The state Correction Department has obtained the drugs needed for lethal injection, preparing the way for the governor to set an execution date for an inmate on death row who was sentenced to death for capital murder in Johnson County in 1992.
            Sidney Burnett, a pastor who was 69 years old, was killed in 1991 by Jack Greene, who is now 62. Greene’s attorneys argue that he is mentally ill. The state attorney general said in a letter to the governor that Greene had exhausted his legal appeals and that no court has a stay of execution in place.
            Arkansas executed four inmates earlier this year, in April. Eight men were originally scheduled to die by lethal injection, but the lives of four inmates were spared by last minute court rulings. Greene was not among the eight men scheduled for execution in April. A spokesman for the governor’s office said that he would schedule an execution date for Greene.
            Adding to the controversy over Arkansas executions was the fact that one of the three drugs used for lethal injection was due to expire. The state scheduled the April executions before the drug’s expiration date. The new supply of midazolam, a sedative used in lethal injections, was obtained on August 4 and will be good until January of 2019.
            State law prohibits prison officials from releasing the identity of the pharmaceutical supplier who sold the lethal drugs to the state. News organizations filed Freedom of Information requests and learned that the state paid $250 for the drugs.
            One remaining legal issue is a challenge by the pharmaceutical supplier that sold another of the lethal injection drugs to the Arkansas Department of Correction. It is vecuronium bromide. The company contends in court that state officials bought the drug under false pretenses.
The company argues that Correction officials said the drug would be used for medical purposes in prison health units, in order to circumvent the company’s policy against allowing its drugs to be used in executions. A circuit judge ruled in favor of the pharmaceutical company in a preliminary action, but the state Supreme Court overturned the lower court. More litigation is on the way.
The Correction Department’s supply of vecuronium bromide expires on March 1 of 2018 and its supply of the third drug, potassium chloride, expires on August 31 of next year.
Industrial Recruitment
            According to national news reports, Toyota and Mazda are planning a joint venture to build a $1.6 billion auto manufacturing plant that would employ 4,000 people and produce 300,000 vehicles a year. Arkansas is one of more than a dozen states bidding to be the location of the project.
            The corporations as being secretive about their plans, but they did recently announce that they intend to join forces to increase their presence in the United States.
            A spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission told USA Today that the state certainly is interested in pursuing the plant. The publication listed the variety of incentives Arkansas has to offer, including the authority to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure that would lure a superproject. Arkansas can provide job training, sales tax exemptions and tax credits.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The state is in the process of contracting with private sector firms to operate the juvenile detention centers in Arkansas that are now being staffed by state employees.
            The centers have space for about 200 young people. Since the beginning of this year they have been run by the state Department of Youth Services (DYS). However, for about 20 years prior to this year the department had contracts with private non-profits to operate them. Those contracts were not renewed and the state took over the administration of the facilities.
            During the period in which DYS operated the facilities, its officials assessed the juvenile detention system’s strengths and liabilities. The new contracts that DYS will sign with private firms will reflect the changes that DYS wants to introduce, based on the assessments that have been made this year.
            The juvenile detention centers are in Colt (St. Francis County), Dermott (Chicot County), Harrisburg (Poinsett County, Lewisville (Lafayette County) and Mansfield (Sebastian County). Another facility, at Alexander in Saline County, is already being operated under a separate contract with a private firm.
            The governor and DYS officials outlined the changes they have made this year, and which they expect to continue after private firms take over the centers in July of 2018. Youths receive treatment for mental health problems and substance abuse more consistently, and it is provided by trained professionals.
            Education is better tailored to the individual needs of students, so that they can maintain their academics at grade level or reach their grade level.
In the middle of the past school year, when DYS took over the detention centers, 92 percent of the 193 youths were not at grade level in reading and 86 percent were not at grade level in math. Also, 22 percent needed special education services.
            DYS partnered with Virtual Arkansas to provide online courses. The virtual school already offers curriculum for about 50,000 students in 270 Arkansas schools. The partnership will provide consistency in educational offerings throughout the juvenile detention centers, and will make it easier for youths to transition back into their hometown schools when they leave the DYS facilities.
            DYS will support Virtual Arkansas by providing education coaches in each classroom, and by providing special education, GED classes and vocational training on site.
            The division has hired a consultant with expertise in Medicaid funding, to identify services that are offered in juvenile detention centers that Medicaid will fund. Currently about 84 percent of the division’s budget is paid for by state general revenues. Most Medicaid dollars come from the federal government. If Medicaid paid for some of the costs of operating detention centers, it would free up state general revenue funds for expansion of community programs for troubled youths.
            DYS is dedicating $2 million to set up new community programs, in conjunction with local agencies and judges who hear juvenile cases. Many juvenile judges have voiced concerns about their lack of options when sentencing young people, and have said that they prefer to keep the youths at home rather than committing them to a detention center in another county.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Tourism continues to be an important part of the Arkansas economy, and tourism officials continue to adapt their marketing strategies to meet the changes and challenges of promoting the state in national markets.
            In the past, Arkansas tourism relied heavily on promoting the availability of outdoor activities such as boating, hunting and fishing.
In order to make Arkansas more appealing to women and families, in recent years the state’s marketing campaigns have expanded and now include opportunities to shop, to enjoy fine dining and to experience cultural and artistic exhibits.
            Now the challenge is to reach people through new forms of media, not only younger consumers but people of all ages. Research commissioned by the state Parks and Tourism Department indicates that 65 percent of all Americans use social media.
When the survey was limited to people over the age of 65, it found that 35 percent used social media. In the age group of 18 to 29 years, 90 percent use social media. In all age groups the percentage of Americans who use social media is growing.
            Because of the ready availability of so much instant information on the Internet and on smart phones, Arkansas tourism officials now consider American travelers as “hyper-informed.” They also realize that the online landscape is constantly changing.
            Last year more than 3.6 million people “visited” the state’s main web page that promotes tourism – Arkansas.com. The challenge for tourism officials is to encourage those online visitors to plan a trip to Arkansas and book a room. Their term for this process is turning “appeal into action.”
            State tourism officials also know that they must overcome a perceived barrier of remoteness and expense that many people have. Many people want to travel to a convenient location. The rivers and mountains of Arkansas make beautiful scenery for travel brochures, but their beauty can also make them seem remote and difficult to access. Online tourism promotions use maps and videos, to guide and reassure potential visitors.
            In general, Americans are traveling on vacation and therefore the national tourism industry is growing. However, there are areas in the country where the economy relies heavily on the sale of commodities and prices have stagnated. Specifically, state tourism officials mention in their annual report a significant slowing in markets that rely on iron ore, oil, corn and sugar.
            Considering the regional variations in economic strength, Arkansas tourism officials try to avoid a “shotgun” approach to marketing and advertising. Instead, they have focused on niche groups, for example mountain bikers, golfers, bird watchers, history buffs and motorcycle clubs.
            Arkansas reached out to followers of “mommy bloggers” and promoted the pleasant visits to the state of the Sippy Cup Mom from St. Louis, the Cubicle Chick from Nashville and the Traveling Mom from Austin.
            Arkansas tourism is a different industry than it was in 1980, when travel added $1.4 billion to the state’s economy. Now it contributes $7.7 billion. According to the hospitality industry, last October 116,700 Arkansas residents worked in the travel and tourism industry.
            Arkansas levies a 2 percent sales tax on tourism-related items. In 2016 collections were up 4.36 percent, to $15.46 million.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Many of the bills passed earlier this year took effect at the beginning of August, 90 days after the legislature officially ended the regular session on May 1.
            Of the new laws that affect public education, one of the most important is Act 930 of 2017. It makes broad changes in how the state Education Department holds local school districts accountable, and how the state helps districts when they fail to adequately educate students.
            The 60-page law deletes much of the old system, including designations of schools as being in academic distress when certain numbers of students fail to score highly enough on standardized tests. 
Act 930 instead designates levels of support that the state will provide to troubled schools. The act allows for more types of evaluating schools than solely test scores.
            The state Education Department will continue to set and enforce academic standards. It will consider ideas from local educators and members of the community, as well as concepts promoted by national education groups.
            This year’s ninth graders will be the first high school class required to take a personal financial course in order to graduate. Act 480 of 2017 outlines the basics that a finance class should offer, such as how to manage a checking account, how to live within a household budget, the risks and returns of investing and what goes into retirement planning.
            Act 1105 of 2017 limits the amounts of fund balances that school districts may accumulate. If at the close of a fiscal year a district’s net balance exceeds 20 percent of that year’s net revenue, the district must take steps to bring the balance below 20 percent within five years. The district can use the excess money for construction, for example.
            In order to graduate from high school, students will have to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test taken by people seeking citizenship in the United States. Students must correctly answer 60 percent of the questions. The new graduation requirement is in Act 478.
            Act 148 affects institutions of higher education that receive state aid. It changes the funding formula to encourage campuses to graduate more students, or to award them a degree that will help them get well paying jobs. The previous funding formula placed more emphasis on student enrollment.
            Act 316 creates the Arkansas Future Grant Program. It helps college students avoid having to borrow money if they seek degrees in high demand fields such as nursing, welding and computer science.  
The program will pay their tuition and fees for two years at technical and community colleges. There is a community service requirement of 15 hours a semester, and recipients must agree to talk with a mentor at least once a month.
            There is no new cost to taxpayers because funding for Arkansas Future Grants was transferred from other scholarship programs.
            Some bills passed earlier this year had an emergency clause, which meant that they took effect on the day the governor signed them. Other bills were appropriations that authorize state agency spending. They took effect at the beginning of the current fiscal year, which was July 1.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas will hold its annual sales tax holiday on Saturday, August 5, and Sunday, August 6.
Clothing and footwear that cost less than $100 per item will qualify for the exemption. However, if you buy an item that costs more than $100 you must pay the state and local sales taxes on the entire amount.
Accessories costing less than $50 qualify for the exemption.  Examples include wallets, watches, jewelry, sun glasses, handbags, cosmetics, briefcases, hair notions, wigs and hair pieces.
Here’s an example provided by the Department of Finance and Administration: a person buys two shirts for $50 each, a pair of jeans for $75 and a pair of shoes for $125.  The sales tax will only be collected on the shoes.  Even though the total price of the shirts and the jeans added up to $175, no sales tax will be collected on them because each individual item cost less than $100.
School supplies also qualify, including binders, book bags, calculators, tape, paper, pencils, scissors, notebooks, folders and glue.
Textbooks, reference books, maps, globes and workbooks will be exempt from sales taxes.  Also exempt from the sales tax will be art supplies needed for art class, such as clay and glazes, paint, brushes and drawing pads.
Bathing suits and beach wear will be exempt as long as they cost less than $100 per item. Diapers and disposable diapers will not be taxed.  Boots, including steel-toed boots, slippers, sneakers and sandals will be exempt from the sales tax as well.
Not exempt from the sales tax are sporting goods, such as cleats and spikes worn by baseball, soccer and football players.  Recreational items such as skates, shoulder pads, shin guards and ski boots will be taxed.  
Computers, software and computer equipment are not exempt and you will have to pay sales taxes if you purchase those items on the holiday.
Act 757 provides that the sales tax holiday will be the first weekend of August every year.  All retail stores are required to participate and may not legally collect any state or local sales taxes on qualified items during the tax holiday.
The legislature created the sales tax holiday by approving Act 757 of 2011.  One of the goals of the act is to help families with children in school, which is why it is commonly known as the “Back to School” sales tax holiday.  
However, everyone benefits from the holiday, whether or not they have children in school.
Highway Construction
            State highway officials opened bids for 57 projects that totaled $139.4 million. Contracts will be awarded only after each bid is carefully reviewed.
            One project accounts for almost half of the total. A low bid of $67.7 million was submitted for rebuilding the Pine Bluff bypass, which is a 10.4 mile section of Interstate 530 that makes an arc on the south side of the city.
            Another major project is to resurface 61 miles of Highway 64 in White, Woodruff and Cross Counties. The low bid was for $19.1 million.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Last year 384 Arkansas residents died from an overdose of prescription painkillers.
That is an increase of one person over the previous year, when 383 people died from an overdose of opioid pain medication. In 2014 there were 356 deaths in Arkansas due to opioid overdoses.
The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor heard a report from the state Health Department on the effectiveness of recently enacted laws designed to curb the alarming surge in abuse of painkillers over the past ten years.
Opioids are the most widely prescribed type of drug in Arkansas. For example, last year 236 million pills were sold in the state, compared to 102 million depressants and 712,000 stimulants.
A Health Department official told the committee that the number of opioids sold in Arkansas in 2016 was enough for every man, woman and child in the state to have taken 80 pills.
Another way of looking at the prevalence of opioid sales is to consider that for every adult over the age of 25 in Arkansas, a prescription for opioids was written.
In the past few years the legislature has enacted a series of laws to address the crisis in abuse of prescription drugs, including Acts 1208, 901, 1114, 1222 and 895 of 2015, Act 1331 of 2013 and Act 304 of 2011.
Act 304 established the prescription drug monitoring program to combat the illegal trade of prescriptions. Act 1331 prevents “doctor shopping,” a practice in which drug abusers go to numerous physicians to obtain prescriptions.
The other laws modify the drug monitoring program, for example, by allowing access to law enforcement officials and licensing boards.
According to the Health Department, the new laws have been effective in reducing “doctor shopping” by half. The number of drug users who went to at least seven physicians or at least seven pharmacies in 2016 was half the number who did so in 2015.
The problem is getting worse, however. The rate of drug-related injuries and deaths due to overdoses has more than doubled since 2000, increasing from 5.1 per 100,000 people to 13.4 per 100,000 people.
The epidemic is not only a challenge for law enforcement and drug abuse treatment programs, it is a strain on the resources of social service agencies. Specifically, it has affected foster care and child welfare programs because the spiraling abuse of opioid prescriptions has resulted in growing numbers of children being removed from their homes.
In 2015 drug or alcohol abuse by the parents was the reason given for removing children from their families in 34.4 percent of all child abuse and neglect cases nationwide. That compares to 18.5 percent in 2000.
In certain areas the problem is even worse. In Ohio last year, drug abuse was the reason cited in more than half of the cases in which a child was removed from his or her family.
Experts are learning that due to the potency of opioids, the recovery period from addiction is longer than it is for cocaine and meth, and the possibilities of a relapse are greater.
When addicted parents spend longer periods in rehab, their children must spend longer periods in foster care. That adds strain to the already over-burdened foster care system.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Thanks to conservative budgeting and a rebound in consumer spending, the state ended Fiscal Year 2017 with a surplus of $15.7 million.
            Individuals and businesses were spending more, so sales taxes were strong at the end of the fiscal year. Employment figures were strong, which meant that Arkansans were paying income taxes.
            The strong finish to the fiscal year is an abrupt turnaround from late April, when state agencies were notified they had to trim about $70 million from their spending plans due to concerns about a slowdown in revenue. Arkansas operates under a balanced budget law, therefore agencies must reduce spending when revenues fall off.
            Because of the strong finish to the fiscal year, all but $10 million of April’s budget cuts were restored.
            At the end of the fiscal year, the state spent about $5.35 billion in net general revenue. That is about $19 million less than the previous year.
            In Fiscal Year 2017, which ended on June 30, Arkansas collected $2.337 billion in sales taxes. That is an increase of 2.1 percent over the previous year. The state sales tax rate is 6.5 percent and went unchanged from 2016 to 2017. That means the 2.1 percent increase in sales tax revenue represents growth in spending by consumers and businesses. Cities and counties also collect sales taxes, but the revenue from those collections is not part of the state’s final report on Fiscal Year 2017.
            Income tax collections for the fiscal year totaled $3.2 billion. That is 2.1 percent above the previous year.
            Corporate income tax collections were $434 million, which was almost 11 percent below the previous fiscal year.
Corporate income tax collections traditionally are volatile and hard to gauge because of the timing of moves that corporations make in order to take advantage of state and federal tax laws. 
In spite of the difficulty of predicting corporate activity, the $434 million in corporate income taxes collected was 1.1 percent above what budget officials had forecast.
            Public schools receive the largest portion of state taxes. They are budgeted to get $2.19 billion this year. The Department of Human Services (DHS) administers Medicaid, the food stamp program, drug and alcohol abuse centers, treatment of people with disabilities and long term care for senior citizens. DHS will get about $1.55 billion of state taxes this year and even more from federal taxes.
            The operation of prisons will cost the state more than $341 million. Parole, probation and work release will cost an additional $79 million. The state distributes about $700 million a year to colleges and universities. 
            According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states had to adjust spending this fiscal year to meet budget shortfalls. The financial status of most states is stable, but a majority of states report their main challenge is to meet a growing demand for services at the same time that their revenue stream is flat.
            States whose economies rely on energy sources, such as oil and gas, are dealing with flat revenue caused by relatively low energy prices. Low commodity prices are a concern in states that depend heavily on agriculture. The uncertain future of Medicaid is a source of concern for many governors and state budget officials.