State Journal: Better but not good; Political pros

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At a recent seminar on state politics sponsored by Governing magazine, lobbyists heard fiscal analysts warn of continued rough economic times for the states.

"Things are looking better, but they're not looking good,'' said Marcia A. Howard, a senior finance analyst for the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.

Ms. Howard added that things could get worse for states if President Clinton presses for reductions in the federal deficit, as many state-grant programs could be reduced or eliminated.

About the only way for states to wriggle out of such a bind, she said, would be to ask the federal government to take over full control of escalating Medicaid spending in exchange for the elimination of state-grant programs.

Ms. Howard noted that while that swap would be an attractive proposition today, something similar was turned down by state officials when President Reagan proposed it as part of his 1982 "new federalism'' initiative.

Also at the Governing seminar, Executive Editor Alan Ehrenhalt urged listeners not to make too much of political shifts in the legislatures.

Other analysts had noted that, despite the Democratic Presidential victory, Republicans made important gains in many state capitals in November.

Republicans won leadership of the Senate in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, and Vermont, while gaining a split with Democrats in the Florida and Wisconsin Senates. Democrats, meanwhile, won Senate control in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington State.

The G.O.P. also took control of the House in Iowa, Kansas, and Montana and forced a split in Michigan. The Democrats' only House pickup was in Vermont.

Before the election, Democrats controlled the Senate in 32 states and the House in 37. This year, the Democrats hold 31 Senate and 34 House majorities.

But Mr. Ehrenhalt discounted the notion that the changes reflect a state-level philosophical shift to the G.O.P. by voters.

The election results still hovered around the 60 percent Democrat, 40 percent Republican split that has long held in legislative seats, he said.

"You can read the 1992 election a lot of ways, but I would argue that it's a mistake to read it any other way than this: politics is becoming a profession in America,'' he said.

Democrats have long held legislative majorities because they are often more committed to government and willing to work long legislative sessions for modest salaries, Mr. Ehrenhalt contended.--L.H.

Vol. 12, Issue 18

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