January 15–18, 2015
The Senate Presidents’ Winter Forum convened in January 2015 to review the current state of the states’ budgets and the varying impacts of the midterm elections on the states. The Forum also extensively investigated the challenges facing the states’ criminal and social justice systems. In sessions expertly moderated by Tom Finneran, former Massachusetts Speaker of the House, State Senate leaders explored potential solutions to these key state issues.
Corina Eckl, Director of State Services for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), manages NCSL’s core programs, which include Fiscal Affairs, Legislative Management and Leaders’ Services, and she has written wide-rangingly on state-budget and tax issues. State fiscal leaders are annually surveyed by the NCSL, and Ms. Eckl provides the fiscal update on the states every year at the Winter Forum. For the first time in many sessions, thankfully, her report was cautiously optimistic. Overall, states report that they have stable budgets, are meeting revenue targets, and are keeping spending on target. “Wall Street wants to see states have at least a 5% year-end balance, and currently the consolidated balance is 8.5%,” Ms. Eckl said. However, while the consolidated picture looks brighter now than in prior years, Ms. Eckl noted that if boom states such as Alaska and Texas are taken out of the equation, the states’ year-end balance is reduced from 8.5% to 5.8%. In fact, 7 states (AL, AZ, KY, MA, MI, NV, VT) are reportedly unlikely to meet their 2015 forecasts, and 10 states (RI, NJ, PA, MD, VA, IL, MO, KS, AZ, AK) will face budget challenges.
The falling price of crude oil from $107 to $45 per barrel, while a boon to consumers at the gas pump, puts states that rely on oil taxes at risk. States such as Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska and Oklahoma, whose revenue projections are based on higher oil prices, will see significant deficits. Ms. Eckl indicated the states report that many revenue sources are becoming too difficult to forecast and manage. This year, 14 states anticipate budget overruns for Medicaid, 8 states see K-12 education spending over budget, and 9 project that spending for corrections institutions will exceed budget. Funding for transportation infrastructure maintenance also poses budget challenges to many states, state senate leaders reported. In summary, the near-term picture for state budgets is stable with recovery ongoing, Ms. Eckl reported, but in the longer term, less stability and unpredictability of revenue projections may put new pressures on state budgets.
The United States (US) has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world at 707 people per 100,000 population, which is almost 5 times that of the second-place United Kingdom. The US has 5% of the world’s inhabitants and 25% of the world’s prisoners. With 2.3 million individuals in the American penal system, issues of overcrowding, recidivism, rising healthcare costs for geriatric-targeted prisons and the growing overall costs of corrections have led state leaders to focus on the causes and consequences of US prison policies and potential solutions. Criminal and social justice experts Jeremy Travis, President, John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, Christian Henrichson, Unit Director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice, and Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime, and Director, Center for Effective Justice, Texas Public Policy Foundation, reviewed the policies that produced the current prison situation and explored how states can move to a commonsensical system providing safety, equal justice and prevention.
<< Link to the full report >>
The second session, which was devoted to an in-depth examination of solutions to criminal and social justice challenges, highlighted improving prison and re-entry programs to create better outcomes and reduce recidivism. Noting that most offenders eventually return to their homes, Fred Patrick, Director of the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project at the Vera Institute of Justice, presented data on successful programs to educate offenders and prepare them for living-wage work once they leave prison. Sam Schaeffer, chief executive officer of the Center for Employment Opportunities, described his organization’s experience in training and preparing ex-offenders for jobs in cooperation with businesses and industry. Yariela Kerr-Donovan, Director, Department of Human Resources, Strategic Workforce Planning & Development at The Johns Hopkins Health System, reported the successes that institution has had in employing ex-offenders.
<< Link to the full report >>
Phil Cox and Colm O’Comartun have directed political and issue advocacy campaigns, grassroots, communications and public affairs efforts for many years. From 2011 through 2014, Cox served as Executive Director of the Republican Governors Association, while O’Comartun served as Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association. Together, they provided a balanced view from their party’s perspectives on how the outcomes of the midterm elections may affect the states.
Cox pointed out that Republicans gained 9 US Senate seats and 13 seats in the US House of Representatives. In 22 races that Republicans were defending, they held 17 positions and took an additional 4 away from Democrats. He predicted that these recent changes in the composition of the US Congress, with a Republican majority now in place in both houses, may not be able to improve the polarization and overcome the dysfunction currently paralyzing the US Congress. “The Presidential campaign has begun,” Cox noted, “and the Republicans have no incentive to own the government; they have no incentive for change. They want to make the Republican nominee look good (in 2016).”
O’Comartun observed that nationally, Democrats have not been able to capitalize on gains earned during President Barack Obama’s administration. Despite the continuing economic recovery and unemployment now at 5.6%, voters remain worried. While the national statistics look impressive, the real challenge is how people perceive their personal economics. Voters have seen 25 years of stagnant salaries and the value of their homes and investments heading downward, while the costs of healthcare and college are skyrocketing.
Against this backdrop of federal dysfunction, Cox and O’Comartun offered examples from both parties of leaders who could potentially create bipartisan coalitions to achieve needed legislation, putting the spotlight on the good working relationship between Democratic State Senate President Mike Miller (MD) and Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan, along with Arkansas Republican Governor Mike Beebe’s bipartisan approach to Medicaid expansion. The two speakers indicated that Americans are looking to elect candidates who have a positive view of the future and solid achievements behind them. They concluded that voters have had their fill of partisanship and political gridlock and want to see real solutions from genuine, honest candidates.
Corina Eckl is Director of State Services for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), managing the conference’s core programs, which include fiscal affairs, legislative management, and leaders’ services. Prior to her current position, Corina served as director of NCSL’s Fiscal Affairs Program. She has written extensively on state-budget and tax issues and regularly provides information on state-budget conditions and other fiscal matters to legislatures, trade associations, and members of the national print and television media. She has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, USA Today, and The Christian Science Monitor, among others, and has appeared on CBS, CNBC, FOX, ABC, CNN, and the BBC. She has been interviewed numerous times for National Public Radio.
Corina serves as a consultant on NCSL’s evaluations of legislative organization and staff operations and is the NCSL liaison to the Hawaii Legislature. She also has represented NCSL on assignments to Algeria, France, Germany, South Africa, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.
An NCSL staff member since 1984, Corina has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado.
Jeremy Travis is president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. Prior to his appointment, he served as a Senior Fellow in the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, where he launched a national research program focused on prisoner reentry into society. From 1994-2000, Travis directed the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. He was Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters for the New York City Police Department (NYPD) (1990-1994), a Special Advisor to then-New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch (1986-1989), and Special Counsel to the Police Commissioner of the NYPD (1984-1986). He has a J.D. degree from the New York University School of Law, an M.P.A. degree from the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and a B.A. degree in American Studies from Yale College. Travis is the author of But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (Urban Institute Press, 2005), co-editor (with Christy Visher) of Prisoner Reentry and Crime in America (Cambridge University Press, 2005), and co-editor (with Michelle Waul) of Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities (Urban Institute Press, 2003). He has published numerous book chapters, articles and monographs on constitutional law, criminal law and criminal justice policy.
Christian Henrichson is Unit Director for the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice. He joined Vera in 2010 as a senior policy analyst in the Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit. Before coming there, Henrichson worked for more than six years at the New York City (NYC) Office of Management and Budget (OMB), serving for three years as unit head in the Social Services Taskforce. At NYC’s OMB, Henrichson was responsible for the budget preparation and operational oversight of the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department for Homeless Services and worked on a variety of efforts to ensure the efficient use of public resources. He has also worked on welfare-to-work research at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation and retirement policy at the U.S. Social Security Administration. Henrichson has a B.A. degree in economics from Gettysburg College and a Master of Public Policy degree from Georgetown University.
Marc A. Levin, Esq., is the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) (www.texaspolicy.com) and Policy Director of its Right on Crime initiative (www.rightoncrime.com), which he led the effort to develop in 2010. Levin’s criminal justice work with the TPPF has been cited by leading policymakers as playing a key role in Texas adult and juvenile justice reforms that have saved $2 billion in eliminated incarceration costs and contributed to the state having its lowest crime rate since 1968.
In the summer of 2010, he and his colleagues developed the Right on Crime initiative, which was launched by the TPPF at the end of 2010. Right on Crime has become the national clearinghouse for conservative criminal justice reforms, receiving coverage in outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The New York Times, Fox Business News and The Washington Post.
Levin served as a law clerk to Judge Will Garwood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Staff Attorney at the Lone Star State’s Supreme Court. He was also as State Vice Chairman of the Young Conservatives of Texas. His work has been published in numerous periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal, Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Dallas Morning News, National Law Journal and Houston Chronicle.
Fred Patrick is Director of the Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project, a national initiative led by the Vera Institute of Justice, which provides selected states with incentive funding and technical assistance to expand access to higher education for people in prison as well as those recently released. Funded by several prominent national foundations, the project seeks to demonstrate that access to postsecondary education, combined with supportive reentry services, can increase educational credentials, employability and earnings, thus enhancing communities and reducing recidivism. Prior to his tenure with Vera, Patrick served as Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Programs and Assistant Commissioner for Training at the New York City (NYC) Department of Correction, Deputy Director of the NYC Mayor’s Criminal Justice Office, Commissioner of the NYC Juvenile Justice Department, and New York Police Department’s Deputy Commissioner for Community Affairs. He has also served on the faculty at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and in executive positions at the Fortune Society, a premier reentry services and advocacy organization, in addition to Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, a nonprofit behavioral health and workforce development agency. Patrick has a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and a B.S. degree (highest honors) in political science from Tuskegee University.
Sam Schaeffer is the chief executive officer and Executive Director of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a nonprofit organization headquartered in New York City that provides employment services to men and women returning from incarceration. Schaeffer joined CEO five years ago to help replicate CEO’s evidence-based model in high-need communities and in that time has launched CEO offices in nine cities across California, Oklahoma and upstate New York. Prior to joining CEO, Schaeffer served as Director of Economic Development for U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer.
Yariela Kerr-Donovan, is the Director, Department of Human Resources, Strategic Workforce Planning & Development at The Johns Hopkins Health System. She is a member of Vera’s Pathways Project national advisory board and serves as the HR Director of Strategic Workforce Planning & Development (Project REACH/Community Education Program) for The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System (JHH/JHHS), focusing on workforce development programs for community adults, youths, and current employees of JHH/JHHS. Yariela is currently a member of the Maryland State Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s Education Workforce Training Coordinating Council for Correctional Institutions’ Employer Engagement & Community Outreach Committees. She has served as a lecturer and director of minority affairs at Cornell University, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Phil Cox has two decades of experience directing political and issue advocacy campaigns, grassroots, communications and public affairs efforts. From 2011 to 2014, Cox served as Executive Director of the Republican Governors Association, serving as a senior political and policy adviser to the nation’s 31 Republican Governors while directing more than $250 million in support to candidates in all 50 states. Cox is one of the nation’s most experienced political operatives, having directed more than 100 campaigns in every state and at every level — from state legislature to Congress, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, U.S. Senate and Governor. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and lives in McLean, Virginia, with his wife and two children.
Colm O’Comartun served as the Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association from 2011-2014. The administrator served as Director of the Governor’s Office for Governor Martin O’Malley after serving in various positions for him as both Governor and Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to that, O’Comartun worked at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and as Director of Alumni Programs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. O’Comartun also served as Director of The Irish Institute of Boston College, where he worked to implement the Good Friday Agreement. He is a graduate of University College Dublin.
Overall, states report that they have stable budgets, are meeting revenue targets, and are keeping spending on target.
The falling price of crude oil from $107 to $45 per barrel, while a boon to consumers at the gas pump, puts states that rely on oil taxes at risk.
US Prison Statistics:
• 2.3 million people incarcerated
• 707 people per 100,000 population, the highest in the world
• 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the world’s prisoners.
Successful programs are educating offenders and preparing them for living-wage work once they leave prison.
These programs train
ex-offenders for jobs in cooperation with businesses and industries, such as The Johns Hopkins Health System.
Phil Cox and Colm O’Comartun provided a balanced view from their party’s perspectives on how the outcomes of the midterm elections may affect the states.
Despite the continuing economic recovery and unemployment now at 5.6%, voters remain worried. While the national statistics look impressive, the real challenge is how people perceive their personal economics.
Americans are looking to elect candidates who have a positive view of the future and solid achievements behind them. Voters have had their fill of partisanship and political gridlock and want to see real solutions from genuine, honest candidates.
Marc A. Levin
Senate Presidents’ Forum
The Senate Presidents’ Forum is a nonpartisan, nonprofit
educational organization for State Senate leaders.
Copyright © 2017 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.