1982 will be a penny-pinching year for most states
Penny-pinching, hardly a favorite activity in lawmaking circles, will be the byword in many state legislatures in the coming weeks.
While it is too early to do more than speculate, prospects for even modest tax reductions at the state level appear slim at best. This is the consensus among legislative leaders and others close to the state government scene.
With the 1982 lawmaking session now under way or about to convene in most staes, state senators and representatives are increasingly apprehensive about the impact of federal funding cuts and the recession on state budget-shaping.
To what extent various state levies are increased or new taxes imposed will depend not only on the size of the revenue need, but on Reaganomics and which federal aid programs are slashed. State lawmakers will have the choice of going along with scaled down programs or coming up with needed funds for their rescue.
In several states, particularly those in the Northwest, Great Lakes region and the Northeast, revenue deficits of substantial proportions confront lawmakers.
In Washington State, for example, the shortfall in the current fiscal year is close to $500 million. This is despite a special legislative session last fall where lawmakers chopped state spending $284.6 million and increased the sales tax by 1 percent.
Meanwhile, Minnesota faces a $786 million budget deficit by June 1983, the end of the current fiscal biennium. A $287 million deficit will get top attention from Oregon legislators.
Hard hit could also be states whose income taxes are pegged to a percentage o the federal income tax, since the reduction in the latter approved by Congress last year will shrink their revenues. This will cost Virginia $237 million over the next three years, a legislative committee was told last month by then Gov. John Dalton.
Only a few states, most of them in the Sunbelt, appear to be free of fiscal problems, according to Kenneth Kirkland of the National Conference of State Lgislatures. Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming ''are in good to excellent shape,'' he says, adding that most others are either ''barely making it, or are really feeling the squeeze.''
Even Florida, an economic boom state still in the black, is expected to have the heavy influx of refugees from Cuba and Haiti.
Texas, one of but a handful of states where no legislative sessions are scheduled or expected during the coming months, is expected to wind up the year with a $500 million budget surplus.
Because 1982 is an election year for legislators in all but a handful of stats, insiders anticipate spending reductions will be considerably more plentiful than tax boosts.
Proposals to increase revenues, however, have surfaced in about two-thirds of the 45 states where regular or special lawmaking session are being held this year.
In New Hampshire, where lawmakers have long prided themselves for running the only state with neither a sales tax nor a broad-based income tax, a measure to place a 5 percent tax on earnings is being proposed as a means of raising needed state dollars to help lower municipal property taxes.
Neighboring Vermont has on its docket a 1 percent boost in the limited sales tax to produce money for local school aid.
Colorado is considering a rise in the severence tax on minerals. A similar measure is on the lawmaking docket in Utah. Imposition of a new severance tax is among matters to be decided in Kansas.
Perhaps the biggest tax-reduction push may be in Massachusetts, where Gov. Edward J. King has called for a two-stage repeal of the commonwealth's 7.5 percent surcharge on the state personal income tax. Meanwhile, Chester G. Akins, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, aims to push an alternative measure embracing increased income tax exemptions rather than a rollback of the add-on levy.
Next to budget-balancing, other major issues legislatures will be wrestling include: congressional redistricting, legislative reapportionment, tougher prison sentencing, and human rights.
Congressional redistricting is at, or near, the top of the legislative docket in 18 states. In Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania the challenge is particularly stiff since they are losing one to five seats in the US Houe starting next year. If the realignment is not completed within the next few months, there might be little choice beyond having the courts step in and do the job or face election of all congressmen on a statewide basis.
Among the remaining 14 states where legislators have not come to grips with redistricting are Florida, which gains four US House seats, and New Mexico and Washington, each of which gain one seat.
Meanwhile, legislative reapportionment - shaping state senate and house districts to reflect population changes during the 1970s - is coming up this winter in Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
Proposals for stiffer sentences for those convicted of major crimes are to be considered in most states. New Hampshire, for example, is weighing greatr restrictions on parole eligibility. In Vermont, capital punishment is being pushed. Also on the lawmaking agenda in Vermont is a proposal, backed by Gov. Richard A. Snelling, that would impose an additional five-year term for anyone convicted of a crime while in possession of a handgun.
Legislation aimed at cracking down on drunken driving will be coming up in some two dozen states from New England to the far West.
Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is, or will be, on legislative calendars in a dozen states, with the major push expected in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Georgia, and Virginia. The amendment failed in Oklahoma when it came up this month.