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As the effects of dipping oil prices ricochet through the United States and the world, it is increasingly becoming clear that there are winners and losers. Triggered by an explosion in American oil and gas production levels; sputtering economic trends in Europe, China, Japan, Russia and emerging markets leading to declining demand; increasing production from producers like Iraq and Libya; countries like Saudi Arabia, a producer with an oversized impact on global oil supplies, maintaining supplies at current output levels and resisting production cuts; and the strengthening of the U.S. dollar have acted in concert to substantially push oil prices downward: from $115 a barrel in June 2014 to less than $50 a barrel in January 2015.
The latest plunge in oil prices has sent seismic waves throughout the globe, prompting disparate consequences in different sectors of the United States and world economies; while some sectors are net beneficiaries of the decline, other sectors are on the losing end of the falling price of oil. High energy prices pose huge burdens for most Americans, particularly those who drive great distances each day and those who only can turn the thermostats down so low when the weather turns cold. Hence, increasing energy prices result in consumers cutting back on their discretionary spending, a trend that causes negative consequences on state, regional and national economies. However, when energy prices fall, consumers have considerable leeway in devoting these savings toward other expenditures. Meanwhile, tumbling oil prices lead to adverse consequences at several points in the economy with repercussions at both the state and national levels. In that vein, SLC Regional Resource examines the effects of low oil prices on both state economies and the greater nation.
Since the turn of the 21st century, the United States has maintained a cultural creed that the only path to a middle-class lifestyle is through a four-year bachelor's degree or higher. However, increasing analyses are demonstrating that industries with the highest growth in the next decade will demand skills readily obtainable through a two-year technical education. Moreover, several policy and industry experts have begun raising concerns about the ever-increasing gap between middle-skill jobs (those requiring more than a high school education but less than a four-year degree) and the number of middle-skilled workers available to fill those jobs. These findings, along with evidence indicating that middle-class household incomes are more attainable by those with a member holding at least an associate's degree, are steering SLC policymakers toward creating and expanding programs that increase their technical and community college graduation rates. In that vein, this SLC Regional Resource examines efforts by policymakers in selected SLC member states to implement postsecondary scholarships programs specifically targeted at increasing their number of two-year degree graduates.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, damaging thousands of homes and businesses, decimating public infrastructure, and displacing hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents. The coastal communities of SLC member states Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were devastated. The resiliency of these coastal communities is of critical economic importance to the nation, as they provide a large portion of the nation's oil and gas supply, host key port complexes and provide vital habitats for economically important fisheries.
In the nearly 10 years that have elapsed since this disaster, much attention has focused on the rehabilitation of the area's homes, businesses and infrastructure. However, less attention has been targeted to the reconstruction of the coastlines of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. In order to maintain a sustainable Gulf Coast, investments in sound redevelopment and restoration practices, balancing the critical natural resources of the Gulf Coast with the equally vital economic drivers in the region, are critical to full recovery and necessary to weakening future natural disasters. This SLC Regional Resource highlights projects undertaken by these states to rebuild their coastlines, focusing on the communities of Dauphin Island, Alabama; Pascagoula, Mississippi; and the metropolitan area of New Orleans, Louisiana.
In June 2009, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) announced an initiative led by 46 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories aimed at developing and adopting a Common Core set of learning standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and math for grades K-12. By March 2012, 45 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories had adopted both the Common Core State Standards for ELA and mathematics. Although the majority of states continue to stay their course with Common Core, Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina have reversed their implementation of Common Core, and government officials in several others states have called for a reversal or delay in implementation. This SLC Regional Resource provides SLC member states information regarding the status and recent legislative developments related to the Common Core standards, as of December 26, 2014.
Although the country as a whole has shifted away from agricultural pursuits, the South remains a largely agrarian region. As the only source of uniform and comprehensive agriculture data for every state and county in the nation, the Census provides the most detailed picture of U.S. farms and the people who operate them. For this reason, the Census remains an important resource for SLC states, and is used by a wide range of stakeholders for various reasons. For example, agribusiness companies use the data to make decisions about where to market their products, while lenders and insurance companies use this information in risk management calculations.
This Regional Resource analyzes the economic contributions agriculture makes to our national and regional economies and highlights some of the commodities for which the 15 SLC member states make the largest contributions. Finally, the source of who is providing the labor that makes agriculture possible is examined.
Energy policies in Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) member states are undergoing substantial changes as installations of distributed generation systems, such as rooftop solar panels and other small-scale renewable energy technologies, continue to expand. This expansion has been encouraged by state and federal tax credits, which have made renewable energy technology, especially solar energy technology, increasingly affordable. Further encouraging the installation of distributed generation technologies is the availability of net metering programs.
Increases in the use of distributed generation systems by consumers have led to an increase in demand for utilities to offer net metering. Of the 15 states represented by the SLC, 11 have statewide net metering policies, while Texas has a voluntary policy. This SLC Regional Resource reviews the concept of net metering and analyzes the status and nature of net metering legislation and trends in SLC member states.
A delegation of state legislative leaders from five Southern states, including Senate President Robert Stivers, Kentucky (2014/2015 SLC Chair-Elect); Senator Bill Sample, Arkansas; Senator Ron Richard, Missouri; Representative Brent Yonts, Kentucky (2014/2015 SLC Economic Development, Transportation and Cultural Affairs Committee Vice Chair); and Representative Samuel Rivers, Jr., South Carolina, recently traveled to Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for high-level briefings on the state’s impressive multimodal transportation strategies. The agenda was designed to provide first-hand information to legislators from SLC member states about Florida’s efforts to enhance its multimodal capacities as a mechanism to promote international and domestic trade. Further details are available here.
The Southern Legislative Conference will host a complimentary webinar addressing recent developments in public-private partnerships (P3s) across SLC member states at 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. EST, Tuesday, December 16, 2014. In an effort to develop alternate funding sources to implement critical transportation and infrastructure projects, states across the country increasingly are looking to P3s as an important strategy. P3s are contractual agreements between a public agency and a private entity facilitating a more robust private sector role, including in the design, construction, finance, long-term operation and traffic revenue of these transportation and infrastructure projects. With encouragement from the federal government, three dozen states have enacted authorization frameworks for P3s. SLC states have been particularly active in pursuing the P3 format for a number of years. This webinar will provide the latest perspectives and approaches from three SLC states—Florida, Texas and Virginia.