State Legislatures in Transition

December 24, 1971

Report Outline
Resurgence of American Legislatures
Rise and Fall of Legislative Influence
Steps to Modernize the Legislatures
Special Focus

Resurgence of American Legislatures

Signs of Renewed Vitality in State Assemblies

That most scorned and neglected public institution, the state legislature, is showing new signs of vitality. Only a decade ago the legislatures were candidates for oblivion, their powers circumscribed by antiquated state constitutions and their efforts largely ignored by the public they were elected to serve. Yet in 1972, by tradition an off-year for legislative sessions, legislatures are scheduled to meet in three-fourths of the states, and their deliberations will have an impact on millions of American families.

The sources of legislative resurgence are twofold. First, the growing movement toward decentralization of governmental power, epitomized by revenue sharing, has contributed to a new recognition of the vital role of legislatures in the federal system. Second, the Supreme Court reapportionment decisions of the early 1960s, by reducing the disparity between the distribution of a state's population and the distribution of its legislative seats, have bolstered the sagging image of state assemblies. Buttressed by reapportionment, many legislatures have moved on to modernize their procedures, professionalize their operations and eliminate the legal shackles under which they have labored. Experts agree, however, that much remains to be done if the legislatures are to meet their mounting responsibilities.

In no area has the revitalization of the legislatures been more visible than in the sensitive realm of state finance. Faced with the unpalatable choice of refusing constituent demands for services or raising revenues to provide these services, legislatures across the nation are challenging executive leadership in the formulation of budget policy. Results are not altogether encouraging. During much of 1971, Pennsylvania flirted with bankruptcy while Republican legislators bargained with Democratic Gov. Milton Shapp over the price of their support for an income-tax bill. In Connecticut, budget-cutting Gov. Thomas J. Meskill, a Republican, let an income tax become law without his signature, but public pressure forced the Democratic legislature to repeal the tax a month later.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
State and Local Governments
Feb. 26, 2021  State Finances
Sep. 11, 2009  State Budget Crisis
Oct. 03, 2003  State Budget Crises
Dec. 24, 1971  State Legislatures in Transition
Sep. 25, 1968  State Constitutional Reform
Oct. 11, 1967  Local Government Modernization
Aug. 15, 1956  Metropolitan Government
May 25, 1939  Reorganization of City Government
Feb. 24, 1939  Reorganization of County Government
May 23, 1938  Reorganization of State Governments
Oct. 29, 1937  State Control of Local Government
Sep. 01, 1936  Consolidation of Local Governments
Jan. 03, 1933  Reorganization of Local Government
Jun. 02, 1930  Changes in American City Government
Oct. 30, 1924  Political Statistics of the States
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations