Look for widespread state tax hikes this year. Although last year's increases set a record, the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) reports that even before the economy stalled this fall, 33 states were spending more than they were taking in. Marcia Howard of NASBO says that, although spending on corrections is rising rapidly, the real villain is out-of-control health-care costs. "Medicaid is, without much competition, the number one problem for states," she says.
Wonder why your workers' compensation costs are so high? A recent study by the state of Minnesota gives some clues. By comparing workers' comp and ordinary insurance claims for similar injuries, researchers found that the workers' comp bills were, on average, twice as high. That sounds suspicious to Bill Hager, president of the National Council on Compensation Insurance, a rate-making organization representing insurers. "It's stark evidence of dramatic cost shifting [by health-care providers]," he says.
The SBA wants to improve its revolving line of credit for exports. The program, started in 1982, has generated little interest; in nine years only 190 loans have been made. According to the SBA's Andrew Schneider, part of the problem is program design and part is marketing -- few bankers are expert in both trade-finance and SBA loans. So the agency is first revamping the design and then plans to launch five three-year pilot projects to market the program more vigorously.
It isn't enough just to eat lunch at your desk anymore. Now you're expected to run your personal life there. These days, personal-service providers are starting to make office calls. Two already-growing in-office businesses: tailored-suit sales and massages. The latest? Mary Atherton, editor of Modern Salon magazine, reports that a small but growing number of beauty salons now perform in-office manicures and men's haircuts. She suspects that the growth stems from the proliferation of office parks in isolated suburban locations.
States are expected to continue experimenting with health-insurance reform this year. For starters, more will probably allow some small companies to offer cheaper, less comprehensive health plans than state law currently allows, predicts Karen Brigham of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On another front, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has adopted a model state law reforming the small-group health-insurance market.
-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf