CHICAGO -- Contrary to the dire fiscal report released by the State Budget Crisis Task Force in July, the National Conference of State Legislatures is reporting "slow and steady" growth in state finances in the summer of 2012.

The NCSL released a report Tuesday morning at its conference in Chicago laying out what the organization said is a rise in states' revenues and economies, based on data collected from budget officials around the country. The latest study -- one of three fiscal reports the group releases annually -- concludes that states are likely to see their rainy-day funds increase and to avoid the budget gaps that have plagued them in recent years.

"State fiscal conditions continue to improve," NCSL fiscal director Arturo Perez said. "This is a continuation from the last series of releases. There has been a slow and steady progress in improvement."

Perez said the NCSL found that the average state rainy-day fund equals 8 percent of the budget, with Texas and Alaska leading the pack, because of oil revenues, and California and Illinois at the bottom. When those four states are eliminated, the average rainy-day fund drops to 5.1 percent. Eleven states reported "concern" about their economic outlook, but most states had a positive view on fiscal year 2013.

According to Perez, this year's legislative sessions produced little change in overall state tax rates, with most states that made adjustments enacting both cuts and increases. Only three states -- Idaho, Kansas and New York -- passed tax cuts alone this year.

The NCSL also found that Medicaid remains a concern for state leaders, echoing both the State Budget Crisis Task Force and the most recent Fiscal Survey of the States released by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers in June.

"There has been no overall robust growth," Perez said, tempering the optimism. "There are still issues facing states."

The July report from the State Budget Crisis Task Force, which is led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, offered a different take on state finances. The report projected a $4 trillion shortfall in unfunded state pension and benefits obligations, along with dramatic revenue gaps and skyrocketing Medicaid costs. The report said that states need to majorly overhaul their fiscal practices in order to address what it said could be a disaster in the making.

"The thing that worries me is the threats to the social order," Ravitch said last month. "You can't cut human services and cut the ability of government to take care of the people."

Ravitch noted that the State Budget Crisis Task Force differed from the NCSL and National Governors Association in that the Volcker-Ravitch group was not run by current state officials. He also urged immediate action.

"It is getting worse every day," Ravitch said. "We have to stop bullsh***ing."

Although Perez said he did not want to compare the NCSL report to the Volcker-Ravitch report, he pointed out that Volcker and Ravitch looked at just six states -- California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia -- to conduct their research, while the NCSL talked to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Perez also noted that the NCSL report is part of a 20-year series of reports and is designed to capture a moment in time for state finances.

"Ours is a series of reports that go back 20 years that keep periodic tabs on the current state of state finances," Perez said, adding that it can take "a couple of reports" to show a change in trends.

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  • The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)

    California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.

  • The Worst: Arizona SB 1070

    The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)

  • Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87

    The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17

  • Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502

    This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>

  • A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497

    Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)

  • The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C

    Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010

  • The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56

    The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>