What We're Reading: Top State Stories 1/17

US: Ratings agency pays $864 million to U.S., states over pre-crisis ratings

Moody's Corp. reached a deal with the Justice Department, 21 states and the District of Columbia, agreeing to pay nearly $864 million to resolve allegations its ratings of risky mortgage securities contributed to the financial crisis. Standard & Poor's entered into a similar accord in 2015, paying out $1.4 billion.

MO: New Missouri governor announces $146 million in cuts

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens said he will cut $146.4 million from the state budget because of lower-than-expected revenues and a poor Missouri economy, with more than half the cuts coming from the Department of Higher Education.

US: Abortions in U.S. drop to lowest level since 1974

The 926,200 abortions in 2014 represented a drop of 12.5 percent from the 1.06 million abortions tallied in 2011. The decrease was spread nationwide; in only six states did abortions increase over the three-year span.

LA: Louisiana budget needs $313 million trim

Louisiana’s tax collections for the current budget year have failed to meet expectations — particularly in personal income and corporate taxes. State lawmakers are expected to meet in a special session next month to close the $313 million hole.

AR: Arkansas governor pushes separation of King, Lee holidays

Reviving a decades-old flash point of Arkansas politics, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has again proposed separating the state's dual celebration of the birthdays of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

KY: Kentucky’s credit outlook reduced to ‘negative’ by growing pension debt

The credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s Global Ratings downgraded its outlook on Kentucky's finances over the state's $32.6 billion in public pension debt. If a downgraded rating follows, it would cost the state more to borrow.

MN: Food stamp enrollment swells among elderly Minnesotans

Squeezed by rising living costs and depleted retirement funds, people who are 65 and older now represent the fastest-growing segment of food stamp recipients in Minnesota. Their numbers have nearly doubled since the Great Recession ended in 2009, forcing the state to explore new ways to reach an often isolated population of seniors.

KS: Kansas election officials threw out thousands of ballots

Kansas election officials threw out thousands of uncounted provisional ballots cast in November, mostly because the state had no record that those residents were registered voters. Some voters, however, had date-stamped, computer screenshots showing they successfully completed their voter registration.

CA: Should voters OK more spending for California’s stem cell agency?

California’s state stem cell agency has given money away at a rate of $22,000 an hour, seven days a week, 24 hours a day since 2005. But it has yet to come up with a therapy that reaches the general public, despite rosy expectations raised by the ballot campaign that created the agency.

VA: Virginia launches program to help people with disabilities save for future

Virginia has launched a program that allows people with disabilities to open savings accounts that won’t threaten their eligibility for government assistance.

MS: Mississippi governor: Trooper shortage critical

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says Mississippi needs to get more troopers on the road or people will lose their lives. Only 489 of the 650 positions allowed by state law are filled, and 328 of them are assigned to the road. To compound problems, 149 troopers are eligible for retirement.

AZ: New Arizona bill would extend ethnic-studies ban to universities

Legislation to expand Arizona's controversial ethnic-studies ban to cover university and community-college courses has sparked an outcry among students and professors who say curriculum decisions shouldn't be left to politicians.

SD: Taxpayers in South Dakota spending more for lawmakers to travel

The South Dakota Legislature clamped down on out-of-state travel by its members six years ago after a whirlwind of wasteful spending allegations. Since then, the travel has quietly ramped up, with last year's spending surpassing the amount that prompted public outcry in 2011. 

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