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Public Policy Report for 3 January 2011

UN Approves Scientific Panel on Biodiversity

Nations will soon have access to expert advice on science and policy issues related to biological diversity. The United Nations General Assembly recently gave final approval to the creation of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The panel is charged with evaluating the causes and effects of, and policy solutions to, the loss of biodiversity. Although details regarding the new panel have yet to emerge, it is expected to be modeled after the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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Survey of States Finds Continuing Budget Concerns

The National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) recently released the fall 2010 Fiscal Survey of the States. As described in the report, the survey “presents aggregate and individual data on the states’ general fund receipts, expenditures, and balances. Although not the totality of state spending, these funds are used to finance most broad-based state services and are the most important elements in determining the fiscal health of the states.”

As reported in the Executive Summary, “after two of the most challenging years for state budgets, fiscal 2011 will present a slight improvement over fiscal 2010. However, even an improvement over one of the worst time periods in state fiscal conditions since the Great Depression states still forecast considerable fiscal stress…in fiscal 2012 a significant amount of stat funding made available by the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will no longer be available. The significant wind down of this support will result in a continuation of extremely tight fiscal conditions for states and could lead to further state spending cuts.”

Furthermore, state general fund receipts typically lag behind national economic recoveries. So, even though the national recession was declared over, the nation’s economic recovery has also been slow to develop. These factors, the report notes, suggest that state revenue will remain well below pre-2008 recession levels.

Indeed, the report notes that “State general fund expenditures have been so negatively affected by this recession that both fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 saw nominal declines in state spending. These back to back declines, only the second and third time that state general fund spending has declined in the history of this report, also marks the first time in which states have had consecutive years of lower general fund spending.”

Even in this environment, there are some signs of improvement in fiscal 2011.

The survey found that:

  • 35 states enacted budgets with higher general fund spending compared to fiscal 2010;
  • 36 states still forecast lower general fund spending in fiscal 2011 compared to fiscal 2008;
  • Fiscal 2010 general fund expenditures were $612.6 billion compared to $660.9 billion in fiscal 2009, a 7.3 percent decline;
  • Fiscal 2011 state enacted budgets call for $645.1 billion in general fund spending, a 5.3 percent increase. In comparison to fiscal 2011; and,
  • General fund spending in fiscal 2008 was $687.3 billion which was $74.7 billion greater than spending in fiscal 2010 and $42.2 billion greater than general fund expenditures in fiscal 2011.

Not surprisingly, reduced general fund spending was the result of “significant declines in sales, personal income, and corporate income tax collections.” Collectively, revenue from these taxes constitutes nearly 80 percent of general fund revenue. Moreover, “total general fund tax revenues in 2010 were $609.7 billion compared to $680.2 billion in fiscal 2008, a decline of 10.4 percent.”

The prolonged national recession and slow recovery have placed significant pressures on state budgets as individuals have increasingly sought state funded services, such as Medicaid. Increased demand for services has forced states to close nearly $230 billion in budget gaps between fiscal year 2009 and 2011. Yet, as reflected in the Fiscal Survey of the States, pressures remain. Nearly 11 states continue to report budget deficits of roughly $10 billion. As states are required to have balanced budgets, these shortfalls must be addressed by the end of each states fiscal year 2011.

Looking forward, the survey found that “thus far 23 states are reporting $40.5 billion in budget gaps for fiscal 2012 and 17 states are reporting $40.9 billion in budget gaps for fiscal 2013. In order to help close state budget gaps, 39 states made $18.3 billion in mid-year budget cuts to their fiscal 2010 budgets while 14 states have already made $4.0 billion in cuts to their fiscal 2011 enacted budget. The dramatic speed at which general fund revenue declined is also highlighted by the 42 states which made mid-year budget cuts of $41.6 billion in fiscal 2009.”

In addition to new taxes and fees, which several states have implemented, a number of states have tapped reserved that were built prior to the recession. Finally, states utilized nearly $151 billion in flexible emergency funding that was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These funds have now expired, removing one source of revenue that has been available to states for addressing pressing budget issues.

The complete report is available at

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Legislative Update: Plant Genetic Resources Treaty

On 14 December 2010, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the “International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.” The treaty, which went into force in 2004, aims to ensure food security throughout the world through the conservation, exchange, and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. According the letter of transmittal from President George W. Bush to the U.S. Senate in 2008: “The centerpiece of the Treaty is the establishment of a multilateral system under which a party provides access to other parties, upon request, to listed plant genetic resources held in national genebanks. These resources are to be used solely for purposes of research, breeding, and training in agriculture.” Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on the treaty prior to the chamber’s adjournment for the year. This means that the Committee on Foreign Relations must pass the treaty again in the next session of Congress before it can be considered by the full Senate. The United States signed the treaty when it was drafted nearly ten years ago, but the treaty has not yet been ratified.

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Attention Graduate Students: AIBS is Accepting Applications for the 2011 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) Public Policy Office is pleased to announce that applications are being accepted for the 2011 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences and science education who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. EPPLA recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy. The 2011 winners will receive an expense paid trip to Washington, DC to participate in meetings with their congressional delegation, training and information on the federal budget and appropriations process, a certificate and 1-year AIBS membership, a complimentary 1-year subscription to BioScience, and a copy of Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media.

The deadline to apply is 5 pm EST on 22 January 2010. Application information is available at

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Graduate Student Policy Internship Available

The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of an internship in the Washington, DC, AIBS Public Policy Office. The internship is open to ASM members who are currently enrolled in a graduate program and who are engaged in research that will contribute to the understanding and conservation of mammals. The internship is for 3 months during fall 2011, and carries a generous monthly stipend. Selection criteria include demonstrated interest in the public policy process, strong communications skills, and excellent academic record. For details and requirements, please visit

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Short Takes

  • On 21 December 2010, the House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act (HR 5116), thereby paving the way for the bill to be signed into law by President Obama. The bill was presented to the President last week, and he is expected to sign it soon. The legislation would increase funding authorizations for the National Science Foundation and other science agencies over the next three years, as well as address science education and research policy.

  • Before adjourning for the remainder of the 111th Congress, the nation's legislative body pushed back the deadline for finalizing fiscal year (FY) 2011 funding to 4 March 2011. This is the fourth Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by Congress since the start of FY 2011 at the beginning of October. In general, the CR maintains last year's level of funding for most government programs.

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In the AIBS Webstore

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media,” will prepare scientists for successful and effective media interviews.

Whether you are new to media outreach or just in a need of a media refresher, “Communicating Science” offers advice, case studies, and training exercises to prepare scientists for print, radio, and television interviews. Step-by-step, Menninger and Gropp walk scientists through the entire interview process — from appropriate questions to ask when a reporter calls to practical advice for looking and sounding one’s best on-air or on-camera. “Communicating Science” also provides worksheets to assist readers with interview preparation: building a message framework with talking points and transition phrases, developing analogies, and using illustrative props or images.

“Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media” is available at

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Become an Advocate for Science: Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center

Quick, free, easy, effective, impactful! Join the AIBS Legislative Action Center today! (

The AIBS Legislative Action Center is an online resource that allows biologists and science educators to quickly and effectively influence policy and public opinion. Each day lawmakers must make tough decisions about science policy. For example, what investments to make in federal research programs, how to conserve biodiversity, how to mitigate climate change, or under what circumstances to permit stem cell research. Scientists now have the opportunity to help elected officials understand these issues. This exciting new advocacy tool allows individuals to quickly and easily communicate with members of Congress, executive branch officials, and selected media outlets.

This new tool is made possible through contributions from the Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, and the Botanical Society of America.

AIBS and our partner organizations invite scientists and science educators to become a policy advocate today. Simply go to to send a prepared letter or to sign up to receive periodic Action Alerts.

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