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Governors’ Annual State of the State Addresses: Job Creation and Education Among The Top Issues

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Yesterday, the National Governors Association (NGA) released its summary of the nation’s Governors’ annual State of the State addresses covering the major issues of focus by governors in 47 states and territories.

Clearly, job creation and competitiveness sit atop most gubernatorial agendas. As the report indicates, “although no governors were enthusiastic about the revenue outlook, they appeared to feel less pressure than last year, and 17 governors had surpluses in their state, were able to increase money held in reserve or rainy day funds, or had positive cash balances after overcoming last year’s shortfalls.” As Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie said, “we now have the luxury of weighing solutions…on their own merits. We can ask ourselves what will be most effective…without the distraction of having to balance the budget.”

The report gives an in-depth look into what governors are focusing their attention on for the year.

Job Creation:  Virtually all governors will focus on job creation as their top priority for 2012. Thirty-three governors pointed to low taxes as an important factor in providing direct support to businesses and increasing consumer spending. There were 22 proposals to increase spending or coordinate and develop new workforce training programs. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said that 2012 “will be different from last year, which focused on dramatic policy improvements over the broken model of the past. This year is all about finishing the work left over from 2011, tackling unaddressed challenges.”

Education:  In 26 speeches, governors said that education is the basis of their jobs plan, and 19 governors emphasized college and career readiness as an education goal. Seventeen governors are proposing to either increase funding for education or to maintain funding despite low revenues. Governors also are focused on accountability measures for teachers, principals and districts; early childhood and ensuring children learn to read by third grade; and increasing local control and school choice. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said, “we must clarify the mission of our schools…I believe students graduating from our high schools…those young men and women who have done everything asked of them by our k-12 system…should be fully ready for postsecondary study or a job!” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, “…replacing underperforming teachers with even an average teacher raises each classroom’s lifetime earnings by over a quarter of a million dollars” and proposed reforming tenure “by measuring teacher effectiveness, both with professional observation and objective, quantifiable measures of student achievement.”

Health and Human Services:  Governors discussed health in 32 speeches, including 17 governors who proposed reducing costs, 11 who proposed increasing access to care and 10 who proposed initiatives focusing on specific issues such as obesity or infant mortality. Twenty-six governors mentioned human services—such as child protection and anti-poverty programs—but in most cases the governors did not propose large-scale changes to these programs. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced long-term care coordinators for people with disabilities, a consolidated Department of Aging and Disability Services to efficiently administer Medicaid programs, and increasing the number of medical professionals in areas with shortages through tax incentives.

Public Safety:  Thirty governors discussed measures focused on criminal justice issues. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said she would commit funds to “alternate sentencing for nonviolent offenders with substance abuse issues, as well as to ‘crisis centers’ provided by the Department of Mental Health. These initiatives are smart, effective at reducing repeat offenders, and will save the state money by treating addicts and helping them to once again become productive citizens, parents and taxpayers.”

Energy and Environment:  Governors discussed energy in 22 speeches. Those governors almost always mentioned job creation as a benefit of increasing domestic energy production and several of the innovation or industry clusters discussed earlier were focused on energy technology. Governors mentioned environmental goals in 19 speeches. For example, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed investing in renewable energy infrastructure and specifically cited the economic and health cost of imported oil.

While each state is unique, this report shows that governors do tend to address similar challenges and opportunities. As the country continues to rebuild, keep an eye on states and expect governors to take the lead on building centers of innovation within their boundaries. It is not uncommon for governors to participate in healthy competition with their neighbors, particularly as they compete for jobs and investment, both foreign and domestic. In order to remain an attractive destination for investment, governors understand that leading on these issues is critical to their success.

Click here for the full NGA report.