2016 State of the States

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ERC governors talk about jobs, infrastructure, pension reform, opioid addiction and more…
The economy and jobs were the central focus of the 2016 State of the State speeches delivered by the governors of 11 ERC member states (from Maine to Maryland). While there was much talk about budget deficits, fiscal restraint and pension reform, jobs and job growth were seen as central to the states’ economic health. Education was also a major focus, as the governors made the connection between a well-educated, highly-trained workforce and life sustainable employment that brings economic prosperity to the state and its people. Other key themes addressed by the governors included the importance investing in transportation infrastructure, energy and policies to address climate change and the growing problem of opioid addiction.

Below is a brief summary of the individual governor’s speeches addressing some of these themes. Each summary includes a link to a complete transcript of the speech:

Connecticut – “Connecticut’s private sector has grown more than 80,000 jobs in the last 5 years,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his State of the State speech on February 3. Malloy spoke at length about living within one’s means and building a sustainable budget “based on what we can afford, not what we previously spent.” He added that “after decades of neglect, we are finally paying out pension obligations every year.” Additionally, the governor spoke of plans to “fix our broken transportation system.” He stated several accomplishments, including an increase in affordable housing, higher graduation rates and test scores, an end to veterans’ homelessness and a crime rate at a 48-year low.

Delaware – Governor Jack Markell said in his State of the State address on January 21 that “since the national economy has bottomed out, Delaware’s job growth of 13 percent has outpaced neighboring states, adding more than 50,000 jobs.” With an emphasis on workforce training, his address promoted the expansion of TechHire with a focus on IT training, a Pathways to Prosperity Initiative providing training in key industries, and Delaware Promise creating jobs in health care. The SEED and the Inspire scholarship programs have provided scholarships to nearly 20,000 residents over the past decade to attend Delaware State University, Delaware Technical and Community College, and the University of Delaware. Other major issues for the state was the accelerating cost of health care, improving education, public safety and criminal justice, race relations, unplanned pregnancies, and the opioid addiction crisis.

Maine – “Mainers are dying every day from the drug crisis,” said Gov. Paul R. LePage in his address on February 8. He suggested a multi-pronged approach involving law enforcement, treatment and education. The statistics include 231 overdose deaths, 265 heroin related arrests, and 1,013 affected births. The governor’s other proposals included welfare reform, eliminating the state income tax, and increasing the sales tax. In terms of energy, LePage is in favor of lowering electricity rates, expanding hydropower and natural gas and supporting the biomass industry with its emphasis on using wood, in lieu of renewables like wind and solar. Other issues addressed included the student loan crisis, and the major drug crisis afflicting the state.

Maryland – Governor Larry Hogan reported on a robust economy. Describing “a new era of bipartisanship,” in his address on February 3, the governor described the successes of a “more competitive and business friendly state” — $600 million in tax returns, the elimination of 100 fees, 55,000 new jobs in the last 12 months, $150 million in additional tax revenues and the elimination of nearly 90 percent of the $5.1 billion structural deficit. Other priorities included education, the environment and transportation education with investments in these areas — $180 million in K-12 education, a $53 million investment in the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, and $2 billion in “shovel ready” infrastructure projects.

Massachusetts — Gov. Charles D. Baker reported in his address on January 21 that the state “closed a $1-billion budget deficit without raising fees or taxes.” Transportation infrastructure was a critical need; the governor advocated doubling the capital investment in transportation to $1 billion, particularly for the Boston mass transit system. Education was another key priority, particularly the expansion of charter schools, with “37,000 …kids…on a waiting list.” In the area of renewable energy, in addition to a growing solar industry, the governor spoke of partnering with other New England states to increase the supply of “clean, affordable hydropower.” Opioid abuse was another challenge that the governor mentioned. In Massachusetts, four people die every day from a drug overdose, and doctors prescribe some 4 million prescriptions for opioids each year.

New Hampshire – Gov. Maggie Hassan reported in her State of the State address on February 4 that the state economy is strong. Fiscal 2015 ended with a $62-million surplus, doubling the state’s rainy day fund to its highest level since 2009. Revenues are already exceeding $40 million above projections. The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.1 percent, the lowest level in 16 years. The opioid addiction epidemic remains a pressing problem, with more than 400 overdose deaths last year, the second most common cause of death in the state. In response to the crisis, the state has streamlined access to treatment and strengthened its Prescription Drug Monitoring program. Other key areas include access to affordable health care, public safety, education, workforce development and clean energy.

New Jersey – Gov. Chris Christie cited strong economic recovery in New Jersey after “decades of bad governing.” Among the accomplishments that he mentioned in his address on January 12 were “224,000 new jobs in six years, recovery in home sales, and six consecutive balanced budgets with no new taxes.” Legislation to reform pension benefits generated a “$120-billion savings for taxpayers,” said Christie. He expressed concern over efforts to undo this legislation. Education was a top priority, with $12.8 billion in state funding for schools, reformed teacher tenure, and expanded charter schools. Other priorities include strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice reform. Christie cited a 52 percent drop in the murder rate in Camden. Mental health and drug addiction were also important issues, with opioid addiction reclassified as an illness and not a crime.

New York – Through a combination of spending and tax cuts, Gov. Mario Cuomo reported that the tax burden on New Yorkers was reduced by $114 billion in his address on January 13. His proposed ‘Built to Lead’ program projects a $100 billion investment in transportation infrastructure, including in New York City’s MTA, the New York Thruway and upstate airports, bridges and roads. In education, Gov. Cuomo proposed investments in SUNY and CUNY, K-12 and charter schools and universal Pre-K. Other priorities include entrepreneurial partnerships in agriculture, small business tax relief, environmental protection and renewable energy, public safety, anti-poverty programs, criminal justice, addressing housing and homelessness issues. The governor continued to push for and a $15 minimum wage. “The best social program is still a job,” said Cuomo.

Pennsylvania— Gov. Tom Wolf proposed that “every child in Pennsylvania has a world-class education that starts before kindergarten and goes all the way through college.” To that end, in his State of the State address on February 9 he proposed restoring the $1billion in education spending that had been cut by a previous administration. Wolf implored the legislature to pass the negotiated compromise budget so the administration can address the “ticking time bomb” of a $2-billion dollar budget deficit and a $17-billion debt. He notes that without addressing the serious budget crisis, the state will face “devastating” cuts in programs for technical education, children, seniors, the disabled and domestic violence survivors. “Our education system, already threadbare…will take a ruinous hit,” said Wolf.

Rhode Island– “Skills that matter, jobs that pay.” That was the focus of Gov. Gail Raimondo’s speech on February 2. Last year the state created 8,000 jobs “in a business climate that is easy to do business,” she said. Advocating for advanced industry high-wage jobs in areas like defense, IT and biomedical, Raimondo is proposing to expand the R&D tax credit, partner with colleges and universities, and provide programs for scholarships, workforce development and improved public schools. The governor advocated for an expanded earned income credit and a higher minimum wage. “No one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” she said. Other issues include addressing the public health crisis of addiction and overdosing. Rhode Island had 200 deaths from overdoses in 2014.

Vermont— In the past five years, Vermont added 17,600 new jobs, said Gov. Peter Shumlin in his 2016 State of the State address. By “being smart, not big,” the state added more than 100 manufacturing jobs though its Vermont Enterprise Fund and an additional 4,400 jobs in agriculture with the help of The Working Lands Fund, said Shumlin. Access to higher education for all Vermonters was a dominant theme. A proposed $2-million Step Up program would provide a free semester for first-generation and low-income students. Another priority was the environment. Vermont has more clean-energy jobs per capita than any other state, said Shumlin. He also called for passage of a clean water bill and the desire to divest from coal. The problem of opioid addiction was being addressed by a Prescription Monitoring System, partnering with neighboring states to prevent pill shopping.