Governors’ speeches analyzed for the important issues facing the future

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WASHINGTON — As governors deliver their 2011 State of the State addresses, they continue to face fiscal stress and high unemployment, according to a new issue brief released today by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

Interim analysis

2011 State of the State Addresses signals that state government redesign is not a temporary issue; it is part a new reality that will bring about fundamental change in the nature and volume of state services. Therefore, this year’s speeches focus on tough budget choices, smaller government and strategies to create jobs.

“Government redesign efforts are a part of virtually every aspect of state policy in 2011 as governors adjust to the new normal in the wake of the great recession,” said John Thomasian, director of the National Governors Association Center.

“Governors are focusing on consolidation, streamlining bureaucratic processes and controlling employee and pension costs, while at the same time doing as much as they can to spur job growth.”

Speech analysis

The following analysis is based on the 35 speeches released at the time of this release. All percentages and numbers quoted reflect the number of speeches available before Feb. 1.

Redesign

More than 20 governors referenced redesigning state government as a priority in their 2011 State of the State addresses. The word “budget” is mentioned 340 times in the 31 speeches.

Health care

Nearly every state mentions health care as a priority. Governors’ speeches focus on health policy, including options for health care reform implementation. Medicaid was also mentioned as an important issue for governors’ 2011 agendas.

Education

Nearly every state mentions education as a priority. Governors recognize that education has implications for states’ future prosperity. Like the state health care systems, some governors are looking at redesigning their education systems with the goal of maximizing efficiency and performance.

Predominant themes among governors for K-12 education are: maximizing state resources in the classroom; teacher pay; and school choice, with a heavy emphasis on charter schools. Governors view their higher education systems as a critical foundation for future prosperity, according to their speeches. To increase college completion rates, governors plan to use two main strategies: performance-based funding for public colleges and universities and increased access for students.

Economic development

Economic development is a major challenge for states this year. Governors are talking about growing state economies and creating jobs, but have limited capacity to do so. The main strategies discussed in the State of the State addresses are investing in public universities; changing the state governance structure to better support private sector growth; and assisting small businesses through tax credits and regulatory reform, among other ideas.

Corrections and public safety

Seventeen governors discussed the corrections systems. For many governors, goals in this area are related to cutting costs while protecting public safety. Governors are focusing on safely reducing prison populations to reach this goal.

Environment and energy

More than 20 governors talked about environment and energy priorities for 2011. They are focusing on energy, water and leading by example by making government more energy efficient.

Transportation and infrastructure

At least 10 governors emphasized transportation as a state priority. Some governors have even proposed new investments despite tough economic times.

The word “tax” is mentioned more than 370 times in the 35 State of the State addresses surveyed for this issue brief.

Governors are focusing on two actions: lowering taxes and examining tax expenditures to determine if they are producing the desired results, such as job creation.

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