Govs set innovative agendas
By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer
Deval Patrick (D)
The plan, dubbed Commonwealth Corps, calls for recruiting 1,000 volunteers to work across the state staffing after-school programs, running homeless shelters and cleaning up parks and neighborhoods over the next five years.
While Patrick — the state's first black chief executive and its first Democratic governor in 16 years — chose to promote volunteerism as his first legislative initiative, other governors nationwide are also seizing the opportunity to propose innovative policy as they deliver their budget, inaugural and state of the state speeches.
With 11 new and 15 re-elected governors and big political shifts in dozens of statehouses, these early pronouncements lay the groundwork for policy shifts in a majority of states.
"With so many new Democratic governors, there is a kind of collective momentum that will make this year different from previous years," said Alan Rosenthal, a public policy professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. The political shift in the governors' mansions foreshadows a big year for innovation because the chief executive has a way of "focusing and mobilizing political initiatives," he said.
So far, more than a dozen governors have announced their agendas. Many are seeking property tax reductions, universal health care and hefty investments in roads, education and law enforcement. Nearly all are calling for an end to political bickering and higher ethical standards in state government.
In Ohio, newly elected Gov. Ted Strickland (D) made good on his pledge to clean up politics in his scandal-ridden state. Among his first acts, Strickland signed an executive order limiting gifts to less than $20 for everyone in his administration. Governors in New York, New Mexico, Florida and Wisconsin took similar steps.
Although slashing property taxes and insurance premiums are his top priorities, newly elected Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has a more immediate concern: eliminating gobbledygook. But after promising in his inaugural address to make state government "open and transparent to all," Crist signed a jargon laden executive order requiring state officials to use plain English.
Governors are also brainstorming to find ways to retain skilled workers and improve the climate for business growth.
Hoping to boost his state's economy, newly re-elected Gov. James Douglas (R) proposed making Vermont the first "e-state" with cellular and broadband coverage throughout. He said environmental engineering would become the state's "next captive industry" in a speech detailing a development plan aimed at attracting high-tech engineering firms and skilled professionals.
With similar goals, newly re-elected Kansas Gov. Katherine Sebelius (D) announced a plan to boost the Kansas economy and keep talented workers in the state. She wants to use the lottery to fund signing bonuses for new workers in aviation, biosciences and other industries.
Governors' 2007 state of the state speeches are posted on Stateline's Govs' Speeches page. All of the speeches since 2000 are also posted in Stateline.org's archive .
California : In a series of speeches last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) grabbed national headlines with sweeping plans to provide universal healthcare, stem global warming by restricting fuel emissions and spend billions on schools, prisons and water projects. He capped those announcements Jan. 9 with a state of the state address calling on Californians to "blaze the way, for the U.S. and for China and for the rest of the world."
New York : In an hour long address to the Legislature, newly inaugurated Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) vowed to overhaul every branch of state government. At the top of his list is health-care coverage for all children and pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds. Spitzer also promised to cut property taxes and ease business restrictions to attract investment and jobs to depressed upstate communities.
Virginia: Gov. Tim Kaine (D) devoted most of his second state of the state address to Virginia's No. 1 problem: traffic congestion. He also asked lawmakers to raise the minimum wage above the federal level, expand benefits for the National Guard, and fund improved preschool and kindergarten programs and health and obesity prevention in public schools.
Colorado : Energy independence was the theme of newly elected Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) address . He called on lawmakers and all Coloradans to improve electricity efficiency, support wind-energy, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and support energy research. "Energy is today's version of the space race of the '60s and the technology race of the '80s and '90s," he said.
Georgia: With a sound re-election victory behind him, Gov. Sonny Purdue (R) decided it's time to go fishing. He announced "Go Fish Georgia," a $19 million economic development plan to turn the Peach State into "a fisherman's paradise."
West Virginia : Gov. Joe Manchin (D) announced a new state-funded Web site, CompareCare West Virginia, designed to help consumers compare health care prices and to further a healthy lifestyle program aimed at obesity prevention. In his state of the state address , Manchin also called for state employee pay raises and coal mine and workplace safety programs.
Arkansas : Newly elected Gov. Mike Beebe (D) vowed to eliminate the state's regressive tax on food and cut the 6 percent sales tax in half. He also called for an increase in the homestead tax exemption and pushed for a $50 million economic development fund in his address .
New Jersey : Facing a staggering budget deficit and skyrocketing property taxes, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) challenged the legislature to find creative solutions to the state's financial woes in his state of the state address .
Idaho : In his state of the state address , newly elected Gob. C.L. "Butch" Otter listed investment in higher education as his first priority. Wiping out the methamphetamine scourge and improving public safety also topped his list.
New Hampshire : In his inaugural address , newly re-elected Gov. John Lynch (D) called for a constitutional amendment to fix the state's education funding crisis, vowed to expand health insurance for low-income kids and promised to increase the minimum wage above the federal level.
Other governors will deliver their state of the state addresses in the weeks ahead, through early March. As more governors announce their agendas, Stateline.org will update this article and our Web site.