New Governors Make Jobs a Priority
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
From the Appalachian hollows of West Virgina to the big skies of Montana, the nation's seven new governors have a common priority -- creating employment opportunities.
"Jobs, jobs and more jobs. It's all about jobs," West Virginia's Gov.-elect Joe Manchin (D) told Stateline.org while attending a National Governors Association weekend retreat at the posh Greenbrier resort in his home state.
"Whatever problems you think you have ... try it without a paycheck," he said. "That's what we have, too many people without paychecks or inadequate paychecks."
Manchin and four other newly elected governors gathered within the stately confines of the Greenbrier to discuss with sitting governors how to run their new administrations. The other new governors at the retreat were Missouri's Matt Blunt (R), Brian Schweitzer (D) of Montana, John Lynch (D) of New Hampshire and Utah's Jon Huntsman Jr. (R).
Despite their regional diversity and party differences, most of the new governors come from corporate backgrounds and are making a business-friendly climate a priority. And many of them plan to use similar measures to reach that goal: reforming their state's tax codes, reducing health care costs for business and employees and improving education and job training.
Manchin, an energy company owner who currently serves as West Virginia's secretary of state, hopes to make his state more business-friendly by reforming the tax codes and reducing the costs and regulatory burden of the state's workers' compensation laws.
Utah Gov.-elect Jon Huntsman Jr., a former ambassador to Singapore and CEO of his family's $10 billion corporation, campaigned on a promise to restructure business taxes for his mostly rural state. "You've got to have something to attract [business] to. You've got to have a competitive backdrop to your economic development," he said.
Lowering business costs for health care is another central theme for the new governors.
New Hampshire's Gov.-elect Lynch (D) is a multi-millionaire owner of a business consulting firm and former president of Knoll Furniture Inc. in Pennsylvania. One of his top legislative priorities is to repeal a state law that allows insurance companies to set higher rates for companies that have older or sick workers, he said. The law has caused some small-business insurance premiums to increase by as much as 200 percent, he said.
Montana Gov.-elect Schweitzer (D), a rancher, plans to use money from an increased tobacco tax to help small businesses buy health insurance for their employees.
Education is the third pillar of economic development that new governors hope to build. This is especially true in rural areas that must transform their economies from traditional to technology-based businesses, said Schweitzer.
"I'm handed a state that is 50th in wages. ... We're 50th in the percentage of our population that have technology jobs," he said. "The greatest challenge I've got is ... rebuilding the confidence of folks (so) they understand they can do a lot better."
Schweitzer plans to let business help set the curriculum at the state's technical and community colleges, "so that we're churning out exactly the kinds of trained people that those jobs are waiting for."
Schweitzer said the state also has to transform the attitudes of citizens to embrace the new technologies, rather than fear them. "People know they want to get paid a little better, but they're not sure they want to change, because they're good at what they're doing now," he said.
Manchin of West Virginia said that the connection between jobs and education needs to begin in the elementary grades and that business people and educators need to be talking together about school reforms.
Indiana's Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels (R) was unable to attend the event, a spokesman said. But Daniels, the former budget director for President George W. Bush (R) and former executive at drug-maker Eli Lilly and Company also campaigned on pledges to strengthen his state's economy and streamline government regulation of business. Daniels is also proposing tax credits to entice technology jobs and research and development to the state.
Gov.-elect Blunt, Missouri's Secretary of State and son of U.S. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), declined to speak to Stateline.org while attending the retreat. His campaign also underscored the need to pursue emerging technology companies, reforming the state's workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, among other things.
The Washington governor's race remains undecided as ballot counting continues. Four incumbent governors - in Delaware, North Carolina, North Dakota and Vermont - were elected to another term.