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Governors of several states kicked off 2016 by laying out their budget priorities for the coming year in their state of the state speeches. Below is a summary of those speeches given in early January.

Florida

On Nov. 19, 2015, we explained that Gov. Rick Scott had already begun touring the Sunshine State in the hopes of reinvigorating his two-year, $1 billion tax cut plan that he calls The Florida First For Jobs Proposal (Florida First). More specifically, he called for the following:

  • Permanently eliminating the income tax on manufacturing and retail businesses
  • Permanently eliminating the tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment
  • Reducing the tax on commercial leases 
  • Extending the sales tax exemption on college textbooks for an additional year
  • Helping families save money by way of two sales tax holidays, the first is a 10-day period for back-to-school purchases, and the other is a nine-day period for hurricane preparedness items. 

The governor continued with that effort in his 2016 state of the state speech that opened the 2016 legislative session. As reported by The Miami Herald, his top two priorities are job creation, and business development. Gov. Scott seeks to entice firms to come to Florida using the above-mentioned tax cuts and other financial incentives. Some were disappointed that he neglected the important areas of crime, environment, immigration, post-secondary education, transportation and health care, though he did touch on terrorism, and the “frustration of many Americans” that Donald Trump has leveraged during his presidential campaign.

Gov. Scott also proposes a Florida Enterprise Fund to diversify Florida’s economy, support small business, and compete against Texas. To the naysayers who suggest that Florida cannot afford the $1 billion loss from the tax cuts, or the $250 million trust fund for economic incentives, he reminds them that “[o]ur state’s economy is growing by over 2.7 percent, which means our state general revenues are up by $1.3 billion. In fact, total general revenues exceed this year’s recurring budget by $3.4 billion.”

In his speech, the governor proudly mentioned that the state has recently surpassed 20 million residents, is adding more than 1,000 new residents per day, and is therefore growing faster than California and New York. 

New York 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo focused much of his state of the state address on small business and taxes, important because “reducing taxes is part of our strategy to create jobs, and when you’re creating jobs, you’re creating opportunity and you’re creating hope and you’re creating progress and it is working here in New York.” He pointed out that unemployment is down from 8 percent to 4.8 percent, and that with 7.9 million private sector jobs, the state has more of them than ever.

Going forward, the governor proposed a $300 million tax cut for small businesses, which equates to a 6.5 to 4-percent rate reduction, along with a 15-percent income exemption for partnerships and s-corporations, which would affect more than 1 million small firms.

Beyond this, he wants to invest $100 billion in transformative infrastructure projects statewide, citing the new Tappan Zee Bridge as an example of what can be accomplished, and replacing LaGuardia airport as an example of what still needs to be accomplished. Other infrastructure spending would include $26 billion in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the purchase of 1,400 new subway cars and 3,100 new buses; $5.6 billion in the Long Island Rail Road, $3 billion invested in Metro-North train system; and a $22 billion, five-year investment in upstate New York’s infrastructure.

As for supporting entrepreneurial partnerships, Gov. Cuomo intends to focus on agriculture and food, building on previous successes with Greek yogurt and wine, as well as climate change, including raising the Environmental Protection Fund to the highest level to date, $300 million. Supporting these goals is his plan for a school funding increase of $2.1 billion, bringing total spending to $25 billion.

The governor’s budget also contains provisions for his social, racial, and economic justice agenda, including funding for counterterrorism operations, minority and women-owned businesses, poverty reduction, over-incarceration, a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour, homelessness, and paid family leave.

Recognizing the litany of challenges New York faces, Gov. Cuomo ended by promising to meet them, make the state better, and “show this nation how to lead.”

New Jersey

In his sixth state of the state address, Gov. Chris Christie declared that “[t]he state of New Jersey is strong and growing stronger every day,” and that he has pulled the state back from the brink of economic disaster. In particular, he highlighted numerous statistics to support his claims:
  • 224,000 new jobs in the six years that he has been in office
  • An unemployment rate that has fallen to 5.3 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008
  • The continued recovery of home sales, which, in 2015, rose by nearly 14 percent over the year before
  • A 10 percent increase over 2014 in the number of construction permits issued, the highest level since 2006
  • A 20 percent reduction in foreclosures statewide, with declines in every single county;
  • Historic levels of school funding, $12.8 billion this year
  • A 20 percent reduction in crime, and a 10 percent reduction in incarceration, from 2011 to 2014
  • More disciplined financial management, with discretionary spending for fiscal year 2016 at $2.3 billion below 2008 levels
  • Smaller government, with 10,000 fewer state employees than in 2010, when he first took office
  • Historic levels of school funding, more than $12.8 billion this year

Despite all these achievements, NorthJersey.com pointed out that Gov. Christie is deeply unpopular in the Garden State, in part due to the lingering distrust caused by the Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal.  In addition, some lawmakers were disappointed that he did not mention the Atlantic City or the Transportation Trust Fund, which will run out of money for new projects in June.

In terms of new proposals, Gov. Christie will pursue a “doubling down” on drug addiction and replacing incarceration with treatment, abolishing the estate and inheritance tax, and increasing charter school enrollment. 

Arizona

In contrast to Govs. Scott and Christie, Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey has only been in office for one year. Even so, in his state of the state address, he touted job growth, innovation, and “opportunity for all.” In addition, he slapped California for failing to manage its water crisis, asserting that “[i]f there’s one thing Arizona is best in the nation at – it’s water,” despite the fact that the sate “sit[s] … in the middle of a desert.”

Referring to his just-released budget proposal for fiscal year 2017, Gov. Ducey promised to lower taxes and invest in education, this year, next year, and the year after. In addition, he wants to simplify operations by getting rid of unnecessary regulations, eliminating the need for certain business licenses, and lifting protections for special interests. He mentioned Uber and Lyft specifically, noting that they are prohibited from doing business at Sky Harbor Airport because city hall was protecting special interests, and vowed to embrace innovation instead of tolerating the status quo.

The governor also plans to focus on improving public education, publicizing the names, photos and amount of money owed by deadbeat dads, allocating money for testing of old rape kits, and combating drug abuse.

Maine

Boston.com reported that in light of some lawmakers’ efforts to impeach Gov. Paul LePage, he said he would be skipping Maine’s state of the state speech on the grounds that it would be “silliness’ for him to face lawmakers just a couple weeks after some of them tried to impeach him.” Instead, he said, he would send a letter “and call it a day.’’ The impeachment efforts centers on the governor’s attempt to pressure an organization to rescind a job offer made to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Iowa, Idaho, and Indiana

The governors of these three states also set forth their goals for this year. In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad’s speech focused on his two priorities of education infrastructure and water quality. His budgetary efforts include increasing funding for pre-K through 12th grade students and teachers by $145 million, career training, creating additional success in the renewable energy arena, and criminal justice issues.

In Idaho, Gov. Butch Otto’s address highlighted his efforts in several areas:

  • K-Career education system, addressing matters like reading proficiency, putting the teacher career ladder back in place, professional development, technology in the classroom, and other initiatives that ensure that students are college and career ready, including a 9.6 percent increase in funding for community colleges and an 8.8 percent increase for four year institutions.
  • Substance abuse and mental health issues, including making assistance more affordable, and removing the burden of crisis management from law enforcement.
  • Sustainability, including management, preservation and protection of the state’s water resources, and leveraging Idaho’s partnership with the US Department of Energy.
  • Cybersecurity, including a $1 million budget item to establish a cybersecurity program at Boise State University in partnership with the Idaho National Laboratory.
  • Wildfire management, including a nearly $920,000 budget item for additional funding.

And in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence championed the creation of 139,000 new jobs, a reduction in unemployment from 8 percent to 4.4 percent in the last three years, the state’s rank in the top 10 best states to do business, tax cuts for the third year in a row, and a $300 million drop in unemployment taxes. On other fronts, the governor recognized passage of the largest increase, $50 million, in K-12 education funding in Indiana history, and last year’s $1 billion investment in transportation infrastructure, to which he wants to add another $1.4 billion over the next four years.

Gov. Pence also cheered the Next Generation Scholarship, that would cover up to $7,500 per year in tuition for students who are in the top 20 percent of their class and commit to teaching in Indiana for at least five years, and promised to go after drug dealers. Finally, on the matter of civil rights, he asserted that “no one should ever fear persecution because of their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

Governors of Colorado, Georgia, and Virginia also gave their state of the state addresses recently.

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