Economic Development Drives Gubernatorial Agendas Across Party Lines

February 22, 2009

WASHINGTON – Politico’s State Solutions 9th Annual Conference, the prologue to the 2019 National Governor Association’s Winter Meeting, provided a platform for governors of both parties to expound upon their policy priorities and the effect of national politics on those priorities. Economic development emerged as among the highest priority policy areas for both Republican and Democratic governors, many of whom expounded upon their state’s infrastructure requirements as a means of bolstering their state’s economy.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) spoke of his positive record with regards to economic development, whether he was advocating on behalf of farmers while speaking to President Trump or elaborating upon how he has reduced the size of state government and the number of Arkansans on unemployment rolls. Hutchinson framed his policies within the context of getting Arkansans back to work and without any sense of irony claimed his elimination of 1,400 state jobs and his elimination of a number of state agencies as accomplishment towards this end. Hutchinson elaborated upon the introduction of new reporting requirements for unemployment insurance beneficiaries to ensure that beneficiaries are taking individual responsibility to improve their situation. He noted that during his tenure 8,000 Arkansans transitioned from receiving unemployment insurance to becoming directly employed though he failed to provide evidence correlating this success to his program.

Governor Chris Sununu (R-New Hampshire) later echoed Hutchinson’s message, emphasizing the importance of maintaining and improving upon New Hampshire’s 2.5% unemployment rate.  Sununu clearly indicated that it is his responsibility as governor to assist businesses in extending the “dignity of work” to as much of the able-bodied adult population as possible. In addressing the opioid epidemic, and referencing his own experience as an employer running a ski resort, Sununu spoke of his initiative to assist employers in their efforts to become “recovery friendly,” extolling the benefits of retaining and assisting an employee who has an addiction problem. Thus framed, even public health initiatives are a means of promoting economic development in New Hampshire.

Sununu elaborated upon his plan to simultaneously promote public health and economic development through the development of a public-private partnership that will promote paid family and medical leave. His plan would expand paid family and medical leave to all 10,000 state and public employees in New Hampshire that would be provided by a private insurer that would allow private employers to voluntarily buy into the plan. Sununu additionally alluded to the possibility of further expanding the risk pool, and thus reducing premium rates, by partnering with the State of Vermont to offer the same plan to their public employees. He argued that this plan would create a viable fund that won’t go bankrupt, won’t violate the public trust, and will create more stability and growth in the regional economy.

Economic development, claimed Governor Ned Lamont (D-Connecticut), is often as much about promoting a state’s strengths as about capping tax rates, and it certainly needn’t require massive corporate handouts. Citing his own business experience, Lamont argued that businesses are looking for talent, not “buckets of incentives.” Thus Lamont preemptively reached out to Amazon suggesting that they consider building HQ2 in Connecticut upon hearing of their withdrawal from Long Island City, New York, which would grant them similar access to talent in the New York City metropolitan area. He paired this strategy with his support for bringing a 5G network to Connecticut’s small towns that he claimed would both reinvigorate the state’s economy and ameliorate traffic congestion by promoting telecommuting.

Many of the governors of both parties spoke about using public education as a pipeline for future economic development. Hutching emphasized his support of a $5,000 raise for teachers in Arkansas as an indirect job creation mechanism that will improve the quality of Arkansas’ public education system, thereby creating the intellectual capital that will recruit future industry to his state. Governor Kate Brown (D-Oregon) touted her support of an ambitious education policy platform that includes an early childhood education plan that would allow 10,000 additional kids to show up to kindergarten ready to learn, that would increase the school year 180 days, promote STEAM education, ensure that all children can read by third grade, and that all children can compete in a global economy.

It’s fair to say that there is wide, bi-partisan support among states for greater investment in America’s infrastructure in the name of economic development. Lamont, a Democratic governor, indicated that President Trump will prioritize the passage of an infrastructure package bill through this Congress. But even with bipartisan support, it’s anyone’s guess how likely that is to pass given that, as Governor Sununu summed up the situation, “It’s a circus act in Congress.”