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Flywheel FOCUS: State of the State Addresses (SD, WI, DE, MA)

Flywheel FOCUS: State of the State Addresses (SD, WI, DE, MA)

Flywheel FOCUS: State of the State Addresses (SD, WI, DE, MA)

With the arrival of the new year, states around the country have begun starting up their legislative sessions. Coinciding with these events are the governors’ State of the State addresses, in which they lay out their priorities for the upcoming year and hit on some of the past successes of their administrations. These addresses often provide key insights to the policy objectives and budget recommendations coming from each governor. Although many of the governors' priorities have shifted this year due to COVID-19, many are still spearheading new initiatives and view the pandemic as an opportunity to make major improvements to the way state government serve their constituents.

Flywheel will be summarizing these speeches to highlight the governors’ priorities in education, healthcare, energy, COVID-19 response, and more. For this installment, we covered South Dakota, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Massachusetts. We will cover the states in batches as they are released. You can read the full transcript of these speeches by clicking on the links below. When available, we've also included videos of the speeches.

Governor Noem started her speech with an optimistic tone about South Dakota by describing past, current and future developments. She acknowledged the challenges that COVID has brought, but emphasized the ability to remain open and refuse to shut down. She expressed gratitude to the first responders of the pandemic throughout her speech and highlighted the ways that South Dakota will continue to benefit its residents.

The governor explained that the state doesn’t have a corporate income tax, business inventory tax, personal income tax, or an inheritance tax, yet it holds a triple-A credit rating and its pension plan is fully funded, so there is no need to raise taxes. The state continues to get good news about its revenue situation – ongoing general fund revenues are up tens of millions of dollars through December, compared to last fiscal year. Residential home sales are up across South Dakota, and new home construction is more than 1.5x greater than the national average. Over the past 10 months, construction employment in the state is up 10% compared to the prior year.

Economic Development
Last year, the state assisted with projects that will result in more than $2.8 billion in capital investment across South Dakota. These projects ranged from agriculture to manufacturing to technology, and include a $200 million Amazon distribution center in Sioux Falls. Towns like Fort Pierre, Belle Fourche, Watertown, Rapid City, Parker, and Lead all saw companies growing in their communities. In total, economic development projects taken on by the state last year are expected to result in more than 2,100 new jobs. The governor announced the largest project in the history of the Office of Economic Development: a $500 million investment from Schwan’s, which will bring 600 full-time jobs to Sioux Falls, as well as a new world-class facility.

Broadband Access
Gov. Noem said families shouldn’t be forced to choose between the modern economy on the one hand and life in their hometown on the other. She is proposing an investment to finish connecting the state with broadband, even in the most remote communities. There are still 135,000 South Dakotans without high-speed broadband access, which the governor hopes to solve through state investment, industry funding, and federal grants.

Agriculture Industry
The governor explained that the blizzards and flooding of 2019 prevented nearly 4 million of the state’s 19 million acres from being planted, which resulted in a 24% decrease in corn production and 36% loss in soybeans from 2018. However, USDA is forecasting that corn production will grow by 31% from last year, with yields estimated to increase to record highs. Soybean production is forecasted to grow by 53%.

In July, the reforms South Dakota made to standardize and streamline the permitting process took effect, resulting in a more competitive and attractive environment for ag businesses. The state had 23 new ag projects that created more than 320 jobs. The governor proposed crucial ag investments in her budget address, including meat processing grants, an investment in the Dakota Events Complex, the creation of a program to give farmers more opportunity to market South Dakota meat products, and the merger of the Dept. of Agriculture and DENR.

In February 2020, the Dept. of Health worked with several other groups to focus on suicide prevention. Their 605 Strong initiative connected South Dakotans fighting mental health issues with trained crisis counselors, an initiative that proved critical in the face of a global pandemic. South Dakota has also greatly expanded access to telehealth. Since March, people have used tech services like these more than 70,000 times in South Dakota’s Medicaid program alone. This year, Governor Noem is asking for legislation to make these flexibilities permanent, saying the state should build on telehealth advancements and continue to find ways to remove red tape.

Lastly, the governor provided an update on the state’s work to curtail substance abuse, especially in tribal communities. The third annual state tribal meth summit was held virtually in partnership with the Departments of Tribal Relations and Social Services earlier this year. These summits bring state and tribal healthcare providers and leaders together to combat substance abuse.

Hunting Industry
South Dakota is going to continue finding ways to create more hunting and fishing opportunities in the state. This year, the governor is asking the legislature to adopt simpler licensure requirements for kids under the age of 18. This is one of the reasons why she has so heavily emphasized the importance of the Bounty Program. Over the last two years, nearly 4,300 people participated in the nest predator bounty program, many being youth and first-time trappers. They have removed roughly 81,000 nest predators – a great thing for pheasant numbers.

Visitor inquiries have skyrocketed, and the state plans to build on this momentum and ensure that tourist numbers continue to grow. The tourism department will be working on a new strategic plan to guide its overall efforts for the next several years. This includes enhancing promotion of South Dakota in new markets and targeting key demographics that have an interest in the state’s parks, history, culture, and great outdoors. Because three of the state’s rodeos were recently chosen as the very best in the country by the NFR, the state will also be improving their facilities for hosting equestrian and rodeo events.

This complements the department’s ongoing work with Agritourism and the First Gentlemen’s small-town initiative. The tourism department continues to make steady progress working with tribal partners around to lay the groundwork to enhance tribal tourism on their reservations.

Gov. Noem discussed technical colleges and the excellent opportunities they provide, citing that all four of the state’s tech schools are in the top 4% of the country for upward mobility. Students who graduate from those colleges are fully equipped for high-demand, technical careers the moment they receive their diplomas.

Governor Noem announced that over the next five years, the state will invest approximately $40 million into the Build Dakota Scholarship to match students with high-demand career opportunities. She also mentioned the creation of the PREMIER Scholarship, a needs-based scholarship endowment for students that live and work in South Dakota for three years after graduation. The governor is asking the state to allocate $50 million in one-time money to help the scholarship become self-funding. In partnership with the Department of Labor, the technical college system also launched the South Dakota UpSkill program this fall. This program supports workers dislocated by COVID-19, and consists of 22 online certificate programs in high-demand fields, including business, healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing.

Workforce Development
Workforce development remains a top concern for South Dakota companies. Some businesses are tackling this concern by building their own Registered Apprenticeship training programs. In fact, 44 organizations have done so since 2018. More than 700 South Dakotans are improving their skills through one of these programs. While this is just one solution to workforce development, it lays a strong foundation for the future workforce and the state economy.

This year, South Dakota was ranked the #1 state in America for veterans to live and work. The state has expanded the tuition program for veterans to include technical colleges and has increased property tax exemptions for veterans with disabilities. They have a tax exemption for paraplegic and amputee veterans. They have increased the number of beds at the Hot Springs Veterans Home so that we can care for more veterans. They also broke ground on the first ever State Veterans Cemetery in Sioux Falls.

Governor Evers started his speech reflecting on the challenges and sacrifices that the people of Wisconsin endured from the pandemic. He dedicated his address to the more than 5,000 Wisconsinities who have died due to COVID and promised that they will make it out of the pandemic. He then took a more optimistic tone toward the future, promising updated systems that will benefit the people.

Accomplishments Prior to COVID
The governor explained that the state is coming off a successful year making a down payment on priorities like fully funding public schools, fixing crumbling roads and bridges, and making healthcare more accessible and affordable. Wisconsin put $330 million in general school aid funded a $97-million increase for special education, the largest amounts in more than a decade. The state also provided more than $465 million in new funding for local roads, highways, and transit aid. Although the governor’s efforts to expand healthcare were rejected by the Legislature, the state made critical investments in improving mental health treatment, supporting its direct care workforce, and increasing funding for rural healthcare providers.

Prior to COVID, Wisconsin was announcing a three-pronged plan to address the dairy crisis and support rural communities. The state was pushing to return to its commitment to two-thirds funding for schools, and was going to increase aid to their most rural school districts while providing $130 million toward reducing property taxes through equalization aid.

COVID Response
Gov. Evers said he was grateful to be able to invest nearly $2 billion in their state’s response. Wisconsin distributed more than 26 million pieces of PPE and sanitizing supplies to hospitals, long-term care facilities, veteran’s homes, and frontline workers. The state also provided more than $379 million to help stabilize the economy and support nearly 53,000 small businesses, more than 15,000 farms, and the lodging, hospitality, and tourism industries. More than $200 million was invested to help communities across Wisconsin recover.

Agriculture/Local Business
The state found perseverance in their farmers, growers and farm workers, and producers who kept working to make sure they kept food on tables, in Main Street businesses, and restaurants who reimagined and retooled to keep customers and their communities safe.

Digital Divide
The governor acknowledged that the pandemic underscored—and in some ways, exacerbated—the digital divide across the state, showing that the state’s lack of access to high-speed internet continues to be a setback for kids, families, and businesses. Those making the shift to virtual learning faced a lack of access or unreliable connections that made it difficult to teach, engage, and learn. People trying to access basic healthcare services had trouble using telemedicine or other alternatives to visit with their doctor when they couldn’t go in-person. And businesses working to adapt and provide online ordering or payment options didn’t have the technological tools or lacked connectivity in their areas. And in some communities, consumers didn’t have the internet connection to take advantage, even if they could have.

Broadband Access
More than 430,000 people, 25% of the state’s rural population, lack access to high-speed internet. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation released a report highlighting broadband as one of three priorities to begin economic recovery, saying “fixing broadband…is critical to economic development and recovery and must happen now.” The governor declared 2021 the Year of Broadband Access. Governor Evers’ 2021-23 biennial budget will invest nearly $200 million over the biennium into broadband—five times the amount invested in the 2013, 2015, and 2017 budgets combined.

Governor Evers explained that the pandemic brought an unprecedented influx of unemployment claims, even exceeding the number of claims during the Great Recession. From 2016 through 2019, the Department of Workforce Development handled 7.2 million claims. Since March, the DWD received 8.8 million claims alone.

To address the massive number of claims, state employees were reassigned from other divisions or agencies and new workers were hired or contracted, increasing staff in the Unemployment Insurance Division from 500 to more than 1,800 employees to answer calls, process claims, and follow up with folks who’d applied for benefits. During that time, DWD paid nearly 600,000 claimants more than $4.6 billion in unemployment insurance benefits.

The governor argued that the unemployment system isn’t designed to handle massive numbers, which has contributed to delays in processing claims, required more time to implement new federal programs, and made it harder to get benefits. As a result, Gov. Evers announced that he will be calling a special session of the Legislature to take up a plan to modernize the unemployment system and ensure nothing like this happens to the people of Wisconsin again.

The governor then explained that for the past several months, The People’s Maps Commission, selected by a panel of three retired judges, has begun working. The Commission is hosting virtual hearings in every congressional district to hear feedback and input from people across the state to begin drawing The People’s Maps. Gov. Evers announced that his biennial budget is going to make sure that the Legislature draws their maps in the public eye and with public input, by requiring public meetings for the map-drawing process. The state will require the Legislature to take up The People’s Maps, which will be drawn not by any political party or high-paid consultants, but by the people of Wisconsin.

Governor Carney’s main ​priorities heading into 2021 are strengthening Delaware’s economy, improving public schools, committing to racial equality, protecting the environment, beating the COVID-19 pandemic, and safeguarding democracy.

Economic Growth
The governor’s top priority since entering office has been to strengthen the state's economy and create good jobs for Delawareans. Over the past two years, there have been 10,000 new jobs in Delaware and the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8% for the first time since 2008. Despite a global economic downturn and a pandemic, the unemployment rate in Delaware is just over 5%.

One year ago, the state had a $200 million surplus. By April, the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic had wiped out that surplus. However, the state didn’t raise taxes on Delaware families or businesses, borrow money to pay state bills, or lay off state employees or cut their pay. Instead, thanks in part to responsible budgeting practices, Delaware maintained its AAA bond rating while other states had their credit downgraded. This year, the governor will propose a budget that links state spending to economic growth, that invests one-time money in one-time infrastructure projects, and that focuses on the future and rebuilds reserves.

On March 18th, Governor Carney launched his HELP program which offered financial relief to Delaware businesses. The state allocated a total $900 in CARES Act funding, and has used nearly $200 million in federal CARES Act funds to support restaurants, gyms, hotels and other small businesses. The governor used another $210 million to replenish the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. He also awarded $1.5 million in Encouraging Development and Growth Expansion (EDGE) grants to 20 companies and will expand the EDGE grant program this year.

The governor plans to set a Renewable Portfolio Standard this year and set a new goal that 40 percent of Delaware’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2035. Gov. Carney also is proposing a $50 million investment in a New Clean Water Trust Fund.

The state has expanded wireless broadband to over 500 Delawareans, and has made it a priority to expand high-speed broadband access in Kent and Sussex counties. The Department of Education and DTI program partnered to create the Connect Delaware program, which has provided over 25,000 low-income students with reliable internet access. Governor Carney also plans to increase funding for Graduate Lab Space to help start-up science and technology companies grow.

With the General Assembly’s help, the governor allowed mail-in voting for the first time. This allowed hundreds of thousands of Delawareans to stay safe from the pandemic, while exercising their right to vote. The governor looks forward to signing legislation to make mail-in voting a permanent feature of state elections – from school board and town hall elections to the election for the President of the United States.

Racial Justice
Governor Carney created new positions in his administration to target racial injustice: the Director of Statewide Equity and Chief Diversity Officer. He also allocated CARES Act funds to create a rapid retraining program for 3,000 out-of-work Delawareans, over half of which are people of color.

The governor’s Opportunity Funding program is Delaware’s first weighted student funding system, which will support low-income students and English learners. He also plans on doubling funding for the Early Childhood Assistance Program, which will expand high quality early education programs for disadvantaged children, and committed to fully funding K-3 basic special education over the next three years.

Gov. Carney also thanked the First Lady for her work on the First Chance Initiative, which ensured children were fed during the pandemic, and noted that through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, over 13,000 children receive a new book each month.

COVID Response
Governor Carney thanked healthcare workers, teachers, law enforcement and other members of the community who served the public during the pandemic. He specifically thanked Lieutenant Governor Hall-Long for giving PPE and tests to the homeless. The state is currently testing 200,00 Delawareans a month and has administered 70,000 vaccinations.

Governor Baker thanked healthcare workers, law enforcement, teachers and other members of the state for serving the public during the pandemic, and assured people that vaccinations are beginning and that the future is bright. He then discussed proposals that tackle economic growth, police reform, energy efficiency, and educational plans.

Economic Growth
Gov. Baker’s Small Business Relief Program – the largest of its kind in the country – has put over $700 million into the hands of struggling small businesses, so they can get to the other side of this second surge. Thousands of small companies have already received over $230 million in grants, and thousands more will benefit from this effort over the next several weeks. To provide immediate relief, tax filing and payment dates were extended on several occasions to give residents and employers more time to meet their obligations.

Without raising taxes or fees, the governor funded essential state and local services, including education, social services, public health, and public safety. This included additional funds for small business support, rental assistance, and food assistance.

Police Reform
Governor Baker proposed a new law that bans chokeholds, limits no-knock warrants, and creates a new independent state entity with the power to establish policing standards, certify law enforcement officers, investigate allegations of misconduct, and suspend or revoke certification.

The governor put forth a science-based roadmap to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, as well as a multi-state program to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector. Massachusetts has invested over $935 million in climate change mitigation and adaptation since Gov. Baker took office, and is on track to meet its commitment to invest $1 billion in climate action by 2022. The governor secured historic clean energy procurements at the lowest price for ratepayers, which set the table for an explosion in offshore wind development up and down the East Coast.

Services like telehealth were a key part of the state’s pandemic response: over a million telehealth visits were conducted in less than nine months. It was convenient and safe, and it kept people healthy and out of the emergency room. This program is now permanent, benefiting the public by allowing flexibility and availability to health services.

Governor Baker proposed a new law to accelerate bridge reconstruction, allowing modernization to every bridge that needs major repairs. It also provides the funding to complete the South Coast Rail expansion. Fall River and New Bedford have been waiting for over 30 years for this to get done. Now it will be available in 2023. This law will also fund the final piece of the long-promised Green Line Extension into Somerville.

The governor made clear that kids need to be in school for their educational and emotional development. Gov. Baker relied on state guidance, as well as federal and state funding, to keep special education programs, early education providers, and some school districts in person since the fall. The commonwealth’s parochial schools – many of which serve primarily black and brown children and their families in many high-risk communities – have been delivering mostly in person education to over 45,000 kids since mid-August.

Governor Baker stated he is working with a number of lab partners to develop a weekly COVID testing program for kids, teachers and staff. The goal is to get as many kids as possible back in the classroom as soon as possible. This first-in-the-nation COVID testing program will help more school districts make the call to offer full time, in person instruction now.

COVID Response
Over 13 million tests have been conducted so far, making Massachusetts the second largest per capita tester in the continental U.S. The governor invested over $400 million in long-term care facilities and brought COVID testing programs directly to its residents and staff. He also recruited experts in infection control to work with the industry to keep seniors safe.

The First Lady and several volunteers stood up the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, and raised over $32 million from 17,000 donors. This effort helped over 500 community organizations and hundreds of thousands of families with food, rent and other emergency assistance. The $600 million Economic Development bill arrived in time to help Governor Baker invest in a post-pandemic recovery plan, which will help small businesses, support investments in struggling downtowns, create affordable housing, and put people to work.

By the end of January, Massachusetts will have 103 vaccination sites open to the public and the ability to administer about 240,000 doses each week. By mid-February, there will be 165 public sites, including 7 mass vaccination sites, which will administer approximately 305,000 doses every week.

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