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Higher education, lower taxes in governors’ plans for growth

March 18, 2021
By: Ellen Marrison

Several more State of the State addresses were delivered already this month, leaving just a few states yet to go and the pandemic and recovery from the pandemic, not surprisingly, continue to feature heavily in governors’ plans. Energy opportunities, tax cuts, broadband and shifts in the model for higher education are in play in this week’s review of addresses from California, Florida, New Hampshire and Wyoming.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, March 9, delivered his third State of the State address in a virtual presentation from Dodger Stadium – one of the nation’s largest community vaccination sites. Newsom called for “a path to close inequities. There is no economic recovery without economic justice.” “We have more scientists, engineers, researchers, and Nobel laureates than any other state. To keep this conveyor belt for talent moving, we will keep investing in UC, CSU, and community colleges,” Newsom said. “California has the most innovation, venture capital, and small-business investment in this country. We will keep fostering every small entrepreneur—the drivers of our GDP.”

He said the state will invest in a $10 billion infrastructure program that will include building toward universal broadband, “connecting all Californians equitably and affordably.” He also said they propose to invest a “record amount” in K-14 education this year and that the state is providing the “largest small business grant fund in the nation. $2.6 billion in grants of up to $25,000 for small businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic.” Noting that the approach to climate change is guided by science, Newsom said he is budgeting more than $1 billion for fire prevention.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, March 2, noted that the state’s “current fiscal outlook is much better than the bleak forecasts from last spring.” He said that from December through February, preliminary estimates have shown an increase in revenue “at more than $800 million over and above the December revenue estimation.” DeSantis championed three priorities — water resources, education and infrastructure — and said the state is “beginning to place a strong – and long overdue – emphasis on vocational education.” He proposed the creation of the Resilient Florida program under the Department of Environmental Protection that would invest $1 billion into projects that help “communities adapt to the threats posed by flooding from intensified storms and sea level rise.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu gave a budget address last month where he proposed raising the cap on the state’s Rainy Day Fund to up to 10 percent of revenue raised over a given biennium, allowing the state to “to plan for the long-term and be ready to weather the next storm, avoiding tax increases and economic downturns.” He also said he is reintroducing a student debt relief program that was cut from the final budget. This time he said the program “focuses on graduates who pursue careers in the much-needed fields of healthcare, biotechnology, social work, and other related fields.” His budget also establishes a new Department of Energy to ensure a unified approach to energy policy, and sets out to fund the Office of Offshore Wind Industry Development for the first time.

Sununu also “proposed a fully unified and merged New Hampshire College and University System, bringing 11 separate system together as one.” Calling it the “future of higher education,” Sununu said the country is moving to more flexible systems, efforts that were accelerated by the pandemic, and that the state’s systems “need to adapt in kind.” His proposal would first merge the two Boards of Trustees while maintaining each campus and brand. “Allowing students the ease of creating their own pathway in education will be the defining characteristic of this modernized, 21st century system,” he said.

The budget also includes tax cuts, including lowering the Business Enterprise Tax from 0.6 percent to 0.55 percent, a move that Sununu said would “encourage new startup businesses to be created right here in the Granite State.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, March 2, recounted how the past year required the largest cuts to the budget in the state’s history, prompted by the largest loss of income in state history and said the state is undeniably entering more frugal times. He said the energy and environmental policies of Washington, D.C., have left the state “facing a clear and present threat to our long-term core industries.” He criticized what he called the “crazed pursuit of 100% ’green’ energy,” as it “ignores the urgency of finding better ways to capture, use, and sequester carbon.” He did say that “Wyoming is embracing solar and wind development. Both are emerging and important parts of Wyoming's total energy portfolio. But, we are not fooled by false promises either. We want to see what can be done.”

Gordon said he will continue to protect the coal industry, which he said is “under assault from all directions.” He went on to say, “We have stood firm in our support of it throughout, for good reason. Paradoxically, it is the very industry, which offers the best chance, and most efficient way, to remove C02 from our atmosphere.”  He asked the Legislature to establish the Wyoming Energy Authority and said he wants others to join him in making Wyoming net negative in CO2 emissions. He also heralded the hydrogen economy and said the state “can and must be a leader in this and other emerging technologies, even as we pursue the development of resources such as wind and solar.”

Regarding higher education, the governor recounted how he recently announced the Wyoming Innovation Network (WIN) to “supercharge Wyoming’s post-secondary work by combining the best ideas of our remarkable community colleges with our cornerstone land grant university. … This partnership among higher education will develop education initiatives necessary to strengthen the state’s workforce, promote entrepreneurship, and actively support economic growth and diversification. Moreover, it is a natural outgrowth of several efforts this state has undertaken over the past few years from Wyoming Works, and internships, to the Attainment Council and ENDOW.” Gordon said the program is in its infancy and currently developing its first priorities and outcomes.

California, Florida, New Hampshire, Wyomingtech talkin govs, governors, state budgets, broadband