State Government Affairs
State Flags Ready for a Refresh
September 6, 2023 | Bill Kramer
Between the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19, unprecedented revenue levels, and growing focus on social issues, governors have a lot of issues to focus on in this legislative session. To determine what governors are thinking about this year, we read each governor’s State of the State address and noted their policy priorities. Next, we sorted those issues into policy categories and to determine the most prevalent policy priorities for governors across the country. The top-level results are summarized in the charts below.
Issues related to Health & Wellness (excluding COVID-19 policy such as mask and vaccine mandates) were the most cited this year, followed by Budget & Taxes.Take a look at the chart below for the most and least prevalent policy priorities cited by governors in 2022. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the breakdown of issues in each of these larger policy categories that were cited by governors, allowing us to examine these broad policy areas with a more granular view. The chart is organized by broad policy category with the most cited at the top (issues related to Health & Public Safety) and the least cited at the bottom (issues related to COVID-19).
While most governors have delivered their State of the State address, note that the governors of California, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Ohio have not yet given their annual address to lawmakers at the time of this writing and in in Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas, governors do not provide an address during in even numbered years when lawmakers are out of session.
Health, wellness, and public safety issues are top of mind for governors this year. This is a broad category that encapsulates everything from healthcare funding to mental health, as well as more social issues like gun control and abortion access. Twenty-four governors mentioned general health care reform — in many states these conversations included both cutting consumers’ healthcare costs and working to address healthcare staffing challenges. Twenty-one governors mentioned mental healthcare specifically, a popular issue with lawmakers this year as well, with Idaho Governor Brad Little (R) announcing, “Today, I am proposing we accelerate the implementation of the Behavioral Health Council’s recommendations by investing $50 million to improve behavioral healthcare across Idaho. It is one step of many we will take to help prevent tragedy, improve lives, and make our communities safer.”
Twelve governors also mentioned the opioid crisis and drug policy, with most of them seeking to allocate more funding to programs to help end the opioid crisis. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) called for “more investments in health care so we can fight the opioid epidemic and improve mental health.”
With states facing historic revenue surpluses, it’s no surprise that governors have an intense focus on budget and tax policy. Thirty-four governors mentioned tax reform (used here as an umbrella term that captures everything from an overhaul of the tax system to the repeal of a specific tax). Another twenty-two governors discussed the importance of improving the state’s infrastructure, like Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) explaining “We have an obligation to future generations to invest in our roads and bridges to accommodate that economic growth,” before announcing additional proposed infrastructure funding. Another popular approach within this category includes a number of governors announcing increased funding for the state’s Rainy Day Fund, including Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming.
Education was the third most popular category that governors discussed this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing challenges to the education system, revitalizing education funding and reforming curriculum became a focus this session with thirty-three governors mentioning education as a priority. This included everything from teacher pay to increased budget funding, as states decide where to focus their spending with budget surpluses and the influx of federal funds. Maine Governor Janet Mills (D) said, “No longer will we underfund education in the State of Maine, as past administrations have done. We will maintain this commitment to our students, to our teachers, to our municipalities, and to our property taxpayers.”
Additionally, fourteen governors targeted higher education issues with specific regard for tuition decreases or standstills and student loan reform. Republican governors focused on cultural issues becoming more relevant in recent years, with seven governors promising to ban critical race theory in K-12 schools and other ways to limit curriculum in schools.
Social programs were the fourth most mentioned issue area that governors emphasized in their State of the State addresses this year. Governors defined three specific social programs as the most important for this legislative session. Child care and child welfare was mentioned the most by nineteen governors. These programs honed in on expanding child care access, financial assistance programs for foster and child care, and increasing the number of childcare workers. Utah Governor Spencer Cox (R) proposed his ideas for expansion of child welfare programs, saying, “We must do more to make sure families of all shapes and sizes and makeups are thriving, including parental leave, access to high-quality child care and mentoring opportunities for parents.” Broadband access and infrastructure and housing (specifically affordable housing and homelessness) followed closely behind with sixteen and fourteen governors focusing on these priorities, respectively. These two issues will continue to only grow in prevalence, as housing prices increase and internet access becomes more and more vital.
Law and legal, a broad category encompassing everything from immigration to redistricting, was the fifth most popular policy area that governors mentioned. Far and away the most mentioned issue was criminal justice reform and public safety reform. Twenty governors prioritized this issue, with ideas ranging from diversifying the police force, expanding workforce development programs for police and forensic scientists, and growing violent crime interruption and diversion programs. As Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) stated, “A truly effective approach to tackling crime involves both short term and long-term investments and a commitment to see those investments through.”
Another policy mentioned by ten governors this year was law enforcement pay increases. Most of these increases were approved as a one-time pay raise, although some will continue after 2022. Four governors mentioned immigration, with most being on the southern border, while two governors each emphasized the importance of redistricting and government transparency programs.
The following policy areas were also included in our analysis: