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2018 State of the State addresses: Nine speeches, nine ideas from governors

by Tim Anderson ~ February 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
The annual State of the State addresses that kick off legislative sessions typically include myriad proposals for new laws and government initiatives, and this year was no different. Here is a brief look around the region at nine ideas — one from each of the nine speeches from January. (The governors of Minnesota and Ohio had not yet given their State of the States as of early February.)
Reform property tax system
In his speech to lawmakers, Gov. Bruce Rauner said Illinois’ property tax system is “rigged” against ordinary people in favor of those with clout. He wants a new law that would ban legislators from practicing before local tax appeals boards. Rauner also said local voters should have the “ability to lower their property taxes through a simple voter referendum.” A legislative proposal in 2017 (SB 851) would have frozen property tax rates in some counties for two years and allowed for votes on such a freeze in others.
Provide computer science in all schools
Every school district in Indiana should be required to offer computer science instruction to its students, Gov. Eric Holcomb said in his State of the State speech. “We’ll pay for the teacher professional development [teachers] need to inspire their students,” he added. In late January, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed SB 172, under which all public and charter schools would have to offer a computer science course as a one-semester elective at least once each school year.
Bolster mental health training
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ first Condition of the State address included a request that state dollars be used to support a new initiative between Des Moines University and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Under this partnership, every new doctor will receive training to help patients with mental health challenges. “It will be the first of its kind,” Reynolds said of the initiative, “and since Des Moines University trains more primary-care physicians than any medical school in the country, it’s a significant step forward.”
Improve access to dual credit courses
Gov. Sam Brownback’s address (given before he left office to become U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom) included several strategies on K-12 education. Among them: Have every Kansas high school (through a partnership with postsecondary schools) offer at least 15 credit hours of dual credit coursework, at no additional cost to parents or students. According to a 2016 Education Commission of the States study, the primary responsibility of paying for dual-enrollment tuition varies across the country: students/parents in nine states; states themselves in five; and school districts in four. In other states, this responsibility is shared or depends on local policy.
Lead efforts to stop Asian carp
When it comes to protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp and the species’ potential invasion via the Chicago Area Waterway System, “We’ve had too many studies, too much talk, [and] we have not had enough action,” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said to legislators. In response, he has launched a new multi-state initiative: the Great Lakes Basin Partnership to Block Asian Carp. One of its goals is to find funding sources for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan that, if implemented, would add more controls at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Illinois. Thus far, Michigan’s partners in the new initiative are Ohio, Ontario and Wisconsin.
Reduce income tax rates
Much like it was last year, a change in Nebraska’s tax system is a top priority of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who described to legislators the main components of his proposed LB 947. They include 1) turning the state’s current property tax credits into refundable state income tax credits (thus ensuring that this tax relief goes only to Nebraska residents); and 2) reducing state income and corporate income tax rates. “We must ... attract more people to come to our state,” he said. “Our neighboring states are making themselves more competitive.”
Make most of oil and gas fund
Eight years ago, North Dakota voters passed a legislatively initiated constitutional amendment creating a Legacy Fund, where 30 percent of total revenue from oil and gas production now goes. The fund is expected to have $5.2 billion in it in 2018. Last year, about $200 million in the fund (interest and income from it) was used to help North Dakota lawmakers close the state’s budget deficit. In his State of the State address, Gov. Doug Burgum challenged policymakers to come up with ways of using the Legacy Fund over the long term: “I would like us to think really creatively about how we can use those dollars to actually transform what we’re doing, not just fund the basic services and operations of government.”
Remove barriers for licensed workers
Under a proposal by South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, five Midwestern and western states would enter into a new agreement that would allow licensed professionals to move among the member states and practice for up to 18 months. “We must [ensure] that licensure isn’t used to keep qualified workers out of the market,” he said to lawmakers. HB 1319, the Interstate Compact for the Temporary Licensure of Professionals, was introduced in the South Dakota House in February.
Establish a new child tax credit
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to send every family in the state a $100 check for every child living at home under the age of 18. “A couple hundred dollars more in the family budget could really make a difference,” he said. His proposal also calls for creation of a permanent, refundable child tax credit. A handful of U.S. states (none in the Midwest) already provide for a child tax credit. Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Ohio have a credit that helps individuals pay expenses for the care of children, adult dependents or an incapacitated spouse.