State of the State Addresses: What Are Governors' Priorities?

We've summarized all the key issues governors talked about in their speeches to kick off legislative sessions.
by | March 11, 2013

Governors began the year by sounding off on a range of issues likely to garner attention in their respective states—and in some cases nationally.

Annual State of the State addresses provide a glimpse of each governor’s priorities for the new legislative session. Governing reviewed all 49 speeches delivered so far, compiling summaries of some of the most talked-about policies.

Job creation and education served as central themes throughout most governors’ speeches, while many also touched on pension reform and Medicaid expansion. Curbing gun violence and providing support for the mental ill, along with references to the Sandy Hook school shootings, also frequently appeared in speeches.

But for the most part, governors avoided some of the more hot-button issues: immigration, same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization and abortion.

Here’s a summary of a few of the top issues governors addressed:

 
Pensions (20 Governors)

Governors of the following 20 states either discussed the health of retirement systems or policies specifically affecting pensions: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.

 
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn devoted a large portion of his speech to the issue, throwing his support behind a bill that would make changes to the state’s chronically-underfunded system. Illinois' public pension system is draining funds from education, public safety and other services to the tune of $17 million a day, Quinn said. 
 
Similarly, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett warned lawmakers that pension debt could siphon funding from other areas of state government. “Resolving our pension crisis will be the single most important thing we do for decades to come,” he said.
 
Others hit the topic indirectly: West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hailed passage of a bill tackling public employee retiree health care debt, a non-pension cost. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan also referenced estimates from changes to the state’s retirement system when discussing an unrelated topic, and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard cited other states’ pension woes.

Medicaid (30 Governors)

Thirty governors referenced the word “Medicaid” at least once in their speech, with much of the discussion revolving around Medicaid expansion. The Supreme Court left it up to states to decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act last year.

 
About half of states have opted in. But governors of 14 others had not elected not to participate in Medicaid expansion as of this week.
 
Several high-profile Republican governors consistently voiced sharp criticism directed at president Obama’s healthcare legislation, and their State of the State speeches were no different.
 
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, whose state will not participate, cited the program’s high price tag. “Instead of assuming enormous costs that we cannot afford, I would suggest that we spend our time and efforts in finding good jobs for all Mississippians,” he said.
 
Other Republican governors attempted to justify their support for expanding Medicaid while remaining firm in opposing the legislation.
 
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, for example, discussed how added Medicaid benefits would benefit the mentally ill or those suffering from addictions. “For those that live in the shadows of life, those who are the least among us, I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored,” he said.
 
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer reminded voters she attempted to block the legislation, and even wagged her finger at the president. Still, federal dollars would simply flow to other states if the state chose not to participate, she said.
 
Several governors expressed concerns regarding state costs if the federal government decides to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates in the coming years. Brewer and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon both called for a provision to roll back Medicaid expansion in their states if Congress trims federal funding in the future.

 

Mental Health (20 Governors)

Governors of the following twenty states emphasized mental health or suicide prevention: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming. Three others made references in passing while discussing other issues.

 
Several governors reminded lawmakers of the Sandy Hook shootings as they pressed for additional funding.
 
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's budget included $10 million targeted for mental health treatment, while Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin proposed a $16 million funding increase for the state's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
 
 
Immigration (4 Governors)

Only four governors cited specific policies concerning undocumented immigrants. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was most vocal on the issue, calling on the federal government to strengthen the state's border security.
 
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hailed passage of a bill legalizing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, while New Mexico Gov. Gov. Susana Martinez backed the repeal of a similar law in her state. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper voiced his support for an "equitable and fair" way for undocumented children to attend college.
 

Charter Schools (14 Governors)

Governors of the following 14 states made references to charter schools: Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

 
In his State of the Commonwealth Address, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called on the state Legislature to loosen charter school laws and approve a Constitutional amendment allowing the state Board of Education to authorize charter applicants.

 

 
Broadband (6 Governors)

 

Six speeches – Hawaii, Massachusetts, Montana, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- cited the importance of broadband or high-speed Internet access.
 
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin lauded a program aimed at virtual statewide coverage by the end of the year.
 
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, whose state invested heavily in broadband, announced an initiative providing students digital learning materials and devices that would put the state’s broadband infrastructure to use. Similarly, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock committed state funding to modernize schools and upgrade technology capabilities. 
 
“Technology has pushed Montana into a global marketplace, but far too many of our schools are lagging behind,” Bullock said. “The phones in our pockets have better Internet access than many of the classrooms in our state.”
 
 
Climate Change (7 Governors)

Seven governors – all Democrats -- voiced concern regarding climate change. They were: California Gov. Jerry Brown, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

 
Cuomo made particularly poignant remarks about New York’s coastal communities and advocated reducing the carbon emission cap. In wake of Hurricane Sandy, he outlined a program providing funds to homeowners wanting to move from their flooded homes and rebuild on higher ground. Cuomo also called for hardening the New York City subway system, airports and utilities to better withstand natural disasters.
 
“There is a 100-year flood every two years now,” he said. “It's inarguable that the sea is warmer and that there is a changing weather pattern, and the time to act is now.”
 
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, cited an initiative reducing carbon emissions without invoking global warming, as did Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
 
 
Minimum Wage (3 Governors)

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo each proposed state minimum wages hikes.

 
 
Gay Rights (7 Governors)

Governors Pat Quinn (Illinois), Mark Dayton (Minnesota) and Lincoln Chafee (Rhode Island) all called on legislatures to pass marriage equality measures.

 
“For our economic development, for civil rights, and for basic fairness, we must extend the rights and benefits of marriage to all Rhode Islanders,” Chafee said,
 
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper pressed for civil unions. Peter Shumlin (Vermont), Jay Inslee (Washington) and Andrew Cuomo (New York) rhetorically patted their states on the back for passing marriage equality legislation.
 
 
Marijuana (2 Governors)

Despite a push to legalize marijuana in several states, governors were mostly silent on the issue in their speeches. Only New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper brought it up.

 
Cuomo called for loosening of laws, which he said predominantly result in the arrest of young minorities. “Decriminalize the public view with 15 grams or less so there is fairness and parity in the system and we stop stigmatizing these people, making it harder to find a job, making it harder to get into to school, making it harder to turn their lives around at a very young age,” he said.
 
Hickenlooper briefly discussed a need to promote health and safety as the state implements Amendment 64, a measure voters approved last fall legalizing personal use of marijuana.

Please note that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has not yet delivered his speech. The following is a visual representation of all speeches, with larger words appearing most often. (View full-screen map)

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