National Governors Association (NGA) Chair Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Vice Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper today delivered the association's second annual State of the States address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Both governors highlighted state policy innovations and the need for states to fill the voids left by federal inaction and budget cuts, contrasting the productive activity in state capitols with the gridlock in Washington, D.C. Gov. Fallin pointed out several areas in which governors have urged Congress to take action and work with states. These areas include reauthorization of both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Water Resources Development Act, restoration of the Workforce Investment Act 15 percent set-aside and passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act, in addition to providing certainty and long-term solutions for aging infrastructure and protecting the Army and Air National Guard from disproportionate and damaging cuts.
Despite Congress's inaction on these issues, governors continue to make strides for their states and citizens, as Gov. Fallin highlighted when discussing several successful state initiatives.
"States are leading the way by increasing educational opportunities for our citizens and investing in the nation's workforce," said Fallin. "We're helping to arm today's workers with the tools they need to be successful. We're also ensuring our businesses thrive and are internationally competitive by working to train and educate a more highly skilled workforce."
To illustrate her point, Gov. Fallin pointed to her NGA Chair's Initiative, America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow's Jobs.
"This initiative is about helping American workers find and keep good paying jobs. To do that, we are working to make significant improvements to our education systems and workforce training programs to align them with the needs of business and labor markets to benefit our citizens and our economies," Gov. Fallin said. "The "new minimum' for economic success is either a two-year or four-year college degree or relevant workforce certification. Without some kind of postsecondary education, our children and working adults will find it hard to achieve the American dream."
Fallin also discussed governors' efforts to raise education standards for all students to compete not only in their town, city or state, but also internationally, before turning her focus to supporting and cultivating entrepreneurs who play a key role in economic growth.
"Where high-wage jobs are concerned, governors understand that manufacturing plays an important role. Jobs are generated not just in the factory, but also in research and development and the services that support manufacturing," Fallin noted. "NGA has worked with eight states that have recently developed manufacturing strategies, with an emphasis on advanced manufacturing. Those and other states are creating public-private industry advisory councils to guide state policy related to manufacturing, while working to connect manufacturers to research and development, workforce talent and supply chain support."
In his remarks,Gov. Hickenlooper spoke about an NGA Forum on Shale Energy that he and Gov. Fallin co-hosted in Colorado. He noted that governors are at the center of the current shale energy boom and are actively pursuing ways to manage responsible development.
"Across the nation, governors are leading the charge to make full use of every energy resource--natural gas, oil, wind, coal, nuclear, solar--and to reduce the amount of energy we use," he said. "Our efforts to develop shale gas responsibly, along with those to promote the full array of domestic energy resources and energy efficiency, are strengthening our energy independence."
Gov. Hickenlooperalso highlighted governors' role in maintaining and protecting our Army and Air National Guard and called on Congress and the Administration to recognize the value of maintaining an active and ready National Guard. He also spoke about governors' work to ensure veterans can find meaningful employment upon their return.
On the topic of cybersecurity, Gov. Hickenlooper highlighted the two different approaches taken by the federal government and states. While the federal government tries to figure out how to work with the private sector and states to create a more secure cyberspace, states are already moving forward to develop and implement new cyber policies to protect their economies and ensure public safety.
"Last fall, NGA released A Call to Action for Governors for Cybersecurity, which gives recommendations for governors to consider as they develop and implement a state cybersecurity strategy and allocate resources," Gov. Hickenlooper said. "Now we are working to help states implement those strategies and also advance cybersecurity efforts in the energy sector. We are pursuing robust approaches to governance, examining how to leverage the support of fusion centers and, in keeping with the theme of Governor Fallin's initiative, advancing education and workforce strategies that help meet the growing need for well-trained cybersecurity experts."
Finally, Gov. Hickenlooper highlighted governors' work on health care.
"No list of priorities would be complete without the mention of health care. The politics of health care may be divisive, but the goal of providing access to quality and cost-effective care is not," he said. "But for NGA, health care is not just about the Affordable Care Act. And we as governors should focus on the issues that unite, not divide, us."
He noted that NGA hosted more than 52 health care meetings with state officials in 2013, joined with the Institute of Medicine to host the first of several in-state health care retreats designed to help states devise ways to transform their own health systems, led an initiative to help states fight prescription drug abuse and created a Health Care Sustainability Task Force to develop recommendations to strengthen the state-federal partnership and improve the quality of health care while reducing costs.