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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tom Vilsack

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Tom Vilsack

Last Build Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2006 14:50:48 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Democrats Governing in Red States

Sun, 19 Feb 2006 14:50:48 -0600

How are they doing it? They are certainly getting no help from Washington. It was much easier to be a governor back in the 1990s, thanks to the Clinton-era economic boom that lifted real incomes, living standards -- and state revenues. But in recent years, governors have had to endure revenue shortfalls and rising demands for public services; skyrocketing health care costs that boost expenditures for Medicaid, children's health care, and state employees; and a variety of new federal mandates, from education reform to homeland security. Red-state Democratic governors have overcome these obstacles with a common formula of tough-minded fiscal management and policy innovation and a focus on delivering the services and making the long-term investments that provide citizens with the most important opportunities for social and economic progress. Here are a few examples: Janet Napolitano of Arizona erased a billion-dollar budget deficit during her first year in office without raising taxes or cutting education or other vital services. Since then, she's launched a number of innovative social service initiatives, from a voluntary pre-kindergarten program and an effort to align the state's entire education system with the needs of its economy, to the nation's first comprehensive statewide homeland security plan, featuring a new "fusion center" to coordinate anti-terrorism information. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas has also fixed an inherited state budget deficit. She has found nearly $1 billion in government savings and efficiency gains since taking office, in part by creating teams of analysts to scrutinize every aspect of the state budget, under an initiative to eliminate waste, dubbed "Kansas BEST." She has also tried to solidify the state's economic base with a "Statewide Economic Revitalization Plan" and has established a Rural Life Task Force. Meanwhile, her "Military Bill of Rights" has honored Kansans serving in the military, in part by boosting their emergency financial assistance benefits -- something Washington has failed to do adequately. Bill Richardson of New Mexico managed to balance his state's budget while cutting income and food taxes, implementing state agency performance reviews, and launching a "Save Smart New Mexico" initiative aimed at reforming procurement practices and other government operations. He has undertaken an aggressive economic development strategy focused on attracting new private investment to the state and ensuring that the state's workforce has the training and skills necessary to meet companies' needs. Richardson has also proposed a statewide pre-K education system and advanced an aggressive renewable and clean energy agenda. Brad Henry of Oklahoma has expanded his state's landmark pre-K program while maintaining a sound record of fiscal responsibility, in part by enacting a tax rebate and investment plan. Under that plan, when the state's "rainy-day" fund is fully replenished, half of any excess revenues are devoted to taxpayer rebates and half are used to fund research and economic development efforts. Henry has made reform a keynote of his administration, with initiatives to address entrenched problems affecting nursing homes, workers' compensation, and medical malpractice. He has also worked to lower prescription drug costs and to help small businesses gain access to affordable health insurance for their employees. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee has maintained balanced budgets without raising taxes, while increasing the state's rainy-day fund. He has created a "Jobs Cabinet" to improve coordination among the many state agencies involved in economic development, and has promoted targeted investments in fiber-optic and broadband technologies. In response to a major ethics scandal involving state legislators, he called a special session of the Tennessee Legislature in a push to enact comprehensive ethics reforms. In addition, he has taken on rising health care costs by reforming the state's longstanding TennCare program and is unveiling an initiative to offer tailored health plans to the u[...]