Missed Opportunities: What Washington Gets Wrong About States
Every year, the National Governors Association brings Governors and their staff to Washington, D.C. to discuss the most pressing policy issues facing states. I was fortunate enough to be able attend a few events this year, yet once again, I was reminded how many of us living and breathing Washington, DC politics miss the mark when it comes to engaging with state officials.
2023 is not without major policy debates. After a number of consequential Supreme Court decisions and a divided federal government, state leaders are motivated to debate critical policy priorities – from helping taxpayers afford household items like gasoline and groceries, coming up with a proactive strategy ahead of the federal Public Health Emergency ending on May 11th, addressing the housing crisis, becoming a carbon net-zero economy, and/or bringing their own state education rankings to the top in the nation.
Unfortunately, many DC-based government affairs professionals fail to ask about topics beyond federal implications when having important conversations with Governors. For example, I recently attended a panel discussion with state leaders where moderators focused heavily on upcoming elections and not on local legislation and trends. While the federal government has collaborated with state governments on execution of major legislative goals, it is critical to underscore the difference between federal and state point of views.
Specifically, focusing the conversation with Governors on the 2024 presidential election, or about who they view their party leaders are, in a year where they have record high budgets, are faced with economic uncertainty, widespread opioid deaths, an alarming housing and homelessness crisis, and a variety of social battles including education curriculum and reproductive rights – is a missed opportunity.
Funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) facilitated record budget surpluses for the majority of states. This allowed several states to cut taxes, provide stimulus checks, and put money into existing programs while creating new ones. I wanted to hear answers to critical questions, including: what Governors will do when the funding expires? How Governors determine what to prioritize when funding is available for everything? What programs were able to be created or maintained as a direct result of ARPA dollars, and how will they continue to be maintained? Instead, the focus was put on President Biden's effort to providing funding.
Discussion around the Inflation Reduction Act’s climate initiatives was no different. While transitioning to a carbon neutral economy is a priority, every state must approach it differently with varying geographic capabilities for EV charging, reliance on the coal and oil industries, ability to manufacture and procure semi-chip conductors, and different workforce capabilities. What are state leaders proposing?
In 2023, all 50 state legislatures will be convening in regular session, giving their State of the State addresses, announcing new budget priorities, and tackling a wide range of issues before their respective sessions conclude. The bottom line is: federal issues do bleed into states, yet DC professionals will continue to misunderstand the operation and structure of state governments unless we start asking the right questions. This is why Prism Group has a dedicated state government affairs practice, because we know that understanding how state governments work is vital for short-term and long-term success.