Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Bush Builds on States’ Agenda

by Christine Vestal and Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writers

It’s too soon to know how far the new Congress might go in accepting President Bush’s State of the Union proposals on health care, energy, immigration and education, but states aren’t waiting to find out.

With Congress gridlocked and the Bush administration focused on the war in Iraq in recent years, states took the lead in exploring solutions to the problems of uninsured Americans, a build-up of global-warming gases and a surge of illegal immigration.

In his speech Tuesday (Jan. 23), President Bush carved out a role for states to carry on universal health insurance innovations pioneered by Massachusetts last year. In their own state of the state addresses this month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) already declared an intention to provide health insurance for all their residents.

Bush called for a five-fold increase in the production of alternative fuels, namely ethanol, and better fuel efficiency to wean the United States from dependence on foreign oil. He also proposed increased domestic oil production.

While his proposals were aimed primarily at diversifying America’s energy sources, Bush said the measures would help “confront the serious challenge of global climate change.” Bush failed to propose any restrictions on power plant or industrial emissions, where states have focused many of their energy policies.

While the Bush administration resists caps on gases blamed for climate change, California last year took the lead in fighting climate change with the nation’s toughest law, requiring industries to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide, 25 percent by 2020. Schwarzenegger went further this year, proposing the nation’s first global-warming initiative to mandate changes in vehicle fuels.

In all, 23 states are cutting fossil fuel consumption and emissions by requiring 7.5 percent to 30 percent of the state’s electricity to be generated by renewable sources, such as wind-, solar- or hydro-power. Seven of those states are considering raising those standards.

Soon after taking office, newly elected Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) recommitted his state to a coalition of seven other New England states working to reduce greenhouse gas in the region by cutting power-plant emissions.

Immigration has also been on the agenda in at least 27 states, which over the past two years passed laws to stanch the flow of undocumented workers. Frustrated by the federal government’s inability to stop illegal border crossings — and Congress’ and Bush’s failure to agree on immigration reform — states have taken aim at employers who hire undocumented workers and blocked illegal immigrants from social services.

In the state dealing with the largest number of illegal aliens crossing from Mexico, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) this year vowed to expand law enforcement and border patrol technology to combat illegal immigration.

And nearly every governor launched an initiative to upgrade secondary education and prepare students for a more challenging future job market.

Read the full report for a rundown of how states are already responding to what Bush cited as the nation’s top domestic issues.

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