Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

With Crisis As Catalyst, State Governors Push Big Changes

by Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer

Governors are using the economic crisis to sell big changes in how state and local jurisdictions operate, promising overhauls that could alter the face of government around the country.

The proposals include cutting off public funds to the nation’s oldest state fair in Michigan, sharing state helicopters between Minnesota and Wisconsin, erasing dozens of laws in Connecticut and shrinking Pennsylvania’s system of 500 school districts to just 100.


Also examine the severity of the recession in all 50 states using an interactive map that tracks changes in unemployment and mortgage foreclosures since the start of the recession in December 2007.

It’s a familiar refrain in state capitols, especially because of the tremendous strain state governments are now under. States are trying to close what, in many cases, are unprecedented budget deficits while still delivering services, such as unemployment benefits and health insurance for the poor.

As a result, governors are increasingly pitching the idea of consolidating agencies, streamlining processes and cutting out layers of local government.

“There’s an opportunity here for efficiencies and to really prioritize government services and programs, trying to focus on those that work, getting rid of those that are ineffective,” said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers.

Dramatic government overhauls almost inevitably meet fierce resistance, especially when it comes to local schools and municipalities. Promised savings may not materialize. And gutting payrolls may not be enough, because states generally pay others to deliver their most expensive services: education and Medicaid, a joint federal-state program that provides health coverage to more than 59 million low-income people. But governors and other state officials are forging ahead anyway.

Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) of Indiana is setting his sights on the state’s local governments. The current situation, Daniels said in his state of the state address Jan. 13, is a “folly of too many politicians, too many layers, too many taxing units, all producing too little accountability and too few results.”

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) proposed sweeping reforms to the state’s education system. He called for adding 20 more days of instruction to the school calendar, requiring full-day kindergarten, beefing up teacher training requirements, threatening troubled schools with closure and having the state pick up a bigger share of school funding costs.

Other governors have similarly ambitious plans:

  • The governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin are working together to find out how their states could share resources — like state helicopters or call centers for human services or licensing — to reduce costs for both of them. A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) noted the two states bought a combined 600,000 tons of road salt; if the states save $1 a ton by buying salt together, each one would save $300,000, he said.
  • In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is pushing to eliminate 80% of the state’s school districts, consolidating schools into larger districts to reduce administrative costs.
  • Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) wants to eliminate more than half the state’s agencies, besides cutting off public money for both of Michigan’s state fairs, too. The fairs are expected to continue, but the state won’t make up their shortfalls as it has in the past.
  • Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) of Washington plans to eliminate 150 boards and commissions and to shutter 25 licensing offices for drivers.
  • Also examine the severity of the recession in all 50 states using an interactive map that tracks changes in unemployment and mortgage foreclosures since the start of the recession in December 2007.

Despite the enthusiasm, there’s no guarantee that the changes will work.

Read the full story at

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information