2015 State of the State Addresses: Is Technology on the Agenda?

With revenue bouncing back in many states, governors once again are talking about investment. But are any of them talking about sinking that new money into technology? The answer is, not really — at least not overtly.

Our analysis of State of the State addresses delivered to date found relatively few direct references to improving the technology systems that run government or launching new digital services. Still, the priorities spelled out in these speeches will drive new tech investment and deployment in a range of areas. Two clear winners in the contest for gubernatorial attention are transportation and education.

Many governors want to spend more on state transportation systems — predominantly highways and bridges. Some proposals included changes to funding models — like raising gas taxes or vehicle registration fees — to pay for repairing existing infrastructure and building new roads to serve expanding populations. Several governors tied these improvements to economic competitiveness because of their importance to local manufacturers and other businesses.

New technology for smarter roads and infrastructure didn’t make it into the State of the State discussion — but that doesn’t mean tech won’t be part of these projects as officials look to make highways safer and more efficient. For instance, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rarely mentioned technology in his Jan. 16 address, but he used the speech to promote a new transportation plan released in December. That plan recommends using lidar imagery to detect landslide danger, creating electric vehicle charging stations and adopting performance dashboards at the Washington Department of Transportation to track revenues and project status.

Schools also can expect more money if governors get their way. State of the State speeches often called for better classroom technology and stronger curriculum for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wants to boost school funding by a half-billion dollars, which could be used for everything from buying new technology to hiring more teachers and guidance counselors. And Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed increasing school technology funding from $4 million to $50 million over the next several years.

More broadly, governors talked up the need to train or retrain their workforces to meet the needs of desirable high-tech employers. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell pointed to a program developed by private employers and the state to train hundreds of IT workers at a coding school, launching this fall. Several others also pointed to public-private partnerships aimed at reskilling workers, as well as incentive programs designed to promote innovation and attract entrepreneurial companies. 

Broadband was one of the few areas where governors mentioned technology directly. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants broadband for 500,000 state residents and 4,000 businesses that lack high-speed connectivity. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad urged state lawmakers to approve a plan to boost broadband availability in rural areas. And Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead lauded the completion of a broadband network that brought Ethernet-speed Internet connections to every school district in his state.

Governors invariably linked broadband projects to economic viability. “A state that doesn’t have broadband is not going to be economically successful going forward,” Cuomo said.

Finally, technology was a lifeline for governors facing budget shortfalls. Although finances have improved for many states, not all of them are out of the woods. Hawaii Gov. David Ige described his state’s budget picture as "sobering." He’s counting on a tax system modernization project to boost revenue collection, and encouraging efficiencies like the state Senate’s recent move to paperless operations that saved $1.2 million. And Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin listed consolidation of 911 call centers — estimated to save almost $2 million — among his efforts to close a $94 million state budget gap.

Check out our state-by-state analysis in this interactive map or read the full text.

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