Job growth was the number one theme covered in this year’s State of the State speeches, according to a recent Loop Capital Markets analysis.  Forty-one of the 43 governors delivering 2012 addresses included proposed actions to stimulate job growth and/or increase funding for job training.

In close second place, educational reform was the next most commonly addressed theme among this year’s governors’ speeches.  Investing in state infrastructure, flat or lowered taxes, and reducing the size of state government rounded out the list of the top five themes for this year.

As Christopher Mier, Managing Director in the Analytical Services Division at Loop Capital Markets points out, “It is important to bear in mind that these speeches are rhetoric – that is, they are as much political as they are practical.  At the same time, these common themes can provide a sense of the direction of political winds – ’what’s in’ and ’what’s out’ in political policy discussions.”

This year’s speeches reflected an increased emphasis on several themes compared to last year, most notably investing in state infrastructure.  Thirty of this year’s 43 State of the State speeches included a discussion of infrastructure expansion and improvements – a popular topic until talk turns to funding those enhancements, says Mier.  More governors also focused on flat or lowered taxes and correction system reform, two other “swing categories” receiving more governors’ attention in 2012 than in 2011.

Top 5 Themes in 2012 State of the State Addresses:

1.            Job growth

2.            Educational reform

3.            Investing in state’s infrastructure

4.            Flat or lowered taxes

5.            Reducing the size of government

In a national economy marked by near-record high levels of unemployment, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was the only governor to address the theme of state unemployment insurance reform in his 2012 address.  In 2011, six governors discussed the need for change in their unemployment systems. 

Reducing the size of government and/or increasing the efficiency of government was the fifth most prevalent theme among this year’s speeches, but the overriding notion of “doing more with less” also cropped up often in other categories.  Is doing more with less possible?  Mier thinks so, but he is quick to point out that some states are more willing to take action than others – and that some actions are more effective than others.

Countering the false impression that all states are in dire financial straits, he says that some states – Wyoming and Michigan, for example – have been able to take practical and appropriate actions to maintain a relatively balanced budget in these tough economic times.  Wyoming is currently operating under a budget surplus.  “While forward gaps could be a function of the national economy,” he says, “these days, states with little or no budget gaps are considered to be faring well.”