BEYOND THE NUMBERS
New State Lawmakers Should Focus on Building Equitable, Inclusive State Economies
Voters in a number of states approved ballot measures on Tuesday that should substantially enhance equity and inclusion. As newly elected governors — several of whom campaigned on boosting funding for schools and health — and legislators join with returning lawmakers in January, they should advance policies that ensure everyone has the chance to fulfill their potential regardless of where they were born, the color of their skin, or the size of their bank account.
Some of the equity- and inclusion-boosting measures that voters approved include:
- Adopting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah;
- Minimum wage increases for 1 million low-wage workers in Arkansas and Missouri;
- Same-day voter registration in Maryland and fairer redistricting processes in Colorado, Maryland, and Michigan (and possibly Utah when all votes are tallied);
- And the restoration of voting rights for 1.4 million people with prior felony convictions in Florida, an important move for Black people in the state who are disproportionately affected by current law.
Voters in several states also warded off policies that would undercut equity and inclusion, including in Oregon, where they defeated an anti-immigrant measure that would have repealed the state’s longstanding “sanctuary” status and a measure that would have tightened its supermajority requirement to raise revenues; and in California, where they beat back a measure that would have repealed a gas tax increase and led to a cut of more than $750 million a year in transit funding.
When lawmakers descend on state capitals in the new year, they can draw on our “Four-Point Fiscal Policy Blueprint for Building Thriving State Economies,” which lays out many ways to broaden prosperity and build more equitable and inclusive state economies. For example, they can:
- Unleash residents’ potential and boost productivity by investing in education and health. States can target education dollars to early learning, smaller class sizes, and higher teacher quality to improve education outcomes, especially for students of color and low-income students. They can build a stronger workforce by expanding access to higher education and job training. They can also strengthen the economy by investing in public health, making workers more productive, and raising the quality of life.
- Launch public infrastructure projects to create jobs, spur growth, and promote equity. Building and repairing roads, bridges, public transit, school buildings, and other physical assets creates jobs. When these projects are targeted to communities with the greatest need, they also can promote equity and broad prosperity, strengthening state economies for the long haul.
- Boost household incomes for shared prosperity. States can help families make ends meet and improve children’s life chances by enacting or expanding state earned income tax credits and higher minimum wages. They also can remove barriers to work and otherwise help families with child care and transportation assistance. States also should remove other barriers to economic security and opportunity by reducing incarceration and taking an inclusive approach to undocumented immigrants — for example by offering driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition to students educated in the state’s K-12 system.
- Clean up and modernize the tax code to spur public investment. Eliminating ineffective, special interest tax breaks, incentives, and loopholes and asking the wealthiest to pay their share would free up new dollars for education, income supports, and infrastructure projects. Taxing carbon pollution and resource extraction would raise money for key public investments while also counteracting the effects of climate change on communities that have limited financial resources.