Governors: Economies, education intertwined

ASPEN — Ensuring adequate health care and education and even providing for gay rights are integral to boosting states’ economies, Democratic governors said Saturday.

The governors spoke at an Aspen Institute forum while in town for a Democratic Governors Association meeting. Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado was joined by Govs. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, Jay Nixon of Missouri, Jay Inslee of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

While boasting about the strength of their economies, the governors pointed to the role that factors such as health care can play in job creation.

Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said small businesses are challenged by the inability to control health care costs. To grow jobs and improve quality of life in Vermont, “we had to make health care a right instead of a privilege,” he said.

He said Vermont, which has the nation’s third-lowest unemployment rate, is pursuing health care reforms including trying to become by 2017 the first state with a single-payer system where health care follows an individual when they change jobs.

To control costs, Vermont is focusing on reimbursements based on outcomes and quality of care, rather than quantity of care, he said.

As a result, “we’ll be healthier, smarter and better able to compete for jobs and economic opportunity,” he said.

Inslee said Washington also wants to follow the outcome-based concept.

“We don’t want to pay for procedures any more. We want to pay for health,” he said.

Nixon said Missouri has rebuilt its economy based on fiscal discipline, including the state employing 4,500 fewer people as it cut spending during his first term. But at the same time, “we have focused a tremendous amount of effort on education,” he said.

This includes enabling more people to go to college by making it more affordable. Missouri has seen some of the smallest tuition increases in the country, and the state has gotten rid of duplicative degree programs while providing funding based on performance for higher education, he said.

Chafee said national trickle-down economics consisting of tax cuts for the wealthy, followed by wartime spending, causes federal deficits to come roaring back.

He said the road to economic recovery requires investing in education and keeping tuition rates down, including in places like Rhode Island where the number of people of color is quickly increasing.

“Education is the great equalizer,” he said.

He also said equal rights for gays is important to a state’s economy, something that Rhode Island recognized by passing marriage equality.

“If we want the entrepreneurs in our state we’ve got to have the welcome mat out for everybody,” he said to applause.

Shumlin pointed to Vermont’s national leadership in providing for marriage equality for gays, and said it’s an issue that younger generations view quite differently than his generally does.

“This is one of the fastest-moving civil rights issues that I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He also said limits are being placed on women’s health in some states at an “absolutely unprecedented” level and are “unconscionable.” He said the way to stop that is to elect pro-choice Democratic governors who will “get back to creating jobs, education, renewable energy, the things that America cares about.”

Hickenlooper let his colleagues do most of the talking Saturday but joined with Inslee in discussing the decisions in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational marijuana use. Both voiced concern about the need to ensure youth are prevented from using the drug.

“My largest concern about this obviously is our kids. There is neuroscience that suggests this is particularly problematic, about kids using this at not the right age,” Inslee said.

Hickenlooper cited science suggesting youth use of marijuana could affect long-term memory for life. Noting that alcohol is heavily regulated in Colorado, he said, “We are going to regulate marijuana every bit as strictly.”

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