State & Local Roundup: A Historic Week for a New Governor

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It’s Friday, Jan. 20, and we’d like to welcome you to our new weekly State and Local Roundup. 

As big consumers of news, we come across hundreds of stories each week. These are about common challenges across states and localities, efforts underway to solve them, trends we are seeing, interesting reads, and notable events. We’re going to start rounding them up and sharing them in this newsletter each Friday. Here goes!

Pennsylvania Removes Degree Requirements

Democrat Josh Shapiro was sworn in on Tuesday as Pennsylvania’s 48th governor and by Wednesday he was signing his first executive order, removing college degree requirements for thousands of state jobs.

His directive nixes the need for four-year college degrees for roughly 65,000 positions, accounting for 92% of all state jobs. It comes as Pennsylvania, like other state and local governments, is struggling to fill vacancies across agencies. State and local governments have about 450,000 fewer workers than before the pandemic, according to one analysis.

“In Pennsylvania, the people should decide what path is best for them,” Shapiro said at the signing, “not have it decided by some arbitrary requirement or any arbitrary limitation.”

The order follows similar actions by cities and counties. In 2019, for example, Boulder County, Colorado, did away with degree requirements for about 80 different jobs with the county. Philadelphia, too, has removed such requirements where feasible. Most of these efforts by local governments are done in a more targeted way, often for jobs that they’re having trouble recruiting for or in a desire to move toward greater workforce diversity. 

But it is a somewhat new practice for states. Maryland, last year, dropped four-year degree requirements for more than 300 job postings in what the governor’s office described as a  “first-in-the-nation workforce development initiative.”

Maryland’s First Black Governor Sworn In

Speaking of firsts, Maryland swore in its first-ever Black governor, Wes Moore, on Wednesday. Introduced by Oprah Winfrey, Moore is only the fifth Black governor in our nation’s history and the only Black person leading a state today.

“This journey has never been about making history, it’s about marching forward,” he said in his inaugural address. “We do not have to choose between a competitive economy and an equitable one. Maryland should not be 43rd in unemployment or 44th in the cost of doing business. We should not tolerate an 8-to-1 racial wealth gap, not because it only hurts certain groups, but because it prevents all of us from reaching our full potential.”

In addition to addressing the economy and tackling the racial wealth gap, the Democrat promised to put the state on track to generate 100% clean energy by 2035 and pledged “high quality, highly inclusive schools” with a service year option for all high school graduates.

Mayors Discuss ARPA, Immigration, Housing, and Pickleball

While governors are being sworn in and delivering their state of the state addresses around the country, the nation’s mayors are meeting in Washington, D.C.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams made headlines earlier this week on a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, where he asked for help in addressing the migrant crisis. He, along with many of the nation’s mayors, reiterated that request at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting.

Worried about federal Covid aid clawbacks, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan warned other mayors at the meeting to spend all of their American Rescue Plan Act funding sooner rather than later in case newly empowered Republicans in the U.S. House push to take it back later this year as part of negotiations over the nation’s debt limit.

Also on the mayors’ meeting agenda was a session focused on how pickleball is “transforming cities.” Bryan Barnett, the Republican mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, said his city opened its first pickleball facility last year with eight courts. “I can tell you it has far surpassed anything we ever really could have imagined,” he said, describing the game as “wildly popular.” Some governments have tapped ARPA dollars to build pickleball courts, a move that doesn’t sit well with GOP lawmakers in Congress.

Make sure to come back here every Friday for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to the newsletter here. Have a great weekend.

News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events

  • California recovers. Powerful winter storms hitting the state have finally subsided. A recovery effort getting underway could cost upwards of $1 billion, the Los Angeles Times reported. President Biden surveyed the damage yesterday in Northern California. A new flood protection plan for the Central Valley released this week warned that preparing the state for future catastrophic flooding would require billions in investments.
  • Energy grid reform. Following the 2021 winter storms in Texas that left millions without power, the state has been working to make its energy grid more reliable. State regulators this week approved a controversial reform and first-of-its-kind proposal known as the “performance credit mechanism,” according to The Texas Tribune. State lawmakers will get a chance to review the plan before it goes into effect.
  • Electing judges. It’s the election you probably don’t know about, but one that The New York Times called “arguably the most important” in America in 2023. An April 4 contest for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will determine whether conservatives or liberals hold a 4-to-3 majority in a critical presidential battleground state. 
  • Big infrastructure. Already four-and-a-half years behind schedule, construction on Maryland’s light rail, known as the Purple Line, is facing another seven months of delay that could push back the line’s opening to mid-2027. The delay will add nearly $1.5 billion to the project’s $3.4 billion cost.
  • Banning China. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration halted efforts to site a Ford battery plant in Virginia late last year over concerns about Chinese Communist Party influence, news reports this week revealed. Now, the Houston Chronicle reports that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is seeking to ban China, Russia and Iran from buying Texas land, following a similar move by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • Sports betting pays off. It’s been a year since New York first allowed mobile sports betting and its popularity has exceeded expectations, with wagers topping $16 billion despite a 50% tax rate.
  • Homeless hotels. During the height of the pandemic, several cities turned to hotels to house their homeless populations. While Washington, D.C., announced it would end hotel shelter for homeless residents earlier this month, two cities said they are moving forward with the model. Los Angeles said it would keep its downtown hotel open as homeless housing for another year, and the Denver City Council approved the purchase of a hotel with 95 rooms to house the homeless. Meanwhile, the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said this week that his city is “getting price gouged” by hotel sellers.

Picture of the Week

Cleanup continued this week after a massive landslide caused U.S. Highway 101 in Oregon to crumble and drop up to 12 feet in areas. The state Department of Transportation tweeted that the landslide is for now stable, but said the road could need to be closed again on “short notice,” with plans for a long-term fix still in the works.

Government In Numbers

313

Detroit’s area code has developed a certain cachet, much like New York City’s 212, 310 in Los Angeles, and 305 in Miami. It’s become part of the city’s brand, featured on T-shirts and even tattoos. But now the state is running out of 313 phone numbers and wants to overlay a new area code–679–for use in the city and some surrounding suburbs.

ICYMI

When the Infrastructure Boom Meets the Workforce Crash

With federal dollars pouring into state and local governments for infrastructure, there’s one huge challenge: Who will do all the work?

BY KATHERINE BARRETT & RICHARD GREENE 

Cutting Building Emissions is About More Than Gas Stoves

As an uproar over the future of gas appliances burns hot, it’s overshadowing efficiency gains and other benefits states can achieve with building code updates.

BY DANIEL C. VOCK

New Federal Cash Headed to Trail Projects Nationwide

Some of the money is from earmarks included in a recent federal spending package. The funding comes as bike and pedestrian trail use has been on the rise.

BY MOLLY BOLAN