State and Local Government

State and local election officials should adopt the use of online voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting to improve the accessibility of elections for disabled individuals.

Although the gap in participation between voters with and without disabilities has narrowed, people with disabilities are still less likely to vote than people without disabilities. In particular, individuals with a cognitive difficulty, a self-care difficulty, or an independent-living difficulty, vote at significantly lower rates than individuals with no disability. These individuals may have trouble leaving their homes or navigating crowded, noisy environments, so efforts designed to make voting machines and polling places physically more accessible may not address their primary needs. Some states have made changes to election processes to make them more convenient for everyone, such as allowing “no-excuse” absentee voting (i.e., any voter can vote absentee) and creating a permanent absentee voting list (i.e., voters can sign up to receive automatically an absentee ballot for all future elections). While people with disabilities are more likely to vote in states that have made these changes, these reforms have not been adopted everywhere.

Create global knowledge investment zones (GKIZs) to attract foreign direct investment.

The federal government should identify a limited number of global knowledge investment zones as a key mechanism for attracting high-value-added foreign direct investment. Firms located in these zones would be eligible to receive a number of benefits, including: 1) The ability to write off (on federal taxes) all capital expenditures in the first year; 2) A collaborative R&D tax credit of 25 percent on all expenditures on research made at the associated universities in the GKIZ. For companies that are not yet profitable, tax benefits could be applied against payroll taxes; 3) Streamlined access to university technology, with university zone participants agreeing to implement leading-edge intellectual property and technology transfer practices, including “standardized” licensing agreements and policies to encourage faculty entrepreneurship, industry engagement, and technology commercialization; 4) Access to better-funded NSF I/UCRCs; and 5) Visa preferences by tapping into the unused portion of existing EB-5 visas.

Congress needs to work with State and Local Government to increase the freedom of high school students to pursue depth.

In order to provide students the opportunity to pursue depth in their K-12 studies, states should substantially pare the breadth requirements and mandatory course lists required for high school graduation. Testing a sampling of students on key skills needed, before and after taking specific courses, should indicate the extent to which a course advances a key skill and therefore should be mandated as a graduation requirement. Congress should incentivize the relaxation of science distribution requirements in high schools by tying ESEA funding to the elimination of graduation (or graduation test) criteria in which specific science courses are required by name. Moreover, states should decrease the science courses required for graduation to one, and let that one be of the student’s choosing, while reducing math requirements slightly.

State boards of education should adopt performance-based assessments of textbooks and other learning materials.

State boards of education should either abandon textbook adoption criteria entirely–and leave purchasing decisions to individual schools–or adopt new criteria that apply equally well to all learning media and that speak to skills outcomes rather than topic coverage. Substituting proof that the product improves individual learning outcomes—rather simply covering a long checklist of topics—would stimulate both textbooks and new media to be the best learning tools they can be.

State Government should establish “NewSchools” organizations designed to facilitate the development of new kinds of middle and high schools, including those focused on STEM education.

States should institute a new governance and funding model to support the establishment of more innovative schools, such as STEM schools and schools that focus on project-based learning, along the lines of a proposal brought forward in Minnesota to create a Minnesota’s NewSchools organization. NewSchools would be a 501(c)3 non-profit that can raise and direct public, as well as private, resources, to “innovative” schools; that sets binding policy for those schools; and that is responsible for executing directives from the legislative and executive branches, with respect to these schools. In addition, the federal Department of Education should factor whether states have established such organizations in awarding any further Race to the Top grants.

To increase industry R&D state governments should align state R&D tax credits with the Federal Alternative Simplified R&D tax credit.

Studies show that the research and development tax credit is an effective way of stimulating private-sector R&D. Moreover, state R&D tax credits appear to be even more effective than the federal credit. While 38 states in 2006 linked their R&D tax credits with the federal R&D tax credit, allowing firms to take a 20 percent credit on increased R&D funding, many states have not updated their tax code to link to the increased Alternative Simplified Credit, which rose from 12 to 14 percent.

State and local governments should fund Statewide Commercialization and Entrepreneurship Organizations to connect resources with local innovators and entrepreneurs.

Commercialization and entrepreneurship are keys to economic development. To maximize both, there should be at least one organization in each state that has this as its mission. One model is Oklahoma’s non-profit i2E organization. Through its various programs i2E helps Oklahoma companies with strategic planning assistance, networking opportunities, and access to capital. Likewise, Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Technology Partners have over their 25 year history evolved to serving as a statewide resource for technology commercialization for entrepreneurs.

To grow manufacturing jobs states should extend sales tax parity for purchases to computers and IT equipment used in the production process.

A wide array of economic studies points to the importance of IT in driving productivity. Yet, most states are still stuck in the old economy when it comes to their tax incentives for manufacturers. Most provide a sales tax exemption for manufacturers for equipment purchased in the manufacturing process, and some even provide tax credits for the purchase of manufacturing equipment. But few extend this exemption (or credit) to computer and other IT equipment used in the rest of the plant, even though from a competitiveness standpoint it can have an even bigger impact than a traditional piece of machinery. For example, under Washington state’s rules governing its manufacturing sales tax exemption , manufacturing computers qualify only if they “direct or control machinery or equipment that acts upon or interacts with tangible personal property” or “if they act upon or interact with an item of tangible personal property.” Many other states have similar restrictions. States should simply eliminate this requirement and allow any IT equipment, software or devices purchased by manufacturers to be exempt from state sales taxes.

Each state could allow workers in approved training programs to collect unemployment insurance benefits for up to 26 additional weeks.

Highly skilled workers are not only essential for productivity but are also less likely to experience long-term unemployment that low-skilled workers. Yet often times, unemployed workers don’t have the luxury of taking time away from the workforce for training. Extending unemployment insurance to workers in training will help low-skilled workers get needed skills and escape the trap of circular employment/unemployment that affects many such workers.

States should create Angel Capital Networks to link investors and young firms.

Angel capital, the capital invested by (usually) wealthy individuals in a region’s businesses, is as important as venture capital in supporting entrepreneurship. States can play a key role by helping to link angels and entrepreneurs. For example, the Wisconsin Angel Network (WAN) represents more than 200 individual investors and helps match them with start ups and young companies. Similarly, Pennsylvania’s Ben Franklin Investment Partners (BFIP) guarantees up to 25 percent of any loss experienced by a qualified private investor who makes an investment in a qualifying southeastern Pennsylvania emerging technology enterprise. A number of states also provide a modest tax credit to angel investors for investing in an in-state firm.