State and Local

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.

Congress should create an “Innovation Voucher” program operated by NIST.

Almost a dozen countries—including Austria, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Sweden—use innovation vouchers (ranging in value from $5,000 to $30,000) to spur R&D, new product development, and innovation activity in traded-sector SME firms by enabling them to “buy” expertise from universities, national laboratories, or public research institutes for assistance with preparatory studies, analysis of technology transfer, analysis of the innovation potential of a new technology, etc. The vouchers both spur innovation in SMEs and stimulate knowledge transfer from universities and research institutions to SMEs. In the United States, innovation vouchers could be introduced at either the federal or state level, but Congress should facilitate their introduction by authorizing $20 million to NIST to fund a pilot program operated by select states that agree to match the funding dollar for dollar. As a potential source of funds to keep this option revenue-neutral, one option would be to take 0.5 percent of the current allocation to national laboratories to fund the vouchers.

Congress should enable SMEs to create Manufacturing Reinvestment Accounts.

To help SME manufacturers bootstrap themselves, Congress should establish a 401(k)-like “deferred investment” program for SME manufacturers allowing them to make tax-deferred investments into manufacturing reinvestment accounts, where the funds can be subsequently withdrawn tax-free if used for research and development, workforce training, or capital equipment investments. In 2011, Connecticut put such a program in place for its SME manufacturers.

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.

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.