News 2016

Best of the West: California autonomous car roadblock, record-breaking blazes, hottest housing markets

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The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West and its governors. Here are western stories for the week starting Jan. 11, 2016, that you don't want to miss:

carPumping the (autonomous) brakes: California is not quite ready to allow self-driving cars to hit the road after reports of wildly different levels of success in on-road testing.

Moving West: Zillow's Hottest Housing Markets for 2016 list is dominated by western metro areas, with Denver leading the pack. See all nine western cities in the top 10.

Washington tech: Uber's competitor in Asia has opened a development office in downtown Seattle, led by a former Microsoft engineer.

Occupation tactics: The occupation in Oregon is rounding up its second week. The Oregonian breaks down why the feds haven't yet made moves to oust the illegal occupants from the federal compound outside Burns.

Wildfire record: High Country News reports that 2015 wildfires blazed through previous records, burning an astonishing 10.1 million acres. See where the damage occurred.

See last week's news

Get even more news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Executive Director's Notebook: WGA's success means it's time to plan for more success

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“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” -- Andy Grove

By Jim Ogsbury

While I’m not exactly ready to confess to paranoia, I am acutely sensitive to the dangers of complacency.

Western Governors and WGA have registered extraordinary successes over the past few Only the Paranoid Surviveyears. The association has been re-engineered, reorganized and re-energized. The reinvented policy team has effectively advanced the Governors’ priorities and the new communications group has helped to elevate the profile of Western Governors in Washington, D.C. and across the country. A look at our Top Ten Policy Achievements for 2015 suggests the extent to which Western Governors are having a profound effect on national policy.

That’s all great, but to be satisfied with past accomplishments would be to trigger the decline of an association that is hitting its stride. Instead, we are committed to providing ever more value to Western Governors, creating new opportunities to promote their bipartisan priorities and enact their commonsense agenda. (More)

Western Governors deliver 2016 State of the State addresses

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Western Governors have delivered their 2016 State of the State addresses. We created a "word cloud" of the most common themes in the speeches, which you can see above. 


Alaska Gov Bill WalkerBill Walker called for bold action during his State of the State address on Jan. 21, 2016. Nathaniel Herz of the Alaska Dispatch News reported that Gov. Walker urged lawmakers "to plug the hole in Alaska’s sinking financial ship by approving the three major pieces of his budget plan: budget cuts, new taxes, and spending some of the Permanent Fund’s earnings." (Story) The governor acknowledged that his drastic proposals may potentially come at a political cost to him. “I did not run for governor to keep the job,” he said. “I ran for governor to do the job.” Gov. Walker also, however, was optimistic about areas of potential growth, such as agriculture, resource development and tourism. Read the full speech


Governor Doug DuceyDoug Ducey delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 11, 2016. Gov. Ducey focused on the positive impacts of his first year in office, touting the state as "on the rise." The Arizona Republic reports that the governor reiterated his campaign promises, "again promising tax cuts, education reform, looser regulations and an effort to reduce the number of people reliant on state government." (Story) His call for education funding reform was met with a standing ovation. He also expressed frustration that Arizona requires too many licenses for too many jobs, including talent agents, noting: "Let’s leave the job of finding new talent to Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani – not state government."  Read the full speech


California Gov Jerry BrownJerry Brown delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 21, 2016. In what Los Angeles Times reporter John Myers called "a short speech with a long view of California," Gov. Brown touched on themes that included the budget, income inequality, deteriorating infrastructure, drought and climate goals. (Story) The governor said Californians will need to "bite the bullet" on new taxes to fund long-term infrastructure maintenance costs. "Ideology and politics stand in the way, but one way or another the roads must be fixed," Gov. Brown said. Read the full speech


Colorado Gov John HickenlooperJohn Hickenlooper delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 14, 2016. The governor set the stage for his speech with a pragmatic tone the Denver Post called, "classic Hickenlooper," and called for lawmakers to work together to solve budget and housing issues. (Story) Gov. Hickenlooper urged, "Let's strive, I mean really try, to be more bipartisan this session." He also emphasized that the state would need to continue adapting and innovating to keep its economy on top, joking, "We don’t need a Delorean time machine to know that change is coming." Read the full speech


Hawaii Gov David IgeDavid Ige delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 25, 2016. The Honolulu Civil Beat reports that "the governor identified issues that he said had been neglected but could wait no longer for action," including making classrooms cooler, revitalizing infrastructure, and creating a Hawaii Invasive Species Authority. (Story) Gov. Ige also made a big push for affordable housing projects to address increasing concerns about homelessness, emphasizing, "You cannot talk about homelessness without talking about the major reason why it has become so widespread.  And that is the lack of affordable housing." The governor also spoke to the importance of value-based actions for government and citizens, reminding, "When we demean others we betray ourselves." Read the full speech


Idaho Gov Butch OtterGov. Butch Otter focused on school funding in his joint State of the State and Budget address on Jan. 11, 2016. Gov. Otter said: "We are entrusted with the singular constitutional responsibility of providing for a 'general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools throughout Idaho,'" before proposing significant increases in education spending. The Associated Press reported that the governor's speech  featured several new higher-education initiatives, including a college tuition freeze program to ensure that incoming freshman would pay the same rate for four academic years. (Story) Read the full speech


Kansas Gov Sam BrownbackSam Brownback focused on high-profile state issues such as education spending in his State of the State speech on Jan. 12, 2016. Stephen Koranda of Kansas Public Radio reported that Gov. Brownback "laid the groundwork in his speech by referencing what he and lawmakers had done in Kansas in recent years. He touted tax policy, the unemployment rate and job growth." (Story) The governor also touched on the future of the state's water supply, calling the issue "one of the biggest challenges" Kansas faces. Read the full speech


Nebraska Gov Pete RickettsPete Ricketts established property tax relief as his top priority in his State of the State address on Jan. 14, 2016. His other policy focuses in the coming year include increased transportation infrastructure funding and additional prison reform. Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal Star reported that the governor proposed state budget adjustments that would fund these initiatives without taking any money from the state's "rainy day" cash reserve fund. (Story) Gov. Ricketts also promised that his administration is working to "ensure a new level of transparency and accountability for taxpayers." Read the full speech

New Mexico

New Mexico Gov Susana MartinezSusana Martinez set forth a sweeping agenda during her State of the State address on Jan. 19, 2016. Gov. Martinez called on lawmakers to get tougher on crime and to implement her education and economic development proposals. Dan Boyd of the Albuquerque Journal reported that the governor's speech "focused heavily on a recent spate of high-profile crimes" and urged stricter anti-DWI laws and expansion of the state’s 'three-strikes' law for repeat offenders. (Story) Her speech also implored lawmakers to "demand more than mediocrity in education." Read the full speech


Oklahoma Gov Mary FallinMary Fallin delivered her State of the State address on Feb. 1, 2016. Curtis Killman of the Tulsa World reported that "there was no mistaking the theme" of Gov. Fallin's speech: the budget. (Story) The governor addressed the urgent need to improve the state’s budgeting process to ensure adequate funding for education, public safety, health and more. Gov. Fallin especially focused on education, calling for a pay raise for teachers and proclaiming, “Oklahoma’s future sits in the classrooms of today. The education of our students remains my biggest priority in my budget." Lowering mandatory drug possession sentences and creating a high consumption tax on cigarettes were also highlighted. Read the full speech


Oregon Gov Kate Brown Official Portrait MugKate Brown delivered her State of the State address on April 8, 2016. She touted the state's economic progress, including the recently increased minimum wage, and urged lawmakers to pass her comprehensive transportation package. Gordon Friedman of the Statesman Journal reported that Gov. Brown announced Oregon has hit a record low unemployment rate, but "added that state government must continue to seek economic opportunities for Oregonians, especially those in rural counties." (Story) Gov. Brown proclaimed, "The sun has definitely come out from behind the clouds of a protracted economic downturn." Read the full speech

South Dakota

South Dakota Gov Dennis DaugaardDennis Daugaard delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 12, 2016. He asked lawmakers to approve a half-cent sales tax to help make teacher pay more competitive. Dana Ferguson of the Argus Leader reported that Gov. Daugaard also "spotlighted the state's successes — and the work yet to be done — on issues including criminal justice, workforce development and state parks." (Story) On workforce development, the governor said, "We all  understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. It needs constant attention." Read the full speech


Utah Gov Gary HerbertGary Herbert delivered his State of the State address on Jan. 27, 2016. Gov. Herbert touted Utah's economy and encouraged even more progress. "The state of our state is strong," he said, "and I think most of us would say the state of our state is outstanding. That being said, I believe we can do even better." Robert Gehrke of the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the governor called on lawmakers "to do more to address health care for low-income residents, to improve air quality and to help provide opportunities in rural Utah." (Story) Gov. Herbert also focused on education, challenging school employees to work to raise the state's graduation rate to 90%. Read the full speech


Washington Gov Jay InsleeJay Inslee addressed a number of pressing issues in his State of the State address on Jan. 12, 2016, including education, mental health, wildfires and minimum wage. Gov. Inslee said that it’s “absolutely necessary” for lawmakers to develop a framework to pay for the state’s basic education system during the legislative session. On the necessity of recruiting and training more teachers, Gov. Inslee said, "If nobody is standing in front of the classroom, we have zip." Joseph O’Sullivan of the Seattle Times reported that the governor urged lawmakers returning for the legislative session to "approach the problems 'with recognition of the depths of our challenges, and with confidence that together we can solve them.'" (Story) Read the full speech


Wyoming Gov Matt MeadMatt Mead focused on the budget, Medicaid and infrastructure during his State of the State address on Feb. 8, 2016. Gov. Mead especially highlighted the need to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, a move that would offer health insurance coverage to 20,000 low-income adults in the state. Laura Hancock of the Casper Star-Tribune reported these are "people who typically delay health care until it warrants a visit to the emergency room. That can result in higher costs for hospitals and worse outcomes for patients." (Story) The governor also spoke about the Western Governors' Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative, his Chairman's Initiative for WGA. Read the full speech

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

First Chairman's Initiative webinar to focus on Black-footed Ferret recovery

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ferretBlack-footed FerretThe Western Governors' Association will host the first in a series of webinars as part of its Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative on Jan. 14. 

Voluntary Species Conservation Incentives and Collaboration will highlight the recovery of Black-footed Ferret in Colorado and Wyoming. Panelists representing a diverse range of interest will participate in a moderated discussion, as well as a question and answer session. Register here


Best of the West: Oregon standoff, deep snow in Sierras, Nevada's autonomous car push

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The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on news of the West and its governors. Here are western stories for the week starting Jan. 4, 2016, that you don't want to miss:

Oregon occupation: See Gov. Kate Brown's statement telling the illegal occupiers to "decamp immediately." Read the Oregonian story on steps being taken to end militants’ occupation of the federal compound in Burns, Ore. The Washington Post reports media and gawkers may outnumber occupiers and this New York Times primer explains why the federal government owns so much western land.

govsandovalGov. Sandoval

El NiñoThe Los Angeles Times is providing live updates on the El Niño storms hammering the West Coast.

Hawaii smoking ban: The Aloha State rang in the new year with a new law that makes it the first state in the nation to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

Nevada investment: Gov. Brian Sandoval is dedicating state resources to the autonomous car industry in a bid to become the nation's leader in development of driverless vehicles.

California snowpack: State surveyors in California's Sierra Nevada report that water held in the snowpack amounted to about 136% of the historical average.

Get even more news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Register for webinars: Western Governors’ Species Conservation and ESA Initiative

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The Western Governors' Association hosted a series of webinars as part of its Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative. During each webinar panelists representing a diverse range of interest will participate in a moderated discussion, as well as a question and answer session. The webinars:

ferretBlack-footed FerretVoluntary Species Conservation Incentives and Collaboration highlighted the recovery of Black-footed Ferret in Colorado and Wyoming.

Critical Habitat and Invasive Species examined how critical habitat designations are influenced by invasive species.

The Role of Conflict and Litigation in the ESA illustrated how litigation shapes the implementation of the Endangered Species Act and affects species conservation efforts.

Watch all webinars of the Chairman's Initiative of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, which enables states to share best practices in species management and explore how to improve the efficacy of the Endangered Species Act.

Get the latest news of the West and the Western Governors' Association by following the WGA on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Drought Update: California hits above average snowpack but has nearly a billion stressed trees

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surveyPhoto: California Dept. of Water ResourcesState surveyors in the Sierra Nevada offered encouraging news amid California's worst drought in more than a century: The snowpack is well above average for this time of year.

The annual snow survey at Echo Summit found the water held in the snowpack amounted to about 136% of the historical average for the site.

The Sierra snowpack is crucial for getting California through long, dry summers as melting snow fills reservoirs to supply about a third of California's water.

Water officials emphasize (More)

Gov. Otter to host Idaho workshop of Species Conservation and ESA Initiative on Jan. 19

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Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter hosted the second workshop of the Western Governors' Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative on Jan. 19 in Boise, Idaho.

Otter 9Idaho Gov. OtterGov. Otter spoke at the workshop, which continued the regional conversation about the signature initiative of WGA Chairman and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. (Watch all the sessions)

Species conservation and Endangered Species Act (ESA) topics discussed at the workshop included the role of state and local governments in coordination and consultation; best available science; critical habitat designations; policy for evaluation of conservation efforts, and landscape-level conservation and incentivizing private landowners. (More)