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Values-First Leadership

Jared Harris, PhD

Samuel L. Slover Research Chair and Associate Professor of Business Administration

Darden School of Business

University of Virginia

In a highly interactive session, Jared Harris, PhD, Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia, asked participants to form dyads and get to know one another in a brief conversation. Participants then introduced each other to the group. The exercise accentuated the importance of personal connections as a first and required step in creating effective working relationships. Studies show that when people listen to one another and find common ground, they will find fairer resolutions to difficult challenges.

Values emerge as people get to know one another. To explore their values, participants engaged in exercises on www.moralmachine.net, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology website that presents forced-choice situations. Moral dilemmas and choices cause you to discover your values or biases and to weigh benefits against harms, Dr. Harris pointed out, noting that these are decisions Senators make every day.

 

In the forced-choice scenarios, each small group had to come to consensus on the consequences of a car crash, deciding who would be hit: old or young people, first responders or laggards, cats or dogs, or the people riding in the car. The values of the group drove their consensus; when values agreed, it was easier to get consensus, participants noted.

Participants agreed that listening and caring about someone first is crucial to working together.

Sen. Karen Spilka (MA) noted that when you get to know one another a lot of common ground emerges, even among people with divergent views. “I can’t trust you until I know you,” Melody Schopp (SAS) commented. “It’s important to know what your values are and to stick to them,” Sen. Winder (ID) observed. “They are the only things you’ll have when you leave office.” Others pointed out that sometimes values are not clear and that they can change as a result of new experiences or more information.

Ultimately, it is person-to-person knowledge and relationships that help make consensus possible.

Dr. Harris concluded by noting that senators make decisions that require a balancing of benefit versus harm every day; they face dilemmas that force them to negotiate across differing values to solve those challenges.

2024 Winter Forum

Sun Valley, Idaho

January 2–5, 2024

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Biography


Associate Professor Jared Harris, appointed to the Samuel L. Slover Research Professorship, teaches both “Ethics” and “Strategy” courses in Darden’s MBA program and a doctoral seminar on corporate governance and ethics. His research centers on the interplay between ethics and strategy, with a particular focus on the topics of corporate governance, business ethics and inter organizational trust. His work on corporate financial misrepresentation won the 2007 Best Dissertation Award in one division of the Academy of Management (social issues in management) and qualified him as one of six finalists in another division (business policy and strategy). His work has been published in Organization Science and Business Ethics Quarterly and has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The New Yorker, as well as other media outlets in the United States, Canada, Germany, India, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Prior to joining the Darden faculty in 2006, Harris taught at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. Previously, he worked as a certified public accountant and consultant for several leading public accounting firms in Boston, Portland and Oregon. He also served as the CFO of a small technology firm in Washington, D.C.

 

A fellow with the Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics and a senior fellow with Darden’s Olsson Center for Applied Ethics, Harris is also a research partner of Open Ethics and Compliance Group (OCEG) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). He consults with several leading financial services companies on the topics of strategic management, ethics and compliance.

Implications of an Aging Population

Christian E. Weller, PhD

Professor of Public Policy

McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies

University of Massachusetts Boston

The challenges of our aging society, and potential solutions to address those issues, were discussed by Christian E. Weller, PhD, Professor of Public Policy at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The Graying of America

Challenges

Many states already have large shares of people 65 and older, and aging trends are further exacerbated by increases in disability rates leading to fiscal challenges. 

  • Revenue growth can slow as the labor supply declines and businesses cannot expand as fast as before.

  • Many older Americans can no longer work for health reasons or because they face discrimination.

  • Demand for a wide range of services, particularly in health care, increase as families cannot pay for the higher costs themselves.

  • Older workers often also are caregivers for elderly family, with the average length of family caregiving being 6 years and extending up to 15 years. Returning to the workforce after (and during) their time as caregivers requires accommodations.

Promoting Economic Advancement for Older Women in the Workplace

 

(January 17, 2024)

A woman who has worked at the same grocery store for 40 years checks out a customer in Torrance, California, April 2020. 

(Getty/AI Seib/Los Angeles Times)

Authored by Beth Almeida and Christian E. Weller

Courtesy: The Center for American Progress

Solutions for the states

States can proactively manage these challenges:

  •  Increase the labor supply in general and of older workers in particular.

    • Enforce state anti-discrimination laws and work with businesses to increase accommodations for older and disabled workers.

    • Provide financial incentives for older workers to work longer.

    • Invest in workforce training for older workers (who are likely to stay in their jobs longer than much younger workers).

  • Help people financially prepare for the future:

    • Offer Secure Choice retirement plans.

    • Help lower-wage workers to take advantage of new federal savings “matches” starting in 2027.

    • Create retirement plans that mirror new federal legislation for emergency access.

For additional action plans, see Dr. Weller’s article:

Investing in Workers Can Further Ease Inflation and Boost Economic Growth

  • Manage the costs related to aging, largely by expanding social insurance mechanisms:

    • Medicaid expansion

    • Paid medical and family leave.

    • Public long-term care insurance system.

 

Employers have a choice: they can hire younger workers — who may only stay for a few years — or hire older workers who want the job and may stay for 10 years.

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Biography

Christian E. Weller is a senior fellow at American Progress and a professor of public policy at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. His area of expertise includes retirement income security, macroeconomics, money and banking, and international finance. He is also a research scholar at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute and an institute fellow at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Gerontology Institute. Prior to joining the Center, he was on the research staff at the Economic Policy Institute, where he remains a research associate.

Christian has also worked at the Center for European Integration Studies at the University of Bonn in Germany; under the Department of Public Policy of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C.; and served in the banking sector in Germany, Belgium, and Poland. He is a respected academic with more than 100 academic and popular publications. His academic publications have appeared in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, the Journal of Development Studies, the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the Journal of International Business Studies, the Journal of Aging and Social Policy, and the Journal of Economic Issues, among others. His popular writings have been published in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

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Discussion

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (Chair, Senate Joint Budget Committee, Arkansas): We are desperate for workers, so I question whether age discrimination is an issue or if the older people who are not applying do not want to work.

Dr. Weller: Often older people don’t apply for jobs because they fear discrimination or bias, or they may be caregivers and not able to work. Further, older workers increase healthcare costs for employers and may require accommodations for disabilities. Ultimately, structural issues of an aging population will exacerbate workforce deficits.

The Middle East: What Comes Next?

Steven A. Cook, PhD

Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies

Director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars

Council on Foreign Relations

The Middle East has been a region of significant focus for the United States over the past 30 years. This focus has required diplomatic, political, financial, and military resources, according to Steven A. Cook, PhD, Director, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As an oil-producing region, the Middle East is strategically important for U.S. consumers. Furthermore, 15% of global seaborne trade (including 12% of seaborne-traded oil) passes through the Red Sea, making the region critical for trade worldwide, and the U.S. plays a central role in protecting the region’s shipping routes. As recently as this past fall, the President’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, noted that the Middle East was quieter than it had been in two decades, citing developments such as the normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Saudi Arabia was also in discussions with the United States about normalizing relations with Israel in return for an American-Saudi defense pact. The establishment of diplomatic relations and economic corridors was changing the political dynamics in the Middle East.

 

October 7 and the Israel-Hamas War

This movement toward normalization was exploded on October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched a massive surprise attack on southern Israel, killing approximately 1,200 people and taking about 240 more as hostages. Hamas had been planning this attack for several years. “Operation Al Aqsa Flood” included incursions into Israel from land, sea, and air in the largest such assault on sovereign Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.

Hamas has developed its own armory for producing rockets—it reportedly fired between 3,000 and 5,000 of them at Israel on October 7. It receives financial help and materiel from Iran and over many years has smuggled materiel into Gaza from Egypt via underground tunnels, despite efforts to staunch the flow of arms and munitions. In response, Israel declared war on Hamas and undertook a military campaign to wipe out the organization no matter how long it takes.

“ In one morning, October 7, 2023, there was the single largest security failure in the history of the Israeli state. I felt it was my professional responsibility to view footage from that day’s attacks, and it was one of the most barbaric things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

—Steven A. Cook

The surprise attack by Hamas represents a failure of political leadership moreso than a failure of Israel’s high-tech security; warnings from its own counterterrorism monitors went unheeded. Politicians and senior generals believed that Hamas was deterred and that the group was more interested in getting wealthy from running Gaza. However, from Hamas and its backers’ perspective, Israel seemed weak and divided given the months of popular demonstrations against the government over its effort to make critical changes to the judiciary.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a complex issue, with incompatible demands on both sides, making a two-state solution all but impossible. The U.S.-promulgated idea of strengthening and empowering the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah to take control of the Gaza Strip is deemed unlikely due to Israeli reluctance, as they perceive both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as hostile to Israel.

Role of Iran in the Region

Iran may be the real threat to peace in the region as it has funded proxy actors such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Yemen’s Houthis. Although much of the Western media did not notice, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, General Esmail Qaani, had been meeting with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad leaders in the region to coordinate and thus more effectively threaten and provoke Israel. Given the likelihood of an Iranian component to the attacks on Israel, it is possible that the ongoing shadow war between Jerusalem and Tehran will intensify.

Amid Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, violence has been on the rise in the occupied West Bank, on the Lebanese border, in Iraq and Syria, and in the Red Sea. There is concern that the IDF strike that killed a senior Hamas leader when he was visiting Beirut to meet with officials from Hezbollah and the IRGC threatens to provoke Hezbollah to intensify its ongoing military strikes on Israel. Iran has armed Hezbollah with an estimated 150,000 rockets. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said any potential escalation could have devastating consequences for people on both sides of the Blue Line – the demarcation line dividing Lebanon from Israel and the Golan Heights. [Editor’s note: On January 8, the BBC reported that Hezbollah commander Wissam Tawil was killed in a cross-border attack. Additionally, recent attacks on international shipping by Houthi rebels from Yemen have elicited military responses from the US and its allies.] The conflict involving Israel and Hamas poses concerns about regional involvement and potential disruptions in global trade. The whole region continues to face escalating tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and conflicts in Yemen.

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Biography

 

Steven A. Cook is Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S.-Middle East policy. Cook is the author of False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East; The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square, which won the 2012 gold medal from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Ruling but Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey. Oxford University Press is publishing his next book, The End of Ambition: America’s Past, Present, and Future in the Middle East.

 

Cook is a columnist at Foreign Policy  magazine. Prior to joining CFR, Cook was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution (2001–02) and a Soref research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1995–96).

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Discussion

Sen. Chuck Winder (Senate President Pro Tempore, Idaho): How did Israel’s intelligence machine miss predicting this attack?

Dr. Cook: This was a failure of political leadership rather than of intelligence. Monitors at Israeli kibbutzim had been warning of an imminent attack, but their warnings were ignored as domestic disputes diverted the attention of leaders.

 

Sen. Bill Ferguson (President of the Senate, Maryland): What countries are likely to be affected by the outcome of the Israel-Hamas conflict?

Dr. Cook: China, Iraq and all the Middle Eastern states may be affected by the outcome. The overall geopolitical situation in the Middle East remains dynamic and uncertain, with potential implications for global security and trade.

 

Anika Hagenson (Senior Manager, Government Relations, Intuit): What has been the role of the United Nations (UN) in this conflict?

Dr. Cook: The UN has been ineffective in de-escalating the conflict and providing relief to the Palestinians. Hamas has coopted the primary UN agency in Gaza—the UN Relief Works Agency.

“The world always expects the two parties to walk right up to the abyss and pull back, but instead they always join hands and jump.”

—Steven A. Cook

John Burchett (Sr. Director of Public Policy and Community Affairs, Google Fiber): What is the possibility of a two-state solution?

Dr. Cook: Israelis will not share Jerusalem, they won’t accept Palestinian refugees in their midst, and they will not agree to live within the boundaries that existed on June 4, 1967—before the Six Day War. For their part, the Palestinians will not give up a capital in Jerusalem, cannot forsake the refugee issue, and demand a territorially contiguous and fully sovereign state. There is nothing about the war in Gaza that will encourage Israelis and Palestinians to alter these positions.

 

John Burchett: What will become of the Palestinian people?

Dr. Cook: Unfortunately, the Palestinians are likely to remain stateless. Those in Gaza will suffer the devastating effects of the current war for many years to come.

State of the State Budgets

Morgan Scarboro

Vice President

MultiState

A vital session during each January Forum is a review of the states’ budgets and forecasts. Morgan Scarboro, Vice President, MultiState, presented topline data from each state, and invited the Senators to provide deeper insights into the fiscal health of each state in a roundtable discussion.

Economic Overview

Ms. Scarboro reported that state revenue collections skyrocketed during COVID, but now revenue is normalizing across the country:

  • Fiscal Year 2024: Projected 1.8% decline in general fund revenue (still up 34% from 2019)

  • Fiscal Year 2023 collections: Increased by 0.9% compared to FY 22 (another record year)

  • Most states’ Rainy Day Funds are well-funded due to excess revenue in 2022 and 2023. The goal for RDFs is 5%, and 13% is the median across the states.

“Consistency in revenue is good news for the states.”

The job market is stabilizing:

  • Job openings are at their lowest level since March 2021. (There are still 1.4 job openings for every unemployed person.)

  • Layoffs were at lowest levels in a year. The number of people quitting their jobs fell to the lowest level since Feb. 2021.

  • Hourly earnings increased by about 6% in 2022; but dropped to 4% near the end of 2023.

 

Spending is being reined in:

  • 2022: 9.3% median growth in spending

  • 2023: 10.3% median growth in spending

  • 2024: 4% projected median growth in spending. However, Alabama, Kentucky, and Massachusetts all reduced spending.

State Expenditures

Recession risk:

  • Most economists say the risk of recession is 50% or less. “A soft landing is incredibly conceivable, but not inevitable.”

  • But changes in business and consumer spending, geopolitical activity or actions by the Federal Reserve could impact recession risk.

“Legislators were good stewards of the extra revenue, mostly spending it on onetime expenses.”

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Biography

 

Morgan joined MultiState in 2018 and currently serves as Vice President, Tax Policy and Economist. Morgan uses her expertise in state tax policy to advise clients on policy trends, manage state advocacy coalitions, and track corporate income tax legislation across the country. Morgan is a frequent panelist for state tax policy events and updates. She has presented to a wide range of groups, ranging from policy expert audiences at the Senate Presidents’ Forum and National Conference of State Legislatures’ State and Local Tax Task Force, general business communities at various state Chambers of Commerce, and government affairs professionals at groups like Washington Area State Relations Group, State Government Affairs Council, and Women in Government Relations. She enjoys the chance to present technical tax topics in an engaging, interesting way. Additionally, Morgan’s work has been cited in national and state-based publications, including the Associated Press, CNN Money, Law 360, NPR, Politico, State Tax Notes, and The Washington Post. Morgan seeks to be creative whenever she can, whether it’s in developing client materials, creating coalitions, or engaging with the government relations community. She is a co-chair of the Women in Government Relations’ State Relations Task Force. Prior to MultiState, Morgan worked as a Policy Analyst at the Tax Foundation.

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Roundtable Discussion

NOTE: The insights provided by participating state leaders have been paraphrased and summarized for this report.

Sen. Greg Reed (Senate President Pro Tempore, Alabama): The state has had good success in attracting new industry through our “Innovate Alabama” project, which is focused on developing a high-tech, knowledge-based economy. It includes incentives to attract industry and grow entrepreneurship in STEM and high-tech industries, and to retain graduates in these areas. We have renewed incentives for businesses and increased participation in workforce training in our 2-year colleges. We passed the Alabama Site Evaluation and Economic Development Strategy (SEEDS) Act, which is a groundbreaking grant program that aims to expedite the process of developing economic sites throughout the state. The program is a critical component of Governor Ivey’s Game Plan to boost economic development in Alabama, which identifies minimum 50-acre sites that are site-ready and sets aside $40 million for local industrial development. We also exempted overtime pay from taxation, which is a 5% benefit for the workers and helps employers get the workers they need.

 

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (Chair, Senate Joint Budget Committee, Arkansas): The state is in good fiscal shape with Rainy Day Funds at 24% and $710 million set aside for emergencies. The current income tax rates are 4.4% for individuals and 4.7% for corporations, but the Legislature wants to continue moving toward lower income taxes to compete with surrounding states. The focus is on being competitive with neighboring states, addressing property taxes, and maintaining moderation in income taxes. Our sales tax is high, so that may need to be addressed; the state has a need for a balanced budget before considering further tax cuts. Also, Arkansas continues to position itself as an inbound state for businesses and retirees.

Sen. David Sokola (Senate President Pro Tempore, Delaware): The Senate goal has been to achieve fair, appropriate, and sustainable allocations with a focus on funding the Rainy Day Fund, creating a budget stabilization fund, and setting benchmarks to limit state budget growth. We have a sense of accomplishment for Fiscal Year ‘24, although uncertainties arose from a court case regarding education funding in Delaware and a subsequent study on equity. The study indicated a potential shortfall of $600 million to $1 billion, emphasizing the necessity for needs-based funding in education. Despite challenges, there is cautious optimism driven by positive revenue projections, being  named a hydrogen hub, and potential job quality improvements. The stability of the budget stabilization fund has been a source of economic confidence, and the historical performance of the constitutional Rainy Day Fund should be noted — having never been used in its 45-year existence. The state’s fiscal responsibility should be underscored, including our commitment to maintaining a triple-A bond rating and addressing overdue capital projects over the past few years. However, we do face the complexities of dealing with a lame-duck governor, legislative turnover and the subsequent loss of institutional memory, and ambitious but unrealistic proposals.

“Many legislatures are facing a lack of institutional knowledge. Last year over 50% of revenue chairs were brand new to the job, and more than 20% of legislators were freshmen legislators.”

—Morgan Scarboro

Sen. Dru Mamo Kanuha (Senate Majority Leader, Hawaii): In the past, a substantial amount of money was invested in tax credits, specifically the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and food tax credits. Teacher pay was increased to address compensation issues and retain educators, particularly in challenging areas such as special needs and Hawaiian language learners. The focus on these priorities was a collaborative effort with the Governor, involving both the House and the Senate. Looking ahead to the supplemental budget, the primary emphasis was on supporting Lahaina, Maui’s rebuilding efforts, with a daily revenue loss of around $13 million due to the absence of tourism. The session’s priorities also included addressing the significant property loss of $1.5 billion and outlining strategies for recovery in the next legislative session.

 

Sen. Ronald Kouchi (President of the Senate, Hawaii): In the past, there was a cautious approach to Hawaii’s supplemental budget, reflecting on the criticism received the previous year for not spending more money to help disadvantaged communities. Despite pressure, the decision was made to allocate an additional $500 million to the Rainy Day Fund, given the unique challenges Hawaii faced with its centralized K-12 public education system and federal requirements on education spending. Complications arose as revenues dropped dramatically, resulting in a billion-dollar deficit by June. The Governor took measures to balance the budget, utilizing funds from the Rainy Day Fund and reallocating cash from the Department of Education’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP). This financial situation was addressed before the occurrence of wildfires, which added further concerns. The focus remained on addressing the revenue drop while maintaining commitments to Pre-K education and addressing the critical issue of affordable housing as a key factor in workforce retention and recruitment.

Sen. Chuck Winder (Senate President Pro Tempore, Idaho): We maintain a cautious approach in Idaho due to a small drop-off in collections for the fiscal year. Although the Legislature had a significant amount of money in a Rainy Day Fund, there was a projected 3% increase in the budget, which might escalate to 6–7% with additional factors considered. Idaho, known for its fiscal prudence, had given back about $3 billion in tax rebates, contributing to ongoing tax relief. Despite a flattening in revenue growth, Idaho remains among the top states in terms of growth. Education continues to be a major focus, constituting around 63% of the budget, with discussions on parental and school choice emerging as significant topics. The state faces challenges as it experienced an influx of public service workers from other regions, those seeking a less urban environment, and had to navigate pressures related to potential extremes in regulation. The Legislature aims to maintain a balanced approach in addressing these issues.

 

Sen. Rod Bray (Senate President Pro Tempore, Indiana): Despite a relatively flat revenue forecast, Indiana remains optimistic and financially sound. Our budget is set for a two-year period, and we have been successful in avoiding altering the budget mid-cycle. There is an ongoing effort to assess and potentially revise the state’s tax structure through a two-year study, examining income tax, sales tax, corporate income tax, and property tax. While discussions initially included the possibility of eliminating income tax altogether, the associated challenges, including an $8 billion gap, raise considerations for alternative solutions such as increased sales tax or broadening the sales tax base to include services. The primary focus for a quieter session also stems from the upcoming gubernatorial race, with six Republican candidates vying for the open seat. The challenge is to navigate policy discussions without losing focus amid the candidates’ efforts to distinguish themselves. Property tax concerns, a common issue in many states, pose a challenge for legislators as locals depend on the revenue for education and other essential services. Despite the desire for a fix, the intricacies of property tax allocation make it a complex issue to address at the state level.

 

Sen. Amy Sinclair (President of the Senate, Iowa): In Iowa, the focus for the upcoming legislative session centers on potential income tax reductions as the top fiscal priority. The state has previously undertaken significant changes to its personal income tax and corporate income tax structures, with the largest income tax cut in its history implemented a couple of years ago. Despite the decline in revenues associated with these cuts, the state has experienced better-than-expected financial performance, with monthly revenues for December and year-to-date exceeding the figures from the previous year. Iowa has consciously avoided incorporating COVID relief funds into its regular budget process, instead giving the governor the authority to allocate that federal money. The state currently operates with an 88% budget-to-revenue ratio and boasts substantial reserves, including a nearly full rainy day fund, a taxpayer trust fund standing at $2.8 billion, and an ending fund balance of almost $2 billion. While income taxes will be revisited, there are no major non-tax issues anticipated to have a significant fiscal impact, with ongoing efforts to enhance the efficiency of state government and address the achievement gap in education for special needs students.

 

Sen. Julie Raque Adams (Chair, Senate Majority Caucus, Kentucky): In Kentucky, despite narrowly missing the trigger for the next income tax reduction by just a few million dollars, there is a strong determination within both House and Senate leadership to meet the required threshold. The focus on reducing income tax rates has been a central theme in recent legislative sessions. However, the challenge lies in balancing fiscal conservatism with the need to address various pressures, including the state’s low workforce participation rate impacting the Medicaid budget. The juxtaposition of caring for the less fortunate and committing to lowering income tax rates creates a delicate balance, prompting a cautious approach during the upcoming budget session. The commitment to meeting the trigger reflects a desire to stimulate economic opportunity, but the complexity of this task is acknowledged, especially in a major election year.

 

Sen. Bill Ferguson (President of the Senate, Maryland): In Maryland, there are two critical fiscal challenges. First, there’s a looming structural gap due to commitments made to the Kirwan Commission’s education system overhaul. While funding for this initiative is secured until 2027, a significant fiscal cliff is anticipated thereafter, necessitating a serious conversation in the 2025 session. The focus will be on extending costs for a flatter curve or exploring new revenue sources allocated to education. The second challenge pertains to the strained Transportation Trust Fund, which is at its brink. Mass transit and public transportation were decimated during COVID, and they haven’t come back. With those declines, with no new money for transportation system enhancements and escalating costs for infrastructure projects exceeding federal funds, there’s a pressing need to diversify transportation revenues. While not an immediate concern for the current session, the complexities of this issue are anticipated to surface in the 2025 legislative session, posing a challenging year ahead.

 

Sen. Karen Spilka (President of the Senate, Massachusetts): In Massachusetts, the legislative focus for 2024 revolves around making positive changes in residents’ lives, enhancing affordability, equity, and competitiveness. The primary priorities include early education and care reform, transforming the funding system to support providers impacted by COVID, and stabilizing the entire system for families and workers. Education remains a focal point, with significant investments in K-12 and a current emphasis on higher education. The commonwealth has initiated free community college for individuals aged 25 and over, along with targeted programs for aspiring nurses to address workforce shortages in the healthcare sector. Future plans involve working towards free community college for all Massachusetts residents and addressing healthcare reform, particularly in mental and behavioral health, supported by funds allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The initiatives aim to address workforce shortages and enhance the overall well-being of residents.

Sen. Jason Ellsworth (President of the Senate, Montana): Property taxes have emerged as a significant concern in the state, with rising property values leading to increased demand for a state-level solution. While the Legislature voted against a special session to address property tax issues this year (the Legislature does not have a regular session in 2024), the Governor has announced plans to establish a property tax task force. The challenge lies in finding a balance between state and local levels, as property taxes are closely tied to education funding on the local level. Engaging citizens and local government representatives in the task force aims to gather diverse perspectives for a comprehensive approach. The goal is to develop a viable solution that could potentially be incorporated into legislation in future sessions, acknowledging the complexity and challenges of addressing this issue at both the state and local levels.

Sen. Bill Rabon (Chairman, Senate Rules and Operations Committee, North Carolina): The budget process in North Carolina was marked by the challenge of managing surplus funds, with a focus on determining how to allocate the excess money. The state’s financial strength, fueled by its surplus, has presented the challenge of prioritizing spending and addressing the needs of various constituents. Looking ahead to the next budget cycle, the expectation is that it will involve a tax package, with plans to reduce the franchise tax, eliminate corporate taxes, and potentially bring personal income taxes down to 2%. The goal is also to contribute to the Rainy Day Fund to maintain the state’s fiscal solvency. Despite the challenges, the Legislature is optimistic about navigating the budgetary landscape in the future.

 

Sen. Greg Treat (Senate President Pro Tempore, Oklahoma): In Oklahoma, there’s a significant push for budget transparency to address the perceived lack of transparency in the current process, where a small group makes budget decisions. The move towards transparency is driven by recent controversies, including a tax credit discussion around school choice and plans for further tax cuts without a replacement strategy. Additionally, issues with tribal nations’ tax obligations have added complexity. The Senate is now actively opening up the budget process, moving beyond traditional PowerPoint presentations to ask detailed questions and seek genuine understanding. Notably, public scrutiny will increase during the House’s review of the budget, where any changes proposed will be discussed openly, aiming to enhance accountability and reduce wasteful practices seen in past years.

 

Sen. James Manning, Jr., Senate President Pro Tempore, Oregon: Oregon is currently experiencing a unique situation with consistently positive revenue forecasts over the past eight years. While the financial forecast appears healthy, there are lingering questions regarding spending that haven’t been adequately addressed. The need for a more in-depth exploration of these spending concerns is emphasized, with hopes that forthcoming sessions will provide satisfactory answers and more transparency. Despite the uncertainties, there is an overall sense that Oregon is in a good place financially.

 

Sen. Roger Picard (Deputy Senate President Pro Tempore, Rhode Island): While there has been a shift from past years of deficits to more optimistic revenue cycles, there is a growing sense of caution in approaching the fiscal situation. The aftermath of COVID-19 brought an influx of funds, triggering a spending spree, but with the anticipation of reduced federal support, a more conservative stance is emerging. The challenge lies in addressing gaps without the same level of financial support and managing the pressure to fulfill various priorities such as housing, pension systems, and transitions in school funding. Both the Speaker and the Senate President express a commitment to holding the line and avoiding a cliff effect, acknowledging the need for realistic expectations in allocating available funds.

 

Sen. Thomas Alexander (President of the Senate, South Carolina): The Legislature aligns with the Governor’s goal of reducing the income tax rate, aiming to reach 6%. The current 7% rate, complicated by net and gross distinctions, prompted the decision to simplify and continue reductions. The positive revenue outlook supports this trajectory. In addressing property tax concerns, South Carolina implemented constitutional amendments to limit reassessment value increases and control millage rates, maintaining stability. Despite commercial pressures on the 6% property rate, the state remains competitive, attracting newcomers and fostering an environment conducive to growth. The focus is on sustained reductions rather than complete elimination of income tax, emphasizing competitiveness and positive fiscal projections.

Leveraging AI – Interactive Session

Kirsten Wyatt

Fellow

Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation

Georgetown University

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a pivotal issue in 2024, gaining attention in legislation and executive orders, Kirsten Wyatt, Fellow at the Beeck Center forSocial Impact and Innovation, Georgetown University, reminded the Forum. AI is about machines mimicking human intelligence for tasks, and generative AI (“gen AI”) is the application of AI to generate high-quality text, images, and/or audio based on prompts, models and existing data.

NOTE: Links and QR codes shared by Kirsten Wyatt in the session are embedded in her slide presentation, available on request from info@senatepresidents.com.

Gen AI Tools

Various free Gen AI tools are available (e.g., Jasper, Quilvot, Microsoft’s Bing, Google’s Bard, ChatGPT, DALL-E), with the chatbot ChatGPT and text-to-image DALL-E gaining industry prominence.

  • Weather Prediction: Traditional use of predictive technology. Analyzes historical weather data to predict current conditions.

  • Language Learning Apps (e.g., Duolingo): Uses predictive AI to analyze inputs and provide tailored language learning steps.

  • Predictive Text Technology: For example, Auto-filling text messages based on patterns and context. Analyzes user behavior to predict and suggest relevant text.

  • Chat Features in Travel Apps: Utilizes generative AI bots to respond to user queries. Provides tailored responses based on specific questions.

Common Gen AI applications

Develop a Generative AI Use Policy

The output at this link provides a starting point for developing an AI use policy in a Senate President’s office.

Point your smartphone’s camera at this QR code and click the link.

Senators participated in an interactive session designed to explore applications for a Senate President’s Office:

  • Participants logged into ChatGPT to explore the application and consider use cases including job postings, press releases, speeches, letters to constituents, and drafts or reviews of legislation. The ChatGPT Interface is a simple screen asking, “How can I help you today?”

Key considerations for using Gen AI:

  • Specificity: Provide specific input using plain language and avoiding acronyms and jargon, which allows ChatGPT to draw information from similar content and results in a more accurate and efficient outcome with minimal tweaking or editing.

  • Output: Request specific output guidelines and formatting requiests (e.g., “Create a one-page summary at fifth-grade reading level in bullet points”).

  • Beware of “hallucination”: Hallucination in generative AI occurs when models invent information to fill in “blanks” where the database lacks the appropriate data, presenting it as factual even though it is fabricated. This misinformation may then proliferate.

  • Limitations: Gen AI can only pull from existing databases up to January 2022 and only if existing databases are accessible to address the query.

  •  Equity: Using Gen AI for creating images for events and flyers may perpetuate bias if the models are not drawing from carefully designed and trained datasets.

  • Privacy concerns: There remains a lack of true transparency in understanding how generative AI tools utilize both input and output information. These tools collect extensive account-level details, conversation history, queries, email addresses, device information, IP addresses, location, and public/private input.

  • Human oversight required: While Gen AI has the potential to increase efficiency exponentially, its output is imperfect and requires a human review for fact-checking and intended results.

ChatGPT 3.5

You

What sources does ChatGPT draws its information from?

ChatGPT

ChatGPT draws its information from a diverse range of sources present on the internet. During its training, it is exposed to a mixture of licensed data, data created by human trainers, and publicly available data. It doesn’t have access to specific databases or proprietary sources but learns to generate responses based on the patterns and information present in the data it was trained on. It’s essential to note that ChatGPT doesn’t have real-time internet access or the ability to fetch information beyond its training cutoff date in January 2022.

InnovateUS offers 3 free courses in January 2024

Visit innovate-us.org/workshops

  • What you need to know about writing a prompt for AI tools

  • How to use generative AI in government: text tools

  • How to use generative AI in government: image tools

 

US Digital Response offers free AI

Visit www.usdigitalresponse.org

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Biography

With the belief that government is the original open source network where great ideas, success stories, and connections should be freely shared, Kirsten co-leads the Digital Service Network at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center.

 

Kirsten served as the executive director and co-founder of ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, a big-tent learning network for people who work for and with towns, cities, counties, and special districts. She hosts the GovLove podcast and serves as an elected school board member for the West Linn-Wilsonville, Oregon School District. Kirsten is on the editorial board for the State & Local Government Review (SLJR) academic journal and serves on the Board of Directors for Politisit, a national nonprofit providing child care cost reimbursement so parents can get involved in government.  

 

Previously, Kirsten worked in state and local government in Oregon, Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Politics from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon; and a Master of Public Administration Degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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