With so much attention on Congress, the president, and other federal lawmakers, state policy is often overlooked. However, Americans are more likely to feel the impact of—and benefit from—state and local policies than anything emanating from Washington, DC.
Just look to the first half of this year. With the help of state think tanks in this Network, Mississippi passed the biggest tax cut in the state’s history, helping millions of hardworking Mississippi residents cope with the rising cost of living. Pennsylvania adopted a new scholarship program that gives students, especially those from low-income families, access to a quality education. And North Carolina, in a rare case of bipartisanship, passed a budget that lowers taxes and expands an education program for special needs students.
While these success stories rarely make national news, each year State Policy Network celebrates the state think tanks that make wins like these possible.
State Policy Network’s annual Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement recognize state think tanks doing exceptional work to help states implement solutions that expand personal freedom and opportunity for all Americans.
Presented at State Policy Network’s 30th Annual Meeting, this year’s Bob Williams Awards were awarded to Empower Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, John Locke Foundation (North Carolina), the Commonwealth Foundation (Pennsylvania), and Georgia Center for Opportunity. Learn more below about the ways these organizations are making their communities a better place to live and work.
In 2022, two state think tanks in Mississippi—Empower Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy—formed a coalition with additional state partners to champion the Mississippi Tax Freedom Act of 2022. Through the combination of their strengths, the coalition equipped policymakers with research and data on the benefits of lowering the income tax, provided model legislation for those lawmakers, cultivated a consistent public message through media outlets, and empowered public audiences to voice their support for the reforms. Because of their efforts, Mississippi not only passed a historic income tax cut, but they did so with the type of overwhelming and bipartisan support that makes further tax reform far more likely in the future.
Millions of Americans across the country are coping with historic inflation that has increased the prices of gas, food, furniture, and everything in between. This new tax cut will allow Mississippi workers to keep more of the money in their paychecks so they can pay for these basic goods.
Read more about how Empower Mississippi and MCPP’s campaign here.
For more than a decade, the John Locke Foundation has worked to lay the intellectual groundwork for a major budgeting victory in North Carolina. Through research and data analysis, Locke equipped policymakers with the tools they needed to make significant policy pivots leading to wiser, more effective spending. In addition to educating policymakers, Locke informed North Carolinians about the benefits of spending reforms and played a critical role in passing the 2021 First in Freedom Budget. This bipartisan budget helps North Carolinians by reducing the personal income tax rate from 5.25% to 3.99% by 2026; increasing the standard deduction; eliminating the state’s corporate income tax by 2029; holding the line on Medicaid expansion so the program can focus on the truly needy; expanding the Opportunity Scholarship Program for 19,000 lower-income families and Education Savings Accounts for families of special needs students; and reforming the state’s Emergency Management Act. What’s more, the budget adopted all these reforms without proposing any new debt. The tax reforms in this budget will allow North Carolinians to keep more of what they earn, which will help them manage the inflation crisis sweeping our nation. These reforms will also make the state more attractive to businesses, which will bring more jobs and opportunity to the Tar Heel State.
Commonwealth Foundation has worked for years to advance school choice reforms in Pennsylvania by seeking to overcome partisan divides that hamper positive school choice reforms. Due to their efforts, this year—for the first time in its history—the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill that would provide education scholarships to students. The Lifeline Scholarship Program, which would give nearly $7,000 to parents to spend on approved education expenses, passed the State House with bipartisan support. The scholarship later passed the Senate Education Committee and is now up for debate in Pennsylvania Senate. Commonwealth helped state leaders focus on what mattered most—students over partisan ties—so that Pennsylvania could give children access to the education options that best fit their needs. The work to advance parental choice continues, but Commonwealth already achieved a major win in generating bipartisan momentum behind the Lifeline Scholarship Program.
The Georgia Center for Opportunity released an analysis of governmental actions to shut down the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on employment. The study showed statistically significant correlations between how severe state governmental actions were in shutting down their economies due to the pandemic and negative impacts on employment more than a year after the COVID-19 began in America. The prevalence of coronavirus cases only showed a weak association to impacts on employment, and no evidence was found of a correlation between COVID-19 hospitalizations or COVID-19 deaths and the impact on employment. The study concluded that policymakers and governmental authorities must take this evidence into consideration when crafting policies that impose economic restrictions during prolonged crises, so that their actions reduce the impact on employment that can harm people’s livelihoods and have negative long-term consequences. This research has already been used to work with several state legislators on model legislation that prepares Georgia to respond to future health crises more appropriately—without jeopardizing people’s economic wellbeing.
This opportunity is open to current SPN state think tank affiliate members only. All affiliate members are invited to nominate their work in one or more categories: Biggest Win for Freedom, Biggest Home State Win, Best Issue Campaign, and Most Influential Research. Category finalists are chosen by a selection committee, and the winners are determined by a Network peer vote. Learn more about the awards here.