A New York Times reporter reviewed the inaugural addresses of two dozen governors across the country and found that many of them sounded strikingly alike. Republicans and Democrats, in large states and small, spoke of cutting spending, restructuring government and creating jobs. Tax increases were mentioned rarely or not at all.

A New York Times reporter reviewed the inaugural addresses of two dozen governors across the country and found that many of them sounded strikingly alike. Republicans and Democrats, in large states and small, spoke of cutting spending, restructuring government and creating jobs. Tax increases were mentioned rarely or not at all.

A passage from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber's inaugural remarks on Jan. 10 was included as representative of the group.

The similarities are unsurprising: Most states have severe budget problems — including Oregon, which faces a $3.5 billion shortfall in the 2011-13 biennium. Most governors lead states where the political climate is inhospitable to tax increases, or where the option of increased taxes already has been deployed; Oregonians approved higher corporate and personal income taxes last year. And most states confront structural budgetary challenges, such as underfinanced public pension systems and expenses that are rising faster than revenues, that will persist even after an economic recovery takes hold — Oregon expects chronic shortfalls for the next decade.

As a group, the nation's governors are seeking opportunities in these difficulties. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, spoke of the chance to "right-size" government. California Gov. Jerry Brown talked about a chance to seek public pension system reforms that are "fair to the workers and fair to the taxpayers."

Kitzhaber's approach to the theme of opportunity was to speak of two kinds of state spending — investments that eventually yield dividends in the form of higher incomes and fewer demands for state services, and expenses made necessary by the failure to prevent problems. Schools and job training are examples of the former; prisons and foster care are in the latter category. The governor wants Oregon to shift its spending toward investments. Such a shift, however beneficial it may be in the long term, will prove difficult if it entails reduced spending to cope with such immediate problems as crime, chronic illness and child abuse.

But Kitzhaber, echoing to some degree his counterparts in other states, said the old approaches — "cut from the current structure in lean times and add back those cuts in good times" — have created the current crisis. He compared state government to a house that no longer suits a family's needs:

"There are too many rooms and they aren't the right size. ... And the cost of keeping this house up is more than the family can afford." The Great Recession, he said, has leveled Oregon's house to its foundations, allowing the state to rebuild.

"Somewhere in America," Kitzhaber concluded, "a state needs to be able to demonstrate that we can weather this kind of challenge without losing our sense of community, without losing our commitment to one another, and emerge stronger and more united than we were before. Let's make that our state. Let's make that state Oregon."

Oregon has proven its capacity for innovation in public policy, and if Kitzhaber can achieve his objective the state will be a model for others. Yet other states, judging from their governors' inaugural addresses, are moving in the same directions — and some are likely to have ideas worth borrowing.