Connecticut State of the State Address 2000

 

HARTFORD, Connecticut - Feb. 8 - Following is the text of Gov. John G. Rowland's 2000 State of the State Address:

Madame Speaker, Madame President, leaders of the House and Senate, distinguished members of the General Assembly, reverend clergy, friends and guests.

Good afternoon.

By a quirk of the calendar this will be one of the shortest legislative sessions on record. Just twelve weeks.

Long enough to be responsive to the issues before us. Short enough to avoid doing any real damage.

My colleagues, it is hard to remember a more prosperous moment in the history of this state. It is hard to imagine a time of greater promise and confidence in the future.

And thanks to the hardworking people of this state, Connecticut's economic rebirth continues.

More people are working. Connecticut's unemployment rate is at a historic low, and we have regained all the jobs lost during the hard times of the last decade.

By reforming the welfare system we have empowered thousands to improve their lives and take better care of their children. It has been a remarkable transformation, a cultural revolution, that will truly improve the quality of life for generations to come.

In this booming economy, wages are higher and taxes are lower. People have more choices when it comes to saving, investing and spending their own money. New businesses are being born everyday and existing businesses are expanding.

Still, with all the great success we've had over the last five years, there is always the challenge to improve. To take care of those still seeking a greater share of the prosperity of this new century.

My goal is to continue to provide Connecticut with a responsive, yet responsible government. To leave no one behind. To keep the commitments we've made together over the last five years. And to cut taxes for a sixth year in a row.

With Connecticut's growing economy, with the budget producing another surplus, it would be all too easy to go on a spending spree.

Connecticut has pledged never to let that happen again. And it falls on us to keep that promise.

In 1992, a year after the imposition of the income tax, the voters of Connecticut with great wisdom imposed a constitutional cap on state spending. The vote was overwhelming and the message was clear. The people of Connecticut had the foresight to know that one day in the future the big spending would resume unless they did something to stop it.

The spending cap was the people's solution to control the growth of government and it has worked.

This year, with a budget of $12 billion, we are closer to the cap than ever before. This is the first real test of our resolve to abide by the will of the people and keep a lid on the growth of Connecticut government. Abiding by the spending cap is the first step toward a responsive, yet responsible government.

There may be those who want to debate the legal meaning of the cap. There may be those who want to debate the "true intent" or the constitutional ramifications. But I believe when the straight talking, honest citizens of this state, voted for a limit on spending a limit on spending is exactly what they had in mind.

The constitutional cap on spending is real, it's the law, and I will not go against the will of the people by signing any budget that violates that cap.

My proposal for this year, keeps the budget $80 million under the spending cap and meets our commitments to those who need government help. In fact, this budget builds on commitments to the mentally retarded, children in state care, and the elderly.

The last five years have been a time of remarkable improvement in the field of education. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding the campuses of our public colleges and universities. At the local level, we are funding a major program of school renovation and new school construction.

We have put new laws on the books to reward innovation in the classroom. We have returned to a back to basics approach, that is paying off with higher test scores, and a system of education that is a model for the nation.

In the last three years, Connecticut students have ranked number one in reading, number one in writing, and number one in math.

Last year, as enrollment at the University of Connecticut reached a ten-year high, our flagship university was ranked as the number one public university in all of New England.

Connecticut's investment in education is an investment in Connecticut's future. Our investment is paying great dividends and this is no time to stop. This budget maintains our commitment to education, and improves on it.

Last year Lt. Governor Jodi Rell led a task force to study computer readiness in Connecticut classrooms. Her report back to me looks beyond the need for hardware and wires, to the need to properly train parents and teachers in the use of computers. The Lt. Governor's report raises expectations for all Connecticut schools by recommending that our students be cyber-ready by the sixth grade.

I am proposing to invest $34 million of our state surplus to create a statewide computer education network and a teacher to teacher computer mentoring program. Today we are number one in the three R's. Tomorrow, let's be number one in computer skills.

In these prosperous times, our goal must be to ensure greater economic opportunity for all. Government should do what it can to encourage everyone to continue their education. Lifelong learning is one of the survival tools of the new world economy.

To encourage more students to seek a college education, I am renewing my call this year for new tax credits aimed at average working families. The Connecticut HOPE Scholarship Tax Credit and the Lifelong Learning Tax Credit have the potential to help more than 100,000 Connecticut residents pay their way through college, or acquire new career skills.

Over the last five years we have taken important steps together in the never-ending effort to improve education in Connecticut. From the state management of the Hartford school system, to last year's important legislation on accountability one thing is for sure - Connecticut is always leading the way.

This budget builds on our success by increasing funding for charter and magnet schools and expanding weekend and summer school programs.

School choice increases competition and raises expectations. But we need to do more, to provide working families the same kind of choices others have.

This year, I am proposing an additional tax credit of up to $500 for qualified families with students in kindergarten through grade twelve. This modest tax break will help many parents bridge the gap that prevents them from choosing where their children go to school.

Three years ago, my administration invested $40 million in the expansion of the UCONN Health Center by adding an academic research wing. Already, that investment is paying off by attracting researchers from across the country and spinning off new businesses.

At the same time, a variety of economic pressures are putting a strain on the John Dempsey Hospital. The hospital has long been part of the Farmington Valley community. It is an essential state asset that must be protected.

My budget sets aside up to $20 million from the projected surplus to stabilize the hospital's budget, while we work together on a long-term plan for the hospital's future.

Unfortunately, the hospital crisis in Connecticut is not limited to UCONN and our response cannot be limited. While the Congress is attempting to balance the federal budget on the backs of hospitals and patients, we will not shun our responsibility.

To help relieve the financial pressure being faced by many Connecticut hospitals I am proposing the elimination of the hospital gross receipts tax. This tax cut will save Connecticut hospitals $75 million and help offset the loss of federal assistance. I know I can count on your support to help Connecticut hospitals serve their patients.

To make that relief more immediate, I am also proposing to use $17 million from the projected surplus so the tax cut can be made effective this April 1st.

Controlling the growth of government spending gives us the flexibility to respond quickly to those who need government's help. Controlling spending also gives us the ability to use government as an economic catalyst.

For years, manufacturing has been the backbone of Connecticut's economy. But we can do more to reinvigorate manufacturing in Connecticut.

This budget proposal includes a plan to change how manufacturers are taxed. The change will save manufacturers $21 million a year. It will make them more competitive, and help them create new jobs in our economy.

Many of the companies seeking to relocate or expand in Connecticut are looking to our major cities, because they are finding lower property costs and a willing, productive workforce. Let's encourage this urban commitment from Hartford to Bridgeport - by expanding our urban brownfields program. It's good economics and it's good for the environment.

Since 1995, we have lifted the tax burden on Connecticut residents. Almost every tax on the books has been reduced at least once.

We have cut the income tax by $770 a year for the average working family. We've used the property tax credit to provide relief to homeowners and will increase it to $500 this year. The inheritance tax is being phased out. Business taxes are being reduced on an annual basis and the gas tax has been cut twice.

Together, we have balanced the budget, produced budget surpluses, and cut taxes by two billion dollars in the last five years and as far as I'm concerned there's no reason to stop now!

Connecticut motorists still pay one of the highest gas taxes in the nation. It is a tax each of us is painfully reminded of every time we fill up the tank.

Connecticut's gas tax is too high. It is driving prices up and it's time to cut it again.

Over the last five years we have reduced the gas tax by seven cents. And still, Connecticut motorists plead with us for additional relief - as they cross our borders into New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to get cheaper gasoline and buy other products while they're there.

Cutting the gas tax helps consumers, but it also helps small business owners in competition with dealers in neighboring states. Each penny of the gas tax takes $14 million a year out of our Connecticut economy.

This year, I propose we cut the gas tax by seven cents a gallon. And that we do it as soon as possible - this April 1st.

This year, it is imperative that we address the need for government reform in three important areas:


The sheriffs' system.
The Office of the Treasurer.
And campaign finance laws.<./ul>

The sheriffs' system in Connecticut is long past its prime. Although it is filled with many professional, dedicated men and women it is not all it should be.

The sheriffs' system serves an important public safety role. Sheriffs provide courthouse security, serve legal documents and are responsible for the transportation of prisoners.

We need to remove political influence from the current system. We would never think of hiring state troopers, or local police, based on who they supported in the last election. We should apply the same professional standards to our sheriffs.

My proposed reforms would lead to the abolishment of the Office of the High Sheriff and place the functions of the agency under the Judicial Branch and the Department of Correction.

My proposal to reform the sheriffs' system has nothing to do with the budget. It has nothing to do with the people who currently serve in the Office of High Sheriff. It is simply a recognition, that the people of Connecticut demand the highest standards of professionalism and accountability from their government, and for years now, the sheriffs' system has failed to live up to those standards.

I am also backing a series of reforms in the Office of the Treasurer.

My proposals for treasurer's reform are no reflection on the current treasurer, or her staff. In fact, I have supported some of these reforms years before the scandal brought on by the previous treasurer.

The bottom line is: Connecticut's pension fund is worth over $20 billion. Almost twice the size of our state budget. Forty-eight other states, and many privately run pension funds, recognize that it is simply not prudent to allow one person to have the sole responsibility for such a large pool of investments. Not only as a guard against corruption, but as simple good business practice.

My proposed reforms call for the creation of a Board of Trustees to oversee state pension fund investments. The state treasurer would serve on the board, and would continue to have a major influence on investment policy.

I am also seeking legislation that would prohibit the treasurer from directing or influencing the distribution of finder's fees to anyone.

Three months ago, I asked the state Ethics Commission and the Elections Enforcement Commission to review our state laws and make recommendations for reform. Their recommendations are a perfect starting point for this year's debate.

Connecticut already has among the toughest campaign finance, ethics and elections laws in the country, but it is important to take extra steps to safeguard the integrity of Connecticut state government.

In my view, every idea should be on the table. I pledge my best efforts, to work with this legislature to produce a responsible package of reforms that can win bi-partisan support this session.

I also intend to propose legislation to expand our freedom of information laws. I want more disclosure in all of our economic development agencies. When public money is being used to help the private sector, the public has a right to know!

I recently read The Life and Times of Noah Webster. The story of a true American patriot. The author refers to Webster as "the founding father whom American history forgot."

Here in Connecticut, we should look to Webster as Connecticut's hero. We should not forget his great teachings, as a philosopher, lawyer, editor, and the father of cultural independence. He loved his country, he loved our state, and he loved the city of Hartford.

Webster said, New England is unique in its civil and political establishments. And in my opinion, people from every quarter of the globe would do well to spend a few years of their life among us, and acquire our habits of thinking and living.

More than 200 years later I still believe that about our community. I truly believe we can fulfill that vision.

During this legislative session I will once again call upon you to support our economic development initiatives in Connecticut's capital city.

We will build on our success stories, which include, the Trinity Learning Corridor, the Wadsworth, the restoration of the historic Colt Manufacturing property, the expansion of the Bushnell, and the move of the Capital City Community College downtown.

Next month, I will provide you with a detailed plan for the Adriaen's Landing project that will include a state of the art convention center, and hundreds of housing opportunities to lure young people back to this city.

This is a special place. And I will continue to work with you to help improve the economic vitality of this city, the education system, and the quality of life for its children. I hope you will join me in meeting these goals.

We will also continue the partnerships we've built in every major city in the state. Our work will continue in New London, Bridgeport, Waterbury, New Haven, New Britain, Stamford and Middletown. For the past five years we have empowered neighborhood organizations and community groups to take control of their futures and we stand ready to be that partner, to be that catalyst, to turn their hopes into reality.

The last decade has seen a sharp contrast between the gridlock of the federal government in Washington and the progress of state governments across this country.

Washington politicians seem to pride themselves on how well they can avoid making tough decisions, while appearing to stand on principle in Connecticut we have practiced the politics of results.

Here in Connecticut, we can all be proud of what we have achieved together, working across party lines. Balanced budgets, tax cuts, and a fully funded Rainy Day Fund. Investments in education, investments in our cities, and the environment.

There has never been a time of greater optimism about the future. There has never been a time when government has been in a better position to create opportunity for all. There has never been a time when someone with a dream and the guts to follow that dream has had a better chance for success.

Thank you all, and God bless the state of Connecticut.

 
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