Connecticut State of the State Address 2001
By Stateline Staff
HARTFORD, Connecticut - Jan. 3 - Following is the text of Gov. John G. Rowland's 2001 State of the State Address:
Madame Speaker, Madame President, legislative leaders, friends and guests.
The opening day of the General Assembly is always a special mixture of pride and hope. The Hall of this House is filled with freshman and veteran lawmakers, all sharing the same excitement about the chance you have been given to serve your fellow citizens. The eagerness to get started is contagious. The pride of your family and friends warms the room. The hope that one man or one woman can make a difference stirs in all of us. There is hope we will work together to make Connecticut all it can be. There is pride in what we have already accomplished. There is the expectation that we must do more.
I want to begin by extending a special welcome to the new members of the House and Senate. You have made the selfless decision to dedicate part of your life to public service. Your friends and neighbors have placed their trust in you, and I know you will not let them down.
As Connecticut begins this new century - this new millennium - we have every reason to be optimistic. Together, we face the challenges of the future with full confidence. This is the most promising time in the history of our state.
Ten years ago Connecticut was cowered by recession and a self-defeating attitude. Today, having conquered the setbacks of the past, we stand together ready to build on our success by challenging ourselves to achieve more.
I am confident we can meet those challenges, because for the last six years, Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut, have put aside pettiness and partisanship in favor of the politics of results. Civility and mutual respect have been the hallmark of our debate. Compromise for the greater good has been the light on our path to success. Our willingness to put partisanship aside after Election Day, has allowed us to marry the reluctant partners of government and common sense.
The optimism I have for the future of Connecticut is matched by the optimism I have for the future of this country. The new President and the new Congress have pledged to end the seemingly endless partisan gridlock that has paralyzed our federal government. I believe both sides are sincere in their desire to move this country forward. I believe they will meet the challenge if they follow our example! What has worked for Connecticut will work for this country and that's an example we can all be proud of. My optimism for the future of Connecticut is based on the foundation we have built over the last six years. We have built a proud record of achievement in almost every endeavor of state government, but we cannot be content with those achievements. A truly responsive government does not rest when the challenges of today have been met. Responsive government requires a constant effort to re-tool, to re-think and re-adjust to meet the needs of tomorrow.
Together, we have built a new Connecticut, but there is still promise untapped. More people are working than ever before. The unemployment rate is at an all- time low. Workers are earning higher wages. Connecticut businesses are hiring at a rate that exceeds the supply of skilled workers. Connecticut has been ranked first among the fifty states for economic momentum, and as the state best prepared to capitalize on the new knowledge- based economy. Connecticut students have been ranked tops in the nation in reading, writing and math. We are first in the number of students graduating from high school and we are first in the number of students taking the SAT test in preparation for college.
Ten years ago, Connecticut high school students were looking for reasons to leave our state. Today, more are convinced their best hope for a prosperous future is right here at home. It was Aristotle who said, "All who have contemplated the act of governing, have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth." Providing a world class education to every student today is the best way to ensure we have a world class workforce for the new economy of tomorrow. And our commitment to building the best school systems in the country will not waver. Being ranked number one is nice, but it is not the goal. Being ranked number one is nothing more than a by-product of our continuing commitment to excellence. Rankings make us feel good, but knowing that every child has the opportunity to learn from the best teachers in the best schools, should really make us proud.
Over the last six years we have invested billions of dollars in the renovation of our public college and university campuses and hundreds of millions more in the construction or renovation of public schools all across Connecticut. Together, we have put an emphasis on improving early childhood reading. We have invested heavily in technology in the classrooms and we have recognized the need to make sure our teachers understand that technology. Whatever budget challenges we face in the coming years, we will not retreat from our commitment to quality education in Connecticut. It is a fact that a dollar invested in quality public education is still the best investment we can make in Connecticut's future.
Republican or Democrat, we all agree one of the fundamental roles of government is to offer help to those whose struggles in life are greater than our own. Families in poverty. Children without parents. Adults without jobs. The sick, the addicted, the hungry. While most of the people of our state enjoy the riches of this strong economy, there are still many who have not had the same opportunity to share the prosperity.
At a time of record employment, with the projected budget surplus nearing $500 million, there is an extra burden on government to provide help where it is needed most. Next month, when I present the General Assembly with my budget, I will not step back from that responsibility. Instead, I intend to meet it head on.
Our first priority continues to be Connecticut's cities. Although we have made substantial progress in the last six years, our cities still lag behind the rest of the state in economic opportunity and quality of life. Our greatest opportunity to expand upon the success of this strong economy lies in further investments in our urban areas and the people who live there.
Over the last six years our commitment to improve Connecticut's cities has gone deeper than the convention centers, the baseball stadiums, the theaters and the train stations. We have made an even greater effort to invest in the people who make our cities work- through job training, day care, tax cuts, public safety and transportation improvements.
Since 1995, the tax cuts we have implemented have eliminated the state income tax for over 350,000 working families in Connecticut. That's more than 350,000 families that have been freed from another burden as they try to improve their quality of life.
In 1995 working together we reformed Connecticut's welfare system. Today more than 35,000 people, who relied almost completely on government for their well-being, are working and providing for themselves and their families. This is an achievement we can be proud of, but much more importantly, it is an achievement 35,000 former welfare recipients can be proud of. They are the ones who made the journey to self-sufficiency.
Connecticut's welfare reforms worked when we as a state government accepted two fundamental facts. Welfare recipients want to work. And employers are willing to hire to them. In today's economy there is no doubt thousands of employers are willing to hire anyone with the ability and desire to work. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We have to seize this moment to remove any remaining barriers that may be preventing the poorest of Connecticut's citizens from having their shot at the American dream.
When I deliver my budget recommendations to you next month I will include several new proposals that I consider the next step in welfare reform. Our aim now is to get everyone who can work into the workforce. It has been said that there is no security in life, only opportunity. I hope you all share one of my guiding principles of government: If someone is willing to improve their skills, to improve their life, and provide for their family, then we are going to be there to help! Expanding the circle of opportunity means preserving the essential quality of life that makes Connecticut so special. Nowhere is the need more apparent than in the field of transportation. Although it is rivaled in today's business world by high-speed communications, our transportation system is still the lifeblood of our economy. The last great challenge to improve our transportation system came after the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge. The ten-year re-building program that followed that tragedy was an important effort to fix an existing transportation system. Now, our challenge is to create a new one.
More than ever before, transportation policy has to be coordindated with economic development and environmental protection. Economic development in urban areas creates new wealth and new opportunity. Cleaning up brownfields encourages investment in the poorest parts of our state. And preserving open space helps control growth and protect the beauty and character of this place we call home.
This session provides us with a unique opportunity to synchronize economic development, transportation and environmental policy. We can develop policies that will make our urban centers vibrant again, our transportation system efficient, and maintain a quality of life second to none.
Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can ensure the Connecticut that we love will be just as promising a generation from now as it is today. I want to thank House Speaker Moira Lyons for her work on these important issues. Madame Speaker, your call for a summit on transportation helped focus our attention on the need to take action. And I am sure your leadership will ensure we move forward this session.
I also want to thank Senator Sullivan for his leadership on another very complicated issue. This year, we plan to take major steps to seriously address mental health policy in Connecticut. It is obvious to anyone who has spent time exploring this issue that mental health programs are most effective when they intervene early and provide long-term help. As with so many issues, we can no longer afford to look at mental health in isolation. Instead, responsive government requires us to look across all agencies to seek ways to improve treatment and make it more effective. I have enlisted the help of my fellow governors to make this a top priority issue on a national level, but improving our efforts to deal with mental health and drug addiction in Connecticut, is the best way to start.
The people of Connecticut have come to expect the best from their government. They expect us to put our partisan differences aside for the good of the state, and I believe we have delivered. They expect us to conduct ourselves according to the highest ethical and legal standards and I believe we have.
For many years, Connecticut's system of county sheriffs failed to live up to the standards of the people. Last year, with your help, we reformed the system. Today, I am renewing my call for a series of government reforms. Last year I asked the non-partisan Ethics and Elections Commissions to forward to me a list of proposed reforms to Connecticut election law. If we are serious about campaign finance reform let's make those recommendations law.
This last November's election proved to be historic. If we learned anything, it's that participation is important and that every vote counts. So let's take steps to open up the political process. We can talk all we want about campaign finance reform, but real reform opens up the process to more people. Real reform encourages concerned citizens to run for public office.
Seventy-one seats in this Legislature were uncontested in the last election. In seventy-one districts good candidates decided not to run because they thought the odds were too heavily stacked against them. Let's open up the system. We can start by reforming the convention system so the average citizen won't be intimidated by the process. Let's adopt the direct primary system. Conventions favor incumbents and party machinery over the individual right to vote. By definition, they limit debate and close the candidate selection process. It is time for Connecticut to strike a blow for a process that opens the doors to candidates with new ideas and gives the people a greater say in the selection of candidates.
Our convention system should be reformed to make it easier for candidates to petition their way onto the ballot for party primaries. Let's give people choices. Let's not pass a campaign finance reform bill that is an incumbent protection act in disguise. And don't ask me to sign a bill that forces the hardworking taxpayers of this state, to open up their wallets to fund political campaigns, when there are so many other needs in our state.
As it has been for the last several years our continuing challenge is to do more with less. Fiscal restraint must be the guiding principle under which this Legislature conducts state business. We have a projected budget surplus approaching $500 million. But that money is not an open credit line, to be used without penalty, at the mall of new government programs.
We do not have to look too far into the past to understand why. When the voters of Connecticut approved a constitutional cap on the budget, they were telling us we have a responsibility to avoid the free spending that led to $1 billion deficits and huge tax increases, less than ten years ago. Government spending left unchecked leads to higher taxes and a bad economy. Let's work together to abide by the will of the people and live up to the terms of the spending cap. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat - it's the right thing to do.
The fiscal restraint and bipartisan co-operation of the last six years has resulted in multi-billion dollar investments in education and economic revitalization. We have invested wisely and managed to provide tax relief at the same time. This year, the growing costs of some parts of our state budget, combined with the spending cap, make our task more difficult. But if we are willing to work together, I am certain we can provide the same responsive leadership the people of Connecticut have grown to expect from us.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique moment in our history. Opportunity is everywhere. This is our chance to make a difference. This is our chance to set the table of opportunity for future generations. We shall pass through this world but once. We have all chosen to serve the public. Let us do so with compassion, with diginity, and honor. Respectful of each other, let us not neglect our duty to our fellow citizens. Let us continue to serve Connecticut with pride and hope.
Thank you all. Good luck in the months ahead. And may God bless the great state of Connecticut.