Connecticut State of the State Address 2004

 

HARTFORD, Connecticut - Feb. 4 - Following is the full text of Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland's (R) 2004 state of the state address:

Madame Speaker, Madame President, Senator Sullivan, distinguished minority leaders Deluca and Ward, members of the General Assembly, friends and guests.

I come before you today just as governors have for over 100 years to report on the state of our state. Despite the fact that our nation is at war and still in the shadow of an economic downturn, I have every confidence that the state of our state is strong - and getting stronger each and every day.

This optimism is supported by signs of recovery and by my belief in the people of Connecticut. People who are resilient and creative.

It is this element of our greatness - the people of our state - that was never lost during this economic downturn. Even at times when despair and drudgery are present, the people of Connecticut always retain hope and faith for brighter days.

No one can take this away, and as long as citizens continue to believe, the great promise of Connecticut will be fulfilled.

As leaders, we are most effective when we think of our duties in terms of a new generation, not in terms of the next election.

This fundamental approach to government, that we all share, is our key to success as a state.

Despite the challenges of the past several years there has been no retreat from our core values and beliefs. There has been no retreat from our effort to make Connecticut better, stronger, and looking forward to the future.

The policies we have relentlessly pursued have built a record. Points of pride that we have accomplished together.

Connecticut's points of pride are also the building blocks of our future expectations.

A Connecticut with an education system that stands ahead of other states and sets the standard for the world.

It is a Connecticut where communities are alive with hope, opportunity and cultural resources.

It is a Connecticut that is safe and secure from the terror of new global threats.

A Connecticut that respects its past and is confident in its future.

These are Connecticut's points of pride.

This is where we begin our journey.

I am optimistic about the future of our state and for the first time in several years I am also optimistic about our state budget.

In the last two years this Legislature has been forced to meet in special session six times as we struggled over spending and taxation.

But because we made the tough decisions last year the budget I present to you today keeps key commitments and protects the investments we have already made.

  • First and foremost, this budget guarantees that no senior on ConnPace will receive reduced benefits. Which is one of the best plans in the country.

  • This budget does not reduce funding to our cities and towns.

  • Last year you gave me the authority to reduce ECS and town aid by up to $55 million. I am pleased to report that will not be necessary.

  • This budget maintains and even increases our investment in education.

  • This budget continues our fight against sprawl by investing further in open space and farmland protection.

  • This budget continues the important transportation initiatives started by House Speaker Moira Lyons.

  • This budget respects the taxpayers by not increasing the income tax on hardworking people.

  • And it respects the will of the people by honoring the terms of the spending cap adopted by referendum in 1991.


Protecting and building on Connecticut's points of pride. That is what the work of the next three months must focus on.

Connecticut will not reach its full potential until all of its citizens reach theirs.

And there is more work to do.

Our first priority must be job creation. Every new job we can fill in the coming year is another step toward economic rebound. Every new job created over the next year means another family with new hopes, goals and aspirations.

Which is why it is imperative for all of us working together to keep our state competitive, pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-growth and pro-taxpayer.

We've been successful. In just the last few months there are signs of job growth throughout our state.

We've been successful in Plainfield where a new Lowe's distribution center will employ five hundred twenty five people.

We've been successful in Fairfield County where the use of a new tax credit program saved hundreds of jobs from the clutches of recruiters in Westchester County and it will lead to even more job creation.

We've been successful in Danbury where Boehringer-Ingelheim will transform the old Union Carbide site into a new research and development facility, employing seven hundred Connecticut citizens.

These are the jobs we want across the state. We don't want a new casino. Not there, not anywhere.

The results of our efforts can be seen most dramatically just a few blocks from this capitol building, where construction is underway on the Front Street development project.

Hundreds of construction workers, many of them trained through our Jobs Funnel program, are pouring the cement and raising the steel on the state's largest urban revitalization project.

Since the Front Street project began 295 Hartford residents have been trained through the Jobs Funnel. Many of these workers have backgrounds that made employment difficult. But through their own hard work they are making a difference in their own lives.

I am pleased to have with us today four graduates of the Jobs Funnel, who have taken a few hours off to share their success with us.

Eddie Carrerro, Kenneth Map, Winston Brightly and Selena Priest.

Our state's ability to attract and create careers will continue to be one of our shining points of pride.

But more than job creation, the revitalization of our cities presents us with a broader mission. We have created a real and lasting opportunity for business development, stable employment, housing and an improved quality of life.

More than tearing down abandoned buildings and erecting new ones, the momentum created by these efforts gives new hope to communities that have struggled for too long. Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury, New Haven and New London.

Our vision and investments have permanently altered the landscape of these cities. That's the quiet triumph behind the revitalization of our cities.

Now we must unleash our cranes and ambitions to the needs of mid size cities like Norwich, Torrington, Bristol and Norwalk.

Although Connecticut is on the right track prudence, caution, and patience must guide our budget deliberations.

Throughout my time as governor I have sought compromise on issues of taxation and spending. This budget tries to find that middle ground and keep our recovery on course.

This conservative approach to our budget has served us well through a period of difficultly.

I believe that a government addicted to higher taxes chokes economic growth. Even in tough times, smaller government fueled by lower taxes is a principle worth fighting for and a principle I will continue to fight for.

During the last nine years we have reduced taxes by one billion dollars. I look forward to the day when we can resume our policy of reducing taxes whenever and wherever possible.

We must also not lose sight of government's ability to impact other pressure points in the Connecticut economy.

This must be the year for medical malpractice reform.

Huge malpractice jury awards and high insurance rates for doctors are creating a health care crisis.

I am submitting a bill to cap jury awards and bring some common sense to a system that is putting Connecticut patients at risk. Let's bring stability to our health care system.

Reforms are also necessary in the area of binding arbitration.

I am putting forward a series of proposals aimed at reducing the impact of arbitration awards on the state budget and on cities and towns.

The Legislature has primary responsibility to write the state budget. Arbitration awards have a dramatic impact on the budget. The Legislature should take responsibility by voting publicly on each and every contract.

For cities and towns, arbitrators need to weigh the financial resources of our already over-taxed communities.

Let's put some balance into the arbitration system before it drives our municipalities into bankruptcy. Let's reform this unfunded mandate.

The point of pride that makes all others possible is education. Connecticut is blessed with great schools, eager students and the best teachers in America.

From pre-school to graduate school together - we have committed ourselves to an education system that is second to none.

In this year of holding the line on spending, education is one of the few areas where I refuse to stand still.

Our investment has produced higher performing students, better schools, increasing enrollment in our public universities and recognition that Connecticut is a leader in education policy.

Our first legislative business is to maintain our commitment to education.

We have some unfinished business. So let's not stop the momentum.

I ask that you send the bond bill for the Connecticut State University system and the community colleges, to my desk, as soon as possible.

Rebuilding campuses. Expanding academic programs. Enhancing campus life. Nothing short of a transformation is underway. Our investment strategy is paying remarkable dividends with more students choosing our schools, more alums staying in the area, and more private investment swelling endowments to all time highs.

The country has taken notice and not just of our basketball teams.

CSU recently advertised for President of one of its campuses. Ninety-three people applied from all over the country! They all want to be part of what we are doing here. When it comes to higher education we are the envy of our neighbors.

My vision requires that every Connecticut student has equal access to the best education system in the country.

Equal opportunity for all is one of the basic principles we share. Failing to provide equal opportunity is a failure of leadership.

The achievement gap between rich and poor is still our most challenging dilemma. Eliminating this disparity is a challenge we must confront this year.

On the federal level the No Child Left Behind act provides us with a road map to leveling the achievement gap. But the navigation of that road is left mostly to us.

We have invested millions of dollars in charter and magnet schools. We are re-building our vocational-technical schools.

But we can't stop there.

Providing every child in this state with an alternative to an under-performing school is a goal that strikes at the core freedoms of our society. The freedom to learn. The freedom to grow. The freedom to succeed.

The education budget I submit to you today includes more than two hundred million dollars in spending aimed at closing the achievement gap.

This budget also provides an increase in our school readiness program. It is time to make pre-school available to all.

My priorities also include further investment in schools like the Amistad Academy in New Haven.

This public charter school serves 220 students from New Haven who after just two years out performed students in more affluent communities in the Mastery Test.

Amistad is a shining example of how creativity and passion can give rise to a program that truly inspires students.

I invited some of the students I met last fall to our opening day ceremonies. The students took part in an academic contest to decide which six would join us today. The winners are in the front row and I would ask them to stand and take a bow.

Every child, if given the opportunity to learn, can excel. Our task is to provide that opportunity.

This budget contains funding for a small scholarship program aimed at students attending underperforming schools. Just as legislators years ago saw merit in vo-tech schools, charter schools and magnet schools I ask you to have the courage to provide the students of today with a new alternative an equal opportunity to learn and grow.

Equal opportunity in education is the civil rights issue of this century. And only one side is the right side.

Raising expectations has been the cornerstone of our education policy.

Reaching higher is the goal of the Connecticut Center for Science and Exploration being planned for Hartford. Within the next few years we will open the doors on a new interactive learning experience for children from across Connecticut.

Using the Connecticut Education Network students will be able to log on to a virtual science center at their desks. They'll be able to solve a crime with Dr. Henry Lee or explore the oceans with Dr. Bob Ballard.

While Connecticut may have the best education system in the country, American science and math education ranks poorly when compared with the rest of the world. Our science center will help provide the stimulation our kids need to be Connecticut's next Igor Sikorsky or Eli Whitney.

Last month we invested more than ninety million dollars for the construction of the science center and we have the support of numerous individuals and corporations.

The list is long but there are three people I want to single out for their help:

Ted Sergi our former education commissioner who is now the CEO of the science center.

Hank McKinnell, the CEO of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, who is leading the private fundraising effort and serving as board chairman.

And Rick Levin, the President of Yale University who is leading the development of programming at the science center.

I would like to publicly thank the board members and contributors for stepping up to the plate.

If education is our most important strategy then public safety is our most important mission.

From the police officer on the beat - to the soldier serving overseas, providing safety and security is a fundamental duty of government at all levels.

While our armed services, under the President's leadership, take the war on terror to the enemy, here at home there is a high priority on a new vigilance.

Since September 11 Connecticut has stepped up to its responsibility in this new war. We are one of the first states to adopt a key lesson learned on that horrible day making sure our first responders can communicate with each other in times of crisis.

Last year we completed a statewide program to link all emergency services with one communication system. It was complicated, it was expensive and it was no easy task but it is something we should all be proud of.

The anthrax death of Ottilie Lundgren showed us how close to home terrorism can strike.

We now look at our public health department as an arm of homeland security. My budget allocates money for a new state of the art health lab that will put us in an even better position to respond to bio-terror threats and other public health concerns.

At a time of war we should also pause to remember that our country's greatness is preserved because of heroes who have served, or now serve in the military. We all owe them a deep debt of gratitude for accepting the highest call.

For our current service men and women, the international war on terror has hit home in a very profound way. Over 2,000 Connecticut National Guard and Marine Reserves have taken part in the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

What was supposed to be a part time responsibility for many has turned into a full time commitment. In the audience today are three representatives of the brave men and women from Connecticut who are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Specialist Albert Kim, a Middletown police officer, who was wounded in action in Baghdad in July.

Specialist Stephanie Garthwait, a student and a soldier, also injured in Baghdad.

And Master Sergeant Pat Luciano who served in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, not all our Connecticut servicemen have made it home. Eleven Connecticut soldiers have lost their lives.

Today I am proposing legislation to provide for the families of those who have died in battle. Under my proposal the spouse or children of any Connecticut soldier killed in the war on terror will be entitled to free college tuition at any Connecticut public college or university.

For our veterans I am also making a series of proposals to upgrade conditions at the state veterans' home in Rocky Hill. Connecticut veterans who call Rocky Hill home deserve nothing less than the very best from all of us.

My budget proposal seeks to help another fragile population in state care.

Too many state residents are on the group home waiting list in the Department of Mental Retardation. My budget will remove 750 people from the waiting list over the next five years.

One of our most prized human service programs is ConnPace. For nearly 20 years the state has provided critical drug coverage for seniors and disabled citizens who can't afford the drugs they need.

Recent changes in Washington now require us to look at our state program. While there are many details to consider, let me make one fact clear:

We will not reduce any drug benefits for our seniors here in Connecticut.

In my years of public service I have seen government accomplish great things, but I have also become acutely aware of its limitations.

On October 24th I signed Executive Order number 31 establishing a faith-based initiative in the State of Connecticut. It is an impressive group of clergy and government leaders who promise to bring about a new energy and creativity to the way we address our social ills.

They will play a vital role in helping our state's most vulnerable populations.

Rhina Carmona from Stratford, motivated by her faith, has volunteered for nearly 14 years in our state's prisons. Her ministry has made a remarkable difference in the lives of the inmates she serves. She is a faith-based organization of one. And she reminds us all that giving our time to others is the most generous of human acts.

At the age of 70, Rhina also reminds us that everybody, regardless of age, has something to offer. Will Rhina please stand and be recognized.

This effort will include a look at the prison reforms being championed by Representative Bill Dyson. We agree it's time to put greater emphasis on substance abuse treatment and prisoner re-entry programs. I stand ready to work with all of you on these reforms because together we can save lives.

As we embark on this journey, I do so with the memory of Representative John Martinez. He was a true believer in the fatherhood initiative. My budget continues that initiative in John's memory.

Connecticut's points of pride are about more than science centers, new football stadiums, or the rebirth of our universities. It's about the revitalization taking place before our very eyes.

It's about the ability to build partnerships outside government. Recognizing the contributions of those in our churches, mosques and synagogues.

We must tap the extraordinary potential of our senior citizens as volunteers. They have boundless energy and want to give something back if we only encourage them.

As important as our work is, as high as the stakes may be, we must always keep matters in perspective. As elected officials we have enormous responsibilities, but none of this should overshadow our most important role in lifethat of husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, that of fathers and mothers. It is these relationships, and these responsibilities that are the true measures in life and ultimately define each of us.

The most important commodity we have is time. Time for ourselves, time for our families, time to reduce the stress in our lives.

As such, in the midst of all our cares, let's stay grounded and focused on our central responsibilities. To bury them beneath the routines of legislative life, to lose perspective, would be regrettable.

Instead, through our work, let us all be witness to hope. Through our work, let us create opportunity. Those we serve expect it and deserve it.

Together, we have guided this state through difficult times. We have turned the corner. The state of our state is getting better each and every day.

Adversity can beat you down or it can make you stronger.

Thank God that in America challenge is always followed by even greater success. This country does not know retreat and no where is that more apparent than right here in Connecticut.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the great State of Connecticut.

 
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