Connecticut State of the State Address 2008
By Stateline Staff
HARTFORD, Conn. - Feb. 6 - Following is the prepared text of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's (R) 2008 state of the state address:
Click here to visit the governor's web site to view the address.
Thank you. Thank you all.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Williams, ladies and gentlemen of the House and Senate, friends and guests, I appreciate your warm welcome. There is always a sense of excitement on the opening day of a legislative session, and this year is no different.
It is a time of new beginnings - and renewed challenges.
It is a time of hope and optimism, tempered by the realities and uncertainties that mark this time in our history.
Economists agree that our country is facing difficult financial and economic conditions. They disagree on whether we are already in a recession or about to enter one.
They rely on mathematically based indicators to make such determinations.
The families of Connecticut use far less-sophisticated methods. They simply open their wallets and then their bills to see if there is a match.
Increasingly, there is not.
Heating costs are up. Utility and gasoline costs are up. Cable, phone and grocery bills are up. And incomes are not keeping up.
It's true that in Connecticut a budget surplus is projected - and I purposely use the word "projected," because we do not have it in hand and will not for another five months.
And as we learned yesterday, revenue is coming in at a slower pace than anticipated and the surplus is likely to decrease.
Next fiscal year, the year which my budget covers, the situation is far more uncertain and unpredictable. That is why fiscal caution, fiscal restraint, is needed.
The budget I present to you today does not exceed our state spending cap and it does not raise taxes.
It does not spend what the people of Connecticut cannot afford. Indeed it does not spend as much as some would like.
E-mails, letters, conversations: All start the same way. "Governor, I know you get asked a lot … I know the state doesn't have a lot. But … please, just this one project, just this one program, just this one time."
I wish I could answer yes to each request, but I cannot.
I cannot because the families of Connecticut cannot afford it. Because the families of Connecticut expect us to be as careful with our state budget as they are with their household budgets.
The people of Connecticut want us to fund the basics and after that to do as much as we can - and help as many as we can - with the money we have.
They want us to preserve the character of Connecticut while protecting the families of Connecticut - and their wallets.
That is just what my budget seeks to do.
It also preserves and protects our financial standing. More than three dozen states, from Rhode Island to California, have or are projecting deficits. They are facing deep budget cuts, steep tax increases or both.
Not here. Not now - and not in the coming months and year if we make smart, tough fiscal decisions.
Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our state is strong - and I will do everything in my power to keep it that way.
I will also again advocate for the enactment of a property tax cap. Homeowners, business owners and car owners are struggling under the weight of property taxes. They want relief - real relief.
I ask you to work with me to design a cap that we all find workable.
A property tax cap has been implemented in 43 other states. It can and will work here.
And I ask for your support for my proposals that confront - and fix - the lending practices that contributed to the present foreclosure crisis. They go along with the $50 million program I announced late last year to help homeowners by converting subprime loans into 30-year, fixed-rate loans. These homeowners need our help now.
During these uncertain economic times, I know we are all searching for ways to provide an economic stimulus.
I want politicians in Washington to stop bickering and stop posturing - so they can act. And I look forward to working with all of you, on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers, to design a state stimulus package that works.
Keep in mind: We cannot spend what we do not have - and we cannot enact something that will result in budget holes and tax increases next year or in the following years.
Before getting into the other details of the budget, I would like to take a few moments to note that Connecticut lost two distinguished public servants this year.
Two men of differing styles but similar in their unwavering love and commitment for their families and their state. Two men who made significant contributions during their many years of service.
Joining us today as a special guest is Eileen Meskill, representing the family of former Governor Thomas Meskill. Welcome, Eileen.
Also joining us is a very special woman - a woman of dignity and grace - a woman many of us are fortunate to have as a friend, former First Lady Nikki O'Neill. Welcome, Nikki.
I have asked Eileen and Nikki to join us today so that we may extend our sympathies and show our gratitude for the service of their father and husband.
Thank you both and thank you for sharing Governor Meskill and Governor O'Neill with all the people of the state.
I would like to announce that I have asked the University of Connecticut to officially name their library at the law school the Thomas J. Meskill Law Library. The Board of Trustees will soon be considering my request.
I would also like to announce that I am officially renaming the Hartford Armory - which is right next door to the Legislature and the governor's office that he served - the William A. O'Neill Armory.
Both are fitting tributes to good men. Good men who are missed.
Governors Meskill and O'Neill both strongly supported the military during their terms in office.
We must do the same, for ours is a country still at war. Many of our bravest have left the safety and security of their homes and families to courageously serve.
In all,16,500 Connecticut soldiers have been deployed to fight the global war on terror. Tragically, 42 have been lost in the line of duty. Forty-two young people taken from us. Forty-two broken, grieving families left behind.
It has been a time of worry and perseverance for our soldiers and their families. The departure ceremonies we hold for our troops are festive, but the cheers and music belie the emptiness and loneliness that soon follow.
The welcome home ceremonies are also festive. And we are learning, sadly, that a return home is not necessarily a return to normal.
The stark realities of war cannot help but change a person. Reconnecting to families and friends may be difficult. Physical injuries may be debilitating. Emotional injuries may be disabling.
We must not only thank our veterans for their service, but also provide them with services.
That is why I am setting aside $250,000 and directing our state departments, led by the Department of Veterans Affairs, together with military and veterans' groups, to conduct assessments of veterans' unmet needs - and to work to ensure that members of the military and their families receive all benefits and services.
I am also proposing that college tuition be waived at all state colleges for spouses and children of service members killed in action. Further, I am proposing a waiver of the $10 fee to obtain a Gold Star license plate, for the family of service members who have died in the line of duty.
I would like to take a moment now to introduce some special guests.
First, Mr. Joseph Nolan, along with his daughter, Martha. Mr. Nolan's son, Army Sgt. Joseph Nolan was killed in Fallujah in 2004 when his unit was on patrol and an explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
It was Mr. Nolan who spearheaded the idea of a Gold Star family license plate. We are so very sorry for your loss, and we thank you for your work to honor his memory and those of our fallen soldiers.
Also joining us are two of our very bravest: 1 st Lieutenant Elizabeth Turner and Sergeant Jason Bloom of the Connecticut National Guard.
Lt. Turner was deployed to CampAdder for one year and was awarded the Bronze Star. Sgt. Bloom served in Afghanistan and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Two decorated soldiers. Two soldiers here to represent the 16,500 Connecticut soldiers who have been deployed and who have served with honor and distinction. Thank you.
Last year, our sense of safety and security was shaken in the wake of the tragedy that occurred in Cheshire. But every day there are tragedies that are occurring throughout the state, and to those involved they are no less horrific.
A mother's grief is no different in Hartford than it is in Harwinton.
Lives needlessly and sadly lost because of violence, drug abuse or unsafe driving affects each one of us.
We can achieve much if we work together in a bipartisan manner to address the issues facing our state. For proof we need look no further than the legislation I recently signed to improve our criminal justice system.
We worked together, executive, judicial and legislative branches, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate members, to pass needed changes. I thank the members of the General Assembly for joining me in writing and passing this legislation.
But our work is not yet done.
I will be submitting legislation to require a mandatory minimum sentence for Burglary in the Second Degree and to change Burglary in the First Degree to include burglary of an occupied dwelling, day or night.
I would also like to put in place a three-strikes law for those convicted of three violent felony offenses.
And to satisfy those who thought - mistakenly - there was an "out" in the original proposal, I am removing the possibility of a case review after 30 years. Now it's three strikes for violent felony convictions and you're truly out.
Let me take a moment to thank our fine correctional officers and officials for their outstanding work. Theirs is an incredibly difficult job and they put in long hours and serve with true professionalism. But they need help .
My budget provides for the hiring of 125 new correction officers and additional staff.
I also include money for new probation staff, a new warrant squad, youth violence prevention programs, substance abuse counselors and an array of inmate re-entry services.
I am also proposing legislation to significantly toughen our laws dealing with sex offenders.
All too often we hear or read about a predator attempting to entice a child on-line - or about a sex offender failing to register as required.
One simple fix I am proposing is to bar offenders from legally changing their names to escape police attention or to avoid registration.
But I want to go further . I want to require offenders to report in person to police and to provide the name and address of their employers and the license plate number and description of their cars.
And they will also have a special imprint on their driver's licenses.
The premise of these changes and my efforts: The more the public knows, the better protected they - and their children - will be.
And in the name of public protection, I am calling for another significant change: I want all persons arrested for an A or B felony - the most serious of criminal charges - to provide DNA samples immediately upon arraignment. Those convicted of lesser felonies and certain misdemeanors must provide a DNA sample at conviction.
These samples will be processed to see if there are any matches related to unsolved crimes.
Incredibly, the law on the books only requires DNA samples to be taken at the end of the inmate's sentence.
Another overdue change is the requirement that all towns have reverse 911 capabilities for notifying residents at a time of pending public emergency.
We saw the value of this recently when wild fires threatened so many communities in and around San Diego. News reports noted how neighborhoods were safely and calmly evacuated through the use of reverse 911 messages.
We may not have many wild fires here but we do have hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Ensuring that each of our 169 cities and towns has reverse 911 capabilities is a natural extension of our planning efforts, and my budget provides for this.
Technology advances have been incredible in recent years, but one of the downsides is the ability of people to commit sophisticated crimes, such as identity theft.
I am proposing an identity theft protection package along with my budget. It will, among other things, upgrade the crime of criminal impersonation, require full restitution from those convicted of identity theft and make it illegal to own equipment used in identity theft.
I ask for your help in addressing this increasingly common problem.
As you can see, my proposed budget focuses squarely on public safety and on protecting our citizens. I also want to make our roadways safer.
Most of us drive on our highways with some trepidation. It seems that every mile is replete with speeders, tailgaters and people improperly changing lanes. The consequences can be, and often are, deadly.
Regrettably some in our state have become rude, inconsiderate and dangerous drivers.
I am proposing the hiring of an additional 100 state troopers over the next five years for traffic enforcement, starting with 20 new troopers in the next training class. Their sole focus will be to crack down on unsafe drivers.
I am also proposing a pilot program on I-95 in the Old Lyme/East Lyme area for electronic camera radars aimed at catching and ticketing speeders. To those who use this congested highway as their personal speedway - we're going to see you and we're going to stop you. And it will cost you.
I am hopeful that this program will prove successful and that we will be able to add additional locations for camera radars in other parts of the state.
Another safety issue is unsafe trucks. Most truck drivers follow the law. Unfortunately, there are those who ignore safety standards and who think everyone else on the highway should get out of their way as they barrel ahead and cut in and out of traffic at high speeds.
My budget provides $700,000 for 10 new truck safety inspectors within the DMV to enhance truck inspections all around the state. They will also target companies with vehicles that have a history of failing safety inspections.
I am also proposing to increase coverage of the Greenwich weigh station by adding three weekend shifts every month. And I am funding a new scale for this station as well.
Unfortunately, some of the most careless and reckless drivers in our state are our teenagers.
They are inexperienced drivers, yet they possess that teenage bravado of "I'm an adult now, I know everything and nothing is going to happen to me because I'm young and invincible."
It's what they think - and what every parent fears.
We've lost too many of our young people to tragic accidents.
For that reason, I am proposing legislation that will roll back curfew times, increase on-the-road training requirements and put stiff penalties in place for driving under the influence and violating laws regarding carrying passengers, talking on cell phones, text messaging, speeding and racing.
And before I leave the topic of highways and transportation, I would like to note that over the last three years we have provided unprecedented funding for transportation improvements throughout the state.
From increased bus and rail service to bridge safety improvements to highway repair and congestion mitigation, we have accomplished much.
But it has become all too apparent that our state Department of Transportation is broken.
DOT as an institution has simply become too bureaucratic, too inefficient and too single-minded in its problem solving approach.
Bold reforms are necessary. And that's why I am calling for an end to the old DOT and the creation of two new and focused departments: A Department of Highways and a separate Department of Public Transportation, Aviation and Ports.
In this way each agency will be able to focus on its own goals - and the standing of public transportation, and all of its ramifications for responsible growth, will be enhanced.
I want to give rise to a culture of change, opportunity and reform at DOT. No longer will the phrase "That's how we've always done it" be justification for the practice.
I am also calling for other changes, most of which are taken from the reorganization study that was headed by Michael Critelli of Pitney Bowes.
My budget provides for:
- 42 Inspectors for bridge maintenance to ensure that bridges are inspected every 2 years and repaired as necessary
- A new "511" system to allow the public to retrieve timely and accurate travel information
- A new Citizens Response Ombudsman
- Fifty additional engineers for design and oversight
- A Chief Operating Officer for the Department
- A new Office of Strategic Planning and Evaluation
I am excited about bringing needed change to DOT and I know you share my urgency in getting this job done - and done right.
And speaking of getting it done - let's finally pass the common-sense government ethics reforms that the people of our state have been asking us to pass for years.
Pass the legislation that would take pensions away from corrupt public employees and require more executive and legislative employees to file financial disclosure forms.
Prohibit all staff from soliciting campaign contributions and include the Governor's spouse in the definition of "public official."
Pass these bills - and I will sign them as soon as they hit my desk.
The creation of jobs is always one of our top priorities. And at a time like this, with economic storm clouds on the horizon, it's more important than ever that we focus on economic development.
For that reason, I am recommending $500,000 in operating funds and $5 million in capital funds to support the field of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology draws upon our strengths in the fields of biology and chemistry and is an economic driver in manufacturing and biotechnology.
I want Connecticut to be a national leader in nanotechnology.
It's a field involving minute particles - but its development will create mega jobs here in the state.
Right now small businesses are responsible for creating the vast majority of new and replacement jobs in our state. To help these entrepreneurs, my budget provides for the outright repeal of the business entity tax.
Connecticut 's economy will need quality skilled nurses and engineers to fill its current and future labor needs.
That is why I am providing $800,000 in additional funding for nursing scholarships and teaching at UConn, our state universities, and community-technical colleges.
I am also recommending $300,000 for an engineering loan reimbursement program to engineers who work in our State.
Our nurses - and all health care workers - are an important part of our economy and the heart and soul of our health care system. And I know that you share my concern with the problems we are seeing at our nursing homes.
We entrust our mothers and our fathers, our loved ones, to these facilities and sometimes, too often, our trust is betrayed.
I am recommending several important initiatives, including increased financial oversight of nursing homes - and increased inspection staffing for the Departments of Social Services and Public Health.
Nursing home owners and operators must be held accountable - and they will be.
We must also recognize that the safety of child care facilities is a high priority. That is why I am providing the Department of Public Health with five additional staff to increase both the number and frequency of inspections of child care facilities.
And speaking of our children, I am very pleased to report that enrollment in the HUSKY program increased by over 16,100 during the past six months.
I am looking forward to the gains we achieve following the full implementation of my initiative to enroll children in HUSKY B at birth - and as we work with schools to identify low-income families for program eligibility.
I hope we will see more dramatic increases over the next few years.
I am also eagerly awaiting the responses, due next month, for the operation of my Charter Oak Health Plan. As you know this program is targeted at those with no insurance or those who earn slightly too much to qualify for state-assisted coverage but not enough to afford private coverage.
I cannot tell you how many people stop me each week, asking when this plan will be up and running. They know its value and they are looking forward to making it a success. So am I.
Aside from protecting Connecticut's families, my second area of focus is on preserving Connecticut's special character.
Ours is a state of beauty and heritage. Ours is a quality of life second to none.
We lead the nation in so many ways and on so many issues.
I want our state to continue our leadership on climate change. To that end, I am proposing several initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Requiring all buses to limit unnecessary idling
- Increasing the rebates to homeowners who install solar panels
- Enhancing the current rebate program to encourage more people to replace inefficient oil and gas furnaces
- A corporate tax credit for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions
- And establishing an exciting "Green Collar" Jobs program at our vo-tech schools to train students in energy efficient building, construction and retrofit work.
My budget also fully restores the sales tax exemption for buying energy star appliances. This is a true win-win proposal - it's a $23 million tax cut for our residents and it's an important incentive for energy efficiency and conservation.
And to help families who will benefit from our improving air quality and who wish to enjoy the beauty of our great state, I am investing in our state's natural and cultural treasures.
We are fortunate to have 138 state parks and forests scattered through the state. Some of these are true natural gems - others have been neglected for far too long.
We want our families to enjoy these properties. But that's difficult if parking areas are in disrepair or restrooms are not functioning.
My capital budget includes a new program which will provide $15 million for the proper preservation of state parks and forests.
Earlier I spoke of responsible growth. Sometimes the responsible thing is to not grow, to not develop.
For that reason I will ask our state Department of Public Works not to sell the Seaside property in Waterford. Thirty-six acres of beautiful land, fronting along the coast, with the ocean as a neighbor. A beautiful, scenic parcel that would be lost to development forever.
This is a decision made today with which a few may not agree. But I firmly believe it is a decision for which future generations will be extremely grateful.
I have included monies in the budget to secure the property and to mothball the handful of historic structures that are stunning in their artistry.
My budget also includes the creation of a new Cultural Capital Program which will provide $20 million in bond funds for one-time capital improvements to arts, cultural and historic venues.
I am also creating a new $10 million Cultural Treasures Program which combines two existing grants and adds $3.6 million in new funding. This will provide the arts, culture and tourism programs in Connecticut with unprecedented resources.
And I have one more proposal for the arts. It is my intention to execute a favorable lease with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra for one floor of the beautiful church the state recently bought on Lafayette Street here in Hartford. It will be used for practices and some performances by the symphony, though other art and culture groups may also use it. It is also my intention to allow the State Library to use one floor for much needed exhibition and storage space.
Maestro Edward Cummings of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra is with us today. Did I hit just the right note, Maestro?
The arts enrich the lives of Connecticut citizens in ways that cannot be replaced or matched. That is why I am committing these new resources.
Protecting Connecticut's families and their wallets and preserving Connecticut's character. Those are the goals of my budget adjustment and the goals we all share as we embark on the 2008 session of the General Assembly.
Thank you and God Bless the Great State of Connecticut.