Georgia State of the State Address 2002
By Stateline Staff
ATLANTA, Georgia - Feb. 6 - Following is the text of Gov. Roy Barnes' 2002 State of the State Address:
This is the fourth year that I have had the responsibility of standing before you to report on the state of our great state.
For the last three years, it was a pretty easy thing to do, because most of the news was good.
Sure, we faced some big challenges, like education and transportation. But there was a sense of great optimism, and we had confidence that we could address those issues because our economy was up, crime was down, and Georgia was growing like never before.
We had welcomed the world to the Olympics in 1996 ... and after that, it seemed, the world kept beating a path to our door.
Today, the picture is more complicated. Our economy has been hit by the same slowdown that is affecting the whole nation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the tragic events of September 11 will cost about 1.6 million Americans their jobs by the end of this year. In Georgia, we have been hit especially hard in the airline and tourism industries, as well as the high tech sector, which was already declining before September 11.
Even though we posted a net gain of 124,000 jobs since 1999, that great news is tempered by the fact that we actually lost jobs last year. And, our state revenues are dropping for the first time since any of us has been in government ... well, maybe with the exception of Senator Gillis and a few others.
Today, Georgians, just like all of our fellow Americans, are feeling uncertain about the future. I have heard that uncertainty. Since I was elected governor, I've traveled all around this state, and I've listened to Georgians in our big cities and our small towns, on farms and in factories.
I know we are all worried about our safety, and what kind of world our children will live in.
Nothing is more important than our families, and nothing is more frightening than uncertainty about their future.
I've heard workers who worry about whether they'll be able to find a good job, or keep up in a fast-changing global economy.
I've heard parents who care deeply about the schools their children attend, because every parent wants to give their children the best possible chance to succeed in life.
I've been reminded again and again that we Georgians love our great quality of life ... and we worry that it could slip away if we don't protect it.
Yes, I have heard the fears and uncertainties of Georgians. But I have also heard the strength of our people, spoken in a chorus of many different voices.
From farmers in south Georgia and teachers in Gwinnett County, I've heard the strength of our values and traditions.
From computer technicians in Atlanta and poultry workers in Gainesville, I've heard our basic commitment to fairness, and our belief in "doing unto others," as we would have them do unto us.
From retirees in the mountains and school children on the coast, I've felt the depth of our love for this beautiful land.
And most of all, from thousands of voices all over Georgia, I have heard the strength that springs from our hope for a better future.
So today, I am going to tell you something that might surprise you:
My fellow Georgians ... even though we face some difficult challenges in the coming months, I believe the future of Georgia is bright and secure.
Yes, these are tough times, but we are in much better shape than almost any other state, because we prepared ourselves for this inevitable downturn.
We are prepared because we listened to the people of Georgia, and we ran this state the same way they handle their own family finances ... on sound business principles.
When we saw the downturn coming, we redoubled our efforts to trim spending - just as a business or a family would do. That's why I asked every department to go over their budget and find ways to cut costs without cutting services.
We established clear priorities in spending. And just like most families, our top priority is a good education for our children. That's why more than one-half of my budget proposal for next year is devoted to education. The families of Georgia know there is nothing more important than a good education, and we know it too.
We also have put a priority on public safety, and on protecting the health of Georgians, especially our children. Once again, those are the priorities of every Georgia family.
And, like a family, we have set aside a nest egg for emergencies. Our rainy day fund is about 5 percent of our annual revenue, which is not out of line with what a family would try to keep in a savings account. For a family making $50,000 a year, that would amount to $2,500 in the bank for emergencies.
This rainy day fund gives us an economic cushion and helps us maintain our excellent bond rating, which is just like a family's credit rating. So, just as any family would try to do, we need to protect our nest egg, even if it means eating hamburgers instead of steak.
And like a family, we know it is sometimes smart to borrow money for long-term investments, especially when interest rates are low and we enjoy a great credit rating. That's why thousands of Georgians have refinanced their homes in the last few months ... and that's why there is no better time than now to build the new classrooms our children need.
In fact, the building program I have proposed will not only give us 5,000 new classrooms so our children can attend smaller classes ... It will also create 25,000 new jobs.
To those who complain that we would mortgage the future by building these classrooms for our children, I say: No, we are investing in the future. And our long-term debt is at a much lower rate than the mortgage most families carry on their home.
As you know, our constitution limits the amount we can spend on debt service to 10 percent of the previous year's budget. If you agree with my proposals, our total debt service will be well under that - actually, it will be less than 6 percent. Most families would consider that a prudent level of borrowing. Just imagine if you could pay your mortgage, your car loan, and all your other loans for the whole year on about three weeks' pay!
These are steps that make sense for the families of Georgia, and they make sense for the state of Georgia. And if we listen to the people of Georgia and follow these principles, we will come out of this stronger than ever.
Not every state is so fortunate, because not every state is as well prepared as we are.
In Tennessee, they are using their money from the tobacco settlement to balance their budget.
In Virginia, they are facing a $1 billion deficit, and they will probably have to delay a tax cut that was supposed to be phased in this year. College tuition rates are likely to rise, but there will be no pay raise for teachers or other state employees.
Florida has already delayed a planned tax cut, and Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Louisiana are all considering the same thing.
Some states, like Kansas and Minnesota, are actually considering tax increases. Texas and New York will probably have to raise unemployment taxes on businesses. Other states are laying off state employees, cutting services and canceling construction projects.
The federal government has been affected, too. After several years of a balanced budget, we are facing a federal deficit of $106 billion this year. That's what is happening around the country.
But not here. Not in Georgia. Not on my watch.
We will not raise taxes. In fact, we will continue to cut property taxes by increasing the homestead exemption, as we have done for the past three years.
We know that owning a home is the greatest financial investment that most people make. It should be a source of pride and joy ... but sometimes, property taxes can make it seem like a burden. The tax cut I have proposed this year will put about $200 back into the pocket of the average homeowner - money they can use for home improvements, vacations, or to pay off bills.
There are only a few states that are likely to give taxpayers any relief at all this year - especially $350 million worth.
If you agree with this proposal, we will have cut taxes across the board, including income and sales tax, by more than $1.1 billion in the last three years!
I will also recommend that we conform Georgia's income tax to the new federal income tax law, which will give an additional $63 million income tax cut to our state's taxpayers this year - and over $400 million in the next 10 years.
In addition to those cuts, Georgia businesses have benefited from almost $1 billion in unemployment tax cuts. And now is no time to stop, because we must do everything we can to help businesses create new jobs. That's why I'm proposing an additional $129 million in unemployment tax relief for Georgia businesses.
At the same time, we must remember why we have an unemployment tax ... to help hard-working men and women who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. And we must do more to help them as well.
That's why I support President Bush's plan to extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks.
And that is why I have been glad to work with Commissioner Michael Thurmond and the Department of Labor to find more ways to help our unemployed during these tough times.
I am proposing that we increase benefits in Georgia by $16 a week by 2003. I'm looking for a $6 increase this year and a $10 increase next year, which would bring the maximum weekly benefit to $300.
I also want to make it so that if a woman has to leave her job because she is a victim of domestic violence, she is eligible for unemployment compensation.
We've been aggressive about cutting taxes in Georgia, but I want to do even more. That's why I am proposing Shop Georgia, a sales tax holiday that will boost the economy, provide immediate tax relief, help families with back-to-school expenses, and help bridge the digital divide by making it easier for working families to afford a computer.
I propose two exemption periods of two days each - the last Friday and Saturday this March - to provide some immediate relief - and the first Friday and Saturday in August, when folks are doing their back-to-school shopping. I want to exempt items of clothing up to $100 each, school supplies up to $20 per item, and computer equipment up to $1,500 that is purchased for personal use.
This will put about $11 million directly into the pockets of Georgia families, allowing them to afford even more clothes and school supplies for their children.
I want to credit Representative Ron Borders and Senator Tim Golden for promoting the idea of a sales tax holiday in Georgia.
I'm always happy to support an idea that will work for all the people of Georgia, and a sales tax holiday will do just that.
So, instead of raising taxes, we're going to reduce them. Instead of eliminating services, we're going to improve those services that need to be more efficient, like drivers' license renewals.
And instead of canceling construction projects, I want to build the extra classrooms we need to keep pace with growth, and so our children can attend smaller classes.
Now, everything I have asked you to do over the last three years has been aimed at improving the quality of life of Georgia's families. And we all know that a great quality of life starts with a good job.
There's nothing more important to creating jobs than making sure that every child in Georgia gets a great education, because jobs and education go together like catfish and hushpuppies. So the best way to create more good jobs in Georgia is to continue our plan of education reform. It's the job of the Governor to provide leadership. But as I've said before, I don't have all the answers. So a lot of people have played a part in our efforts to improve education.
During the first session after I was elected governor, I asked you to form a blue-ribbon commission to look at how we could improve our schools. The group you created spent a year holding meetings around the state -- listening to parents, teachers, businessmen and community leaders. And when they presented their findings, we listened to them.
I didn't just dream up the idea that we should make classes smaller so our children could get more attention from their teachers; Georgians said they wanted smaller classes, and educators said they would work.
I didn't dream up the notion of holding everybody involved in education accountable for results. The people of Georgia, through the education reform commission, said they want everyone involved in education to be accountable - including teachers, administrators, students, and even parents. This idea of accountability is the same principle that has worked in other states. And it is also at the heart of the education bill that President Bush recently signed.
And it wasn't just a wild idea of mine to raise the salaries of our teachers to the national average for the first time ever. The people of Georgia said they want the best possible teachers for their children - so we listened.
Today, our education reform efforts are starting to bear fruit.
By this fall, most children in early grades and core academic subjects will be in smaller classes, meaning they will receive more one-on-one instruction from their teachers. By the fall of 2003, no child in grades 1 through 3 will be in a class with more than 21 students. Kindergarten classes will be no larger than 18. And those children in the Early Intervention Program, who need extra help, will be in classes with a maximum of 14 students.
The parents and teachers of Georgia know what smaller classes will mean to our children. Let me read to you from a few letters we've received from teachers who are already in smaller classes:
"The kindergarten teachers at Dowell Elementary in Cobb County have experienced having 18 students this year, as opposed to as many as 28 students in previous years. We are seeing children's needs being met in an environment that was not possible with the high numbers we had previously."
That was signed by a group of kindergarten teachers.
And Patti Bartlett, a first-grade teacher at Pike Elementary in Meansville, sent an e-mail that said:
"I am very excited about the results we have achieved this year as a result of the Early Intervention Program. I truly believe that lowering the class size is the best thing that a school system can do to improve student success."
So you see, our education plan is beginning to work. We are starting to see improvement in reading skills, the most important building block of a good education.
And for the first time ever, our pay for teachers is at the national average - and when you take the cost of living into account, it is even better than the national average. We also pay more than any other state in the Southeast.
In FY 2002, when many other states just tried to hold the line, we gave our teachers a 4.5 percent pay increase. This year, I have proposed a 3.5 percent raise for teachers.
This commitment has helped us hire good, experienced teachers from other states, and it has also helped attract people from other professions who realize how important and rewarding a teaching career can be.
Teachers are important, but parents also have a major role to play in education. I believe in giving parents and local communities more control over our schools.
That's why, as of this fall, every school in Georgia will have a local school council to help set policies. And that is why I am proposing that we should make it easier for parents and communities to create charter schools.
Charter schools are not a silver bullet that will solve all our education problems, but they are a tool that can give parents and the community more control, and we need to help those who are willing to do the hard work to establish them.
Improving education in grades K through 12 is the cornerstone of our effort to build a stronger economy, but we're doing a lot of other things to bring jobs to Georgia as well.
We started by capitalizing on the strength of our 34 state colleges and universities with a number of programs: the Yamacraw Mission, the Georgia Research Alliance, the Georgia Center for Advanced Telecommunications Technology, and the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program. The Yamacraw Mission set a goal of recruiting 10 companies involved in telecommunications and chip design, and creating 2,000 new jobs within seven years. Well, in just three years, we've signed up more than 30 companies. They have already created 1,100 new jobs, and another 3,100 jobs are projected over the next few years.
An example of ICAPP is a partnership recently announced between Georgia State University, and Robins Air Force Base. The university will provide training to help fill 30 new, high-paying jobs as procurement officers.
We created the OneGeorgia Authority to help the poorest parts of our state help themselves. In its first year, the authority distributed $48 million in economic development and infrastructure grants.
Over the next 25 years, the Authority will continue to invest over $1 billion in the Georgia communities that need it most. One of the very first OneGeorgia projects brought the Farmland/National Beef meatpacking operation to Moultrie. A $1.5 million OneGeorgia grant to the community was used to jump-start the facility. Originally the company said it would create 200 new jobs, but they recently increased that number to 340.
The Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism has also helped bring new jobs to communities around the state.
In North Georgia, Pirelli relocated its North American corporate headquarters and the finest state-of-the-art tire plant in the world to Floyd County, which will create more than 350 jobs.
And a French company that manufactures bottles for cosmetics and perfumes announced just a few weeks ago that it will open a plant in Hancock County, creating about 200 new jobs there.
Another great success story is what we've been able to do in Thomaston. Thomaston Mills, which was the center of the community and employed over 1,000 people, closed down early in 2001 - devastating the community.
But six months later, through the hard work of Representative Mac Crawford, Senator Susan Cable, the OneGeorgia Authority, and the Departments of Community Affairs, Labor, and Industry, Trade and Tourism, we were able to announce the creation of 500 new jobs at two different manufacturing companies.
Instead of losing hope, the community pulled together and looked toward the future - and it paid off.
We've not only worked hard to bring new jobs to every part of Georgia, we've done everything we could to save the jobs we already have.
I mentioned Warner Robins. You all know how important that base and our other military installations are to Georgia's economy. That's why I appointed a new Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee two years ago. Its mission is to constantly evaluate Georgia's military installations and identify ways to improve the operational capacity of each base. This proactive approach helped us keep thousands of jobs at Warner Robins last fall when the B-1 bombers were relocated.
The Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism was also instrumental in saving 400 jobs in Valdosta after the Brunswick Corporation decided to close down the U.S. Marine boat plant. With the help of a $1.5 million OneGeorgia grant, Regal Marine Industries announced they would take over the operation.
We've worked hard to create jobs, but that's not enough; we have to make sure Georgians are prepared to compete for those jobs. That's why we strengthened our adult and technical education system.
We changed the names of our technical schools to colleges, we expanded the eligibility for HOPE scholarships for technical training, and we added some formula funding. Since then, the enrollment in our technical colleges has increased by 37 percent. It's now at an all-time high, with more than 77,000 students at our 34 technical colleges and 17 satellite campuses. This means more Georgians than ever are preparing themselves for a good job in the future.
Make no mistake: technical education can change lives for the better, by preparing people for challenging new careers. One person whose life was changed is Mary Martha Moore, who grew up on a sharecropper's farm. A few years back, she found herself with no job, little education and no prospects.
As Ms. Moore wrote in a letter to Jim Bridges, the president of Valdosta Technical College, "My life was over. I had no skills, and I was 49 years old."
But thanks to a good technical education program, her life wasn't over. Even though she hadn't attended school in 34 years, she went to Valdosta Tech, graduated, and got a job as a medical assistant.
"I just want you to know how grateful I am to you and your institution for helping me get from there to here," she wrote a few months back. "May God continue to hold hands with you and Valdosta Tech."
Ms. Moore is one of thousands of success stories around Georgia, and she's proof of how important it is to offer a great program of technical education.
We know people are worried today about their economic security. But there are other kinds of security as well ... and the citizens of Georgia deserve to feel secure.
Families deserve to feel safe in their homes, and as they go about their daily lives.
That's why the state of Georgia is doing whatever it can to help out in the war against terror.
We have established a Homeland Security Command Center, which is coordinating the efforts of our state and local agencies with the FBI and other federal authorities. And our state health lab has been assisting the Centers for Disease Control in analyzing possible biological agents.
We should be proud that we're doing our part to help the national war effort, while making Georgia's families safer.
Parents also deserve to know their children will be able to see a doctor if they get sick.
That's why we have increased funding for the PeachCare for Kids program, which is now fifth in the nation in the number of children covered ... in fact, the enrollment recently exceeded 200,000 for the first time ever. When you add the 551,000 children who are covered by Medicaid, we are now providing health care for more than 750,000 Georgians under 18 - one-third of the children in our state.
PeachCare gives peace of mind to working families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford health insurance for their children. In fact, the Department of Community Health heard from a mother of two, who said:
"I have been raising my children alone since they were born. ... Until PeachCare for Kids, all of us had to do without good medical care. PeachCare has been a Godsend for us."
Commuters deserve to know that we're planning and building the roads they'll need to get to work in a few years, as well as other options, like buses and trains.
Three years ago, we faced a transportation crisis. We couldn't use any federal money to build new roads in the metro Atlanta area. We all know that Georgia's prosperity has always depended on a great transportation system, so this situation threatened the economic future of the whole region ... and, in fact, the whole state.
We listened to the recommendations of community leaders, and we took action. Today, we're moving forward quickly to build new roads and create the other options that will give us the kind of transportation system we need to stay competitive in the 21st Century.
Every Georgian deserves to know that when they turn on a water faucet, there will be enough water to meet their needs. And clean water, too - water you can drink, not smell.
Once again, we were blessed that some of our community leaders took the initiative, and recommended a regional approach to water issues. We listened, and we created a framework that will let local governments in north Georgia work together on a regional basis to protect our water supply ... because streams and rivers don't stop at county lines.
And we all deserve the peace of mind of knowing there will always be a place where our kids can play ball, or where we can take our dog for a walk, or just wander in the woods for a few minutes to get in touch with nature.
The Community Greenspace Program that we created has already helped counties around our state save hundreds of acres of priceless forest, woods and wetlands. And that's just the beginning, because with the Greenspace funds we have already appropriated, thousands more acres will be saved.
Those are some of the things we have already done, but we have much more still to do. Georgia is in a position to emerge from this economic downturn in better shape than ever, but it won't just happen.
We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, and we'll have to make some tough decisions. But that is the job we were elected to do.
Every one of us asked for a leadership role - we even fought for it. Now is the time for us to do what is right, instead of what is simply easy. It is time for us to act boldly, not timidly.
Let's remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we gain nothing save by effort.
A few minutes ago I talked about the things I had learned as I traveled around Georgia in the past few years.
But the fact is, I've been learning from the people of Georgia all my life.
When I was just a boy, I started working in my family's general store. Sometimes I would set up a produce stand outside by the highway. Other times I would work inside, where we sold everything from groceries to gardening tools.
Our customers taught me a very important lesson: When people pay for goods or services, they expect to get something of value in return. And if they don't, they will hold the person who made the sale responsible.
I have never forgotten that lesson.
Today, we know that the Georgians who elected every one of us expect us to get results.
They expect better schools for their children, starting with smaller classes.
They expect an economic climate that creates good jobs.
They expect us to protect their quality of life and the environment.
And they expect us to do all these things as efficiently as possible, so we can continue to cut taxes.
If we don't do these things, they will hold us accountable - as they should.
If we take bold action now, we will secure a bright future for all Georgians - ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.
So I hope we can work together for the next few months to get results.
I know this is an election year, and we won't agree on everything. But there are many things we can agree upon.
We all want to do what's good for our state ... today and in the future.
I hope we can listen to one another, just as we listen to the people of Georgia, and find the common ground that unites us. If we can do that and work together, I think we'll make a good start toward securing Georgia's future.
Thank you. God Bless America, and God Bless the great state of Georgia.