Georgia State of the State Address 2008
By Stateline Staff
Click here to visit the governor's website to view the address.
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, President Pro Tem Johnson, Speaker Pro Tem Burkhalter and members of the General Assembly…
My fellow constitutional officers…Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the Court of Appeal…members of the Consular Corps …
Other distinguished guests and my fellow Georgians … as we gather in these chambers today I come before you to speak about our present, and of our future. But first, I want to share with you a story of our past.
I give you a snapshot of Georgia in the 1880's - at the midpoint of our fledgling state's history, halfway between our founding in 1733 and where we stand in 2008. Although their spirits were buoyant with hope for the future, the challenges of rebuilding created a stark reality for Georgians.
In 1889, Henry Grady, one of the great fathers of the New South, spoke these words:
"I attended a sad funeral once in Pickens County . They buried a fellow near a marble quarry; and yet the tombstone they put above him was from Vermont .
They buried him in the heart of a pine forest, and yet the pine coffin came from Cincinnati .
They buried him by an iron mine, and yet the nails in his coffin were from Pittsburgh .
They buried him near the best sheep-grazing country on earth, and yet the wool in the coffin bands was brought from the North.
The South didn't furnish a thing on earth for that funeral but the corpse and the hole in the ground.
The dirt clods rattled down on his coffin, and they buried him in a New York coat and a Boston pair of shoes, leaving him nothing to carry into the next world to remind him of the country in which he lived."
This was in 1889, just 25 years after Georgia was burned to the ground. No other state that endured devastation on this scale has risen to overcome it so magnificently. Even our largest city has embraced the symbol of the phoenix - and 150 years after the civil war, this state has risen out of the ashes to international prominence.
We are seeing the repatriation of southerners who left in the 40's, 50's, 60's to find opportunities outside the south. But this is not just a sweet, sentimental homecoming. Today, the children and grandchildren of those who left are returning en masse to find the hope and opportunity their parents left to pursue.
Small hometowns across the state are brimming with prospects. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a change in which we may all rejoice.
In his speech, Henry Grady went on to say that things were changing - that marble-cutting and wool mills and iron factories had sprung up around this old grave. He spoke of the future with hope and confidence.
But friends, today Georgia is no longer playing catch-up. Today Georgia is setting the pace.
The triumphant drumbeat of our progress proclaims a new anthem and a new era for Georgia . Not just as the capital of the New South, not just another great American city - but an international leader - an economic . . . cultural . . . technological capital.
Georgia was one of the original 13 colonies. But look at the growth that has reached its fingers across this country, first to the northeast, then to the westward expanse, and now back.
It's coming back, ladies and gentlemen. It means change coming 'round to the new south. It's coming to Georgia . And it fills me with hope and exuberance … it lifts me with a clear sense of purpose, and a determined sense of obligation and stewardship.
Grady told us the story of Georgia that once was. But the story of Georgia today - and tomorrow - is what I see, what I want to share with you:
It's the story of a baby boy, born just last Friday afternoon at Northside Hospital . This little boy has no idea of the opportunities to come from this place. He will get a bright start with Georgia Pre-K, will be vaccinated with medicines created in this state, treated by doctors and taught by teachers that are the best in the world. He will drive a car made in West Georgia, running on biofuel made here, too.
He will fly in and out of the busiest airport in the world. He will attend a world-class university paid for by the HOPE scholarship, where research is conducted that will change the face of the future. My grandson, Samuel, just 5 days old, will grow up in a new Georgia .
Times have changed - and are changing even as we speak. Can you imagine that our Georgia , in 2007, was a leader in terms of real population growth - only behind the two largest states in the nation!
2.2 million people have moved here in the last 12 years - and they have brought with them their families, their businesses, their cultures, their knowledge - and they have trusted us with their futures.
We are emerging as more than the capital of the New South but an international capital. When you say " Georgia " or " Atlanta " in countries abroad … they no longer just think of Gone with the Wind and Tara Plantation.
They think of Coca-Cola, Martin Luther King, CNN, the Masters, historic Savannah , the Olympics, and the world's busiest airport with 280 national and international nonstop destinations.
They think of a major economic player, a global transportation hub, a center for culture. They picture a place millions of people call home - a place people across the world want to call home.
We've led our region in a business and cultural alliance with our neighbors to the north, and our largest trading partner, with the South East US-Canada Alliance. And I plan to be on Delta's inaugural flight to Shanghai this spring, and will be turning the key on Georgia 's new trade office in Beijing . That date will be March the 30 th - that's a hint.
This will help forge business ties between our state and the 1.3 billion people of China - but we also hope to foster an exchange of culture and ideas between our two countries.
America 's traditional capitals of culture and commerce, of leadership and lawmaking, are showing their age. A new generation of Americans is coming South. They are coming to Georgia to build their futures, our future - to build an American future.
Now, what is it that brings people here? I think it's that sweet fragrance of optimism. The basic truth that humans hope continually for the promise of a better life.
That's why people move - to find opportunity. It's a simple story, told again and again, the startling hope that comes with raising a child and realizing you can give them a better life than you had.
People want schools that help their children achieve. They want clean, abundant natural resources. They want quality health care. They want a happy home, a steady job that will provide for the family. And they want roads that will get them between the two.
These are things other states shoot for, things they aspire to - but ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to say they are a reality here in Georgia .
Georgia 's future is as an international capital. To achieve this, we must be a low tax state. Georgians have benefited from $2.8 billion in tax relief in the last 5 years - but to continue on this track, we can do more - we must do more.
The Senior Income Tax Cut will not only reward a generation that's worked hard to bring our state so far - it will spur economic development, keeping dollars in Georgia . It will keep families together as grandparents stay close by and as we begin to see retirees follow their children here.
This year I'm also proposing to the legislature a constitutional amendment to eliminate the state portion of property tax. This would do away with state portion of the ad valorem tax - providing another $94 million in tax relief to Georgia home and automobile owners. We will also remove the excuse that some local governments have given for reassessing property values.
I am proud to offer these agenda items, because I believe in fiscal responsibility, and I believe in tax relief for the people of Georgia .
In the last five years we have brought an astonishing number of new companies to Georgia . In the last 6 months alone, international investment is up 56%!
Kia motors in West Point. That's 2,893 jobs. Plus 2500 more from suppliers - what does that mean for Georgia ?
It means transforming a dusty mill town in western Georgia into an advanced manufacturing center of the future.
With us in the gallery this afternoon is a young lady I'd like to recognize. Kim Blackmon, would you please stand up? Kim and her husband have five children that they work very hard to support.
Kim not only works hard - she works smart. In addition to working two jobs during the day, she's taking evening classes at West Georgia Tech, where she's already earned a degree in Computer Information Systems. She's applying for a job with Kia and Kia suppliers and hopes to take advantage of the new opportunities coming to West Georgia.
Kim, I want to commend you for all you're doing to make a better life for your family. And I pledge on behalf of my colleagues in this body today, to do what we can to bring you and your classmates more opportunities - more jobs - more investment all over Georgia , so that other families can follow your lead.
If we are to proceed down a path of smart growth, there are issues we must address. First, we must bring transportation and our system of infrastructure into the future.
As DOT comes under new leadership, we look forward to delivering real value for our dollars. I expect to see great changes taking place in Georgia transportation.
I expect GRTA and SRTA to fulfill their mission and continue pursuing their individual roles - but I also expect to see renewed cooperation and collaboration between them.
And as an example of that cooperation, I am pleased to recommend expanding Commissioner Gena Abraham's responsibilities to include serving as Director of State Road and Tollway Authority. She has a remarkable record in terms of agency success, and has proven herself to be a strong leader with an eye for what makes things work for our citizens and businesses.
I have great confidence in Dr. Abraham - and with her experience in project delivery, I believe Georgians will soon see the value of their transportation dollars, whether it means congestion relief in the metro areas, or paving economic development highways in the rest of our state.
I am also happy to announce the creation of a Transportation Infrastructure Bank, to give local governments low-interest loans to complete essential transportation projects. This will be a $50 million revolving loan fund - dollars will be paid back and made available for new projects like roads, bridges and transit.
Creativity, cooperation and perseverance will help bring Georgia transportation into the future. Together we will make our state more and more appealing to businesses, people and investors around the world.
Another issue area we tackle as we grow is the smart management of our resources. The Water Plan was recommended unanimously by the Water Council last week with wide support and approval from stakeholders. I thank Speaker Richardson and Lt. Governor Cagle for their support - and Dr. Carol Couch for her leadership - throughout this inclusive process.
I understand both bodies are anxious to address this important issue and move forward.
I want to thank the Senate and House Natural Resources Committees for quickly addressing the water plan - I am proud to say that I am committed to its full funding. We have identified more than $11 million of initial funding to help us immediately implement this historic roadmap for the future.
Now, we don't want the state of Georgia to usurp the rightful role and responsibility of local government to provide for the adequate supply of clean drinking water. But we do want to support them in this endeavor. So this year's budget will invest $120 million in water infrastructure and reservoirs.
I want to caution that this is not a silver bullet: more room for storage will not make the rains come.
But investing in reservoirs is a part of the formula for smart growth. And I pledge now that Georgia will be a model of smart growth. We will grow responsibly. We will grow into the city upon a hill, with the eyes of all people upon us.
We will conserve and use this precious and vital resource wisely. We will reuse it so we consume as little as we need. We will respect the resources that we share with our neighbors. But hear me now - we will not allow others outside this state to hamper our progress by limiting our access to the waters that fall on our land. That will not happen on this Governor's watch.
For people coming to a new place, health and health care is a serious concern.
We have great minds in this state working in our universities, the CDC, and private research facilities across the state. We will soon have a world-class scientific research park at Fort McPherson .
I announced yesterday that Georgia , along with our private sector partners, will invest $40 million for venture capital to commercialize research in areas like biosciences and medicine coming out of our universities. Friends, Georgia will lead the way as a global center for health.
Health insurance is an ongoing battle for many small businesses - I think we can all identify someone in our hometowns that is struggling to meet rising costs in health care for their employees. This is why we announced the Health Insurance Partnership last year - so that small business employees can be covered under a group policy.
We will invest $17 million in the partnership. And if the legislature approves the plan, thousands of workers across the state will have the security and dignity of health coverage. And the small businesses of Georgia will have confidence knowing they can afford to do the right thing.
We have a guest sitting in the gallery with us - Nathelia LeSane. This is a young lady who represents another direction we are taking healthcare in Georgia . When Nathelia was nine years old, she was diagnosed with a bone condition that would require years of painful orthopedic surgeries to rebuild.
When she had trouble getting the treatment she needed, the Shriners stepped in. They helped Nathelia and her mother find a hospital - and they provided some desperately needed financial support.
I am pleased to announce a new partnership in the works between the State of Georgia and the Shriners Hospital . They have agreed to treat our young Georgians on PeachCare with serious and cost-prohibitive orthopedic needs, free of charge, in the Shriners Hospital in Greenville . This will give these young people a unique opportunity to receive expert medical care. This exciting partnership is the first of its kind, and we are honored to work with a group with such an extraordinary dedication to philanthropy.
We've also been hearing a lot lately about trauma. We've seen the symptoms of a serious need for change in Grady Hospital here in Atlanta . But the need for trauma funding is a state-wide concern, one that affects millions of people.
This year, my budget recommendations include $53 million in appropriations to strengthen Georgia 's trauma system. I want to make this clear: this is not a blank check. The elected leaders of this state, both in the executive branch and the general assembly, expect - and demand - that the recipients of these taxpayer dollars serve as good stewards of these funds.
One way we'll pay for this trauma network will be increased fines on reckless drivers. "Super Speeders" will pay for the damage they cause. We simply want our roads to be safe, and keeping the speed down is one part of that.
Increasing law enforcement presence on our roads is another way to keep them safe.
We are making fundamental changes to recruitment practices for public safety - and this year we are adding more than 200 state troopers. By the time I leave office, the Georgia State Patrol will operate at full capacity, and people will once again look to it as the noble law enforcement career it truly is.
All these things - taxes, resources, transportation, health and safety - they all add up to a world-class destination, a global capital. But above all these issues, more important to the future of our people than any other on earth, is our basic duty to our children.
Education is the best investment we can make in our future. We have come a long way in the last five years - raising graduation rates, strengthening curricula, seeing test scores and achievement go up.
We've kept our teachers the highest paid in the Southeast - and yes, teachers, you can all look forward to the $100 Classroom Gift Card we will issue once again this summer.
In the gallery today sit two bright faces that have benefited from our education system. Tiffany and Ashley Vann, would you two please stand up? Tiffany is a senior and Ashley a junior at Southwest DeKalb High School .
These young ladies were enrolled in the first Georgia Pre-K classes funded by the lottery - and they are applying to our world-class universities with plans to take advantage of the HOPE scholarship. As the first Pre-K class enters college this fall, we see how Georgia has made it possible for these outstanding students and their classmates to enjoy a lifetime of learning.
This includes adding $6.4 million in lottery funds to bring the total number of Pre-K slots up to 79,000 - giving more of our young children the opportunities Tiffany and Ashley capitalized on.
Tiffany and Ashley - I am proud of you. You should take pride in what you've accomplished. And I pledge today to continue our work to make Georgia 's education system the best in the nation.
Our next step in education is getting parents involved in their child's education. We can teach and coach and motivate a student all day long - but if they don't show up for the game, we will lose.
Yesterday morning I announced the "VIP Recruiter" program - Very Important Parent Recruiters. We will invest $14.25 million, targeting our schools with the poorest attendance rates. Simply put, a child's attendance record is a direct result of parental involvement. These recruiters will help parents understand the education system, to help them make a connection with their child's teachers. They will learn how and why to be supportive of their child's education.
I am also pleased to recommend $65 million to bolster our transportation and technology in K-12. I have heard the call from our educators and our legislators - and school buses and 21 st century technology are the two areas where I know this powerful investment are most needed.
Georgia continues to move up in education. The best way to continue on that path in our schools is to link flexibility with accountability. That's exactly what the IE 2 Partnership is doing - offering new options in exchange for performance. Can I remind you, IE2 stands for "Investing in Educational Excellence."
I thank Lt. Governor Cagle for his leadership on charter schools and charter systems - but we're not stopping there. We want every school in Georgia to earn the flexibility charter schools enjoy. It's about local control - local decision making - and swift sanctions for lack of performance.
This is an innovative, forward-looking idea to come out of the IE 2 task force. It's an idea that will change the future of education - and an idea with which Georgia will lead.
Ronald Reagan pointed out that the American people have a love affair with the future. We like the idea of it, the sound of it - we are intoxicated by the promise of it. We work hard today, so that we may make a new day better, not just for ourselves, but for our children, and our children's children.
This year our great state celebrates a milestone birthday - we have been building the future of Georgia for 275 years now.
The last five years have led us toward a new, brighter, more prosperous future. And we will continue down that path - building momentum, gaining speed - and we will let no one stand in our way.
We have another guest of honor in the gallery today - one more face representing the hope and possibility of the future for Georgia : Brigadier General Maria Britt, the first female general in the great history of the Georgia Guard.
Georgia has a long, distinguished military history, with a deep reverence for our men and women in uniform. These individuals make everything we do possible. Their service to our country brings safety to our shores and across the globe. Their work allows us to play with our children, to worship a great God, think and speak freely, live our lives and plan our futures without fear.
You cannot put a price on liberty… but we know it is not free. We are each eternally grateful to Brigadier General Britt and the 1.4 million servicemen and women defending this beautiful, bountiful country.
In February 1733, our state's founders and the first colonists, sailing on "the Ann," landed in Savannah and first set foot on these shores. In my first inaugural address I invoked their motto, the spirit of their endeavor: "not for ourselves. . . but for others." This is a spirit we carry on with us today.
I want to share with you the personal words of our founder, James Oglethorpe, first Governor of Georgia, as he stood on "the Ann" and invited settlers to come to the new colony.
He spoke of the heady excitement of coming together to create something great, and said that "every little will do something; and a great number of small benefactions will amount to a sum capable of doing a great deal of good."
It is a quiet revolution that takes place, when the people know that every little will do something. And a great number will amount... to a great deal of good.
In the end, this is what my vision for Georgia comes down to. We are poised on the brink of international prominence. Will we move forward to a triumphant drumbeat with the knowledge that it's a great number of small benefactions that will accomplish a great deal of good? Will we stand with open arms to greet the future we have built for ourselves?
Ladies and gentlemen, I stand by this promise: we will. We will carry on the work of our forefathers, we will fulfill the founding vision of the first Governor of Georgia.
The responsibility to lead us in that work falls to me as Governor. My vision for Georgia is one driven by a faith in the collective power of many simple dreams. It's a vision that fits those words, spoken 275 years ago. It's a vision driven by the calm understanding that many small things add up to great ones.
Ladies and gentlemen, I sense a yearning to make this great state even greater. We Georgians are not content to stand on the achievements of the past - no, we are eager to create a better future for our children, and our children's children.
This era will be glorious for Georgia . We will be the city on a hill that shines brightly lighting the path of those around us. We will not only be the triumph of the southeast, of the nation - but of our globe.
And so long as we have faith in what we can accomplish by working together - that course will lead our state to further greatness. I stand before you today, ever more confident that our best days are yet to come.
God bless you. God bless America …and God bless the great state of Georgia.