New Hampshire State of the State Address 2000

 

CONCORD, New Hampshire - Feb. 3 - Following is the text of Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's 2000 State of the State Address:

Madame Speaker, Madame President, honorable members of the Executive Council, the House and Senate, my fellow citizens of New Hampshire:

I am always humbled when I stand before you in this historic chamber, as your governor, to address you in joint convention. It is a great honor and a privilege.

This is now the sixth time I have done so with Donna Sytek presiding as Speaker of the House. This is the first time I do so with the new President of the Senate, Beverly Hollingworth. I thank you both for your long service to this legislature and to the people of our great state.

When New Hampshire entered the 20th century, the mills in Manchester bustled with textile workers; railroad was king; workers made stagecoaches in Concord and lumber camps thrived.

Today we see a very different New Hampshire. Mill buildings are now home to software designers; Manchester Airport welcomes millions of visitors each year; University of New Hampshire professors and students design and build satellites for NASA.

New technology and a new economy are changing the way we live and work.

We are well positioned to take advantage of this change. As we enter the 21st century, I am proud to say: the state of our state is excellent. We have the nation's lowest percentage of children living in poverty.

We have one of the lowest crime rates.

We have created over 50,000 new jobs since January 1997, and, for the first time in our state's history, we surpassed the 600,000-job mark.

We are second in the nation in economic growth and we have the third fastest-growing export rate.

We have the highest concentration of high-technology workers in the nation.

New Hampshire is on the cutting edge of a dynamic new economy. It's an economy where success is founded on ideas, innovation and information.

It is an international economy, where the customers for New Hampshire products are just as likely to come from across the ocean as from across Main Street. It's an economy where people are our most precious resource.

The new economy is about knowledge. Now more than ever, we need to make sure our children are getting a world-class education an education that starts in their earliest years and continues throughout their lives.

Our public schools are the gateway to our children's futures. As a former teacher, I know it is the teacher in the classroom who inspires our children to learn and succeed. That is why we must support our teachers. That is also why we must demand excellence.

In the last three years, we have taken important steps to improve our schools. New teacher testing. Tougher teacher recertification. And later this year, new school report cards so parents will know not just how their children are doing, but also whether their schools are making the grade.

The Best Schools Leadership Institute - launched last year with your support - is helping local people improve their schools. That means a new mentoring program in Manchester to help keep good teachers. Tougher curriculum standards in Belmont. New ways to measure student performance in Lincoln and Woodstock.

We must awaken in our children an interest in science, math and technology. Our children must be as comfortable using computers as we were riding our bikes. That's what it will take to succeed in the workforce of the future. In the next six years, for example, we will need twice as many computer engineers as we have today. We must make sure our citizens have the skills for these high technology, high paying jobs.

We are already making progress. 98 percent of our schools are wired to the Internet. Our Computers in the Schools program is bringing hundreds of computers to our classrooms. We are training teachers to use technology to kindle an excitement for learning in our children.

Education is the key to success in the new economy. And how we pay for our public schools will also determine our future economic prosperity.

In the past year, we have fundamentally changed the way we pay for education in New Hampshire. As a state, we have accepted that it is the responsibility of all of us to make sure every child gets a good education, no matter where that child lives. We have more to do, but we have come a long way. We should be proud of what we have accomplished. As we move forward, we must fully and fairly fund our schools without undermining our economic vitality. But let there be no doubt: we will not we cannot go back.

Improving our schools takes more than money. We need rigorous standards. We must demand accountability for improved performance. In the coming weeks, you will consider legislation that will do just that. I ask you to pass this legislation so we can make every school in New Hampshire an excellent school.

And we must make sure our children are ready to learn when they enter first grade. Across our state there are 1,400 more children attending kindergarten this year because of what we did. I have visited many of these new classrooms in Somersworth, in Newmarket, and Loudon.

You can see the eagerness to learn in the faces of these five-year-olds. What we have done is a good thing. But our work will not be finished until every five-year-old can attend public kindergarten.

We know that the earliest years even before kindergarten - are the most important. Parents know this, too, but often they can't find the child care they need for their pre-schoolers and infants. So parents juggle work and family, too often afraid that their child care isn't good enough, too often afraid that the cost of child care will bust the family budget.

That is why we are launching an apprenticeship program for child care workers. That is why we are offering tuition assistance for technical college students specializing in early childhood education.

That is why we are expanding financial assistance to parents who need help, many of whom now pay more than 25 percent of their income for child care.

And because I believe we need to do more, I will be establishing the Governor's Business Partners for Child Care, which will bring together business leaders, government and parents to increase the availability of affordable high-quality child care.

But just as learning does not begin with kindergarten, it can not end with high school.

Last year, we made a major investment in the University System of New Hampshire. We were able to keep tuition increases in check, sustain the excellent academic environment at Durham, Keene, Plymouth and Manchester, and continue UNH's development as one of the region's premier research universities. The University System is a magnet, attracting jobs and high-tech companies to our state. We must maintain this investment.

And we must recognize that no longer can our workers learn just one set of skills for one job over a lifetime. Learning must be a lifelong process. Our community technical colleges know that. This year, thanks to our increased investment, they are giving even more people the skills they need to succeed.

They are helping people like Marlene LaFlamme of Strafford. Marlene knows she needs a college degree. But as a single mother raising two teenagers, while working three jobs, she found commuting to campus a struggle.

Last fall, the "Going the Distance" program, allowed Marlene to take classes from home. She got the education she needed on a schedule that fits her life and her family.

Our new economy demands this kind of flexibility to meet new challenges. It also demands new approaches to some familiar problems. We can not compete in this new economy without a healthy workforce. Our families must know they can get the health care they need when they need it.

Lisa Serard of Bow fought for years to convince her HMO to cover the health care her chronically ill son needs. Ben suffers from diabetes and Crohn's disease, which, untreated, blocked his ability to digest food. Lisa searching everywhere for help called my office, and it was only then that her HMO agreed to cover the care Ben desperately needs.

It shouldn't be that way. Our people should not have to seek intervention from a governor to get their health insurance companies to respond. Later today the Senate will take up the HMO Accountability Act I proposed last year. Let's pass this bill today and make sure New Hampshire families are getting the care they need.

We're fortunate in New Hampshire. Over 91 percent of our residents have health insurance, well above the national average.

And most of our residents have health insurance through their employers. But many small businesses struggle to find insurance they can afford. We have moved to lessen that burden. Yesterday I signed legislation that will enable small businesses to band together to negotiate for better insurance coverage. Thank you for joining with me to make this happen. We must make sure every child in New Hampshire has access to heath care. No parent should have to worry about whether they can afford to take a sick child to the doctor. They don't have to anymore. Today affordable health insurance is within every family's reach through our Children's Health Insurance Program. Over 6,000 more children now have quality health care because of what we've done.

But for all we have accomplished, we must also recognize that some of our most pressing health care concerns can not be solved by New Hampshire alone. They are national and regional problems.

Advances in medicine, especially pharmaceuticals, are allowing people to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. But our seniors, who often need prescription drugs the most, are paying too much for the medicines they need to stay healthy.

This summer I heard from a Concord couple who are spending $550 a month, half their monthly income, on their prescriptions. The wife wrote me: "We have been married 52 years. He is 75 years old and I am 77 years. We have always paid all our bills and have never owed anyone. It's embarrassing to seek help as we have been brought up to do for ourselves." Our seniors should not have to live this way.

This is a national problem. But we can't just wait not when our seniors must board buses to Canada to buy medications they can afford. We must begin addressing this problem in New Hampshire. That's why we are testing a pilot program that will give seniors a discount on their prescriptions.

The consolidation of health care and its transformation into a for-profit industry have created turmoil and uncertainty for customers. We saw that first-hand with the recent failure of Tufts New England.

But the lack of affordable insurance choices and the high cost of prescription drugs are not problems one state can solve alone. That's why later this month I will meet with the governors of our neighboring states, Vermont and Maine, to begin exploring possible regional approaches to these problems.

In the new economy, we must be competitive in every way, including electric rates.

Hearings are finishing up at the Public Utilities Commission on a settlement agreement with PSNH. This settlement will allow us to lower electric rates, open the door to competition, and end the costly litigation brought by PSNH. If approved by the PUC, you will soon consider the legislation necessary to implement the settlement. I know you will carefully scrutinize the settlement. I did.

The mistakes made in the 1989 Rate Agreement weigh heavily on all of us. But we cannot allow fear of the past to prevent us from seizing the opportunity of the future.

Cutting electric rates will be a shot in the arm for the New Hampshire economy. New jobs will be created. Private investment will be stimulated. The disposable income of New Hampshire families will grow by millions of dollars.

We must embrace competition and lower electric rates, and we must do it now. Over the last three years we have made critical investments in our traditional infrastructure. Last year we completed the Everett Turnpike two years ahead of schedule. And this year we will complete Route 101 three years early. Now we must also turn our attention to the digital infrastructure we will need in the new economy. We must make sure that New Hampshire leads the nation in connecting our businesses, homes and schools with high-speed Internet access and advanced communications services.

The new economy is not just an idea. It is here.

Half of our residents are already online.

We are 10th in the nation in the number of our companies doing business on the Internet.

The Seacoast, with its proliferation of software and high-tech businesses, is now rightly known as the E-Coast.

In this new economy, New Hampshire businesses are competing and winning all over the world.

From its headquarters in Bedford, Imaging Automation makes machines that check passports throughout Eastern Europe.

In Salem, National Aperture makes micro precision equipment that is sold around the world.

At Bretton Woods, the ski area welcomes thousands of international visitors a year. International tourists are discovering New Hampshire, not only its beauty but also its affordability. It's actually cheaper for English skiers to cross the Atlantic to vacation in New Hampshire than to go to the French Alps.

International trade and tourism will only become more important in the new economy. We must help New Hampshire businesses compete globally or risk falling behind. Later this month, I will lead over 20 companies on a trade mission to Germany and Denmark. In Germany, we will also participate in the world's largest high-tech fair, a perfect showcase for New Hampshire companies competing in the new economy.

Around the world, demand is growing for high-tech products products that New Hampshire companies can supply if we help them gain access to global markets. State government, too, must keep pace with the changes of the new economy.

People should be able to easily access government information and services online. We have already started moving in that direction.

For example, Administrative Services is developing an online job recruitment and application process for state agencies. The National Guard is building five multi-media, distance learning centers for use by the Guard, local communities, and businesses.

To continue to move government into the 21st century, I will soon appoint a public-private task force. It will review how state government manages its high-tech resources and recommend how we can use technology more efficiently to improve the services we provide our citizens.

We must also change how we manage our limited fiscal resources. Our pilot project in performance-based budgeting is an important step in making sure we use our tax dollars wisely and efficiently. This shift to performance budgeting should not be caught up in a power struggle between the executive and legislative branches. I urge you to embrace this change.

As much as ever before, we must be fiscally responsible. Our school-funding plan has a $30 to $40 million gap. We must find the dollars to fill that gap or cut back on state services. Those are the choices. I believe we should pass a 10-cent increase in the cigarette tax. I hope you will make that choice.

We must also remember that the budget we established last June is a biennial budget, setting our investment priorities for two years. We can not and must not haphazardly pass spending or revenue reduction bills this year unless we are willing to pay for them.

In the information age, people can work anywhere. People and businesses are coming here because this is a place where they want to live and work. Last summer the world viewed our unique cultural heritage at the Smithsonian Festival on the Mall in Washington. This summer we are bringing the exhibit back to the state so everyone in New Hampshire can celebrate our traditions and culture.

Our rich history, abundant natural resources, our clean air and clean water, are the very things driving our economic growth. But as we grow, we must preserve what is special about New Hampshire, the traditional character of our communities, our forests and farms, and our historic buildings and downtowns.

State government should serve as a role model for smart growth. That's why I asked the Council on Resources and Development to study how state government may be contributing to sprawl and what we should do to help prevent it. Based on this report, I have directed state agencies to incorporate smart growth approaches into all decision-making.

We must also work together with business, local communities, and private citizens to protect our historic places and open spaces. The public/private partnership proposed by the Land and Community Heritage Commission will help us accomplish this. Let us come together Democrats and Republicans and find a way to do this this year.

These are the challenges that lie ahead of us. And the opportunities.

It was only a few weeks ago we watched our nation and the world enter a new century. There is so much ahead of us that we can only imagine and dream.

Today we hold the power to decide the fate of our great state and all its people. Together let us rise to the challenges of the new economy. Together let us seize its opportunities. Together we can secure a bright and prosperous future for generations to come.

 
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