New Hampshire State of the State Address 2006
By Stateline Staff
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Mr. Chief Justice, honorable members of the Governor's Council, the Judiciary, the House and Senate, my fellow citizens of New Hampshire:
Before I begin allow me to recognize my wife Susan. Her love, support and patience, and that of our children, make it possible for me to do my job every day. Thank you for being a wonderful first lady.
It is an honor and privilege for me to come to this historic chamber to report to you that the state of our state is strong.
Through our work together in the past year, we've put our state back on track and addressed some of our most pressing challenges. Now we must continue to build the future we want for New Hampshire: A future where every child receives a high school diploma; our children grow up safe; our natural beauty is preserved for all to enjoy; more people have affordable, quality health care; and every citizen has the opportunity for a good job.
We live in the greatest state in the greatest country in the world. We want to keep it that way.
A year ago I asked you to work with me by focusing on progress for the people of New Hampshire. Together, we put partisanship aside, and the people of New Hampshire are better off for it.
I want to thank the leadership of both parties, Speaker Scamman, Representative Craig, Senate President Gatsas, and Senator Larsen for committing wholeheartedly to this bipartisan approach. We have respected our differences and respected one another, and worked together, Democrats and Republicans, every day to get things done.
Bipartisanship forces us to decide issues based on the merits, not on party lines; to care not who gets the credit, as long as the right thing gets done; and to listen to the citizens of our state and to each other. It takes more work, but it gets better results for our people.
This spirit of cooperation represents our state's best traditions of communities working together and neighbors helping neighbors.
We saw that spirit as we joined to meet the great challenges of the past year. And it is this spirit that will allow to us meet the challenges of the coming year.
On October 9th, floods devastated parts of western New Hampshire. Seven of our citizens lost their lives. Homes and businesses were destroyed; roads and bridges washed away.
Our state and our people came together to respond.
In Alstead, I met a woman who had lost everything; but there she was at the fire station, answering the phones and helping others. Local electricians worked with state officials and utilities to get generators to everyone who needed them. The Red Cross opened shelters. The Salvation Army fed volunteers and families. People from across the state, from school children to businesses donated money, clothes, and toys.
Nearly every state department worked around the clock to help people and to begin rebuilding. Within days, the Department of Transportation was re-opening roads - re-connecting communities and giving people hope that recovery was on the way. Please join me in thanking all of our state employees for their exemplary service.
And let me thank Senate President Gatsas, Speaker Scamman, the legislators and local officials from the affected areas, for their leadership during this disaster.
Across western New Hampshire, people told me that seeing the National Guard made them feel safe again. In the past year, our National Guard members have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, gone to the Gulf States after Hurricane Katrina, and helped in our flood recovery. Each time, they left behind their homes, their jobs and their families. Let us thank them for their sacrifices.
We have made great progress in rebuilding after the floods. But the job is not done.
Some of our neighbors lost everything, and we must do what we can to help them recover. The federal government pays 75 percent of disaster costs, and the state and local communities normally split the remainder equally. That's much more than some of these communities can afford. That is why I ask you to pass legislation to have the state cover all but $5,000 of the match for each community. We must help our communities rebuild.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is the best shipyard in the nation. When the Department of Defense recommended closing the Shipyard, some said we shouldn't try to fight it - that we couldn't beat Washington. But we chose to fight.
We had the facts on our side and worked together - Shipyard employees, state officials, the congressional delegation, local communities, and thousands of our citizens. And together, we saved the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Fuel costs are higher than ever, but Washington still has not met its responsibility to provide fuel assistance to vulnerable families and seniors. In New Hampshire we were not going to leave our citizens out in the cold. Together, we acted - and funded fuel assistance for our families.
The new federal prescription drug program got off to a disastrous start, leaving many seniors unable to get their prescriptions filled. In New Hampshire, we were not going to risk the health of our citizens. Together, we acted - and made sure our seniors could get the medication that they need.
While scandal dominates the national headlines, we in New Hampshire are working to ensure the highest standards of ethics and integrity in state government. We must come together to enact bipartisan ethics reform this year.
And while some are attacking our presidential primary, we are going to fight together to protect our first-in-the-nation tradition.
When we gathered last year, we faced a major budget deficit. Together, we balanced the budget without smoke and mirrors, while looking out for the needs of our citizens. We returned our state to sound financial footing, turning deficit to surplus, without new taxes.
Now, there are many bills before us this year that lay claim to a portion of the surplus. But we must exercise restraint.
First, I believe we must place a significant portion of the surplus in the Rainy Day Fund. That's the fiscally responsible thing to do, and will provide a much needed cushion in the face of likely federal funding cuts. Second, we should make a few targeted investments in our economy and public safety. Finally, we must address the pressing, unanticipated needs of our citizens, as we are doing with the flood recovery and higher fuel costs.
We know that high-energy costs are cutting into the ability of community providers to care for our citizens - from people with developmental disabilities to children in day care. That is why I ask you to support Rep. Wallner's and Sen. Green's legislation to provide additional support for community providers to meet rising fuel costs.
We want all of our citizens to have access to affordable, quality health care.
Last year we took action to stabilize our small business health insurance market. We ended the ability of insurance companies to discriminate based on where a business is located. We ended the ability of insurance companies to discriminate against sick workers.
Providing health care for children is the right thing to do; it is also a wise investment in our future. Children who have access to quality health care do better in school and better later in life. That is why we increased our commitment to New Hampshire's Healthy Kids Children's Health Insurance Program. It is an investment we must sustain.
Our working families are struggling to pay for prescription drugs. Later today, the House will vote on a bill establishing the New Hampshire Rx program. This will permit the state to use its bargaining power with drug companies to help families save. I ask you to pass this legislation.
We were privileged last year to witness the courage of a young cancer victim, Michelle Morse. She faced the choice of staying in school or losing her health insurance. Michelle and her parents worked to make sure other students wouldn't face that same impossible decision. Michelle's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Morse are in the Gallery today. Let us take a moment to thank them for all they and Michelle have done to help others.
Sadly, Michelle passed away in November. The House honored her legacy by voting to ensure that college students will not lose their health insurance when they need it most. I ask the Senate to quickly do the same and pass Michelle's Law.
The increasing cost of health care is not sustainable - for government, for businesses, for individuals. Too many of our citizens lack health insurance and don't get the preventative care they need.
My goal is that 10 years from now New Hampshire will still be one of the healthiest states in the nation and more of our citizens will have access to quality health care, at a more affordable cost.
I created the Citizen's Health Initiative to help turn that vision into a reality. They are moving forward on three important fronts: developing criteria to evaluate and monitor the quality of care; reducing medical errors and duplication through electronic medical records; and making it easier for people to get information about health care quality and costs.
We cannot solve our health care problems overnight, or by legislation alone. But with this Initiative, for the first time, New Hampshire has everyone at the table and committed to finding solutions.
Childhood obesity is a growing public health problem, and an issue Susan feels passionately about. She has been traveling throughout New Hampshire to raise awareness and to encourage our young people to live healthier, more active lives. Thank you Susan for helping address this critical challenge.
Education is the key to opportunity for our children, our families, and our state. The demands of a changing economy require a highly skilled and educated workforce.
We improved our education funding system last year, directing more aid to communities that need it the most; reducing the statewide property tax rate; and eliminating the divisive system of donor towns.
Now, I ask you to support eliminating the statewide property tax once and for all.
For our state to compete and our children to succeed, more of them must graduate from high school.
Last year an estimated 2,300 of our students dropped out of high school. We must make it clear to our young people that we are not going to give up on them; or let them give up on themselves. We must change the law and require our children to stay in school until age 18.
Along with the bipartisan sponsors of this legislation, I recognize that changing the compulsory attendance age is only one part of the solution.
That is why this spring I will host a statewide summit to develop strategies for keeping our young people in school. We must think creatively by looking at alternative programs, vocational high schools, internships, night programs, and at the role of the community technical colleges.
Our young people, and our state, cannot afford for us to fail. Every New Hampshire child should receive a high school diploma.
We must continue our efforts to make higher education more affordable. Thanks to our commitment in this budget, first-year New Hampshire students who receive the maximum Pell Grant will now be able to attend our University System institutions for no additional tuition.
By all measures, New Hampshire's economy is strong and poised to grow even stronger in the months and years ahead. However, there are steps we must take if we want that growth to continue.
We must develop a regional plan to combat high electric rates. We need more affordable housing for our workers. Our businesses need streamlined state services.
And we must get wireless access to every part of our state by the end of the decade.
That's why I will soon create by Executive Order a Jobs Cabinet. Its task will be to address these issues, with concrete recommendations that will make a difference for our economy and for our families.
Companies that innovate create jobs. That is why I am asking you to support Sen. Odell's legislation to provide a tax credit for research and development. It is a small investment, with a potentially big payoff for our economy and our citizens.
To demonstrate that New Hampshire is a good place to do business, we should send a clear message that we respect property rights. I urge you to pass legislation this year to set appropriate limits on eminent domain to protect private property.
New Hampshire is at a crossroads. For four decades, we have been the fastest-growing state in New England. This growth has given us unparalleled opportunity. But, if we are not careful, it could put at risk the very things that make New Hampshire such a great place to live and work.
I was disappointed that the budget did not provide more funding for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, which has done so much to protect our natural and cultural resources. We must continue working together to protect all that makes New Hampshire so special.
Mercury pollution poisons our waterways and jeopardizes the health of our citizens. This year, we must pass legislation to reduce mercury emissions from power plants in New Hampshire.
But it makes no sense to reduce mercury pollution from one source, only to turn around and allow new mercury polluters in New Hampshire. Construction and demolition debris is not burned as fuel in any of our neighboring states except Maine - and 80 percent of what is burned in Maine comes from out of state. We must not let New Hampshire become the new dumping ground for this toxic material.
We need a long-term state policy for protecting our groundwater, an issue that legislative study committees are considering. Until we have that policy in place, we must proceed carefully to avoid further exploitation of our groundwater resources. We must ensure that our citizens always have clean, safe drinking water.
Our state parks are treasures. We are improving our great park system by working to add a new park on Temple Mountain and creating a specialized ATV park in Berlin.
Last year, the legislature created a commission to study the future of our state park system. I look forward to its recommendations, but I want to make clear my guiding principles. Our state parks belong to all of our citizens, and we hold them in trust for future generations. I will not allow them to be turned over to private interests.
The most fundamental duty of state government is to protect the safety of our citizens.
Our Bureau of Emergency Management did an extraordinary job during the floods. However, we must continue to work to improve our emergency preparedness and response.
An Avian Flu pandemic could be a catastrophe for our citizens. New Hampshire recently conducted a major statewide drill to test our ability to respond. We learned some important lessons from the drill that will improve our ability to protect New Hampshire citizens. I will continue working with Emergency Management, Health and Human Services, the legislature, communities and health care providers to make sure New Hampshire does everything possible to prepare.
Our population and highway traffic is increasing. But in recent years, we've seen a reduction in the number of state troopers. That's not safe for our troopers or for our citizens. That is why I ask you to support legislation sponsored by Senators Clegg and D'Allesandro to increase the number of state troopers on our roads.
In New Hampshire, we are seeing an increase in the production and sale of crystal meth, a horribly addictive drug that is ruining lives. I applaud the work of the Legislative Caucus on this issue and urge you to pass tough legislation this year. We must prevent crystal meth from gaining a bigger foothold in our state.
We must focus our attention on improving the Corrections system, and our new Commissioner Bill Wrenn will be presenting us with recommendations in the coming months. But one step is clear. We must begin planning the expansion of the prison in Berlin.
People who prey on children are among the most dangerous criminals in our state.
Working with the Attorney General, many groups and lawmakers, particularly the bill's sponsors, Rep. Batula and Sen. Foster, we developed legislation that will give New Hampshire the most comprehensive and toughest child protection laws in the nation.
This legislation contains 28 provisions aimed at increasing the penalties on people who prey sexually on children; increasing penalties for murdering or permanently injuring a child; improving registration and monitoring of sexual predators; and giving parents better information about whether sexual predators are living in their neighborhoods.
Nothing is more important than keeping our children safe. It's time to send a clear message: If you prey on our children in New Hampshire, we're going to send you to prison - and we're going to keep you there for a long time.
As I have traveled the State of New Hampshire, citizens have told me of the pride they feel in the new tone that we have brought to Concord. They see the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, they see their state government working for them, and they see results.
Let us remain united by our common love for New Hampshire and its people.
I pledge that my door will remain open to all of you, Democrat, Republican or Independent. I will continue to work for solutions, not partisan advantage. I will continue to work with you to put the interests and needs of the people of New Hampshire first.
In the past year, we have worked together in the best traditions of New Hampshire to confront the challenges our state faced. Let us move forward this year with the same spirit of cooperation, the same resolve, and the same commitment to our citizens.