New York State of the State Address 2001
By Stateline Staff
ALBANY, New York - Jan. 3 - Following is the text of Gov. George Pataki's 2001 State of the State Address:
It's an honor to once again report on the state of the State. And it is a pleasure for me to be able to report that our State is strong, and our future bright with possibilities.
I feel great confidence when I consider New York's strength today. And I feel tremendous optimism when I think of the future that is within our reach -- not just the future of New York, but the future of America.
Our nation has just witnessed an extraordinary election. Some pundits predict that the legacy of this election will be political paralysis in Washington, as each party looks to the next election.
It is a natural tendency to think of government primarily in political terms - electoral margins, governing majorities, and poll ratings. But when the voting is over, the campaigning must stop so the governing can begin. And that governing is not about politics, but public service.
While some observers look at the results of the 2000 elections and see nothing but bitterness and narrowly drawn divisions, doomed to produce more partisanship and gridlock, I believe there is another perspective to be seen, and another conclusion to be drawn.
It's true, these elections were hard fought. But that is no more than the natural and necessary process of democracy.
Our Founding Fathers knew this well. In the first of the Federalist papers, a great New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton, wrote about the "intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties." And he complained that it seemed, from the tone of the discourse, that politicians sought to "increase the number of their converts by the loudness of their declamations and the bitterness of their invectives."
So Americans are no strangers to strong debate and close elections.
But if you look beyond the campaign rhetoric and partisan divide, there was a recognition of what America must do.
We need to:
- Fix the Social Security system for future generations.
- Secure the future of Medicare.
- Help our seniors with the cost of prescription drugs.
- Reform public education, so America's schools are once again the best in the world.
- And give America's taxpayers, America's businesses, and the American economy the tax relief they need and deserve.
It is of course true that differences remain -- different ideas about how to best reach these common goals. And in due time, those differences will be aired vigorously, honestly, and respectfully. But if partisan differences are put aside in Washington, there are great opportunities for progress.
With a foundation of common sense and common goals, I see every reason to look to the future with optimism in the coming year, because much can be done if our minds are set to it.
Here in New York, we've shown what can be accomplished when leaders are willing to work across partisan lines.
Last year was the most productive legislative session we've seen in New York in a generation.
Why? Because old divisions gave way to a new spirit of shared purpose. And that enabled us to pass the most important and far-reaching legislation in years.
Senator Bruno, you and your colleagues were instrumental in advocating for such initiatives as reform of our sexual assault laws, and expansion of the EPIC program to provide prescription drugs for New York's seniors.
And Speaker Silver, you and your house's commitment to combating hate crimes and expanding health care coverage for all New Yorkers was instrumental in our historic progress on both of those important issues.
It's true that many of us in this room will stand before the voters again, and some might understandably be turning their thoughts to that election. Some may think that now is the time to fight harder for partisan advantage, in the hopes of gaining a stronger hand in the years to come.
I hope not. Because the elections are over, and the real work, the task of governing, is now upon us. And there is much to be done -- but we can only do it if we think not in terms of the next election, but rather in terms of the next generation, and the ones to follow.
The spirit of bipartisanship shouldn't stand in the way of honest and constructive debate -- but in the end, pride and partisanship must not stand in the way of progress.
We need to continue our efforts to ensure that every child receives the best health care.
We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that every student in New York has the benefit of first-class teachers, and first-class schools.
We need to expand our affordable housing programs that have already provided good homes for more than 75,000 low and moderate-income families.
We need to continue to cut taxes, to strengthen New York's families and New York's economy.
We need to build upon our successful, six-year long effort to keep our streets safe, so that future generations can grow up without the fears of crime that can cripple a community.
We need to take a long, hard look at New York's electoral system to guarantee that every citizen's right to vote is respected, and that every vote is counted equally and accurately.
And, as we have before, we must always consider the long term consequences of the actions we take today, and never more so than now. Now is the time to look beyond today, beyond tomorrow, to govern with a vision of creating a future worthy of our children, and theirs. To be satisfied with today's prosperity would be to squander the promise of tomorrow. And the promise of tomorrow is rooted in the children of today, and the opportunities that we provide for them to learn and fulfill their true potential.
Over the last five years, we have worked together to improve New York's public education system. For four years in a row, we've increased school aid by record amounts -- $3.4 billion in total, a 33 percent increase in funding -- three times the rate of inflation. We've made record investments in school infrastructure, and provided significant new resources for better textbooks and technology. We made historic governance reforms to make New York City schools more accountable.
We've created a nationally recognized charter school program. We've created programs like Teachers of Tomorrow to bring new teachers into our classrooms. We've established tough educational standards, including rigorous graduation requirements and statewide testing for 4th and 8th graders. And we've developed school report cards, to help parents track their children's schools.
But still we need to do more.
Whether the issue is welfare, crime, or economic growth, we've always had the greatest success when our reforms strike at core problems. The fundamental flaw with welfare was the way the system encouraged dependency. We changed that. The fundamental flaws in our criminal justice system were the weak laws that perpetuated violence. We changed that. The fundamental flaw with the economic climate we inherited was the crushing tax and regulatory burden New Yorkers faced. We changed that.
The time has come to fix a fundamental flaw that ties the hands of local schools: the dinosaur that is the state school aid formula.
Over the past four years we have launched the largest campaign of new education-related investments in state history. For four consecutive years, we've provided record-breaking increases in funding, and this year, I will again propose the highest level of education funding in our history.
But make no mistake: Simply providing more money has not, and cannot, solve the problems. We must do more.
This year, we should throw out the incomprehensible school aid formula and instead give school districts the flexibility they need to put these resources to use in the most efficient manner possible.
We've given localities the authority to run their own schools -- but then we micro-manage their budgeting practices, telling them how to spend virtually every dollar.
If a district wants to target more money towards computers, they should be able to do that.
If a district wants to target more resources toward teacher's salaries, they should be able to do that.
Too many school districts aren't able to take full advantage of the record funding we've provided because the overly complex school aid formulas limit the ability of schools to direct resources where they're needed the most.
Let's leave the old, convoluted school aid formula on the ash heap of history, and instead put children and teachers first, and paperwork and bureaucracy last.
I will propose consolidating 11 different complex funding formulas, that in the past have tied the hands of school districts, into one flexible, easy-to-use aid category. And in so doing, we can save funds that are wasted on administrative costs, and instead send that money into the classrooms where it's needed.
As we provide more funding, and more flexibility in spending it, we also need to establish more accountability in the system.
Let's make this the year that we put control of our major urban school systems where it belongs -- in the hands of the mayors. Parents must know who's responsible for educating their children, and they should have the authority to hold those people accountable at the voting booth. Another essential foundation for strong educational reform must be a renewed focus on our teachers.
Last year, we initiated the Teachers of Tomorrow program, a series of initiatives like tuition assistance and training that will, over the next decade, attract more than 50,000 well qualified teachers into the classrooms that need them the most.
This year, I ask for your support to double the funding for Teachers of Tomorrow and to expand it to draw upon another untapped reservoir of potential teachers -- our paraprofessionals who work in classrooms every day. Teacher's aides have shown a commitment to our children. Let's provide them with a career ladder so they can become certified teachers.
Expanding and improving Teachers of Tomorrow is the best way to ensure that every student has great teachers, whether they live in the South Bronx or the Southern Tier.
And there is another pool of potential teachers we should draw from: retired public employees, from police officers to medical researchers. Many of these retirees could make outstanding teachers. Let's allow them to become public school teachers while still receiving their retirement benefits.
I also believe that parents should know whether their children's schools have leaking roofs, or whether they're in good condition. Parents have a right to know the condition of their children's school, and taxpayers have a right to see that their money is being spent wisely. Let's require a new School Facilities Report Card for every public school in the State, so that school districts will become more accountable for their spending.
And we need to do more to provide every student with the broad range of opportunities and experiences that are available in first-rate after-school programs. These programs give working parents the security of knowing that their children have a safe, educational after-school environment.
Two years ago, we started the Advantage After-School programs, and today they're operating in 133 sites across the state, providing more than 20,000 students with high-quality after-school programs that keep them safe and off the streets.
Many of these schools receive matching grants through our unique partnership with The After-School Corporation. We need to expand these valuable programs and get more partners involved in this effort.
Let's work to ensure that, over the next five years, every school district that wants to open an after-School program has the resources to do it. We can start that process immediately by doubling our spending on this program this year. And we can redouble our efforts to build partnerships with local schools, community based organizations, foundations and philanthropists to provide additional resources.
And this year, we must expand the frontiers of opportunity for children who come to this country from foreign lands. New immigrants are a source of strength for our State and an important part of our future. Children who need extra help learning English should have the right to enroll in an Immersion Program during the summer months. This year, let's give them that right.
Someone once said that cherishing children is the mark of a civilized society. Certainly educating children is a reflection of how we cherish them. Our commitment to New York's children has never been greater, and it must not waver this year.
New York has set the national standard when it comes to providing comprehensive, quality health care. Medical care is not a luxury, it's a necessity, and no state is doing more to ensure that its residents have access to it, especially children.
Our state's Child Health Plus program is, by far and away, the most effective and compassionate program of its kind in America.
This summer, I got an e-mail from Mrs. Eileen Gellerstein, a mother of three children whose husband became ill while she was on maternity leave. She writes:
"While my husband was in the hospital, we learned that we no longer had health coverage. I saw a Child Health Plus booth on Staten Island. My precious children now have coverage -- and not just any coverage. They still have the doctor we wanted -- no clinic or long lines. Please understand just how wonderful Child Health Plus is."
When I addressed you for the first time in 1995, there were 90,000 children enrolled in Child Health Plus. Today, more than 530,000 of New York's children are getting comprehensive, quality health care through this program.
And the best news is that we're enrolling children into this program faster than ever.
Mrs. Gellerstein is right when she says that Child Health Plus is a wonderful program.
Child health experts are right when they say that it's a model for the rest of the nation. And I think that I am right to say that being the best shouldn't prevent us from being better.
That's why we're making the same commitment to all New Yorkers through Family Health Plus, the most comprehensive health care plan in the nation. Starting this year, we will help up to 600,000 uninsured working New Yorkers get the health coverage they need and deserve.
And just two days ago, the expansion of our prescription drug program for seniors went into effect, nearly doubling enrollment in the EPIC program to more than 215,000 seniors.
New York is fortunate to have the best health care system in America. But today's technology gives us the opportunity to make it better.
All New Yorkers should have full and instant access to the information they need to make sound, safe and informed decisions about the care of a loved one.
In the past, if you wanted to know if a nursing home or hospital had been repeatedly cited for bad or even illegal practices, you had to wend your way through some bureaucracy, begging for information.
Because of the law we passed, New Yorkers will soon be able to get that information over the Internet in a matter of seconds.
We all want the best possible care for our loved ones -- the kind of care that only a qualified, committed and compassionate professional can provide.
That's why I will propose conducting criminal background checks for all nursing home and home care employees.
And it's time to change a misguided law that stacks the deck against people with disabilities. Under current law, many of New York's working disabled lose their Medicaid benefits if they earn above a certain income level. People with disabilities should not have to choose between going to work or having health insurance. The budget I will submit will give people with disabilities an opportunity to purchase their health insurance through Medicaid.
Over the past six years, we've made women's health care the top priority that it should be. We passed the 48-hour Maternity Bill. We ended drive-through mastectomies. And we continue to fund a wide range of programs to advance our aggressive fight against breast cancer. This year, we must do more.
Fighting breast and cervical cancer is difficult enough. Women shouldn't also have to fight the system to get the treatment they need. The budget I will submit in two weeks will expand Medicaid eligibility for the treatment of cervical and breast cancer.
We must also combat the leading killer of women in America -? heart disease.
There's a false perception that heart disease is a male disease, and it is deeply rooted in the minds of Americans and in the minds of too many physicians. We need to change that perception. This year, we will support a program to educate women about their risk of heart disease and the warning signs of a heart attack.
And we will assist in physician training to give women better information, better counseling and a better chance of overcoming heart disease.
Six years ago, New Yorkers were being taxed too much to subsidize a government that gave them too little in return.
The lesson learned was that high taxes don't make government better, just bigger. So we forged ahead on two fronts. We aggressively cut taxes while reducing the size, scope and cost of government. We ended the destructive cycle of high taxes perpetuating more bureaucracy and more spending. And in the process, we improved virtually every facet of government efficiency.
But making government smaller and smarter is not a one-time endeavor. If we're going to continue cutting taxes -- and we are -- we must continue to eliminate the bureaucracy that created those taxes in the first place.
That is why I have once again directed every commissioner of every State agency to find innovative ways to increase efficiency while reducing the waste that is inherently marbled throughout the bureaus of government.
Someone once said that the power to tax is the power to destroy. Not while I'm governor. Instead, we're using that power to cut taxes, which strengthens families, creates jobs, and expands the frontiers of freedom.
The tax cuts we've passed since 1995 will save New York's families and businesses more than $100 billion. No state in the nation even comes close.
In the interest of time, I'm not going to read you the complete list of all the taxes we've cut. I would simply invite you to visit our State's web site to see the complete list of taxes New Yorkers no longer have to pay.
Now is not the time to stop cutting taxes. It never is. Today, I ask you to cut taxes on the people of New York for the 7th straight year. The budget I submit will expand the most ambitious tax cutting program in the nation.
Thanks to STAR, the average senior pays 55 percent less in school property taxes than three years ago. Some 200,000 seniors now pay no school property taxes at all -- not one dime. And when STAR is fully phased in this year, all other homeowners in New York will have seen their school property tax reduced by an average of 27 percent.
But the STAR program isn't about numbers and percentages. It's about real people like Clair Lane of Genesee County who sent me a letter saying that "Relief from school taxes saved our home."
Every endeavor we undertake should be measured by the positive impact it has on people. By that standard, STAR is not just a good program, it's a great program. And great programs are meant to be duplicated. We've cut school property taxes. Now it's time to cut county property taxes.
This year, I will propose enacting Co-STAR, which will dramatically reduce the burden of county property taxes on the New Yorkers who need it most: seniors and farmers. I will also propose a measure to preserve the intent and integrity of STAR.
Let me be clear: Over the past four budgets, we've increased funding to New York's schools by record amounts -- by $700 million in 1997, $800 million in 1998, $900 million in 1999, and $1.1 billion last year. Despite that record funding, some districts have used the STAR program to mask unnecessary tax increases. That is why I implore you to protect STAR by capping local spending levels. And as we continue to cut taxes on working families, we must also continue to cut taxes on the businesses that keep them working.
They say you can't run a business without taking risks. Six years ago, doing business in New York was the risk. For too long, New York's businesses were over-regulated, over-taxed and under-appreciated.
We changed that. We made it clear that the reward for enterprise, ingenuity, risk taking and success should not be more regulations and higher taxes. We cut the taxes that were killing small business, killing investment and killing jobs.
There are those who said that our sweeping tax cuts would hurt our state's finances and weaken New York's credit. They couldn't have been more wrong.
Six years and 57 tax cuts later, the results could not be more clear. Since 1995, New York's economy has produced more than 776,000 new private sector jobs.
For the first time in 20 years, New York's rate of job growth outpaced the national average for two years in a row.
And just two weeks ago, Standard and Poor's upgraded New York's credit rating not one, but two levels. It's the first time New York has ever received a two step upgrade, and it brings our credit rating to its highest level in 21 years.
New York has made such remarkable progress because of our unwavering commitment to reducing regulations, controlling spending and cutting taxes.
Many of the additional tax cuts I propose today will be aimed at further strengthening our upstate economy, and I'd like to discuss that with you for a moment.
Today, upstate New York has more private sector jobs than at any time in its history.
Companies like Corning and IBM -- both of which were expanding and creating jobs in other states when I took office -- had been waiting to see if our commitment to less government, fewer regulations and lower taxes was just a passing trend or a permanent new way of doing things.
We now have a proven record. Citing that record, companies that were leaving a decade ago are now coming back. Just as important, the bright and talented native New Yorkers who followed those companies across our borders seeking opportunities are coming home -- because they now believe they can find those opportunities here, in the state where they grew up.
The Associated Press wrote about this reverse exodus recently. It told the stories of people like Chris Gardner, a 40-year-old dot-com pioneer who grew up in Cortland then moved to Massachusetts at the height of New York's economic crisis.
This year, Chris left the Internet company he co-founded and moved home to upstate New York.
"Six months ago," he said, "I was afraid it would be the upstate New York I left in 1978. It's not."
He's right. The upstate economy is better than it was, but not nearly as good as it's going to be if we continue to make the changes that are encouraging investment, sparking growth, and creating jobs.
The progress we've made is truly remarkable, especially when you consider it in the proper context. Throughout our history, many of our upstate communities thrived on the success of one or a handful of large employers, usually manufacturers.
But for over a generation, hundreds of these companies were forced out of our state by high taxes, irrational regulations and a hostile business climate. The exodus of these companies devastated the upstate communities they once supported.
You and I inherited the problems that drove these companies out of New York. That is why we've spent the last six years cutting taxes and regulations to bring them back.
But there is more to do.
Last year I asked you to abolish one of the leading producers of pink slips in upstate New York -- the Gross Receipts Tax on manufacturers.
I applaud you for taking that giant step, and it IS a giant step -- one that's going to lower the cost of energy by nearly $400 million a year.
Now, as we continue to move into a competitive electric market, we need to protect consumers against unwarranted price spikes like the outrageous double-digit increases in New York City last summer. Right now, the power to prevent that from happening again rests solely in the hands of federal regulators. That is wrong. The State should have that authority, and this year I will ask our congressional delegation to join me in the fight to get that authority.
Now that the job-killing Gross Receipts Tax is where it belongs -- in the dumpster -- I implore you to join me in supporting a common sense three-point plan that will continue to strengthen New York's manufacturing industry.
First, we need to fix the tax on manufacturers, so it looks as though someone designed it on purpose. It's one tax, but it taxes businesses three times: on their payroll, on their property and on their receipts. That's two times too many. This year, let's get rid of the tax on payroll and property so these manufacturers can invest, grow and create new jobs.
Second, the Alternative Minimum Tax sends a very clear message to manufacturers. It says: If you invest in New York, you will be penalized. That is why we've cut that tax in half since 1995. This year, let's finish our work and put the Alternative Minimum Tax in the trash can where it belongs.
Third, we must recognize that an investment in the technical development of our workforce is a down payment on a brighter future. Let's make that investment this year by providing ongoing, high-tech training to the men and women who work in manufacturing.
We must also expand our successful Empire Zone program. And I want to applaud both chambers for enacting the legislation that created these zones. After just one year, Empire Zones are sparking investment and creating jobs in every corner of New York.
In the Plattsburgh Zone, Mold-Rite invested $4.3 million, creating one hundred new jobs.
In Buffalo's Zone, Adelphia Communications is investing $100 million, creating over 1,000 new jobs in the heart of downtown.
In the Kingston Zone, United Health Care is investing $9.4 million and creating 532 jobs.
And we all know what's happening in the East Fishkill Zone: a $2.5 billion investment by IBM to build the world's most advanced chip?fab plant. That's the largest private sector investment in state history -- the largest anywhere in America in five years -- and it's going to help create thousands of new jobs.
And today I'm pleased to announce that K-Mart will purchase 350 acres in Amsterdam's Empire Zone to build a $100 million distribution center that will create 1,000 new jobs.
I said earlier that good programs are meant to be duplicated. In this case, a good program should be expanded. Specifically, I will propose doubling the size of certain Empire Zones across upstate New York -- from two-square miles to four.
We're going to expand the Buffalo Zone, so we can attract more companies like the ones that are investing there now -- companies like Check.com.
We're going to expand the Herkimer-Oneida Zone to make more room for companies like BAE Systems.
We're going to expand the Onondaga Zone, so we can attract more companies like Oneida Air Systems.
We're going to expand the Elmira Zone, where the Taylor Corporation is growing and creating new jobs.
In all, we will double the size of 22 Empire Zones, from Jamestown to Lackawanna to Amsterdam to Watertown.
Last year, you authorized the creation of six additional Empire Zones. Over the next few months, I will announce the location of those zones. I believe that one of them should be in the Catskills.
Empire Zones -- like our other economic development zones -- are based on the principle that New York's prosperity is not true prosperity if certain communities are left behind.
The Empowerment Zone in Harlem and the South Bronx is breathing new life into those communities, which is why it must continue to be fully funded.
And look at what we did in Times Square. Six years ago, after decades of neglect, that historic section of New York had fallen into complete decay.
With a smart investment, we changed that. We leveraged a public sector investment of $75 million into more than $2 billion from the private sector. And today, 42nd Street is thriving like never before.
If we can do it in Times Square, we can do it in Niagara Falls -- and we should. Niagara Falls, like Times Square, is a rich part of our State's history. This year, let's establish and fund a special corporation -- based on the 42nd Street model -- so we can bring about the same renaissance in Niagara Falls that we brought to Times Square.
As you know, Lieutenant Governor Mary Donohue has been working on the Quality Communities initiative. At every one of the regional roundtables convened by the Lieutenant Governor, local officials and business leaders spoke passionately about the lost opportunities that burden their communities in the form of abandoned brownfields.
Every acre of contaminated land in our cities and towns represents lost jobs, unrealized tax dollars, and unfulfilled possibilities.
So this year I will submit a package of initiatives to give State tax credits for brownfields redevelopment, particularly for large brownfields, and to give local assistance for redevelopment.
Our great industrial legacy has presented us with significant challenges -- but at the same time, tremendous opportunities. We must clean up these properties and put them back on the tax rolls, so they can once again be economic opportunities for the future, instead of lingering relics of our industrial past.
Rapid changes in science and technology are creating industries we never would have dreamed of just a few years ago. Government, of course, is not the driving force behind these industries. What's innovative today could be obsolete tomorrow, and government shouldn't decide which is which. But government can, should and must create an atmosphere that allows these emerging new industries to flourish.
To do that, we must support the high tech trends that are the surging wave of the future.
There's never been a better time to do it. And there's never been a better way to do it -- linking high tech economic development with our world-class university system to create partnerships for economic progress. We have a great stock of knowledge -- undiscovered technological possibilities -- unimaginable to the last generation, waiting to be born for the next generation.
Now, we need to expand our efforts to capitalize upon the remarkable base of knowledge we have in our universities and research centers.
And our colleges and universities have never been stronger, because we've provided unprecedented support for them in recent years. We've held the line against tuition costs for five years -- and we'll do it again this year. Enrollment is up, standards are higher, and a college education is more affordable because families can now save for college nearly tax free, and deduct tuition costs.
As a result, our universities are better prepared now than ever before to help lead the way into the high tech economy of the new century. Now is the time to take the next step to bridge the gap between academia and the new economy.
Companies across our State are poised to lead the nation in high-tech industries like biotechnology, computer miniaturization and fiber optic technology -- and we can help them.
Nanoelectronics-cutting-edge computer miniaturization research being carried out here in Albany-will allow us to design computer chips that will replace the damaged functions of the spinal cord or optic nerves, enabling people to walk and see again.
New research being conducted in Rochester in photonics will make it possible to send an interactive hologram of a person across the world.
And research in Buffalo is producing revolutionary developments in bioinformatics. Using supercomputers to assist advanced medical research, companies will develop 21st century surgical techniques, where a tumor can be removed without cutting through the skin.
New York has the expertise, in both academia and the private sector, to lead the world in these fields. All we need to do is provide appropriate support to accommodate the development and rapid commercialization of this cutting-edge research.
Consequently, I will propose a new, one billion dollar high tech initiative to fund this research, working in collaboration with leading businesses and universities.
With an investment of a quarter billion dollars in State funds, we can, over the next five years, leverage federal and private funding to create research centers that will bring together the ingenuity of the private sector with the world-class research capabilities of our universities. This will be the largest high-tech economic development initiative in our state's history.
To start this process, we have already begun work to create the first three Centers of Excellence: One in Buffalo with the State University at Buffalo, Roswell Park and a consortium of industry partners; one in Albany with IBM and the State University at Albany; and one in Rochester with Corning, Kodak and other companies working with the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester and other schools.
And let's build other Centers: on Long Island, capitalizing on its expertise in information technology; in New York City, where 36 different medical schools, health centers and research institutions are developing collaborative research projects that will transform medicine in the future; and in other areas across our state that have the technological base to lead New York into the 21st century.
And even as we get this initiative underway, we will move forward with the NYSTAR program that is about to begin funding promising new academic research in high-tech fields throughout the State. Over the next few months, I will announce the creation of as many as six research facilities called STAR Centers. These Centers will be an integral part of our efforts to tap into the knowledge base that's available in our world-class university system.
The result of these initiatives will be an explosion of innovation that will create thousands of jobs. Good jobs. High paying jobs. Jobs for the next generation of New Yorkers.
There's no question that advances in science and technology have dramatically changed the dynamics of our economy. But throughout the long history of our State, one thing about our economy has remained unchanged: New York's leading industry continues to be agriculture.
New York's farmers are the backbone of our economy and the lifeblood of our land. Over the past six years, you and I have passed a long list of tax cuts and other initiatives to strengthen New York's farms.
We've done a lot. But because New York's farmers have done so much to strengthen our State, and because our economy relies on their ability to do so in the future, I believe we can and should do more.
This year-in addition to the tax relief I'm asking you to give farmers through Co-STAR --- we must further expand the school property tax credit for farmers who rent land.
I will also propose a one-time tax credit to offset the cost of making improvements to farmland, whether it's cleaning up pastures, building fences or repairing silos.
I will ask you to expand STAR to include every farmer in New York.
And of course, we must continue to work with our congressional delegation to seek inclusion in the Dairy Compact.
These initiatives will plant the seeds for a future of stronger farms, and a stronger New York.
Six years ago, New York was embroiled in a wave of crime and violence that endangered our children, plagued our communities and threatened our future. In newspapers throughout the state, it was described as a crisis that was "rapidly spinning out of control."
We ended the piercing epidemic of fear by ending the misguided policies that created it in the first place.
The past six years have shown that there is an irrefutable cause and effect relationship in the crime rate.
We passed tougher laws for violent criminals, the number of arrests went up, and the number of violent crimes went down.
We ended parole for repeat violent felons, and violent crime dropped by 25 percent. Then we ended parole for all violent felons, and violent crime dropped by 39 percent.
In just six years, we've seen across-the-board reductions in crime. Statewide, burglary is down 43 percent. Robbery is down 49 percent. And the rate of murder has dropped by an astounding 55 percent.
We've made remarkable progress, but when it comes to protecting people from harm, government can never rest. That is why it is imperative that we step up the fight against crime by employing the latest advances in science and technology
The DNA law we passed last year is already closing the books on unsolved crimes ?? a 1982 double homicide, a 1979 murder, and several rapes.
Without our DNA law, the criminals who committed those vicious acts would be sharing the streets with our children.
This year, let's give police and prosecutors the law they need to build on the success of our DNA law. Let's expand the DNA Database to include all convicted criminals.
We must also recognize that the passage of time doesn't make a heinous crime any less heinous.
Because DNA technology allows us to solve crimes committed 10, 20 or even 30 years ago, we must get rid of a law that protects the guilty.
When a women is raped, there is no statute of limitations on her suffering, her fear, or her pain. When a mother or father loses a child to violence, there is no statute of limitations on their grief.
There is no statute of limitations on victims, and there should be no statue of limitations for violent predators.
This year, we must abolish the statute of limitations for rape, sexual assault and other serious violent felony offenses.
We must also do more to protect battered women and their children. When these victims make the difficult decision to leave their home, they shouldn't have to worry about the expense of relocating. This year, let's provide them with emergency financial assistance so they don't have to.
Two years ago, we passed Jenna's Law, ending parole for all violent felons. Let's take the next step this year by ending parole for all convicted felons.
And last year, we passed the most sweeping set of gun laws in America-common sense laws that protect the rights of honest gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of children and criminals.
That historic legislation sent a message to the nation that New York will not tolerate gun violence. It employs the latest technology to trace guns used to commit crimes. It closes loopholes that basically allowed criminals to walk out of a gun show fully armed. And it bans the sale of assault weapons.
We've taken the right steps on guns. But too many guns are coming into New York from states that haven't.
This year, we will reinforce our gun laws with an aggressive new initiative aimed at stopping illegal weapons before they get into our State, and seizing those that already have.
I have directed the State Police to spearhead this effort with a special new unit called (SWIFT) -- the Special Weapons Interdiction Field Team.
This elite team of specially trained agents will gather intelligence to identify, arrest and prosecute gun traffickers.
They will work with local and federal law enforcement officials to establish a strong presence along the routes gun traffickers use to move illegal weapons. They will track them down, put them in prison and destroy their weapons.
To do that more effectively, I will also propose legislation to toughen the penalties for those caught trafficking in illegal weapons.
It is imperative that you support this effort, because the time to intercept deadly and illegal weapons is before they get into the hands of the criminals who use them.
Nearly three decades ago, New York enacted some of the toughest drug laws in the nation. Today, we can conclude that -? however well intentioned -? key aspects of those laws are out of step with both the times and the complexities of drug addiction.
In the coming weeks, I will send you legislation that will dramatically reform New York's Rockefeller drug laws.
I'm hopeful that we can come together in a bipartisan way to enact meaningful reform this year.
The mounting problem of crime and violence wasn't the only social crisis that threatened our future six years ago. We also confronted a crisis of spirit that was suppressing the potential of talented people by locking them in a system that discouraged ambition.
When you subsidize dependency and poverty, you get more of both. So we changed the system.
At the same time, we're taking the crucial step of forcing deadbeat parents to be responsible parents.
Roughly one-third of the people who've left New York's welfare rolls have done so in large part because an absent parent now pays child support. Five years ago, we were collecting about $610 million a year in child support. Because we changed the law, we expect that number to reach $1.2 billion this year, which will be the second consecutive year of record collections.
This year, we must step up these efforts.
Together, we passed a law that allows us to suspend the driver's license of a deadbeat parent. Let's expand that law. It's unconscionable that a deadbeat parent can hold a professional license that enables him to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars while his children live in poverty.
In addition to suspending a deadbeat's driver's license, we should have the administrative authority to suspend their lawyer's license, their doctor's license, and other professional licenses. We must take every reasonable step to force deadbeats to pay their child support, instead of forcing taxpayers to do it for them.
After decades of experience, the welfare system taught us one thing conclusively: Encouraging people to remain dependent upon their government isn't compassionate ?? it's cruel. That's why we acted decisively to lead people trapped on welfare along the path to freedom and independence. And the results are clear: After just six years, we've reduced the welfare rolls by 876,000 people.
Five years ago, New Yorkers joined me in approving an environmental bond act to protect and enhance our natural resources. Today, I am proud to report that nearly 1,400 projects are underway, and nearly $1 billion in Bond Act funds have been invested in environmental protection. And many more projects are underway because of the record funding we've provided each year for the Environmental Protection Fund.
These projects are protecting our environment and improving the quality of life that New Yorkers enjoy.
For example, the Village of Irvington is transforming its Hudson River waterfront from an abandoned lumber yard into a new park that will offer ballfields, open spaces and a new senior citizen's center.
And Long Island Sound is undergoing a revitalization because of our investments in wastewater facilities, and through our efforts to create new public recreational access to the Sound in places like Oyster Bay and the new Nissequogue River State Park.
The success of these projects clearly demonstrates the value of making wise investments today in environmental protection projects that pay off in an improved quality of life for years to come. We need to continue to make these critical investments in coming years, and enhance the dedicated environmental programs that fund this essential work.
To that end, I will propose a record level of funding for the Environmental Protection Fund again this year.
One of our great environmental accomplishments has been the strong support we have provided for land conservation. Since 1995, we have led the nation in this effort, protecting more than 300,000 acres of land.
But our conservation work is not done. I'm proud to announce that, working with International Paper and The Nature Conservancy, we've agreed to protect more than 26,000 additional acres of land near the Whitney tract in the Adirondacks.
This unique agreement will combine State and private ownership, providing public recreational access to four pristine Adirondack lakes, which will become part of the Forest Preserve. At the same time, working forest conservation easements will strengthen the timber industry in the North Country.
Protecting our environment while maintaining time-honored economic opportunities are essential goals of our policies in the Adirondacks and the Catskills. But at the same time, we must do more to help towns and municipalities with the burden of lost property tax revenues. Let's use General Fund revenues to reimburse local governments for property taxes lost when landowners enroll in the State forest tax program.
The best stewards of land are private landowners, and we must do more to help them maintain their scenic lands. This year, I will propose establishing a tax credit for the donation of property, or conservation easements on private lands.
This is one of the recommendations that Lieutenant Governor Donohue will make as part of the Quality Communities initiative to revitalize our Main Streets and protect open spaces.
A critical part of that effort is cleaning up hazardous wastes left behind by long-bankrupt companies. I've spoken already about initiatives that we should undertake to clean up brownfields. But we have another, related responsibility as well: This year, we must re-authorize and reform the State's Superfund program, which cleans up the most seriously contaminated, abandoned sites in the State.
Along with protecting our natural resources, we must do more to promote our unique historical resources. Our American heritage is playing a greater and greater role in the State's second largest industry, tourism, and we can build upon that success. Many of America's most important historical events occurred in New York State-but far too many of them are nearly forgotten today.
We've had tremendous success in creating a Women's Heritage Trail, to teach New Yorkers about great historical figures like Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony. And I signed historic legislation to create a similar trail, a Freedom Trail, to celebrate the proud history of the Underground Railroad. October 17, 2002 marks the 225th Anniversary of a battle which took place on a farm not far from here, near Saratoga. This year, let's start work on a third Heritage Trail to teach our children about the importance of that victory and other key events of the Revolutionary War.
New York has a rich history, a history that has endured turmoil, savored triumphs and been enriched by both.
It is a history of great moments, great deeds, and great men and women who believed it was within their power to expand the promise of their day into the far reaches of time. But there's no prominent place in our history books for those who were confronted with a problem, disagreed on how to resolve it, and chose to do nothing.
It is imperative that we do today what we've done so successfully in the past, which is to chart the future on common ground. As James Baldwin said: "The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out."
Time and again, we've put the common good of the people above the narrow interests of the few. We have shared a vision that extends far beyond our own interest and even our own time. We are not only the servants of today, but also the stewards of tomorrow.
A wise voice from history reminds us that "the Constitution was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity-unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity." Let this ideal guide us in the coming year and beyond.
In all that we do, let us remember that the only way to move forward is together. Let us exercise the power vested in us in ways that will touch, instruct, illuminate, uplift and endure.
If we succeed, future generations looking back will say that we laid the foundation for a 21st century of unlimited hope and opportunity.