Ohio State of the State Address 2000


COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jan. 19 - Following is Gov. Bob Taft's 2000 State of the State Address:

Speaker Davidson - President Finan - Members of the General Assembly - Lt. Governor O'Connor - Chief Justice Moyer and Justices of the Supreme Court - elected officials - Cabinet members - fellow Ohioans - thanks for joining us today.

What an honor it is to deliver the first State of the State Address of the 21st century!

Let me start off by thanking the members of the General Assembly for an incredible first year. As Frank Sinatra sang, "It was a very good year."

To President Finan, Speaker Davidson, Minority Leaders Espy and Ford, thank you for your support and guidance in the early days of our Administration.

To the members of our Cabinet, I want to commend your excellent leadership throughout this first year in office.

To First Lady Hope Taft, thank you for your unwavering support, for making 390 public appearances last year, and for your unyielding commitment and dedication to keep our children alcohol and drug free.

I want to offer a special word to a special person, who along with many other outstanding public servants in this Chamber will be leaving at the end of this year.

In my many years in public life, I have served with hundreds of dedicated men and women - in the legislature, in the county courthouse, and in state office. So I have a good measure of comparison in saying that Jo Ann Davidson has no peer in public service.

Madam Speaker, thank you for your leadership and service to Ohio!

Last year I introduced you to Dexter Fields, a third grader from Lorain, who advised me wisely that as Governor: you have to do a lot of stuff.'' Dexter, how right you were.

With the help of you assembled here today, we got a lot of stuff done in one short year.

In March, I stood before you to outline an ambitious opportunity agenda: an agenda that provides every child the opportunity to get a good education in a safe, secure classroom - opportunity for Ohioans to obtain good jobs at good wages - opportunity to keep more of their hard-earned money - and opportunity to improve the quality of their daily lives.

I am pleased to report that as we enter a new century, we have delivered on that agenda. The future for Ohio is better today than it was a year ago:

  • Patients now have more rights and protections to quality health care;
  • Health insurance and adoption are now more affordable;
  • More seniors will be able to remain in the comfort of their own homes;
  • Homeowners and businesses will be able to choose their electricity supplier a year from now;
  • More students can afford to attend a two-year college;
  • Our schools will become safer places to learn through safety zones and safety plans;
  • Our workforce training systems are being streamlined;
  • Our high-tech research and technology transfer have been strengthened;
  • Business taxes will be reduced, improving the climate for investment in new jobs; and Ohioans will benefit from more than $337 million in reduced taxes this year.

These steps would not have been accomplished without the hard work and leadership of the members of this General Assembly. Thank you and congratulations for all you did to make Ohio a better place to live and work!

But our journey isn't over. As Robert Frost said, we have "miles to go before [we] sleep."

At the dawning of the new century, we bring with us a legacy of progress and hope. Yet there is important unfinished business ahead - including legislation allocating Ohio's share of the tobacco settlement money.

As you and I know, much thought has gone into crafting a far-reaching plan. Through countless hearings and public testimony, a bipartisan task force developed a visionary plan. A plan that prioritizes the right things smoking cessation, public health, education, and technology.

I urge you to resolve differences between the House and Senate passed bills and adopt the long-term vision. Let's act now to create a legacy of investment in the health and education of every Ohioan!

I also urge you to give swift action to our Juvenile Justice bill. Violent juvenile crime continues to menace too many Ohioans.

And I ask for your approval of our Safe Storage bill. I take a backseat to no one in supporting the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But with every right comes responsibility. We cannot stand by as our children are killed by firearms that were improperly stored. Let's prevent any more senseless tragedies from happening in Ohio!

Today, I want to outline our broad goals for the year 2000. Working hand-in-hand with the General Assembly we intend to tackle some of the tough, lingering challenges before us.

Our goals build on our opportunity agenda. My priorities are the priorities of the Ohio people - quality education for all children, first and foremost, economic success for all, and an improved quality of life for our citizens.

No priority is higher than education.

To explain why, I want you to hear from Brittany Smith, a third grader at Chambers Elementary School in East Cleveland.

Brittany introduced me at a ceremony last month at her school, and I thought her message was powerful and eloquent. Brittany


"Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished officials of our state, I am honored to be here today. Governor Taft, we were deeply honored and excited by your visit to our school for our groundbreaking ceremony last month.

"So many wonderful things are happening at our school. Not only is the state helping us make many improvements to our buildings, but we were also thrilled to hear that Chambers Elementary is a recipient of an OhioReads grant that you initiated.

"I am a voracious reader myself, and I am a firm believer that reading is to the mind what food is to the body. In fact, our class motto is:

The more you read,

The more you know.

The more you know,

The smarter you grow.

The smarter you grow,

The stronger your voice,

When speaking your mind and making your choice.

"Governor Taft and legislators, thank you for providing the opportunity for all of our students to become better readers!"

Thank you, Brittany, for explaining so beautifully why reading matters. I'm just glad you're not old enough to run for Governor in 2002!

My friends, we have entered an era where the future of our children is at stake. A good education is not just important; it's a matter of survival!

The good unskilled jobs are vanishing. In fact, I've often said I have one of the last good unskilled jobs in Ohio.

Without skilled workers, the good jobs of the 21st Century will leave our state, and our prosperity will not last!

This past year, the owner of a computer company in Columbus had to travel to India to find skilled information workers. Employers across the state face similar dilemmas. At the same time, thousands of students who enter ninth grade are not finishing high school. Now that's unacceptable!

Ohio will succeed in this new century only if students succeed! Our future depends on every single child learning to read and write well, to reason and compute, and to use computer technology and the Internet.

The state's responsibility is two fold - first, to provide the resources for a good education and, second, to set clear standards, measure student achievement and hold schools accountable for results.

We've made enormous progress on both fronts. Next year we will complete the phase-in of the new school formula, guaranteeing enough dollars to provide every child a good education. And with your help, we have set aside $1 billion in the current two-year period for replacing and renovating crumbling school buildings.

I ask you again to finish the job by giving final approval to the tobacco settlement plan that will allocate $4.5 billion to school buildings. This plan assures every student will have a good safe place to learn no matter where live in our state.

These long-term efforts demonstrate clearly and forcefully that we are committed to building on our strong foundation for a thorough and efficient system of public schools for every child in Ohio!

Ohio is blazing the trail of high standards and accountability as well. The General Assembly has made us a leader among states in requiring students to pass proficiency tests to graduate and in reporting solid information about schools to parents and taxpayers.

As a result, students are making significant progress. Scores on Ohio's ninth grade test have improved in every subject area since first introduced.

Results on the fourth grade tests have also improved dramatically during the past three years. For example, the portion of students passing the reading test has increased from 46 percent in 1996 to 60 percent last year.

Let me recognize two schools and two principals who have achieved remarkable results.

At Pike Elementary in the East Muskingum District, the percent of students passing the reading test rose from 40 to nearly 80 percent in the past three years. At Roosevelt Elementary in Steubenville, the number of passing students jumped from 53 percent in 1996 to 83 percent in 1999.

Please join me in saluting Sandra Scholl, Principal of Pike Elementary and her staff and Joseph Pielech, Principal of Roosevelt Elementary and his staff who are with us here today. Congratulations and thank you for proving that every child can learn!

I repeat: Education is a matter of survival in today's world and the tests are helping to lift student achievement. We must never retreat from high standards, rigorous assessment and accountability for results!

In fact, I believe we can do even more to build on our success and help students reach those high standards, not only on the fourth grade test but also on the new tenth grade exams. That's why we must closely align what we expect, what we teach, how we assess, and how we reward performance and correct failure.

So today, I propose to establish the Governor's Commission for Student Success. Its members will represent employers, colleges and universities, parents and children, educators, school board members and legislators.

I will ask this commission to address four questions:

  • How do we make it crystal clear to students, parents, and educators what students should know and be able to do in each grade and before graduation?
  • How should we measure student performance and progress in each grade?
  • How should we hold students and adults responsible for academic achievement?
  • And how do we make sure that all parts of the system work together in complete alignment?

The commission will report to me, the General Assembly and the State Board of Education before the end of the year.

As you know, my main focus has been on making sure every student learns to read well by the end of the fourth grade. Our OhioReads initiative is already bearing fruit.

According to school reports to the OhioReads office, more than 10,000 volunteers are helping children learn to read in communities all across our state!

Let me introduce two outstanding OhioReads tutors.

Grace Koo, an associate of the Limited Stores, has been serving as a reading tutor since last September at Sullivant Elementary in Columbus. Grace is one of the 600 employees of her company who serve as reading tutors.

Mary Pauline Blazer is the leader of a grassroots campaign that has resulted in 30 volunteer reading tutors in the Mechanicsburg schools.

Thank you Grace and Mary Pauline for your commitment to Ohio's school children!

Through OhioReads, we are making a difference. But we can, and we must do more. So today, I am announcing three initiatives to improve reading skills by fourth grade.

First, we'll expand our Summer Reading Institutes from 1,200 to 12,000 elementary teachers this summer. Teachers will receive instruction in the teaching of literacy. And then, they'll work with students under close supervision. Through this program, 60,000 students will get help in advancing their reading skills.

Second, to help more students pass the fourth grade test, I propose to give third graders the opportunity to take the test a year early. Giving the test in the third grade would be optional. But if a district decides to exercise the option, the state will pay to administer the test.

Early testing will allow students, parents and teachers to become familiar with the test. And it will allow advanced students a chance to pass the test early and identify those who need extra help before taking it in fourth grade.

Finally, I'll work with Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman to hold a Higher Education Reading Summit in the spring. We will convene university presidents, education deans, and faculty from colleges and universities to focus on literacy instruction. We must assure that aspiring and current pre-school and elementary school teachers are provided the tools they need to help all children learn to read.

Before I leave the education topic, I have one final proposal. Let's make sure all students are computer literate.

Every high school should certify that each graduate is computer proficient. I will ask the Joint Council of the State Board of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents to establish an effective date and standards for this requirement. We must be certain graduating students possess basic skills such as word processing and database management and can use computers to solve problems and gather information.

Without such skills, our students will be left behind. With such skills, the future for our students shines bright with opportunity. It's time to make computer proficiency a requirement for graduation!

Technology must also be a focus for our colleges and universities.

I have already called for a change in law to encourage university researchers to develop more technology for commercial use. And I will work with the Council of Great Lakes Governors to make our region a center of excellence in biomedicine and biotechnology.

Many people don't know that Ohio is already a leader in high-tech. According to Deloitte and Touche, Ohio ranks 10th in high-tech employment. But as Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."

With focus and leadership, and a sustained investment in technology from tobacco settlement monies and other sources, there is no question Ohio will be a leader in biomedicine and other growing areas of new technology. We can set the pace for the nation if we put our minds to it!

We are fortunate that at the dawn of the new century, most of Ohio's economy is strong and growing. Our unemployment rate is down. Our gross state product is rising. And family income is up.

But some areas of our state are not fully sharing in the prosperity. And this must change.

This time last year, I announced the creation of the Urban Revitalization Task Force. This group, chaired by Development Director Lee Johnson, held hearings in 16 cities and heard from more than 300 citizens.

I want to thank each of the mayors and everyone involved in this important project. Hearing the challenges of our urban areas provided great insight into how the state can better assist. So today I want to announce several specific initiatives to help redevelop our urban cores.

Every mayor spoke to the importance of reclaiming abandoned industrial sites.

Therefore, my first priority will be to dramatically improve the state's role in brownfield redevelopment. We'll reduce bureaucratic hurdles and hassles. Most importantly, we'll increase state aid for brownfield cleanup and redevelopment.

I propose a $200 million bond program to reuse brownfield sites, create new jobs and new tax bases, and better protect the public from existing environmental hazards. Through this program, we can build a foundation for urban rebirth!

In addition, I will present legislation to foster economic development in our urban cores through tax cuts, low and no interest loans, and grants.

Further, the Department of Transportation will prioritize projects that create or retain jobs in urban areas, and increase funding to pave more state routes within cities.

Next, we'll create an Office of Urban Development to mobilize resources to speed up brownfield projects, cut through red tape, and help revitalize urban centers.

Finally, we'll encourage homeownership in the cities. On this score, I want to note that government programs are not the only way to realize the dream of owning a home. In fact, one of the best ways is to become involved with a community group, like Habitat for Humanity, to build affordable homes in the cities.

I know that many legislators worked on Habitat projects last year, as did my wife Hope. I don't know about you, but Hope swings a mean hammer - thankfully not in my direction.

To Hope and those of you who earned calloused hands to go with your caring hearts, thanks for making a difference in the lives of our city neighbors!

As we focus on our urban areas, we will not forget other parts of the state that need help, particularly the rural and Appalachian areas of Ohio.

That's why I'll call on Congress and the Appalachian Regional Commission to target more resources to distressed counties. And that's why we'll double funding for economic development in Appalachia.

No area of Ohio will be left behind!

As we seek to expand prosperity for all of Ohio, we are, of course, striving to improve the quality of life for all citizens.

And that means helping people create strong, vibrant communities. Our urban program is one way the state can help. Another way to turn local dreams into reality is through my campaign proposal to help communities preserve natural resources today and for future generations.

I will send you legislation to establish the Environmental Preservation Fund. This $200 million bond program will fund green space projects, protect valuable farmland, safeguard watersheds, and create new recreational opportunities for families through parks, trails and bike paths.

Our brownfield and environmental initiatives will help communities meet their own unique development needs and improve the lives of our citizens.

We will also seek to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable members of our society - our children and seniors.

We recognize that some families in Ohio are working hard to stay off welfare and stay in the workplace. For many, healthcare is of paramount concern. We must also provide access to health care for those whose cash assistance may end later this year or thereafter.

Today, I am announcing that we will implement two new health benefits beginning July 1st - one for low-income families, the other for uninsured children in low to moderate-income families.

We will offer no-cost coverage to families with children with income up to the federal poverty level, and we will expand Healthy Start to cover uninsured children in families with incomes between 150 and 200 percent of the poverty level with a small annual premium.

We will expand efforts to make families aware of these benefits, including outreach through schools, Head Start, WIC programs, and daycare providers. And we'll simplify forms and allow families to apply through the mail with minimal hassle.

As we invest in families and children for stronger, healthier lives, we must also invest in those who have given so much to our state.

We all know that senior citizens prefer to remain in their homes and close to the things they hold most dear. With your help we have expanded home care programs under PASSPORT. But uncompetitive rates have resulted in delayed services for some seniors.

Therefore, we will increase reimbursement for personal care and adult day care. All seniors should receive the care they need. They deserve no less!

Our quality of life involves more than just our jobs, our cities, our environment, and our health. It also involves the time we have to spend with each other and our families. State government can help ease the time crunch by becoming more efficient and customer friendly though technology.

In this day and age, with technology improving at blinding speed, we must take steps to keep up.

By some estimates, Internet traffic doubles every 100 days. We must harness the power of technology to improve the quality of our lives and free up more of our precious time. Many projects are already underway in state agencies:

At the Bureau of Workers Compensation, the Dolphin Project will enable customers to file claims, open accounts, and pay premiums on-line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week;

The Department of Insurance allows for on-line agent licensing, reducing approval times from four months to less than two weeks; and

Last year, nearly 14 percent of state tax returns were filed electronically, saving the state hundreds of thousands of dollars while speeding up refunds to taxpayers.

More projects - too numerous to mention here - are in the planning phase. But one I am pleased to announce today.

Under the leadership of Lt. Governor Maureen O'Connor, and with your support, Ohioans will be able to register their motor vehicles over the Internet by this time next year.

Ohioans without Internet access will be able to register by phone, and for those of you who cherish the annual wait in line, we'll still take registrations in person.

And we can do more than improve vehicle registration. Through leadership and focus, the potential for more convenient customer service is unlimited. And so I will create the Governor's Council on Electronic Commerce.

Chaired by the State's Chief Information Officer, Greg Jackson, it will provide leadership to implement electronic commerce throughout state government, by taking the following steps:

  • Develop within one year a strategic plan for electronic delivery of state services;
  • Help agencies post their most frequently requested forms on-line, become accessible to customers by e-mail by December 31, and have all key services available on-line by 2002;
  • Reinvent the state's home page to allow customers to search by services offered, rather than by department; and
  • Create a "One Stop, E-Shop," permitting businesses to do business with the state through a single on-line form.

I know that you'll all agree: it's time that we move customers from in-line to on-line!

My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the world and we have been blessed with endless opportunity. Any child in this great state can grow up to become an astronaut, teacher, doctor, inventor or anything they dream.

If you doubt what I am saying, just remember the rich legacy of Ohio. Where would we be today without the pioneering spirits of Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Toni Morrison and so many other great Ohioans?

Like our forbearers, we have been empowered with the technology of our times. Cell phones, pagers, laptops, the Internet and digital technology have revolutionized the way we listen, learn and live. Technology is changing the world as we know it. And time seems to move faster than ever before. It seems that just yesterday, the new Millennium was a lifetime away.

Another phenomenon is changing our world a little closer to home. It's called term limits.

We'll be saying farewell to many long-time legislators who have served this state in the finest tradition of public service. To you I say thank you on behalf of the people of Ohio.

Some cynics fear that term limits may bring out the worst in us; that our attention to the people's work will be shortchanged by the need to find our own work. My friends, let's prove the cynics wrong.

No matter what our future holds, we can prove that we will not allow term limits to limit the terms of our thinking.

We will continue to tackle the tough problems, and do the right things, not just the easy things. We will continue to be visionary, because Ohio's future depends on it.

At the dawn of the 21st Century, Ohio stands tall and looks out upon a vast expanse of opportunity. A new century beckons and Ohioans are more than equal to challenges that lie ahead. For Brittany Smith and every child from every corner of our state, our future holds unparalleled promise if we simply work together and hold our steady course.

Ohio will be the state that gives every child the opportunity to dream and succeed through a good education. Ohio will be the state leading all others in economic prosperity that raises the standard of living for all. And Ohio will be the state with the finest quality of life for every one of our citizens.

The future belongs to us. My friends, the future belongs to Ohio.

Thank you and may God bless us all.


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