Oklahoma State of the State 2006
By Stateline Staff
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., Feb.6 - Following is the prepared text of Gov. Brad Henry's 2006 state of the state address:
Click here to visit the governor's Web site and read the address.
Members of the House and Senate, Lt. Governor Fallin, President Pro Tem Morgan, Speaker Hiett, Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, distinguished Cabinet and elected officials, honored guests and my fellow Oklahomans and friends:
Headed in the Right Direction
As we approach our centennial celebration - our 100th year - we look ahead to our second century of statehood, brimming with enthusiasm. These are exciting times. Together we have accomplished so much, and, together, we look to our future with pride and anticipation. Oklahoma is headed in the right direction.
From Boise City to Idabel, Altus to Miami, Ponca City to Ardmore, and everywhere in between, our state is on the move; a state with unstoppable momentum. Oklahoma is moving forward to meet new challenges and enjoy new successes - a proud land marked by strength and opportunity, a place that honors heritage even as we look ahead with optimism and awe.
We are building a first-class education system that values our teachers and provides unlimited opportunities for our children. Education Week's recent "Quality Counts" report ranks our schools as 7th in the nation for teacher quality and 12th in the nation, and rising, for school accountability and standards.
We are creating good jobs at a record pace and giving our young people more reasons to stay in Oklahoma. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, our total personal income has increased by $8 billion since the first quarter of 2004. And it's still growing.
We are building the health care infrastructure to deliver quality, affordable health care to all Oklahomans. Already, we have implemented one of the nation's most promising health insurance programs. We are providing assistance to small businesses and working families through a partnership with the private sector.
We are conducting cutting-edge research in medicine, weather, and sensor technologies. We are building world-class universities.
And, without a doubt, we are producing some of the most talented young people in the world -- from our own Miss America, Jennifer Berry, to our own American Idol, Carrie Underwood, to the thousands of bright, creative, innovative students, who each day are pursuing the American dream.
We are moving swiftly toward a future where no one is held back and everyone can reach his or her full potential.
Time and again, Oklahomans have demonstrated their courage and commitment and generosity, just as they have recently with the wildfires that have raged across our state.
I've met with many of the firefighters on the front lines, as well as Oklahoma families who have been directly impacted by the fires. And, without exception, these Oklahomans have proven themselves to be tough, tenacious and principled.
The courage and generosity of Oklahomans also transcends the borders of our state.
When Hurricane Katrina smashed through the Gulf Coast, Oklahomans answered the call for help. Our National Guard was the first organized unit to arrive in Louisiana.
Our response was so swift and decisive that federal officials called on our own Brigadier General Myles Deering to head an active-military task force of 15,000 troops stationed at ground zero in New Orleans. I am proud to have Gen. Deering with us in the gallery today.
Here at home, Oklahomans of all walks opened their hearts, their doors and their checkbooks for the waves of people left homeless. Churches, charities and faith-based organizations sprang into action. At Falls Creek, where I spent many enjoyable summers as a child, Oklahoma Baptists created a small city - literally overnight - to accommodate as many as 3,000 Katrina evacuees.
Kim and I had the opportunity to visit with many of the hurricane evacuees who were provided housing and comfort at Camp Gruber. To a person, they told us they had been treated better in Oklahoma than anywhere else. It was gratifying to hear, but not surprising. There is something special about Oklahomans.
Our state is the place where roads converge, both literally and figuratively. Race, religion, income level, even political affiliation - what separates us pales in comparison to the goals and dreams we share.
And the dreams we share, for a better quality of life for all, are motivated and fostered by our shared values: Our unwavering faith in God, our love of community, our commitment to the sanctuary of family.
My family is my comfort, my inspiration. I am blessed by their love and support, and I am grateful that my three wonderful daughters are here today to cheer on their dad: Leah, Laynie and Baylee. And with them, of course, is their mother, my wife, a truly remarkable woman and an amazing first lady, my partner and the love of my life, Kim Henry.
The Road to Now
As we gather today, at the threshold of our state's centennial celebration, it is appropriate that we briefly review what we've done for the Oklahoma family.
Over the past three years, we have laid the groundwork for lasting, long-term economic growth. We have created more than 50,000 new, good-paying jobs, and we've raised personal income by $8 billion. We are demanding excellence in education and expanding opportunities for our children. We are a healthier people. We are making families safe, and we are saving lives.
Many have already forgotten that, just three short years ago, Oklahoma was confronted with the worst fiscal emergency in our state's history, eclipsing even the oil bust of the 1980s. Schools and hospitals braced for severe cuts.
But casting aside partisanship, lawmakers of both parties joined me to work together and overcome that crisis.
Despite a shortfall of nearly $700 million, we balanced the budget and shielded education and health care from potentially disastrous cuts, and we did so without raising taxes.
As stewards of good government, it is incumbent upon us to practice fiscal responsibility. Just consider the groundbreaking magnitude of what we accomplished last year. We placed the maximum amount in our Rainy Day Fund for the first time in our state's history, and still we ensured critical funding for education, health care, and public safety and provided tax relief for all Oklahomans.
Perhaps no issue is more critical to Oklahoma than providing the dollars for a first-rate education. A great education is the foundation of a great life, the nourishment to grow a sound future for our children.
Together we have worked to provide every child with a world-class education. We vowed to boost teacher pay to the regional average, and we are well on our way. We gave voters an opportunity, and they created the first new revenue streams for education in more than 15 years.
We provided every Oklahoma child the opportunity to attend full-day kindergarten. And, we launched the ACE initiative to tighten accountability, strengthen academic rigor and guarantee that each education dollar spent is a dollar well spent.
Such reforms are showing tremendous success. Education Week's prestigious rankings place our schools among the best in the nation for accountability and standards and for teacher quality.
Education experts across the nation continue to recognize Oklahoma's early childhood education as the very best. That success does not occur overnight. It involves the commitment and talent of many people, a dedicated group that includes my own wife, Kim.
The commitment we've made to higher education is also reaping dividends. Last year we approved the most comprehensive bond issue in our state's history to propel our colleges and universities to greatness.
Our work for Oklahoma hasn't been confined to the classroom, of course. A happy life means a healthy life, and here, too, we have focused our efforts.
We effectively cleared the air with sensible restrictions to make Oklahoma one of the first truly smoke-free environments in the country.
Responding to an epidemic of methamphetamine abuse, we implemented landmark restrictions that virtually wiped out meth labs and serve as a model for the nation. In fact, nearly every other state has followed our lead.
A year ago, Oklahomans approved a sweeping healthcare initiative. Together, we began funding a world-class cancer research center and helped secure our statewide trauma-care system. A state-of-the-art telemedicine complex in Tulsa will deliver high-quality healthcare to rural Oklahoma.
Through Insure Oklahoma, we are helping small businesses provide needed health insurance to thousands of previously uninsured working Oklahomans.
Together we rebounded from difficult times to build a vibrant economy. We permanently reduced the income tax, eliminated capital gains taxes, and even provided rebates to all Oklahoma taxpayers for the first time in history.
Together, we lowered taxes on our retirees and veterans, and we passed landmark workers' compensation reforms. Our policies have breathed new life into our economy. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that our growth in jobs and personal income now outpace the regional and national averages.
The Road to the Future
We have achieved truly remarkable things for our great state, and the successes we have created will lead to future triumphs. We are on the cusp of greatness -- a new dawning in Oklahoma -- a bold, proud, prosperous Oklahoma where the full potential of every child can be realized.
Oklahoma is on the right track, and now we must charge ahead on the momentum we've built. As Oklahoma's great Cherokee, Will Rogers, once noted: "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
Educating Our Children
I firmly believe that Oklahoma's greatest days are still ahead, but to see that dream realized, we must see that our children receive the best possible education.
Education transcends the boundaries of race, financial status and geography. It provides opportunity for all Oklahomans and makes Oklahoma competitive in today's global economy. Building a better Oklahoma for tomorrow means investing in education today.
Our investment starts with our teachers. Classroom excellence will never be achieved without excellent teachers.
And that's not our only commitment. With the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, we told qualified students, if you take tough classes, make good grades and stay out of trouble, we will pay for your college education.
Thousands of students are taking advantage of this opportunity, and Oklahoma is producing more college graduates than ever. Those students kept their end of the bargain, and we must keep ours.
Many years ago, a friend of mine, Jim Hatch, a respected businessman and staunch republican, told me this: "Being fiscally conservative does not mean spending no money. It means spending money wisely." And what could be wiser than spending our money on education? To that end, I propose record investments at every level of education this year.
This wise investment will mean better pay for teachers and more classroom resources.
This wise investment ensures that CareerTech remains a world leader in vocational education.
This wise investment will hold down tuition at our colleges and universities, allowing more students to earn a college degree.
Most important, this wise investment continues building the economic and intellectual capital that ensures a brilliant future for Oklahoma's children and families.
Helping Our Families
Our commitment to Oklahoma families must be unshakable. Family values are core values in Oklahoma. We must work unfailingly to honor and strengthen our families.
Thousands of Oklahoma families have no health insurance or struggle to pay insurance premiums. Because of increasing costs, fewer and fewer employers are able to offer health coverage.
Among those thousands of Oklahomans who face this struggle is Stacie Bay, a mortgage officer from Shawnee. Stacie's two sons -- Brendan and Christian -- have severe asthma and allergies requiring that each take $1,000 worth of medication every month. With their pre-existing conditions, Stacie couldn't get health insurance for her sons even if her family could afford the expensive premiums.
But, as part of a group plan through our new Insure Oklahoma initiative, Stacie's family will finally get the health insurance they so desperately need. Stacie is with us in the gallery today. Let's assure Stacie, and thousands of other Oklahomans just like her, that we will build upon this innovative program to include more families and small businesses.
Prescription drugs are one of the chief drivers of increased medical costs. When needy Oklahomans must choose between food and medicine while drug companies spend more than $4 billion on advertising, something has gone terribly wrong. The status quo is unacceptable.
This session, I renew my call that we work together in a bipartisan manner to help Oklahomans safely re-import lower-cost prescription drugs from other industrialized nations. We know some pharmaceutical companies will again fight this every step of the way, but the people of Oklahoma elected us to represent their interests, and not special interests.
A healthier state is a better state, and so this year let's strengthen what will be a state-of-the-art cancer research center to ensure we meet the highest standards.
Twelve days ago, many of us lost a dear friend when Senator Robert M. Kerr passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. We celebrated his life this morning in the Senate Chamber. Now, let us honor his legacy - and the legacy of all Oklahomans who have fallen to cancer - with a center for cutting-edge research and treatment right here in Oklahoma.
I ask for your help in meeting another health crisis. Nearly 10 percent of Oklahomans have diabetes or will be diagnosed with it. Like many Oklahomans, I, too, lost a loved one, my mother, due to complications from this deadly disease. This silent killer has inflicted an especially lethal toll on our American Indian population.
OU President David Boren is certainly one of Oklahoma's bipartisan visionaries, and he also is among the thousands of Oklahomans diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. President Boren is with us today, along with the leaders of three of our great tribal nations: Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith, and Choctaw Nation Assistant Chief Mike Bailey.
This session, following the lead of these great Oklahomans, let's create a world-class national diabetes center, a dream we can make a reality through a partnership with our great Oklahoma tribes.
Together we rescued young children from the environmental hazards of Tar Creek. But challenges remain. Working with Sen. Jim Inhofe and the federal government, we will address continuing dangers to ensure the safety of other families in the area. The very lives of our fellow Oklahomans are at stake.
We can also help Oklahoma families through smart, targeted tax relief.
Expanding the retirement income tax exemption will give our seniors more purchasing power. Extending an estate tax exemption to collateral heirs will help keep family farms and small businesses as a vital part of our economy.
And finally enacting a back-to-school sales tax holiday will keep Oklahoma dollars, and jobs, on this side of the Red River.
Protecting Our Families
Perhaps no one needs our help more than our most vulnerable citizens, our children. The Internet is an incredible learning tool, but it can also be used for evil. The Justice Department tells us that one in every five teenagers has been approached online by a sexual predator. This year, I urge you to approve our "Safe Net" legislation to crack down on those who would harm our children.
It is equally vital that we toughen Oklahoma's Sex Offender Registry by ensuring that all communities are promptly and properly informed about any sex offenders living in the area. We must do everything in our power to protect Oklahomans from these predators.
In recent months, Oklahomans have followed with horror and sadness the story of Kelsey Briggs, the 2-year-old girl whose life was cut short as the result of child abuse. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of Kelsey's story is that it is all too common.
In 2004, 51 children in our state died of abuse and neglect. Child abuse destroys lives and perpetuates a cycle of violence that can continue for generations. And it must not be tolerated.
I ask you to join me in committing funds to hire 112 additional child abuse investigators and pay them a decent salary.
The future of so many Oklahomans rests on the shoulders of our hardworking state employees. They are the backbone of our government and the lifeblood of vital state services. For their skill and dedication, we owe them an increase in pay this year.
And speaking of dedication, our corrections officers are stretched too thin and paid too little. Yet, day after day, they put their lives on the line, and it's time we act quickly to provide them with additional manpower and proper pay.
Our corrections officers will need the help as we turn up the heat on meth makers. Thankfully, we have virtually wiped out meth labs in Oklahoma, but now it's time to turn to the importation of methamphetamine from Mexico.
We must put more undercover drug agents on the streets, toughen penalties for meth importation, and redouble our efforts on prevention, education and treatment. For the sake of Oklahoma families, it is time to step up the war and stamp out this deadly poison.
I don't need to tell you of the havoc that wildfires have caused our state in recent months. Our firefighters have been true heroes throughout, placing themselves in harm's way to save lives and property, but they need our help.
"Operation Firewall" will provide immediate assistance to our firefighters on the front lines and better prepare for future disasters. We are fortunate to have with us today a number of our courageous firefighters. For all they've done to help us, it is time for us to help them.
Investing in the Future
So much of the business conducted in this building affects future generations, and yet too often we fail to consider the long-term impact of what we do. It is an awesome responsibility we have, not only to better the lives of Oklahomans today, but also to shape a future of promise and prosperity.
While the energy and agriculture industries will always be vital to Oklahoma and its economy, we must be prepared for the demands and innovations of the marketplace of the future.
This session I am sending you a comprehensive package to meet the challenges ahead. Our "Invest in the Future" initiative will build on the research endowment we created last year. We will fund cutting-edge research and projects that promise the greatest potential for economic opportunity and job creation.
Establishing an Opportunity Fund will help close the economic development gap, making Oklahoma more competitive and better able to attract and retain good jobs.
What we ultimately achieve will be limited only by our imagination and ambition.
Leveraged by a $180 million bond issue, we will stimulate cutting-edge research. We will invest in sensor technology at Oklahoma State University. We will invest in cancer and diabetes research at the University of Oklahoma. And, we will support private-sector research throughout the state. It is critical we equip ourselves with every tool needed to develop a research infrastructure that will fuel our long-term prosperity.
The way to a prosperous future also means that we build and maintain roads and bridges. Our "Road to Progress" initiative includes a $100 million emergency infusion to repair Oklahoma's most dangerous bridges. Coupled with another $420 million and the bipartisan commitment we made last year, that means a landmark investment of nearly $2 billion for roads and bridges over the next 10 years.
Oklahomans also deserve the assurance that the taxes they pay at the gas pump will be earmarked for their roads and bridges. Let's let Oklahomans vote on a constitutional "lockbox" to ensure that gas taxes will be used solely for transportation purposes.
Best Days Ahead
We stand on the eve of a historic anniversary for Oklahoma. This is a fitting time to reflect on what it means to be an Oklahoman. It's about a spirit and determination that has long distinguished our state's culture.
During World War II, that spirit and determination was chronicled by the celebrated war correspondent, Ernie Pyle. "The men of Oklahoma are drawling and soft-spoken," he wrote in a dispatch from August of 1943. "Something of the purity of the soil seems to be in them.... An Oklahoman is straight and direct. He is slow to criticize and hard to anger, but once he is convinced of the wrong of something, brother, watch out."
I think Ernie Pyle was on target, but, I might add this: Oklahomans are also a force to be reckoned with when we're convinced of the rightness of something.
If I have grown convinced of the rightness of anything, it is this: Only through working together in a bipartisan spirit will we achieve real, meaningful, lasting results.
It is with that spirit that we will tackle the challenges ahead, for the State of Oklahoma is strong. It is dynamic and visionary. It is creative and innovative. It is courageous and committed. And Oklahoma is definitely headed in the right direction.
So, let us do great things for the people of Oklahoma. As First Corinthians 10:24 tells us, "Let no man seek his own good, but the good of every other man."
Our convictions will serve as our compass. They will lead us in the direction of a better Oklahoma, an Oklahoma of greatness, an Oklahoma of unparalleled heights.
I recall the words of a great Oklahoman, who reminds us of our responsibility to stay headed in the right direction. Scott Momaday, the great Kiowa poet and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, in his poem entitled "Oklahoma 2003," told us how his people came to Oklahoma. Then, he said this:
Others came upon the rolling plains
They bore books and learning
The bore the Word of God
They bore the machinery of nationhood
Now we come in our turn
Now we come to a new destiny
Now we come to a new consecration of this holy place
Now we come in our turn
To stand on this ground between our forebears and our children
To build understanding on what has been
To build greatness on what will be.
God bless you and God bless Oklahoma.