Oregon State of the State Address 2000

 

PORTLAND, Oregon - Jan. 21 - Following is the full text of Gov, John Kitzhaber's 2000 State of the State Address:

Today I want to talk to you about Oregon's future. In particular, I want to talk about two of the most central challenges facing our state as we enter the new century: improving our system of public education and increasing the number of Oregonians with access to healthcare.

Beyond that, however, I want to discuss a larger and perhaps more fundamental issue as a way of providing some context for these specific challenges. Because I have deep concerns about Oregon's future -- fostered, ironically, by the very prosperity and quality of life with which we begin the 21st Century.

To quote Dickens -- "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..." To my mind, this opening line from "A Tale of Two Cities" describes Oregon in the year 2000.

It is the best of times because the economy is so good. We have record low unemployment. There is no crisis on the horizon that commands public attention. There is no sense of urgency. And we continue to enjoy this incredible natural environment, from our beaches to the Cascades to the high desert, from the Columbia Basin to this Willamette Valley to Crater Lake on down to the Rogue River.

It is the worst of times because our very prosperity has created a kind of complacency. It is masking our need, not only for each other, but for our government which provides us with those things we cannot provide for ourselves individually.

It is a subtle thing, yet one that can have a profound and long-term impact on this state of ours.

When we talk about Oregon's greatness, we always talk about our public beaches. We talk about our land use planning program and our protected farm and forestlands and open spaces. And that has given this state more options, more choices in how we grow and develop than probably any other state in America. We talk about our parks system. We talk about the Bottle Bill.

All of these things are, indeed, part of the Oregon heritage, the Oregon ethic, the "Oregon Mystique" as Gov. Tom McCall referred to it. It is a spirit of community building and preserving this special place, this home of ours. It is a spirit and an ethic that defines us as much as the powerful landscapes that surround us.

I don't want to lose that. I don't want to lose it for myself. I don't want to lose it for my family and I don't want to lose it especially for my son.

I don't think anyone here wants to lose it. It is part of who we are here. It is why we came to Oregon. It is why we stay here.

But consider this. Since 1990 we have welcomed almost half a million new Oregonians -- since 1975 over a million of new Oregonians.

In other words, nearly a third of our population arrived here, or were born here after all these things that we cherish and point to had been put in place. Responsible civic involvement and foresighted leadership in both the public and private sector and progressive action by the Oregon State Legislature created the very heritage that we point to with such pride.

We tend to assume that all Oregonians share this ethic of community responsibility, of civic action and of environmental stewardship. I am not sure we can make that assumption.

For people who moved into it, or for many people who were born into it, I think it is very easy to take for granted the gifts that we have in this state. For people who didn't have to struggle and fight for these things, I think it is easy to undervalue what we have here.

My father, for example, was a child of the Great Depression. At age 16 he was going to high school and working six hours a day, seven days a week for 12 cents an hour to help pay the family rent.

He served in WWII. He got a college education under the GI Bill. He became a university professor and he retired after a successful teaching career at the University of Oregon. To this day, he values and appreciates what he has far more than do many members of my generation.

The point is that this Oregon ethic, this heritage that we point to so proudly, this quality of life that we enjoy in this state, this booming economy -- didn't just happen. These things are not inherent in the soil and the water. They didn't come with the place. Although I think the place helped to inspire them.

The fact is, that these things that we cherish about Oregon have to be constantly renewed in ourselves and in our community. And bringing our citizens to recognize that is a major challenge. Bringing them to see that if we continue to do no more than point to a heritage built by others -- and do nothing ourselves to nurture and renew that heritage for the future -- then we run the substantial risk of seeing both our quality of life and our good economy slip from our grasp.

There are many words to describe this challenge -- this commitment to do what is necessary to ensure that what is good about Oregon remains good. One word is sustainability.

As many of you may know, I plan to issue an executive order in March to make state government a leader in the fight to sustain our environment and quality of life in the face of a growing population.

What I am suggesting to you today is that the same kind of effort will be needed if we are to sustain the other things we value about Oregon -- one of which is our system of public education.

Public education is the cornerstone of a progressive, democratic society. And when I say public education I am referring to the entire educational continuum from kindergarten to post-secondary education to lifelong learning

We will not build a 21st Century economy with high school graduates alone and this community in particular must extend its vocal support of education beyond primary and secondary schools -- as important as they are -- to include our post-secondary system as well.

From grade school to grad school, we must be willing to do more than pay lip service to public education. We must be willing to back that rhetoric with action. Let's start with K-12.

As you may know -- along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Bunn and Standard Insurance President Ron Timpe -- I have filed two initiatives to improve the stability, equity and adequacy of funding for schools.

The first measure -- the Stability in School Funding Act -- creates a fund to maintain school budgets in the event of an economic downturn. We know that sooner or later this economy is going to slow down and we cannot afford to simply stop educating a generation of children because of a fluctuation in our economy.

This fund will be capitalized with four existing sources of revenue: 15 percent of lottery proceeds, 25 percent of the National Tobacco Settlement, interest earnings from the Common School Fund, and half of future surplus tax revenue with the other half being rebated.

I expect that some will criticize how we propose to pay for the stability fund. But I challenge anyone to make the argument that we do not need financial reserves for perhaps the single most important public service we provide -- educating the next generation of Oregonians.

The second measure -- the Accountability and Equity in School Funding Act -- does two things.

First, in ensures that quality education is not an accident of geography by correcting a serious flaw in the local option law passed by the last Legislature.

By requiring the Legislature to equalize the revenue generated by the local option between property poor and property rich districts, it gives a child living in Coos Bay or Fossil the same educational opportunities as a child living in Lake Oswego or Beaverton.

Second, this measure constitutionally requires the Legislature to provide funding adequate to meet the quality education goals established by law -- and to explain how the legislatively adopted budget meets those goals. In short, this is about accountability.

It will force the K-12 debate in Salem to take place not around large, abstract numbers -- $5.8 billion, $4.9 billion -- but rather around what we want those dollars to achieve in the classroom to advance the goals of the Education Act.

Both initiatives are now ready for signature gathering and I ask for your active support to not only get these measures before the voters, but to ensure their passage in the November general election.

I will also forward two proposals to help improve the training and development of Oregon's teachers.

The first proposal aims at increasing the number of Oregon teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This highly respected certification process results in better-trained teachers who are a resource not only to our children, but to others in their profession as well.

To accomplish that, my next budget will provide funding sufficient to pay for the certification of 500 Oregon teachers by 2003. In addition, I will propose that these teachers receive a bonus if they are successfully certified.

The second proposal addresses the growing problem of teacher retention. Nationally, only 20 percent of the teachers who enter their first year of teaching are still teaching after three years.

In urban districts, close to half of new teachers leave the profession during their first five years.

For many, this exodus reflects the fact that they didn't get the support they needed as they moved from students to classroom teachers.

Therefore, in my next budget, I will propose funding for a mentor program that will allow school districts to use some of the time of their best, most experienced teachers to help new teachers transition into the classroom.

This will not only make for better-trained, higher quality teachers; it will also help us reap the rewards of the substantial investment we as a society are making to train teachers.

Finally, just as we invest in teachers, so must we invest in our school buildings themselves. Oregon is facing a staggering accumulation of capital construction and deferred maintenance needs in our schools, colleges and universities. <

To address this, I will propose a state-backed bond fund for construction and maintenance. We cannot continue to provide quality education in a rundown, crumbling infrastructure -- and we cannot accommodate enrollment growth and reduce class size without new capacity. My proposal will address both.

In addition to these investments in our primary and secondary system, we must also invest in our universities and community colleges.

First, we must help Oregon's community colleges serve their growing population of students.

For many Oregonians, our community colleges are the front door to better jobs and better futures. They are not only the community resource needed to keep professional skills up to date, but are often the first step toward a four-year degree.

Yet the last legislative session provided no increase in funding to cover the dramatic enrollment growth faced by our community colleges. This is not acceptable and my next budget will include resources to begin to address the increasing enrollment at these vital centers of learning.

Second, I propose that we move aggressively to expand geographic access to four year degrees throughout Oregon. Central Oregon Community College -- both because it lies in our state's fastest growing region, and because it is already offering expanded courses -- is the logical place to begin this bold effort.

In a different era, we might simply move to create a central Oregon university. But today we can and must choose a different path, taking advantage of the Oregon University System's innovative University Center, which brokers four-year degrees and which has been operating in Bend since 1995.

Last year, through this program, 100 students living in central Oregon earned degrees from six different institutions without leaving the Central Oregon Community College campus. Using satellite-based instruction and the Internet -- coupled with a strong community college presence and solid community support -- we should be able to quadruple that number.

To advance this cause, I will direct the Oregon Board of Higher Education to develop a proposal and a budget to build on this partnership and expand -- on a stable and permanent basis -- four-year degree offerings in Bend as a prototype for other community colleges across the state.

Third, I believe our university system must expand its technology offerings to meet the demand for these disciplines in the future.

In the previous century, Oregon invested heavily in its schools of agriculture and forestry -- our economic mainstays.

Today -- while still offering support to our traditional natural resource-based industries -- we must make a similar commitment to the economic mainstay of the 21st Century; technology.

Therefore, I will propose a program to both double engineering graduates from Oregon institutions in the next five years and to create a tier one engineering school within the borders of this state by the year 2010. As a part of this effort I will expect a substantial private contribution from Oregon's technology industry to match the public commitment to meet this objective.

But let me add that our technology future is not electronics alone. Therefore, I will direct the Board of Higher Education to examine how Oregon can take advantage of the growing bio-science sector as an integral part of our economic base in the future.

One more thing on the education front: I ask you to join me the week of April 24-28 in going back to school. Working with the statewide organization for schools, I will be headed back to spend some time in the classroom -- hopefully at my alma mater South Eugene -- if they are willing to overlook the decidedly pedestrian GPA that I carried away with my diploma.

The fact is that more than 75 percent of Oregon adults have no children in public schools -- and yet have a huge stake in successfully educating the next generation.

I am convinced that the simple act of seeing the state of our schools, the challenges faced by teachers and the tough curriculum we ask our students to master will create a larger base of support for the enterprise of public education.

I applaud this effort and would like two of its founders, Don and Denise Frisbee, to stand. Thank you both for your hard work on this great project. If anybody wants to find out more about the Statewide Organization for Schools, the Frisbees will be glad to help you.

As we move forward to meet the challenge of educating our citizens, we must also make a similar commitment to their health.

Oregon has been a national leader in this area with the passage and implementation of the Oregon Health Plan. We set out to ensure access to a basic level of care for all Oregonians and we have made substantial progress toward that goal.

We have lowered the percent of Oregonians without health insurance from 18 percent in 1994 to 10 percent in 2000. Among children the progress has been even more dramatic, dropping from 21 percent uninsured to just over seven percent.

At the same time, the cost of providing quality care under the plan remains one of the lowest in the nation.

Expenditure growth in the Oregon Health Plan has been 22 percent less than the growth of health expenditures nationally.

Yet, in spite of that progress, one out of ten Oregonians, more than 300,000 people, are still without health insurance coverage -- more than 66,000 of them are children. That is simply indefensible.

So today, I ask you to join me in recommitting ourselves to make Oregon the first state in the nation with universal health insurance coverage.

Why is this important?

First, because it is the right thing to do. The fact is that uninsured Americans receive less care than to those with insurance, they receive that care later, and they are four times more likely to require hospitalization and emergency room care.

Second, because increasing cost threatens all of us. This is not a problem restricted to the Oregon Health Plan alone -- as some in the Legislature would have us believe. This is a challenge facing both the public and the private sectors because we will never be able to manage overall costs as long as there is a large segment of the population without insurance coverage.

Why? Because those without coverage ultimately get care. When they get sick enough they show up in the emergency room -- one of the most expensive care settings -- where they are treated late in the course of their illness, when costs are higher and outcomes poorer.

And the costs incurred are simply shifted back through the system and reflected in the premium increases being experienced by government, business and individuals.

This is one of the reasons that private sector premium costs are increasing 12 to 20 percent per year, a trend that is clearly unsustainable over time <

Thus, what I will be proposing to the 2001 Legislature will address not only the uninsured, but the entire structure of our health care system. And while it is beyond the scope of this speech to lay out the details of my proposal, it will be based on the following principles:

First, we must move toward a system of universal coverage.

Second, the government must define the floor -- that is the minimum (basic) level of care provided to all citizens.

Third, because some individuals cannot afford to purchase coverage, the government must provide subsidies to make insurance affordable to all citizens.

Fourth, all subsidies must be explicit -- and public subsidies must based on ability to pay and restricted to the cost of purchasing the basic level of care.

Finally, the respective responsibilities of governments, businesses and individuals must be clearly and explicitly defined.

In addition to these guiding principles, the proposal will make use of the state's purchasing power as a major payer in the health care system -- and, if at all possible, in collaboration with private sector payers -- to target and reduce runaway cost centers such as prescription drugs.

Oregon is uniquely qualified to develop such a proposal. Our experience in dealing with the financial limits of the health care system and with setting priorities, give us the knowledge and the discipline to once again lead the nation.

To build the public support needed for this proposal to become a reality, I will ask the Oregon Health Council to conduct a series of town-hall meetings throughout the state to examine and debate these concepts.

In addition, I will convene an Oregon Health Policy Summit in order to discuss these issues with legislators and other public and private sector leaders throughout Oregon.

The recommendations flowing from these efforts will form the basis of legislation for the 2001 legislative session.

For any of these efforts to go forward, however, we must defeat Bill Sizemore's initiative to remove the cap on the deductibility of federal income tax from state income tax.

If this measure is passed, it will result in a $1.6 billion reduction in the state revenue for the next biennium -- 15 percent of the General Fund.

Worse still, it is retroactive to January 1, 2000 which means we will be faced with a billion dollar deficit in the current biennium.

If we let this happen -- reflect for a moment on what it says about our priorities and our values as Oregonians.

Do we really believe that our schools have 15 percent more than they need to educate the workforce and the citizens of the 21st Century? Is it acceptable that 66,000 Oregon children have no financial access to health care? Are we willing to walk away from children at risk? To stop investing in our environment?

These things are not a part of Oregon's heritage; they are not a part of Oregon's ethic; and they should not be a part of Oregon's future -- and I intend to debate Mr. Sizemore on these very points.

Let us also remember that these issues will not be decided by the Legislative Assembly, but directly by you, the voters of Oregon. The course that our state takes over the next decade is going to be settled even before the Legislature convenes in 2001.

My friends, our challenge today goes well beyond the specific issues of education and health care and environmental stewardship. It transcends our efforts to finance our transportation system, to reduce juvenile crime and to maintain a strong economy.

Our challenge lies in the growing public disconnect between the vision of a livable, prosperous Oregon on the one hand, and the investment and the collective personal effort it takes to get us there -- and keep us there -- on the other.

If we cannot re-engage Oregonians in this task, we stand to lose a great deal.

And again, our very success makes this challenge more difficult. It is not dissimilar to the challenge I have faced as a doctor trying to make the case that if you smoke too many cigarettes, drink to excess and eat a high fat diet, you are going to have some serious heart problems down the road.

Try telling that to a 21 year-old college student who takes his good health for granted.

Likewise, we have enjoyed this good economy and this exceptional quality of life for so long that we take it for granted. We really don't believe that we have to do anything to maintain it.

But all the prosperity in the world will not preserve our special quality of life if we do not share a common vision for Oregon -- and a commitment to sustain it.

In the final analysis, we need each other more than we need our provincial interests. What we desperately need is a victory for community over individual self-interest. And that starts right here in this room.

This is not just a question of what we can expect from our government. It is a question of what we will demand of ourselves. Both long term and new Oregonians must work together in common cause to secure the future of our state.

There are simply too many people on the sidelines. Our voter turnouts are depressingly low. Charles Keating once said, "My interest is in the future, because I will spend the rest of my life there."

That statement is particularly true for our younger voters, yet in last year's primary, only six percent of those 18 to 34 years old voted. Only six percent -- while every day the future they will live in is being decided initiative-by-initiative and legislative session-by-legislative session.

That is not a formula for a sustainable Oregon.

Your job and mine is no less than to rekindle both the spirit and the consensus that has marked this state's proud past -- a vision and a commitment to Oregon that has given us a robust economy, a remarkable quality of life and a whole host of options for how we grow and develop into the future.

We need to recommit ourselves to that vision and shoulder our responsibility to do what is necessary to move it closer to its full potential.

So the question before us today is larger than whether we can sustain our quality of life and our economy.

The question is whether we are willing to invest the time and energy to rebuild the Oregon community. Because the fate of the first question rests on the answer to the second.

It has less to do with government as it does with commitment to place.

If we do no more than continue to point proudly to a heritage that someone else created, without making the commitment ourselves to sustain that heritage and that ethic for future generations, than we have surely forsaken our roots and forgotten what it means to be an Oregonian.

I call on each and every one of you to reject that path and to reclaim Oregon for ourselves and for the future.

Let me close with a quote from Wallace Stegner's small book "The Sound of Mountain Water." He wrote this about the West in general, but I think as much as anything it frames the challenge that we Oregonians face in the 21st Century. <

It reads: "One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation not rugged individualism is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery."

No less than that it our goal.

 
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