Tennessee State of the State Address 2009
By Stateline Staff
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Feb. 9 -- Following is the prepared text of Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D) 2009 state of the state address:
Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, Speaker Williams, Speaker Pro Tem DeBerry, Members of the 106th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, friends, guests, and my fellow Tennesseans.
Here at the beginning of a new General Assembly, let me first congratulate Lieutenant Governor Ramsey on his reelection as Speaker and Lieutenant Governor. I believe we have worked well together and will continue to do so. Let me also recognize the changes that have taken place in the House with a new speaker. To Speaker Williams, my congratulations on your election, and I look forward to working with you in the months ahead.
I also recognize the unusual nature of recent political events, and the strong emotions that surround them, and ask that we put them aside for the next few months so that we can look, not inward to the political intrigues of the Capitol, but outward to the needs of our citizens in these difficult times. Let me say a personal thanks in this public forum to Jimmy Naifeh. He has ended his long tenure as Speaker and once again taken up the role of House Member. Jimmy: you and I are very different in personality and background, but I have had no better friend in this government, we have accomplished a lot together, and I thank you.
There is an absence from the podium this year of our Speaker Pro Tem, Lois DeBerry. Speaker DeBerry is struggling with illness tonight, and I ask that each of you keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers. Lois, I know you are at home watching us, and I want you to know that we all miss you and wish you a speedy recovery.
I also wish to recognize Chief Justice Holder, Tennessee's first female chief justice, and the Court that she represents - for the first time ever now with a female majority.
As I have done each year, I want to recognize the thousands of Tennesseans bringing honor on our state by their service abroad. As of this evening, 103 of them have given their lives in that service, 8 since we gathered here last year.
Would you join me in honoring these Tennessee heroes with a moment of silence?
We have two guests with us tonight representing all those from Tennessee who are serving our nation abroad.
Mrs. Catherine Roberts from Lebanon, Tennessee is here representing her husband Captain David Roberts, who is training for his fourth deployment since 9/11. He is a military policeman by training, and will deploy as the security forces chief with the US Army's First of the Sixteenth in southeastern Afghanistan. Mrs. Roberts, our thoughts are with your family and we all pray for Captain Roberts' safe return.
Captain Hud Moore, from Lawrenceburg, who deployed to Iraq in 2003 as a platoon leader in the Eleven Seventy-Fifth Transportation Company, commanded a unit in Louisiana in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and has just returned from a second deployment to Iraq, as the Commander of the Eleven Seventy-fifth Transportation Company. Welcome home, Captain.
Tennessee National Guard soldiers from Lexington, Bolivar and Savannah with the 251st Military Police Company have recently returned from a year in Iraq, and brought with them 8 Bronze Stars, 3 Meritorious Service Medals, 54 Army Commendation medals and 46 Army Achievement Medals. Welcome home from a job well done.
This year will see once again some major deployments of Tennessee National Guard Units, including the second deployment of the 194th Engineering Brigade out of Jackson, and the second deployment of 3,000 soldiers of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Knoxville. I ask each of you to keep these Tennesseans in your prayers in this coming year.
It doesn't seem that long since I first stood before you as a new governor; but tonight marks the seventh time that I have respectfully reported on the state of our state.
The overwhelming issue right now is the state of the national economy - we're in a serious recession. Nearly everyone has friends who have lost their jobs in the past few months; everyone knows people who fear losing their jobs, fear losing their health care, fear losing their homes. We are living in tough times.
We are the government of our state, we have a responsibility to conduct its affairs carefully during these extraordinary times, and we have some difficult decisions ahead. But please always remember this: if it's tough for us, it is much tougher for millions of Tennesseans we work for. As we agonize over having to cut some favorite program, we must remember that our state is full of families making far deeper sacrifices. Leadership happens from the front, and we must never set ourselves apart from the people we work for; we need to shoulder our share of the pain they are feeling.
Six years ago, at my first State of the State address, we were also in a time of budget shortfalls, and I laid down some principles that I believed reflected the values of the people of our state. Here in 2009, with our strong reserves, we are in a better position to weather the storm, but the principles we have employed together over the years will serve us well again.
First, the principle of the "family budget"; that we honestly appraise how much money is coming in, and spend that much and no more. This is a common sense and conservative approach, and is particularly needed when we're in a recession that may yet go deeper and last longer than we expect. Being governor is about stewardship and I'm committed to leaving our state to the next governor and the next legislature in a strong position to continue the process of government.
The second principle is to always stay focused on the basics, on those things that are most important for the long term success of Tennessee. These are education, the creation of good jobs, and the health of our people. If we educate our kids, if we keep them healthy and make sure there are good jobs for them to go to, we'll do just fine in the years ahead.
The third principle is bipartisanship. As I watch our federal government struggle unsuccessfully with this, it makes me proud to live in a state with a long tradition of working together, especially when the waters get rough. I know there are strong feelings on all sides now, but I call on you to move beyond politics and do the public's business.
The family budget, sticking to the basics and bipartisanship have worked well for us these past six years, and are even more important as we gather here tonight in these extraordinary circumstances. Early last month, I was planning to present a budget to you tonight that made painful choices, and that assumed no federal help, as the landscape was unclear as to just what form that might take. That budget was built around a cut of about $900 million from this year's budget.
These are deep, difficult cuts, especially following this year with its almost $500 million in cuts already. Since then, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed its version of a stimulus bill, and it appears that the U.S. Senate is poised to act quickly. We can expect to know exactly what help is forthcoming around the third week in February, but it is clear that we will have a substantial amount of money to help soften the blow of this economy on state government.
We consulted with the leadership in the General Assembly, and agreed that it made no sense to submit an extremely painful budget which we knew would have to be substantially changed. Accordingly, we plan to wait until the federal government acts, and then fashion a budget that incorporates the effects of that stimulus package.
If the federal action is completed as we expect by the end of February, we will submit the Tennessee budget about three to four weeks later.
Please let me make it clear that no proposed version of the stimulus bill is any panacea or silver bullet; substantial cuts are still needed under any circumstances. Furthermore, it is vital to remember that this stimulus money is one-time funds. While there are doubtless states which will use this money to simply push the problem back two years, Tennessee will not do this. When we present a budget in March, we will recognize the money we receive as temporary help, and present a multi-year outline for how we will use these funds to ease the transition from current spending levels to what we anticipate for 2011 and beyond. In other words, we will use them to help soften the landing, not to ignore that the hard ground is there. And we will remain cautious about the use of rainy day funds, as no one knows how long this recession will last.
We will keep the Speakers and the Finance Chairs apprised of the situation as it develops so that there are no surprises, and I will ask to come before you again to present the budget.
You've heard me over the years use the analogy of flying an airplane; when the weather gets rough it's back to basics-wings level, nose on the horizon. While it is stormy now, the wings are level and the passengers are safe. But it is definitely a time for the pilot to give full and undivided attention to the instruments, and that is what we are doing.
We are going to guide state government through these economic times, but I will be frank and say that I worry about a lot of my fellow Tennesseans tonight, including some who work for the state of Tennessee. Jobs are so important; they give confidence and a sense of independence, they let you provide for your family, they offer security. For me, jobs are a part of my identity; I've never been unhappier or more adrift than when I've been unemployed.
We can't fix the national economy, but we can do everything in our power to support the people of our state through these times. And we can keep our eyes on the basics and make sure we are positioned in the best possible way when the economy improves again.
One immediate concern is health care: when people lose their jobs, they often lose their health insurance as well. We know that additional people will qualify for TennCare, and we are planning for that in the budget. We have opened CoverTN up to those who have lost their jobs, and trust that this will help some as well.
These avenues of help are well-meaning but still patchwork, and this recession has truly underlined for me something that I've believed for a long time: that we need a national solution for health insurance. Our health care system has become antiquated and unfair, and I deeply hope that a new President and a new Congress can fashion the solution that Tennessee and America deserve.
Nothing is more basic than education, and it has always been my number one priority. We have made a lot of progress in both flush and tight times. When the money has been available we've improved teacher salaries, especially in rural areas, we've restructured the BEP to make it fairer and added hundreds of millions of dollars annually to it; we've invested over a billion dollars in buildings on our college campuses. And when money has been tight, we haven't sat back but worked on other important areas.
Last winter, our state Board of Education toughened our education standards and aligned them better with the needs of business and college entrance requirements. I'm pleased to say Tennessee has received recognition across the nation for its work in this regard. We will also get the agreement of the U.S. Department of Education to reset our No Child Left Behind benchmarks to reflect the new standards so that we can make a smooth transition, rather than immediately driving a large number of schools into non-compliance.
Just this past fall, the Board of Education adopted new rules for the certification of teachers. These changes will bring in highly qualified men and women from a broader pool of talent than just our colleges of education. If you believe as I do that in the end it all comes down to the teacher in the classroom, then these changes are going to be profound.
I believe in the basics, and I believe if you set high standards and fill our classrooms with good teachers, we'll do just fine.
I had an experience this past fall that I wish every eighth grader in Tennessee could share: I visited the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany-the mother ship. That visit was a concrete lesson for me about the factory of the future, and it's that glimpse of the future that I wish our students could see. The Wolfsburg factory is enormous-I was told it is the largest factory of any kind under one roof anywhere in the world-but my strongest impression was just how few people were actually on the factory floor.
I visited one enormous hall where the drive trains and chassis were being joined. There were creaks and hydraulic noises and flashing lights - equipment and robots working - but very few people. They called it the "ghost hall", and I believe you could turn off all the lights and it would continue to churn out those Volkswagens just fine.
The lesson here is not that factory work is obsolete; far from it. The Wolfsburg complex employs 54,000 people in good, high paying jobs. But most of them don't position and bolt and weld. They invent, they design, they purchase, they contract, they do the logistics to make sure the machines have parts to work with, and they program those machines and fix them when they break. And yes, some of them still load parts and check results, but you can already see a future in which those jobs get fewer and farther between.
What I'd like to show Tennessee's eighth graders is this: if you want to work in a factory and build things, that is a fine and honorable way to make a life for yourself and the family you'll have someday. But the lesson from Wolfsburg is that you need a good education to play; you need more education than you think you do. In the years ahead, making things is something you'll do less and less with your hands and more and more with your minds.
Stay in school. Take lots of math. Graduate. Go to college.
I started out as governor much concerned with finances; with budgets and TennCare and getting us on a sound financial footing. The last few years have concentrated on our children; Pre-K, K-12 education, children's health, children's services. There have been a lot of small victories: were you aware, for example, that by the end of 2009 we expect to be one of only six accredited Children's Services Departments in the United States, or that the number of children in state custody has dropped from over 10,000 to about 7,200? Were you aware that, through our Imagination Library program, we currently serve nearly 207,000 Tennessee children in all counties, and that we have delivered over 6.1 million books since October 2004?
Someone asked me not too long ago what I would work on if I could have a third term, and my answer was "higher education." It's the remaining leg of the education stool, and while we have made huge capital investments, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
We lag the national averages in the proportion of our citizens who have post-secondary degrees, and if we let that continue, we'll be pushed increasingly to the backwaters of the world economy. We have such a wealth of opportunities right now, and it would be a tragedy to forfeit them because we failed to equip our children with the education they need.
The costs of Tennessee higher education continue to grow, and the ability of state government to cover them is limited. That has meant raising tuition, and every increase means that much more difficulty for some student, that much more likelihood of abandoning the dream of a college degree. It's time now to fix that.
When I was in the business world, I was always the little guy. When I ran a managed care company, I competed in many cases against Prudential, or CIGNA, or Kaiser. A lesson I learned very clearly was that you often can't be the biggest, or the richest, but you can still try to be the smartest. Over these next couple of years, let's figure out how to do that.
In Tennessee, we have wisely insulated higher education from the rest of state government; through boards of trustees that have a great deal of independence and responsibility, and that is an appropriate and effective way to do so. To the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, the Board of Regents, and the THEC commissioners: tonight I ask you to step outside the box and work with me and the General Assembly to figure out how we can keep higher education affordable, how we can get more kids to graduate; how we can fashion a true 21st century higher education system for our state. I've spoken about health care, and about education, two of the basics. Let's turn now to job creation. How do we keep focused in good times and tough ones on creating good jobs here in Tennessee? We're in a strong position right now, and we need to capitalize on it. We've had some huge successes this past year; Volkswagen in Chattanooga and Hemlock in Clarksville are among the biggest, and will be catalysts for enormous job creation. Despite the economy, or perhaps because of it, there is a lot of interest in Tennessee. When times get tough, businesses look to places with productive workforces, look to places with low taxes and costs of doing business-like Tennessee. We're going to keep working and investing in creating jobs, and positioning our state so that when the economy comes back strong, we can ride it up.
While we are interested in a broad range of business, there is one area where we have a great toehold and prospects, and that is the area of clean energy technology. While no one knows exactly which specific technologies will ultimately prevail, it seems beyond dispute that "green energy" will be an area of vast importance and growth in the decades ahead. There is great opportunity even in traditional businesses, like auto manufacturing, and we have companies here in Tennessee that are world leaders in automotive innovation, from the development of electric vehicles to clean fuels. We are extraordinarily well-positioned here and in the next couple of years, I want to wrap this up even tighter. Here's an idea about how we might go about that: develop a Solar Institute in Tennessee that is the basic research leader in making solar power practical.
Here's what I mean: over the years, a few very special research labs around the world have brought scientists together and provided them with the tools and the intellectual community needed to make big things happen. One of the first and most successful of these was the Cavendish Lab in England, where much of the basic research that led to nuclear power and nuclear weapons took place. The Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, where Einstein worked for much of his life, is another example. And in the private sector, Bell Labs, back when AT&T was a regulated company, gave us the transistor. Solar power today is a tiny part of the power equation. It remains far too expensive, and it's ripe for breakthroughs, there's a lot of basic science to be done. We have the pieces-the building blocks- here in Tennessee to be major players in this area. Thanks to you in this room, we are already a national leader in cellulosic ethanol- which is a form of solar power. We have major industrial companies in our state with expertise and capital; Sharp in Memphis and here in Middle Tennessee, the multi-billion dollar new investments of Hemlock, which is the world's largest supplier of polycrystalline silicon - the basic raw material for solar cells.
And most importantly, we have in Oak Ridge-in combination with UT Knoxville-the research tools like the supercomputer complex and the spallation neutron source that can provide the draw and gravitas not only for scientists from all over the world to come work here, but also for Tennessee's brightest young math and science students to stay and contribute in the years ahead. I have spoken to the leadership at the lab, and believe they are up to the challenge.
I ask each of you: the General Assembly, the private sector, our university system, and Oak Ridge to work with me in the months ahead to invent a way to become a national leader in basic solar research - to invent a solar institute. If we can, it will pay huge dividends to our state and our citizens for decades to come.
We have always been a resilient and common sense people here in Tennessee; I think it may be our pioneer DNA coming out time and again over the years. These economic times will test that resilience and yes, test that common sense, once again. I'm confident that we will emerge from these troubles stronger than ever.
We are going to work together to soften the blow of this economy to our citizens and keep our state sound.
I'm going to send you a budget in March that is conservative and we're going to use any money the federal government sends us carefully and wisely. The next governor and the next General Assembly are going to inherit from us a sound and well managed state.
When I was in the business world, I hate to admit it, but I ran my company better when times were tough. We're going to do the same in Tennessee. Feet on the ground and eyes on the horizon; it has worked well for a long time and will do so again here and now.
Thank you for the privilege of serving as governor, thank you for your friendship, may God bless each of you, and let's get to work.