State of the State Address of Governor Sonny Perdue 10 January 2007
* Governor Perdue often deviates from prepared remarks*
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, President Pro Tem Johnson, Speaker Pro Tem Burkhalter… Members of the General Assembly. Constitutional officers and members of thejudiciary. The Consular Corps and other distinguished guests. And, most of all, myfellow Georgians:
I come before you today to report on the state of the state. And I'm proud to say thatafter four years of united effort, Georgians have brought forth a state renewed, growingand stronger than ever before.
To understand the State of the State, we must not simply look at Georgia as asnapshot. Georgia is a changing, dynamic action video.
We have laid the foundation and are beginning to build on the progress that will moveGeorgia from a good state to a great state, a state of the future.
This afternoon, we reflect on the fact that since 2002, Georgia's population has grownby nearly half a million people…more than 252,000 new jobs have been created…andGeorgia's economy, as measured by GDP, has grown by more than 18% to anastonishing $363 billion.
If Georgia were a stand alone country, we would have the 17th largest economy in theworld.
This is the type of growth and prosperity that everyone in this chamber can take pridein.
We have begun well. But it's only a beginning. And we do not gather today tocongratulate ourselves on what we have done, but rather to challenge ourselves tofinish what we have not yet completed.
What we do today is for the future. The great philosopher Yogi Berra pointed out that"it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."
He also said "the future ain't what it used to be," and that's certainly true for Georgia.Four years ago the skies were cloudy but today it's looking bright. And that's why we'rehere today - it's about the future.
But the best thing about the future, as Yogi would say, is that it's all ahead of us.As public servants, we have a sacred duty to serve our fellow citizens – to give themtheir rightful voice in these hallowed halls.
And, yes, service is a large part of representative government. But there's somethingelse…leadership.
I submit to you that we are elected not only to serve, but to lead. As I stated four yearsago, I believe we need to lead in creating a safer, healthier, better educated, growingGeorgia.
Yes, we serve the people to the best of our abilities. We act as an umbrella during thedownpours of life.
But we also lead. We take our cue from the people of Georgia, and we lead on theissues that matter to them. They expect us to work hard, to work smart and to findinnovative solutions that work for them.
Just like any good football team that's building a winning program – we've spent the lastfour years working on our fundamentals, our blocking and tackling and special teams.
We've worked to lay a foundation for success.
And, now, we're ready to win championships.
My fellow citizens, this state is poised for greatness. We are standing on the brink. Andour challenge this year, and in the years to come, is to build a state we can be proud topass on to the next generation.
But what are the hallmarks of that great state? What will it look like?It's one whose kids are well cared for – whose children grow up challenged andprepared for the opportunities of the future.
A great state is one where business thrives as the result of a skilled, educatedworkforce. It's a place some of the most successful national and internationalcompanies call home.
These businesses, both large and small, are the driving force behind a robust, growingeconomy.
But a great state is not only somewhere to work, but somewhere you can play – whereyou can enjoy the outdoors, take in the arts, learn about history…and, most importantly,be a family.
A great state is one whose people have access to health care, but beyond that, theyhave a choice in which doctor they see and how much they spend.My ultimate goal, and I think the goal of every person sitting in this chamber today, is toimplement the types of policies that will make this vision of Georgia a reality.
This year and over the next four years, let us resolve to continue building on our pastsuccess.
We've made great strides, but we can – and will – do even more – through passionate,progressive, principled leadership that uses facts – not fantasy – as the basis fordecision making.
And I believe that's what the people of this state have elected us to do.
There's a theme you've probably heard me mention once or twice over the last fouryears – stewardship. And it's something I'll continue to talk about over the next fouryears – because it was ingrained in me from boyhood. It's a word that embodies whywe choose the path of public service.
It's about taking care of our resources and laying the groundwork for the 21st century.I know most of you in this chamber have experienced the emotion of having a child,grandchild, niece or nephew brought into this world.
And I believe you've felt that deep, natural desire to make the world a better place forthem, for your family.
There's a Native American saying that I think sums it up: We do not inherit the earthfrom our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Two years ago, we took a confident step toward managing Georgia's resources for thefuture when we implemented the Land Conservation Act.
That act defined bipartisanship, with support on both sides of the aisle, as well as frombusiness and environmental groups across the state.
Well, this year, I want to do more to keep Georgia pristine and beautiful for ourgrandchildren. We started by creating a $100 million program in 2005, and this year Iam recommending we commit $50 million more to preserve our lands for the enjoymentof generations to come.
Land like the Paulding Forest. Our distinguished Speaker has advocated theconservation of this land for a long time.
It's something he's passionate about – and he's not alone. If we don't act now, we maynever…ever get the chance again.Another integral part of protecting Georgia's resources is keeping them pristine for useby our citizens and visitors from around the world.
We have a long-standing tradition of hunting and fishing in our state, and last year,voters preserved that right in our constitution. Each year residents and tourists spendnearly $600 million on fishing alone, for a total economic impact of more than $1.5billion.
But we can do even better. We will turn Georgia into a fisherman's paradise.That's why I am proposing a $19 million investment for an initiative we call Go FishGeorgia.
This state-wide program will create world-class resources for fishing and boatingenthusiasts – new ramps along a bass trail that will include 15 sites on Georgia's majorrivers and reservoirs capable of hosting large bass tournaments.
With premier tournaments generating upwards of $20 million each, we know these aresound investments.
Fishing is a huge industry in the South, and we are behind many of our neighbors inattracting anglers. We will no longer sit by and watch as tourists drive through Georgiaon their way to surrounding states to fish.
But natural beauty isn't all that Georgia has to offer. We are home to some of theregion's most treasured historical sites. Among these are our Civil War memorials,museums, battlefields and cemeteries.
2011 will mark the 150th anniversary of the conflict, and we all know that few stateswere as impacted by the Civil War as Georgia.
Heritage tourists will be commemorating this occasion. They spend an average of 30%more per trip than average travelers, and we want them to come to Georgia.
So in order to prepare for the upcoming milestone, I am recommending that we invest$5 million to develop Resaca Battlefield, and to revitalize and restore our historic CivilWar sites.
Known for our hospitality, we always look forward to welcoming new people to Georgia– including welcoming new companies to Georgia.In fact, in the last few years we've seen record amounts of new investment in our state– $5.76 billion in 2006 alone. Companies like Kia, HP, Gulfstream and Aflac have alllocated or expanded here in Georgia.Our world is, indeed, getting flatter. The rapid expansion of globalization is a sterlingopportunity for Georgia to gain new business.
That's why we're planning to launch a new international initiative – Global Georgia.Former Governor George Busbee put us on the map 30 years ago in international tradeand together, today, we will build skyscrapers on the foundations he laid.
We are working tirelessly to cultivate new relationships with businesses around theworld. Last year alone, we made more than 31 trade missions to 23 countries. But wecan do more.
We have 10 international offices spanning the globe, we're getting ready to open one inChina, and one in India is on the horizon.
Our plan is to grow the Georgia brand in emerging economic engines like Asia, while wealso work to strengthen our presence in established markets like Canada.
That's why I'm recommending to the General Assembly that we ramp up our investmentin international marketing by 135%. This additional $5.1 million will open the door evenwider to the world for Georgia companies.
I look forward to working with Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle as goodwillambassadors to these business prospects.
We're focusing on the main things – the fundamentals – and how they serve as thefoundation for success.
And I believe all of you in this chamber will agree that few issues we face are morefundamental than the health of our citizens.
Health care is an area where innovation is an absolute necessity. We cannot continueto throw traditional, short-term solutions at long-term challenges.
We owe it to the people of this state to start from the beginning, to challenge ourselves–and each other – to find new solutions and new ways of meeting health care needs.
I am committed to building a new strategy. The first part of this strategy is prevention –we need to challenge our citizens to take individual responsibility. Not only to eat rightand exercise, but to take ownership over their health outcomes – to adopt a medicalhome, and to get regular checkups and screening.
Georgia has risen sharply in the ranks over the last few years to become number one inthe southeast, and third in the nation for vaccination coverage. Number one is a goalwe should strive to attain for all the rest of our health measures.That's why we put $10 million in the Georgia Research Alliance to support vaccinebasedantiviral life science research in this growing industry.
The other principle our health policy will be founded on is the fact that we need atransparent marketplace.
I want to create a system where Georgians can go online, look up doctors and hospitalsand compare cost and quality.
Let's give our citizens the power to make health care decisions based on marketprinciples, the control to choose how much they spend and where they seek care.We must also focus on solutions for rural health care. My vision is to create financiallyviable regional systems that meet the needs of the communities they serve.
This is the driving idea behind the Rural Health Access Project. This project seeks aunited effort to promote health care as a strategic industry in rural Georgia…To increase access to primary care… to create stable networks… and to usetechnology to lower costs and improve outcomes.
I know medical access is a concern to many Georgians. And the cost of state-providedhealth coverage is a growing part of our budget. To deal with this challenge, we areasking for $176 million to continue funding health insurance for our teachers and stateemployees. And at the same time we will continue to support Medicaid and PeachCarefor uninsured children and people who need it.
In fact, I call on the President and Congress to meet their obligation to the StateChildren's Health Insurance Program – the program we all know as PeachCare.Today PeachCare is the fourth largest children's health insurance program in thecountry, providing health insurance for over 270,000 of Georgia's children. Georgia hasexcelled in accomplishing the mission of this program. But we can't fund this Federallyinitiatedpartnership program alone.
Georgia stands ready, willing and able to pay our part, but we need our Federalpartners to meet their fair share of the responsibility.
We are also planning to set aside $100 million to meet our future obligations for stateemployee benefits. This is required for all states by new national accounting standards.It may not be a shiny new program, but it is the right thing to do for our state's long-termfiscal health and for our state's retirees.Just like putting money in our rainy day fund, we have to stick to smart, sound fiscalpolicies. And this means that we start putting money away today to help pay thesecosts tomorrow.
It's by sticking to these conservative fiscal standards that earned us the best creditrating in the nation.
As you remember last year, I announced that I would ask this General Assembly to cuttaxes on retirement income for Georgia's seniors.
With the money they save off state income taxes, retirees can better cover the costs ofprescription drugs and healthcare, or spend more time with their grandchildren.
I think we all agree that we need to take a long, hard, comprehensive look at tax policy -and to come up with a fair approach that meets our needs and spurs economicdevelopment in Georgia.
Another necessity for growth in our state is the development of forward-thinkingsolutions to our energy needs.
We are aggressively pursuing options for alternative energy. Georgia has developedtop-notch research facilities in the area of biofuels, and we are blessed with anabundance of natural resources to support this research.
In order to continue this support, I am proposing that we pass legislation to exemptmaterial and equipment used to build biofuel facilities from state taxes.
It's important that we continue to seek innovation and new solutions, but it's alsoimportant that we keep our eyes on the main thing.
And perhaps the most fundamental of all government's duties is to educate our children.I know all of you have heard me say many times over the last few years that our toppriority is education.
Well, I'm here to tell you again that my priorities have not changed. Education is thesingle most important factor in the future prosperity of our state.
That's why we are keeping our teachers the highest-paid in the Southeast - and we'redoing that this year with a 3% raise for all educators. With step increases, that meansmore than half will receive a 6% raise.
Since 2003, we have seen vast improvements in education. Some of the mostimportant gains have been in our students' graduation rate – which has increased sevenand a half percent over the last four years.
In fact, that rate, over 70%, is at an all-time high – and so is our national SAT ranking.But today I make the same challenge as before: While we've seen terrific progress, wemust do better.
Last year, you supported my initiative to place a graduation coach in every Georgia highschool.
Our graduation coaches have been in place since September - that's just over fourmonths. In that time, they have not only identified the 42,000 of Georgia's highschoolers who don't have the credits they need to graduate - they have also createdindividualized plans to graduate for 32,000 students.
But we know that many of our kids never even make it to high school. Last year, morethan 2,000 students dropped out before 9th grade – folks, these are children who are 12,13, 14 years old.
I can't stress enough that these aren't just numbers – these are Georgia's children.That's why this year I'm asking you to expand the graduation coach program to middleschools. Our middle school coaches will work with their high school counterparts inhelping students transition.
They will help families plan and prepare for the rigors of high school. And they will helpstudents make the connection between the skills they learn in school and the skillsthey'll need in the real world.
I want to make sure our coaches have the support they need to do their jobs. The mostcommon need they see is basic academic tutoring.
So I am recommending funding for a statewide online tutoring program to reach allstudents. I want this program to be available to students after school and on weekendsso they don't fall behind on issues they may not have understood in class.
Yesterday I challenged the business community to connect with these coaches – andthey assured me they are prepared to rise to the challenge. Today, I'm asking that wefollow through on our part as well.
Georgia is on its way to becoming a national and international leader. We have startedthe process, and we've been building up our momentum for the next four years andbeyond.
Georgia is a great state, but no one in this chamber should be satisfied until it's thebest.
This is what brings us together, what serves as our common purpose.Although some of us sit on different sides of the aisle, there will always be one areawhere we can come together…
We are all Georgians.
We will lead boldly, we will work tirelessly and we will serve the people of this state withevery ounce of brains and sweat we can muster.
If we do this, if we make this pledge to one another, we will deliver something worthy toGeorgians.
We can deliver them a state of the future – a state that leads in protecting its resources,in growing jobs, in educating its children and in providing for the health of its people.
This will be our legacy. So that when we leave this place – this chamber, this golddome, this city and even this life – we will have made a difference – for our families andfor our state.
We will hand down a longstanding dream, a dream of mothers and fathers andgrandparents everywhere – we will hand down a world better and brighter than the onewe grew up in.
I feel blessed to live in this great state. When I stand at our beautiful coastline – and Isee the sun shining out on the horizon – I know it's always dawning a New Day overGeorgia.
Thank you. God Bless you. And God bless the great state of Georgia.