Following is the full text of Gov. Don Siegelman's annual State of the State Address, delivered January 8 in Alabama's Old House Chamber.
Three years ago, I promised to make Alabama the Education State. Since I took the oath of office, I have spent every day fighting to improve our schools. And I will not stop fighting... not now, not ever.
We've made some real progress over the last three years, but those accomplishments were stifled last year when our constitution forced school cuts for the fourteenth time in 50 years.
But this year, when we faced more cuts, I took a stand and said no more, no more cuts to our schools, no matter what. And three weeks ago, for the first time in history, we stopped proration dead in its tracks and stopped our schools from getting worse.
Now it''s time to fight on, and make them better.
There''s one thing I''ve learned over the last three years. There are forces in this state fighting us each and every day, every step of the way -- powerful forces, with powerful friends, fighting to put their narrow special interests ahead of the people's best interests.
Since 1901, our constitution has enshrined their power, but I'm here tonight to let you know that I will fight them every step of the way, fight for our families, fight for our children, fight for our schools.
I will fight to reform our constitution, take power away from the special interests, and give it back to the people. The people and I will fight because we are right, and the special interests are wrong.
We fight for education. They settle for proration. We are right, and they are wrong.
We fight to make things better. They settle for things not getting worse. We are right, and they are wrong.
We fight for change. They settle for more of the same. We are right, and they are wrong.
I believe that every child in Alabama, regardless of where they're born or to whom, regardless of the color of their skin, whether they're rich or poor, every child in Alabama should have the chance to reach their God-given potential through education.
I believe that the right to education begins with early learning opportunities so that every child gets off to a healthy start and is ready, prepared and excited to learn; and I will always believe that every Alabama child who stays in school, stays out of trouble, and makes their grades has earned the right to go to college tuition free.
I believe that every Alabamian should expect a good job with good wages, jobs that are challenging enough to keep our children in Alabama, our families together, and jobs that pay enough to give Alabama families the hope and dream of a higher quality of life.
I believe we owe a debt to our seniors, who built this great state and gave us a chance at life. I believe our families should be able to feel safe in their homes and in their communities.
This is a dream I have for Alabama, and I say why not?
Alabama kids deserve an education that's second to none. So why not give them one? Why not? Because our constitution keeps the special interests in charge. Our Constitution perpetuates a system where every step forward means a fight, where every bold dream is dismissed as wishful thinking.
While Alabama families and most Alabama businesses pay their fair share to support our schools, we've got a constitution where large out-of-state corporations that make the most, pay the least, and those people who have the least, pay the most.
As a result, our schools don't have the resources they need. Our constitution ensures that our schools and our children are the first to get hurt, and when we cut our schools, all of our progress is put on hold.
Now I've been the most pro-business governor, and we've run the most pro-business administration in Alabama's history. All we're asking is for simple fairness. All we're asking, is that these big corporations, that don't pay their fair share, pitch in and support our school children.
So why not reform our constitution? Well, the special interest lobby machine is no doubt cranking up right now to tell you why not... to trick you into believing that what's good for them is somehow good for you, and let me tell you, they're good at it. They've been doing it for a hundred years.
They'll tell Alabama families that it's in their interest to keep power centralized in Montgomery, and away from the people. The powerful special interests will claim that the lack of money in our schools is somebody else's fault -- anybody else's fault, but their own.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it is their fault. It's not right, and we must make it right no matter what it takes, no matter how long it takes. We will fight, and we will win. We will reform our outdated constitution, take the power out of Montgomery and give it back to the people, so that we can finally give our children the education they need and deserve.
Alabama families are counting on us. Alabama's school children are counting on us. Alabama's future depends on us.
Let's take a look at the state of our schools. I am proud to say that, despite the hardships, despite the lack of resources, our students are learning more and achieving more than ever before.
Our superintendents are managing our schools carefully, making sure their limited resources go directly to the classroom. With tenure eliminated, our principals are held accountable for school performance.
We have set high standards for our teachers, and our teachers have met the challenge. We've gone from the bottom to the top eight states in the nation in the number of National Board Certified teachers, and beginning this year, for the first time in 20 years, we'll begin testing our teachers again. And all new school employees, including teachers, are now subject to the toughest national criminal background check.
Working with leaders from Alabama's business community, we wrote a model plan for early learning and opened 35 new early learning sites. By the end of this year, there will be one in every county.
We're building more and better schools in which to teach and learn. We've reduced class sizes in the most critical grades, and by the end of this year, nearly 90 percent of all portable classrooms will be gone from our schoolyards.
You know one thing is for certain. Our students work hard. They work hard, because that's what their Alabama values teach them to do. Even during these tough times, the results are clear. Test scores are at an all-time high, and drop-out rates are at an all time low.
Our students are meeting tougher standards. Alabama is the only state in the nation that requires its high school students to take and pass the four most critical courses, four years in a row, and pass them all in order to graduate, and our colleges and universities are preparing our students to meet the job demands of the 21st Century.
But our progress extends beyond our schools.
When it comes to recruiting high paying jobs for working families, no state can compete with Alabama. Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Boeing, IPSCO Steel, Navistar, Lockheed Martin, and many more are on the way. In the past few years, even while the economy has suffered, we've created more than 65,000 new jobs, and attracted more than $10 billion in new business investments.
Under my leadership, Alabama is investing in its own research sector... With the national center for space, science technology at UAH, a new national medical research center at UAB, cancer research at the University of South Alabama and automotive research and design to be centered at Ft. McClellan in Anniston, in association with Auburn University.
We've initiated the largest road and bridge construction project in the last 50 years.
Together, we're making Alabama's communities safer. For the first time in 18 years, we've toughened child-care standards, and now we've raised standards for those who give care to our seniors. This year we graduated our first new state trooper class in 4 years. And we've cracked down on drunk driving, domestic violence and deadbeat parents.
These are all important strides forward, and creative changes that are impacting Alabama, but let no one in this chamber, or in this state be lured into thinking that our progress is anywhere close to where it could be.
In Alabama today, in some schools, there aren't enough textbooks, so the students have to share during the day, and they can't take them home at night. Students have to sell candy and magazines to buy schools supplies. There's no money for computer labs or new books for libraries, much less money for college scholarships or universal access to early learning opportunities.
In the last special session, I fought against proration and for the first time in Alabama history, we prevented cuts to our schools, but we still have a constitution that centralizes power in the hands of a few special interests, and blocks progress.
If anyone here needs proof that the special interests are in charge, take a look at the last legislative session. I proposed to close corporate tax loopholes and make giant, out-of-state corporations finally pay their fair share to support our schools.
They refused. The special interest had another idea: a tax on you. I vetoed their tax, but you know what? The special interest got a tax on your telephones, a tax that will make millions of you pay millions more, a step backward in tax fairness.
You know what I learned? I learned that if we ever want to fund our schools the way we should, if we ever want to make our tax system fair, we have to rip the power out of the hands of the special interests, get it out of Montgomery and give it back to the people.
And we do that in two ways. First, with a constitutional convention that puts the people in charge. And second, by giving the people more control over their local schools. So, I am challenging you: Stand up to the special interests. Stand up for Alabama families. Stand up for Alabama schools.
Take Alabama back. Now is the time. So tonight, I challenge you to put a call for a constitutional convention on the ballot in November. This fight will not be easy, but I will not stop.
I will fight to let the people vote on whether they want a constitutional convention, fight so the people can make their own decisions about education in their local community, and I will fight so that the people don't have to bow and scrape to the special interests here in Montgomery.
And when a new constitution is complete, we will make sure that you, the people of Alabama, have the last word, that you have the right to vote on it. To the Legislature, I say, trust the people who have trusted you.
Alabama is at a crossroads, and we all have a choice. We can keep doing the same old things the same old way, or we can fight for a new beginning. I choose to fight.
And while we fight for a new constitution, I challenge you to put an amendment on the ballot in November that gives local communities the constitutional authority to decide what's best for their own local schools. Our outdated Constitution forces local communities, to come to Montgomery hat in hand, to beg the Legislature and the special interests just to have the right to vote on whether they can make changes in their local schools. This system didn't make sense in 1901, much less in 2002, over a hundred years later. Enough is enough.
It's not only our schools that need help. Our families, during these tough economic times, need a helping hand as well. So I ask you to end the practice of predatory lending, so that our families have a chance to get back on their feet. And I will offer a new incentive to businesses coming into Alabama... to use Alabama contractors, Alabama products, and Alabama workers.
Next, I ask you to show respect to the men and women who serve in the Alabama National Guard. Alabamians who leave us to serve in the Guard should have their families protected and their jobs guaranteed when they come home. I urge you: extend to the Alabama Guard the protections the federal government gives to every member of the armed services.
For our seniors, I ask you to pass a most important initiative. Too many of our seniors are forced to choose between medicine and food, while the big drug companies continue to raise their prices. It's wrong, and it must be stopped.
Congressional leaders promised help, but they failed to deliver on a prescription drug benefit program. I'm not waiting any longer. During this session, we will create a prescription drug program that will lower the cost of drugs for Alabama seniors.
One responsibility that remains constant is our obligation to ensure that Alabama families are kept safe. I ask you to pass my crime package that will ensure: that violent offenders serve their entire sentence, that juvenile thugs serve adult time, that repeat adult sexual predators who violently rape or violently sodomize a child are subject to the death penalty.
And I demand that you give new rights to victims and toughen punishment for the most cowardly act of all, domestic violence.
Finally, while September 11th will forever be seared into our memories, we need to ensure security here at home. Tonight I propose the toughest measures, including the death penalty, for those who commit terrorist acts in Alabama.
My friends, these are real priorities that value our heritage and honor our values. Good schools, a first rate education. A helping hand for working families. A prescription drug benefit program for our seniors, and tough laws that keep our families safe.
But what is most important, is a commitment from you to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the school children of Alabama. It's time we fulfill our dreams to give our children the opportunity to reach their God given potential through education. It's time we fulfill our dreams to give our children an education that is second to none. It's time we fulfill our dreams of giving every child an early learning opportunity and every student a chance to go to college.
It's time we end the special interest domination that has ruled our state and held us back for over a hundred years. It's time we throw them out, and give the power back to the people.
It's time we reform our constitution so that we can finally give our school children the education they deserve and the quality jobs that they need.
I know where I stand. The question is, where will you stand? With the people or with the special interests? With us or with them? Alabama families await your answer, and, so do I.
So tonight, I ask you once again to stand up with me and fight.
Stand up and for Alabama school children. Stand up and for Alabama families. Stand up and for Alabama's future. I believe with your help, and with God's blessings, we can take the great state of Alabama and make it even better.
Thank you, good night and God bless the great state of Alabama.