Connecticut State of the State Address 2003

Following is the full text of Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland's State of the State speech, delivered Jan. 8, 2003.

Madame Speaker, Madame President, Senator Sullivan, Mr. Chief Justice, reverend clergy, members of the General Assembly, friends, and guests. Congratulations to you all.

I want to give a special welcome to the newly elected members. I also want to thank the leadership, and all the members of both chambers, for your service to Connecticut. During the next two years, the decisions you make will help shape the landscape of our state, and the dreams of our people. The time has never been more ripe for fresh ideas and the courage to pursue them.

Over the last eight years this state has enjoyed a remarkable time of prosperity. Your ideas, your vision, and your commitment have helped build a better and stronger Connecticut. I look forward to working with all of you as we continue Connecticut's progress.

We are indeed blessed to live in one of the greatest places in the world. Our relatively small state is a giant -- in education, technology, and natural beauty.

We are blessed that the people we serve are hard working and innovative, and resilient and determined.

When it comes to our quality of life, and the quality of our people, we are one of the biggest states in the union. We can all take pride in Connecticut and we should all take a full measure of pride in each other.

The last two years have not been easy ones. Our state and nation have had some difficult times -- the aftermath of September 11th, the downturn in the national economy, and the prospect of war. We suffered a dent in our sense of security, a loss of confidence, and perhaps to some extent, a loss of faith.

These same kinds of forces were at work 100 years ago, when social and economic unrest brought uncertain times to America and throughout Europe. The events leading to World War I were already unfolding. Scientific discoveries shook society's moral and religious foundations the same discoveries that paved the road to the Industrial Revolution and changed the world forever.

For some, change has always been equated with a loss of innocence.

We are at a similar moment in Connecticut and American history. When I took the oath of office for the first time eight years ago, our state was at a turning point. We were still in an economic downturn, we had lost 160,000 jobs, and people especially our young people were leaving our state in droves.

Eight years later, we have changed all that. We've regained our sense of balance.

Our cities are safe, crime is at an all-time low, and historic investments have been made in our cities, in our schools, in our state parks, in Long Island Sound and in open space preservation.

More families are now calling Connecticut home than ever before. Admissions at our public universities are at an all-time high. We have stopped the brain drain and young people see job opportunities right here in their own backyard. Forty thousand people have left welfare and are now proudly working for themselves and for their children.

We have improved our education standards. We've raised expectations for our students. We have the best teachers and the best students in America. We've made sure that all the things we love about Connecticut will be here for our children and grandchildren to love as well.

As we face a national economic downturn, it would be easy to forget all the good we have done. The fundamental question we face today, as we begin our new terms of office is this: "How can we preserve all that is good and great about Connecticut and prepare ourselves and the people we serve for the challenges of the future?"

We must pledge to master change, or it will master us.... because the only constant in the Land of Steady Habits is in fact, change itself. As a people, as a state, and as a government, we are constantly evolving.

Tomorrow's challenges will be different from those we face today. We will meet them head on, because that is what we have committed ourselves to do by the oath we have taken today.

Today's opening ceremonies are a celebration of our democratic process. But we cannot celebrate the great foundations and profound truths of our system of government, without accepting the responsibilities that go with them. And a fundamental responsibility of government is to be responsible to the bottom line.

As public servants, we cannot choose what is easy we are obligated to choose what is necessary. The fact that the decisions may be difficult, is a hollow excuse for inaction. Making tough choices defines leadership. Inaction, will mortgage our children's future.

I say, don't wear the uniform if you are unwilling to go into the game and represent the team. And the team is the State of Connecticut and the people we serve. We have had four sessions on this deficit, which will now be more than $2 billion -- and we still have yet to take final action.

We have a choice we can permit inaction and division to rule the issues of the day, or we can choose the only proven path to results: hard work, tough choices, and compromise. Let's show the people of Connecticut that we can govern effectively in good times and in bad. We can balance the budget, and I pledge to lead you through that process each and every day until we accomplish our task.

One year ago, we marked seven years of economic expansion seven years of businesses growing, of people buying more homes, bigger homes seven years of expansion in every sector of the economy. Now, the economy is contracting, companies are downsizing, and households are tightening their belts. They are all living within their budgets.

Government cannot be immune to the same forces that affect each and every family in this country. Connecticut cannot afford to be out of step with the forces at work on Main Street. Whether you're a shopkeeper, or running a travel agency or a major insurance company, certain economic times permit expansion, and others demand consolidation and innovation.

We cannot allow a national economic cycle to cripple our future. We must take decisive, fundamental action to maintain our competitive edge and preserve our extraordinary quality of life.

In my budget address in February, I will speak directly to the size of government. I will propose that we reform our government to make it leaner, more focused, and more responsive to the people it serves. The deficit by that time will be at least $2 billion dollars. This government has outgrown the taxpayer's ability to pay for it, and I will take the necessary action to cut it down to size.

One-third of our state budget paid for by the generous taxpayers of Connecticut is wages and benefits for 52,000 state employees. Our state employees have had a spectacular eight years. There has been a 43 percent increase in pay, and an 89 percent increase in benefits.

These are the facts: state employees have one of the most generous pension plans in America, a health care plan so generous a similar one does not even exist in the private sector, and if you retire from state government, you get your health care coverage for the rest of your life.

In the private sector, wage freezes, contributions on health care, and layoffs occur every day without negotiations, and without alternatives. A lot has been said about the concession proposal I asked the unions to consider. Let me sum it up for you.

  • 1. We are asking state employees to take a smaller raise this year, and a wage freeze next year.

  • 2. We are asking for a reasonable increase in their health care premium payments.

  • 3. We are asking for an increase in their prescription drug co-payments.

    That is all we are asking for no hidden strings, no fine print. Every state employee still gets a raise no one gets less than what they got last year. They get more. Every state employee still has the best health care and pension plans in the country. And no state employee needs to lose their job.

    I ask the union leaders for only one thing: Stop misleading your members and allow them to vote on my proposal. Your members 42,000 strong are good, hard-working people. At the same time that you are raising their union dues, a vote is the least you can do for them.

    What's at stake? For a reasonable concession, the unions can avoid more than 2,000 layoffs that will take place between now and January 17th. If the members vote this plan down, which is their right, these 2,000 people will lose their jobs and additional layoffs will take place. Unfortunately, that would be the only alternative left on the table. Let's work together to avoid that.

    Each inaugural is a time of new hope and new beginnings. Let's use this opportunity to move the dialogue forward and to achieve a solution that will keep all of our people working.

    As we begin this new legislative session, we face the same challenge each legislature has faced since the birth of our nation to assert that the good in our society, will rise above the bad. If our government lives up to its potential, we can win that struggle each and every day.

    Simply put, it is time to suit up. We've got work to do, and there is only one special interest we should be paying attention to our customers the taxpayers. We must strive to be a creative government, because the opportunities we create today will help our children grow tomorrow. We must be a responsive and responsible government because that is what we owe to the citizens of Connecticut.

    The State of the State is still strong. We are resilient, and we will be successful. Take a look around. There are good reasons why so many people proudly call Connecticut home. Our quality of life, our prospects for the future, and our investments in the full potential of our citizens is second to none.

    I believe Connecticut's best days are yet to come -- because I believe so very strongly in our people, in our state, and in the great institutions of our democracy.

    Today, I thank you for your commitment to our state and I congratulate each and every one of you. God Bless you, and God Bless the great state of Connecticut.
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