Georgia State of the State Address 2007

ATLANTA, Jan. 10 – Following is the prepared text of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s (R) 2007 state of the state address:

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, President Pro Tem Johnson, Speaker Pro Tem Burkhalter … Members of the General Assembly.  Constitutional officers and members of the judiciary. The Consular Corps and other distinguished guests. And, most of all, my fellow Georgians:

I come before you today to report on the state of the state.  And I'm proud to say that after four years of united effort, Georgians have brought forth a state renewed, growing and stronger than ever before.

To understand the State of the State, we must not simply look at Georgia as a snapshot.  Georgia is a changing, dynamic action video that is moving at the speed of a NASCAR race. 

We have laid the foundation and are beginning to build on the progress that will move Georgia 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 grown by nearly half a million people…more than 252,000 new jobs have been created…and Georgia’s economy, as measured by GDP, has grown by more than 18% to an astonishing $363 billion. 

If Georgia were a stand alone country, we would have the 17th largest economy in the world.

This is the type of growth and prosperity that everyone in this chamber can take pride in.

We have begun well. But it's only a beginning. And we do not gather today to congratulate ourselves on what we have done, but rather to challenge ourselves to finish 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're here 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 them their rightful voice in these hallowed halls.

And, yes, service is a large part of representative government.  But there’s something else…leadership.

I submit to you that we are elected not only to serve, but to lead.  As I stated four years ago, I believe we need to lead in creating a safer, healthier, better educated, growing Georgia. 

Yes, we serve the people to the best of our abilities.  We act as an umbrella during the downpours of life.

But we also lead.  We take our cue from the people of Georgia, and we lead on the issues that matter to them.  They expect us to work hard, to work smart and to find innovative solutions that work for them.

Just like any good football team that’s building a winning program – we’ve spent the last four 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.  And our challenge this year, and in the years to come, is to build a state we can be proud to pass 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 and prepared for the opportunities of the future.  

A great state is one where business thrives as the result of a skilled, educated workforce.  It’s a place some of the most successful national and international companies call home.

These businesses, both large and small, are the driving force behind a robust, growing economy.

But a great state is not only somewhere to work, but somewhere you can play – where you 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, they have 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 to implement 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 past success. 

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 for decision 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 four years – stewardship.  And it’s something I’ll continue to talk about over the next four years – because it was ingrained in me from boyhood.  It’s a word that embodies why we 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 for them, for your family.

There’s a Native American saying that I think sums it up:  We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

Two years ago, we took a confident step toward managing Georgia’s resources for the future when we implemented the Land Conservation Act. 

That act defined bipartisanship, with support on both sides of the aisle, as well as from business and environmental groups across the state.  

Well, this year, I want to do more to keep Georgia pristine and beautiful for our grandchildren.  We started by creating a $100 million program in 2005, and this year I am recommending we commit $50 million more to preserve our lands for the enjoyment of generations to come.

Land like the Paulding Forest.  Our distinguished Speaker has advocated the conservation 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 may never…ever get the chance again.

Another integral part of protecting Georgia’s resources is keeping them pristine for use by 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 spend nearly $600 million on fishing alone, for a total economic impact of more than $1.5 billion. 

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 Fish Georgia

This state-wide program will create world-class resources for fishing and boating enthusiasts – new ramps along a bass trail that will include 15 sites on Georgia’s major rivers and reservoirs capable of hosting large bass tournaments.

With premier tournaments generating upwards of $20 million each, we know these are sound investments.

Fishing is a huge industry in the South, and we are behind many of our neighbors in attracting anglers.  We will no longer sit by and watch as tourists drive through Georgia on their way to surrounding states to fish.

But natural beauty isn’t all that Georgia has to offer.  We are home to some of the region’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 states were 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 Civil War 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 all located or expanded here in Georgia. 

Our world is, indeed, getting flatter.  The rapid expansion of globalization is a sterling opportunity 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 trade and together, today, we will build skyscrapers on the foundations he laid.

We are working tirelessly to cultivate new relationships with businesses around the world.  Last year alone, we made more than 31 trade missions to 23 countries.  But we can do more.

We have 10 international offices spanning the globe, we’re getting ready to open one in China, and one in India is on the horizon.

Our plan is to grow the Georgia brand in emerging economic engines like Asia, while we also 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 investment in international marketing by 135%.  This additional $5.1 million will open the door even wider to the world for Georgia companies.   

I look forward to working with Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle as goodwill ambassadors to these business prospects. 

We’re focusing on the main things – the fundamentals – and how they serve as the foundation for success. 

And I believe all of you in this chamber will agree that few issues we face are more fundamental than the health of our citizens.

Health care is an area where innovation is an absolute necessity.  We cannot continue to throw traditional, short-term solutions at long-term challenges.

I’m reminded of a story about a little boy who was trying hard to dress himself.  After a struggle, he marched into the kitchen and said, “Look Mom, I put my pants on all by myself.”

“That’s great,” she replied, “But you put them on backwards.”

Frustrated, he grabbed the top of his pants and tried to twist them around, asking, “Are they okay now?” 

“No,” his mother said.  “You’ll have to take them off and put them on the right way.”

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 right and exercise, but to take ownership over their health outcomes – to adopt a medical home, and to get regular checkups and screening.

Georgia has risen sharply in the ranks over the last few years to become number one in the southeast, and third in the nation for vaccination coverage.  Number one is a goal we 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 vaccine-based antiviral life science research in this growing industry. 

The other principle our health policy will be founded on is the fact that we need a transparent marketplace. 

I want to create a system where Georgians can go online, look up doctors and hospitals and compare cost and quality. 

Let’s give our citizens the power to make health care decisions based on market principles, 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 financially viable 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 a united effort to promote health care as a strategic industry in rural Georgia…

To increase access to primary care… to create stable networks… and to use technology to lower costs and improve outcomes.

I know medical access is a concern to many Georgians.  And the cost of state-provided health coverage is a growing part of our budget.  To deal with this challenge, we are asking for $176 million to continue funding health insurance for our teachers and state employees.  And at the same time we will continue to support Medicaid and PeachCare for uninsured children and people who need it.

In fact, I call on the President and Congress to meet their obligation to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – the program we all know as PeachCare.

Today PeachCare is the fourth largest children’s health insurance program in the country, providing health insurance for over 270,000 of Georgia’s children.  Georgia has excelled in accomplishing the mission of this program.  But we can’t fund this Federally-initiated partnership program alone. 

Georgia stands ready, willing and able to pay our part, but we need our Federal partners to meet their fair share of the responsibility.

We are also planning to set aside $100 million to meet our future obligations for state employee 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-term fiscal health and for our state’s retirees.

Just like putting money in our rainy day fund, we have to stick to smart, sound fiscal policies.  And this means that we start putting money away today to help pay these costs tomorrow. 

It’s by sticking to these conservative fiscal standards that earned us the best credit rating in the nation.

As you remember last year, I announced that I would ask this General Assembly to cut taxes on retirement income for Georgia’s seniors. 

With the money they save off state income taxes, retirees can better cover the costs of prescription 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 economic development in Georgia.

Another necessity for growth in our state is the development of forward-thinking solutions to our energy needs. 

We are aggressively pursuing options for alternative energy.  Georgia has developed top-notch research facilities in the area of biofuels, and we are blessed with an abundance of natural resources to support this research.   

In order to continue this support, I am proposing that we pass legislation to exempt material 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 also important 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 top priority is education. 

Well, I’m here to tell you again that my priorities have not changed.  Education is the single 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're doing that this year with a 3% raise for all educators.  With step increases, that means more than half will receive a 6% raise. 

Since 2003, we have seen vast improvements in education.  Some of the most important gains have been in our students’ graduation rate – which has increased seven and 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, we must do better. 

Last year, you supported my initiative to place a graduation coach in every Georgia high school.

Our graduation coaches have been in place since September - that's just over four months.  In that time, they have not only identified the 42,000 of Georgia's high schoolers who don't have the credits they need to graduate - they have also created individualized plans to graduate for 32,000 students.   

But we know that many of our kids never even make it to high school.  Last year, more than 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 middle schools.  Our middle school coaches will work with their high school counterparts in helping students transition. 

They will help families plan and prepare for the rigors of high school.  And they will help students make the connection between the skills they learn in school and the skills they’ll need in the real world.

I want to make sure our coaches have the support they need to do their jobs.  The most common need they see is basic academic tutoring. 

So I am recommending funding for a statewide online tutoring program to reach all students.  I want this program to be available to students after school and on weekends so 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 – and they assured me they are prepared to rise to the challenge.  Today, I’m asking that we follow through on our part as well. 

Georgia is on its way to becoming a national and international leader.  We have started the process, and we’ve been building up our momentum for the next four years and beyond.

Georgia is a great state, but no one in this chamber should be satisfied until it’s the best. 

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 area where 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 with every 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 to Georgians.

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 gold dome, this city and even this life – we will have made a difference – for our families and for our state.

We will hand down a longstanding dream, a dream of mothers and fathers and grandparents everywhere – we will hand down a world better and brighter than the one we grew up in.

I feel blessed to live in this great state.  When I stand at our beautiful coastline – and I see the sun shining out on the horizon – I know it’s always dawning a New Day over Georgia.

Thank you.  God Bless you.  And God bless the great state of Georgia.
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