Illinois State of the State Address 2001

Following is the full text of Gov. George Ryan's Jan. 31 State of the State Address.

Speaker Madigan. President Philip. My fellow Constitutional Officers. My friends and colleagues in the General Assembly. Members of the Cabinet and our guests in the Gallery. And my fellow citizens of Illinois.

Two years ago, from this House, I asked you to join with me in "Building a New Illinois."

I asked all of you in the General Assembly to set aside partisanship and to work on achieving the noble hopes and dreams that I know we share for this State. I extended a hand of friendship and cooperation to everyone in Illinois - no matter who you are, where you live, what you do for a living -- or who you may have voted for. I told you that the door to my office would always be open and that I would always be ready to listen. And together, with those principles guiding us, we are succeeding.

We are building a "New Illinois."

Together, we have improved education. We have expanded economic opportunity. We have strengthened the care of the sick, the elderly and the disabled. We have secured the safety of our neighborhoods and schoolyards. We have enriched our natural heritage. And, most importantly, we are building an Illinois where our legacy to the future - our children - are protected, cared for and given every opportunity to reach their full potential.

I can report to you today that the State of Illinois and its people are confident and ready to face the future.

The State of our State is strong. A month ago, we began the year 2001. This new year, like the new Century, dawns full of promise. I know that we will meet the challenge. Our work is not done.

Through better cooperation, more hard work, and an on-going dedication to our neighbors in every part of this State, we - together - will continue to build a "New Illinois."

Over these last two years, you and I developed and followed a well-structured, comprehensive blueprint for our "New Illinois." This plan contained five general goals:

  • Safeguarding and improving the lives of children;
  • Expanding and retooling our economy;
  • Rehabilitating and strengthening our human infrastructure;
  • Managing state government more efficiently;
  • And most importantly, loosening the restraints of partisanship that, in the past, led to government gridlock.

    In all of these tasks - and more - we have succeeded. Illinois' late poet laureate -- Gwendolyn Brooks -- in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poems, wrote of her parents Maxie and Andrew. She wrote of the way they tackled life and all of its challenges. They knew what had to be done -- and they took care of things.

    A line from one poem is an appropriate summary of our work here during the last two years. She wrote, and I quote: "But one by one, they got things done." One by one, we found common ground to solve some of the problems we faced. One by one, we met the challenges laid before us. And, as a result, Illinois is a better place today than it was two years ago.

    We are a better-educated state, a more prosperous state, a healthier state, and a safer state.

    If you're a parent, you should know that our high school students scored higher on the ACT placement test than the national average and lead the country in scoring on advanced placement exams for college credit. And you should also know that our universities and community colleges are rated the best overall in the United States.

    Our unemployment rate is the lowest in a generation. We rank in the top ten among the states in providing health care services to poor children. Our KidCare enrollment is up 400% in the last two years. Teen pregnancies have dropped to a 40-year low. If you're one of the 3 million Illinoisans who receive health care through an HMO, you can take comfort that we have put in place a Patients' "Bill of Rights."

    Our caseload in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program is the lowest its been in 31 years and Illinois has been recognized as a leader among all the states in moving people from welfare to work.

    Thanks, in part, to common sense gun laws and no-nonsense anti-crime laws we've enacted, Illinois is a safer place today than two years ago. The violent crime rate dropped 8 percent last year, the biggest one-year decline in 27 years.

    Yes, Illinois is a better place today. Our successes during the last two years are a shining testament to a government that places people before politics. We've proven that partisans need not be enemies. It is possible to reach across the aisle and work together for the good of everyone.

    One by one, we've gotten things done -- and this State is the better for it.

    It has been said that our children are the living messages we send to the future. All of us want that message to be one of unlimited hope and opportunity, a message that is defined only by the dreams of each child. As parents and grandparents, we will define our generation by the improvements we make in preparation for those who come next. Our top priority over these last two years has been to improve the lives of children everywhere in Illinois. They deserve the best we can give them.

    Whether it's their schooling, or their health care, their safety or their recreation programs, we together have done much to make sure that every child has an opportunity move ahead. When we talk about improving the human infrastructure of our state - the children come first. We started two years ago with an unprecedented commitment to education.

    Two years ago we began dedicating at least 51 percent of all new general state revenues to education and job training. We kept our word, and we've raised school funding by nearly a billion new dollars. And we are making educational progress.

    Illinois has the best "advanced placement performance" scores in the nation - ahead of Iowa, New York, California, North Carolina and Texas. This year, we must keep our funding commitment to our school children. A special commission has recommended an annual increase of $135 in the foundation level of state funding for every student.

    Together, with the help of parents, teachers and school officials, we will hash out the details of a new funding level - one that is appropriate, affordable and one that does the most to improve every child's education. With added resources, we focused on literacy and reading - setting the goal that every child should be able to read by the 3rd grade. Thanks to additional support for summer bridge programs all over Illinois, some 30,000 children were helped last year. And we need to do more.

    I will appoint a panel to design a plan for universal access to pre-school and full-day kindergarten - ensuring that all our students have the same chance for hope and opportunity.

    We have made a commitment that no child in Illinois should have to learn in an antiquated school. Over the last two years, I've visited too many schools where children are forced to learn math and reading in the hallway - or in converted closets and boiler rooms. The teachers, parents and students make the best of what they have, but all of us know that it is just not good enough for our children. We can't leave kids in those old schools -- and we won't.

    Over the last two years we've provided $3 billion more to rebuild crumbling school buildings, and add 5,000 new classrooms throughout Illinois. It's an investment that will advance our state for the rest of this century.

    I'm especially proud of what we've been able to do for East St. Louis District 189 the poorest district in our state. Over the last two years, we've dedicated more than $82 million to the construction of seven brand new schools in East St. Louis. We are also working very hard to meet the basic needs of low-income and at-risk children who come to school with no encouragement, no preparation, no enthusiasm, and in some cases, empty stomachs.

    Kids can't learn when they're hungry - and way too many children go to school every day without eating breakfast and not carrying a lunch. We cannot and will not let that happen.

    We said we would improve school technology -- and we have.

    We intend to keep our students ahead of the curve when it comes to technology in the classroom. Just this month, we opened the Illinois Virtual High School - a marvelous opportunity for distance learning that could serve 600,000 students when fully operational.

    We also said we would give Illinois parents more choices for educating their children -- and we've done that too. We've provided $22 million for charter schools.

    In our blueprint for a "New Illinois," we said we would raise basic learning standards for our children, but that we would also set clear goals for our schools and teachers - and demand greater accountability. We said we would work to improve teacher training.

    It is important that we continue to strengthen our annual measurements of all students in order to ensure the accountability of our school districts. We should begin to take the appropriate steps this year to require that every child in Illinois have their skills tested on an annual basis.

    And as we strengthen accountability for students, teachers and local schools, it is time that we take a good, hard look at the education bureaucracy of state government. Next month I will propose that we reform the State Board of Education to reduce the bureaucracy, eliminate red tape, and to make that agency more accountable to you and me.

    Our record in the education of our children is impressive. We've increased funding. We've put more emphasis on reading and early learning.

  • We're empowering parents and improving choice;
  • Harnessing technology;
  • Building new schools and classrooms;
  • Raising standards for children and teachers;
  • Strengthening accountability;
  • And providing hope for every child.

    One by one, we got things done. When our children leave our elementary and high schools, what do they face in higher education? Simply put, in Illinois our students can become part of the best system of community colleges, state universities and private institutions in the United States. In the first-ever national report card on higher education, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave Illinois the top overall score among the 50 states. Our commitment to our colleges and universities is succeeding.

    We are assuring quality, affordability and accessibility for higher education in Illinois. Our current budget for higher education is the largest in our history. The vast majority of our record commitment goes right into classrooms, laboratories, and financial aid programs that benefit students of all ages. In the new national study, Illinois bettered all other states in helping low and moderate income students go to college.

    Over the last two years, we boosted our scholarship programs by 15% - so that 12,000 more kids in this State could attend college. We've invested heavily, through the Illinois VentureTECH program and Illinois FIRST, in a series of research parks strategically located throughout the State. The idea is to encourage research and new concepts at our universities and labs -- then provide the basic infrastructure and support services necessary to make these projects viable commercial enterprises. These investments are absolutely necessary for Illinois to compete in the New Economy of the 21st Century.

    Altogether, our commitment to enhancing higher education's infrastructure grew to record levels during these last two years. A new business school at Illinois State. new fine arts center at Eastern Illinois. A new engineering building at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. A new residence hall at the University of Illinois at Springfield, to implement the new Capital Scholars program that will make UIS a four-year institution. A new convocation center and a new library at Chicago State University.

    We created the new University Center of Lake County - the fastest growing area of the State. We earmarked $30 million for a new biomedical research building on Northwestern University's Chicago campus. And, at the University of Illinois, we dedicated $30 million to expand the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and $75 million for a post genomics institute that will make our state a leader in advanced science for agriculture and human health.

    These investments, and more, are truly investments in our future. But we need to do more.

    This year, to expand our commitment to the basic infrastructure of higher education, I propose that we embark on a significant new construction program dedicated solely to helping each of the state's 47 community colleges. I will provide more details during the budget address.

    We can dedicate substantial resources to the construction of new, permanent classroom and laboratory buildings at community colleges. Our plan calls for an expansion of lifelong learning opportunities as a way to keep the State's economy moving forward. Nothing extends an economic expansion faster than a workforce that is able to meet the changing demands of the marketplace.

    Over the last two years we placed a greater responsibility for our workforce in the hands of the Department of Employment Security. We consolidated 18 different job training programs run by six different agencies into a single workforce system. We completed the long-overdue transfer of adult education and literacy programming to the community colleges, and beefed up state support for their regional economic development centers - places where private companies of all sizes can go for advice and help to succeed.

    Yes, my friends, in higher education and workforce training, one by one, we got things done.

    Last year when I came before you, I spoke about the fact that America in the 21st Century presents new economic challenges. A new knowledge-based economy has replaced the manufacturing economy that dominated our lives for the past 100 years. We are seeing business and industry expand in Illinois.

    But we cannot escape the cold hard fact that the national economy is slowing down, and, as a result, thousands of jobs in Illinois have been cut in the last few weeks. To anyone who has received a pink slip in the last few weeks, I want you to know that we have not forgotten you -- and we will not forget you.

    Over the past two years, we have put programs in place that prepared us -- and our workforce -- for a downturn in the economy. We have done our best to expand and strengthen job training programs and education. The Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, along with the Department of Employment Security, will have teams in place to help displaced workers with their needs. We also have been on a crusade to create new jobs and opportunity. Over the last two years, our programs and policies have helped secure more than $5 billion in new private investment, created 32,000 new jobs and retained 30,000 more positions. At the end of 2000, we set a record with more than 6 million people working. Last year we had an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent - the lowest level in a generation.

    The business world is taking notice of Illinois. "Site Selection" magazine says Illinois has the nation's third best business climate. "Info Week" magazine ranks us second in their "e-business 100" survey. And we're at the top of the list - Number One - in "Industry Week's" survey of where you find the world's largest manufacturing companies.

    Since January of 1999, the policies we've enacted have led to numerous successes. From Chicago, Deerfield and Bolingbrook to Springfield, Pinckneyville and Mount Vernon, we've created several thousand new jobs.

    One by one, we got all of them done. But, as you know, most of our economic development policies invest heavily in our talented workforce and their skills. Nothing is more important to the future of our economy than the people who work every day in factories, stores, offices, schools and restaurants, as well as farms and construction sites.

    We enhanced our Industrial Training Program - providing job training funds to help workers learn new skills. Since this Administration began, we've created or retained more than 43,000 jobs through this program.

    I also propose that we continue to work with the Illinois business community and organized labor to reform those parts of our business climate that restrict opportunity and new development, and especially the creation of new jobs. And we must continue to review our workers' compensation system to ensure its fairness to all stakeholders, as well as its financial security.

    Over the last two years, we've redoubled our efforts to help the backbone of our economy - Illinois' 650,000 small business owners. We increased support for our regional Small Business Development Centers by 62 percent.

    With the help of our state's new small business advocate, Phyllis Scott, we're developing a universal certification system that will allow small businesses to reduce the red tape that slows down the government procurement process. Our long-term strategy includes developing more opportunity for those companies as the century moves forward - and we intend to succeed.

    Another aspect of our long-term strategy is our commitment to tourism. Our state's tourism industry generates $22 billion in economic activity every year. From Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" and the quiet, turn-of-the-century charms of Galena to the beauty of Giant City State Park, our state offers much to visitors that they can enjoy.

    And in two weeks, Lura Lynn and I hope that all of you will join us in celebrating the groundbreaking of another landmark that will bring in visitors from the world over - the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

    In order to prepare Illinois for the global "New Economy" that surpasses traditional borders, we have strengthened our commitment to international exports. Illinois is a player on the world stage. We market more than $33 billion worth of products every year to foreign shores. And while slightly more than half of our exports are high-tech products, Illinois remains an international leader in food production.

    The bottom line is, one out of every eight jobs in Illinois depends on international trade. And that's why we have worked together over the last two years to expand our international markets.

    Last year we opened two new offices that will pay great dividends in the future - Shanghai, China and Johannesburg, South Africa. China's economic activity with other countries last year was nearly half-a-trillion dollars - and we are working very hard to make sure that Illinois secures its fair share of business with the world's most populous country.

    As a number of you in the General Assembly know, our state trade mission to South Africa last spring was a huge success, opening doors and relationships in the one country that will determine the future economic growth for all of Africa, a huge market for consumer goods.

    Also last year, I participated in very productive discussions with Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, during a visit to Mexico City. Mexico is our second-largest international trading partner, and with your help, and with the help of new friends we have made in Mexico, Illinois will have a good relationship that will flourish and grow even stronger. And, we as a state continue to lead the national curve in breaking down barriers and developing new ties with the people of Cuba.

    A very large part of our long-term economic strategy involves help for the hundreds of small cities, towns and rural areas of Illinois that many times haven't shared in the economic boom. We're working hard to build up all of Illinois - and we're succeeding.

    In Ottawa, nine companies have set up shop during the last 18 months, creating about 600 jobs in the local economy. In Washburn - population 1,100 - residents banded together to buy the town's only grocery store, the anchor of their block-long business district, and save it from closing.

    Over the next 10 years, the experts predict that demand for Illinois coal will increase by 15 to 20 million tons. And we're contributing more than $27 million in assistance to the industry to help create environmentally friendly uses for our coal.

    Over the last two years, together we have allocated $30 million to food and agricultural research that helps support the future of Illinois' largest industry - a 25 percent increase. For every dollar that we spend on the future of growing and processing food and agricultural-related products, we see $8 in public benefits.

    Throughout 2000, we continued our commitment to the production of ethanol, which means $1 billion a year to Illinois and more than 4,800 jobs. And thanks to our VentureTECH program, rural doctors are going to expand telemedicine links into communities that don't have sufficient medical services.

    One by one, we're getting things done.

    As everyone in this chamber knows, a huge portion of our blueprint for a "New Illinois" revolves around improvements to Illinois' physical infrastructure - roads, mass transit, utilities, water and sewer systems -- as well as parks, public recreation and other projects that enhance the over-all quality of life for our workforce.

    I'm talking about our Illinois FIRST program. And yes, I mean our program, because Illinois FIRST is, and always will be, a program born from the ground up. This is our program, our way to address the quality of life in your communities. And Illinois FIRST continues to be one of the few ways that our constituents - your neighbors - can see their dreams and plans for their towns turn into reality - now - not in 10 or 20 years.

    Whether it's a new water tower in Carthage, supplies and equipment for after-school programs at the Aurora Recreation Center, a new child care facility at the Lake County Family YMCA, a new fire station in Cypress, six new police radios for Bartonville, new playground equipment in Equality or a new backhoe for Ludlow, Illinois FIRST has helped communities in every part of this state.

    But perhaps the most important part of Illinois FIRST's legacy for the future consists of the improvements to our overall quality of life. Many of these projects have been dismissed as legislative "pork" - except, of course, by the people who asked for them.

    We funded more than 3,300 local projects during 2000. Illinois FIRST is a children's museum in Bronzeville, on the south side of Chicago. It's a senior center in Quincy, and a youth center in East St. Louis. Illinois FIRST is a library in Elmwood Park. Illinois FIRST helped rebuild an historic theater in Rockford, and an opera house in Sesser. New sidewalks in the small towns of Sidney and Mazon. And Illinois FIRST helped build a new YMCA in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago.

    We need to tell the truth about this program. The people need to know that these projects are not "pork"; they are necessary, local projects that make our communities in Illinois better - and safer - places in which to live. But even as we continue to improve Illinois' basic infrastructure, there remains one infrastructure challenge left undone - a new airport in Peotone to serve Northeastern Illinois.

    The business of air travel continues to change on a daily basis as airlines struggle to meet the needs of the traveling public. More than 1 billion people will be flying every year for business or pleasure. Air traffic is big business for Chicago and for Illinois. But O'Hare is no longer the world's busiest airport and its reached its operational capacity.

    The answer to this problem is the construction of a new airport in Peotone - not to replace O'Hare and Midway - but to help Chicago keep its place in the air traffic industry. The time is right - politically, economically and practically - to begin serious discussions about a new airport in Peotone. The time is right to frame this debate as a growth opportunity for the entire state - and not as a line in the sand or a political tug-of-war.

    A final infrastructure challenge we should face this year is the needed reform of our State's toll highway system. The commuters who find themselves tied up in tollway traffic every day want us to fix the system. I've heard their pleas loud and clear, and so have you.

    I plan on meeting soon with the Toll Highway Authority to start discussing ways we can make those important roads less congested. Over the last two years, we have shown - together - that we can build our economy and enhance our infrastructure while still preserving and strengthening our environment and natural heritage.

    We have been good stewards of our land, our waters and our air. Over the last two years we have invested $95 million in new technologies and strategies to fight pollutants, especially those from coal-fired power plants - an 80 percent increase in resources. Ozone levels, carbon monoxide and lead concentrations in our air continue to drop.

    According to the latest air quality statistics, there have been no smog alerts in the Chicago Metropolitan area for the past two years. We have seen a steady increase in the number streams, lakes and waterways rated as "good quality" - places where our families can swim, fish and go boating.

    Our efforts to clean up and rehabilitate urban brownfields, abandoned landfills and leaking oil wells is the largest cleanup effort in state history.

    Another of our top priorities has been to secure and preserve open spaces for future generations -new parks, natural areas, recreational and sporting preserves. Over the last two years, we have returned more land to the public trust than any other point in our history - 28,000 acres of streams, forests, prairie, hills and wetlands. And the 500 miles of bike trails we have funded over the last two years is 10 times more land devoted to trails than state government funded during the previous decade.

    We joined with Chicago to develop a unique multi-use state park in the Lake Calumet region, one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the city. What's more, we dedicated $42 million in Illinois FIRST funds for the long-overdue restoration of breakwaters that protect the city's Lake Michigan shoreline from erosion and decay.

    With the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Wood, we have set in motion an important project to protect the Illinois River watershed - the Illinois Rivers 2020 program. Our "Illinois Tomorrow" program provides incentives for communities and developers to help slow these disparities by offering incentives to communities that reduce traffic congestion, preserve existing open space and redevelop older, once-used parcels of land.

    With heating bills rising faster than the temperature is dropping and with the rolling blackouts that have plagued California, last month I created the state's first-ever "Energy Cabinet." The new Energy Cabinet will create long-term policies and programs that encourage dependable and affordable supplies of energy and will help you in the General Assembly make the right decisions regarding fuel supplies and uses.

    We took quick action earlier this month to expand the state's Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program so that an additional 142,000 households can tap into more than $175 million that is available this year to help pay their home heating bills. Illinois' commitment to this program -- $65 million - is the largest of any of the states.

    Over the last two years, we have budgeted $1.5 billion more for services to strengthen our human infrastructure. We've been able to do that because we're doing a better job capturing federal funds. And our commitment is showing real results.

    The group "Voices for Illinois Children" made the following conclusion in their 2001 annual report:

  • "The quality of life for children in Illinois has seen real progress the last few years.
  • "Fewer teens are having babies and more are graduating from high school.
  • "More children are covered by KidCare and Medicaid and fewer are being abused or neglected.
  • "Welfare dependency and child poverty rates are down dramatically, and more babies are living past their first birthday."

    But we need to expand our efforts. This year, one by one, we're going to get more things done. Right now, we are helping 200,000 more disadvantaged or at-risk children lead better lives than we were two years ago. Through the leadership of the First Lady's "Futures for Kids" program, we've increased funding by more than 50 percent for Teen REACH after school programs, youth employment initiatives, early childhood programs, drug prevention, intervention and treatment.

    We strengthened intervention programs designed to keep families together and young people out of jail.

    During 2001, the First Lady and Futures for Kids will coordinate the policies and programs for young people through a new "Illinois Children and Youth Commission." With this effort, Illinois will join 27 other states that are committed to bringing a high level of visibility to the opportunities and promises for children - and turning those promises into action.

    Also, The Future for Kids Advisory Board recently issued recommendations on dealing with the growing challenges of our state's juvenile justice system. One of the key recommendations is that we must address the critical mental health needs of young people coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. I look forward to working with you on solutions to those challenges.

    Our record commitment to child care services is helping 218,000 children lead productive and safe lives in a stable setting while their parents earn a living. Working Mother magazine ranked Illinois among the top 10 states for child care and development programs in 1999 - and in the top six for innovations in 2000.

    Our hard work and dedication toward the state's KidCare health care insurance program for at-risk children are encouraging. The partnerships we have established throughout Illinois have resulted in an increase in enrollments of about 400 percent. Illinois ranks seventh among the states in providing health care services for children in low-income households. And for the third year in a row, Illinois is the nation's leader in moving children with troubled backgrounds out of temporary foster care and into permanent adoptive homes - more than 13,000 adoptions last year.

    In our "New Illinois" - right now - we are helping nearly one million families see progress where they used to see roadblocks to a better life. We 're taking a bold step right now to help at-risk families and communities with our new "Illinois Workforce Advantage" program.

    In six pilot areas - Harvey, East St. Louis, the state's "Southern Seven" counties and the Chicago neighborhoods of Englewood, North Lawndale and Humboldt Park - we're strengthening our long-term commitment to people and families. In these communities, Illinois Workforce Advantage teams will work closely with community organizations, local government officials, community leaders, faith groups and people on the street to develop the best delivery of state services for that area.

    We are also trying to help Illinois families by proposing a series of measures to curb predatory and abusive lending practices in this State - and stop unscrupulous lenders from offering loans to people who they know cannot afford to repay. Last year you passed a law that requires the regulation of this particular industry. That was the right thing to do and I urge all of you to support the proposals we have made to safeguard homes and neighborhoods.

    Illinois continues to be a national leader in welfare reform. Illinois has the top ranking among t
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