Kentucky State of the Commonwealth Address 2002

Following is the full text of Gov. Paul Patton's State of the Commonwealth Address, delivered on Jan. 10.

President Williams, Speaker Richards, and members of the General Assembly, Justice Lambert and members of the Judiciary, Governor Henry and other members of the Executive, my fellow Kentuckians:

It's my privilege to once again appear before you and the people of Kentucky to report on the State of the Commonwealth; and I do so under different circumstances than in past years. Our country is at war and Kentucky finds itself in the midst of the largest call-up of our National Guard since World War II. We owe a great deal of thanks to the fine men and women of the Kentucky National Guard - people like Lexington Police Officer April Brown. Just over a month ago I greeted Captain Brown as she returned from seven months of service in Bosnia and she's now scheduled to supervise security at the Northern Kentucky-Greater Cincinnati airport. Thank you, Captain Brown. Not all of our heroes wear uniforms.

We are, in fact, privileged to have with us tonight several family members whose spouses are currently supporting Operation Enduring Freedom: Mrs. Lisa Roark of London, whose husband, Staff Sergeant Terry Roark is in the process of deploying to Europe and Mrs. Libby Swak of Frankfort whose husband, Kentucky Air Guard Master Sgt. Rich Swak is already deployed as part of our nation's fight against terrorism. General Youngman, I salute you and the 7,500 Kentucky National Guard men and women you command; especially those 1,700 soldiers who have been called to active duty during Operation Enduring Freedom. General Youngman, would you and your guests please stand so we can show our appreciation.

We support you and our president as you bring justice to those aggressors who've attacked innocent victims in our homeland. As you toil in foreign lands to protect our way of life, we'll work here in Frankfort to improve our way of life.

While we remain ever thankful for their sacrifices, my purpose here tonight is to report to you the state of the Commonwealth. And my report to you is that, while our nation responds to this despicable act of aggression, while our national and state economies are in recession, and while our state budget faces the largest shortfall of revenue in our history, on the whole and over time, the state of the Commonwealth is good.

While a century or more of neglect after the Civil War changed Kentucky from one of the most progressive states in the Union to one of the most underachieving, the courageous acts of our governors, the Court of Justice, and this legislature over the past several years has reversed that trend; have made Kentucky a state to be admired and emulated; have made Kentucky once more a leader.

It's a distinct honor for me to be the governor of a state which is referred to time after time in national forums as the state that's doing it right: In education, early childhood development, economic development, supporting our farmers, state use of technology, efficiency of highway construction and a dozen other areas; the Commonwealth has been singled out for doing a good job. In this session we have another opportunity to add to that legacy.

In a few days I'll be recommending to you a budget for the next two years. This budget will be in stark contrast to my last two proposals which, in my opinion, were among the most progressive budgets adopted by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in my lifetime. This new recommendation will attempt to maintain our current commitments to progress with fewer resources. My budget proposal will strike a balance between keeping our current commitments and maintaining the fiscal responsibility that I've advocated since the first day I assumed this office.

But for tonight, let's step back and focus on how far we've come; let's discuss the results of the courageous decisions you've made in concert with me and my predecessors; and look for additional ways that we can improve Kentucky.

As I review the things that are good about the state of the Commonwealth, I have to begin with education. Twelve years ago, the leaders of all three branches of state government made the most heroic commitment to the future of Kentucky that I ever expect to see in my lifetime; but in the end it was this legislature that made the final decision. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it was your finest hour; and I could go on to say, "Never have so many Kentucky children owed so much to so few. On their behalf, I thank you."

Not only did you design the most progressive restructuring of a state system of public education ever enacted in America; before or since; you enacted the changes in our tax code that were necessary to pay for it. You trusted the people of Kentucky to understand the need to invest in the intellectual development of our children, and they trusted your judgement.

I wasn't involved in that decision but I am proud of the fact that when KERA faced its hours of maximum peril, the 1995 Governor's race, and the 1996 session of the General Assembly, I was on KERA's side. I stood with most of you and said, "We will persevere." "We will not retreat." "We will stay the course."

And we were right. By every measure, our students are now performing above the national average in math, science, and language arts. Let me repeat that statement. Kentucky students, based on several national evaluations, are performing above the national average.

In fact, Kentucky was one of only three states to show significant progress in reading in 1998; and Kentucky was one of only three states to show significant progress in science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report that was released last year; and just this week Kentucky was one of only three states to receive an A in standards and accountability according to Education Week, the nation's most prestigious education publication. When you're in the top three, time after time after time, you're doing something right.

One of the "right" things we've done is dramatically increase funding for K-12 education 88.4 percent since KERA was passed; and because of your financial commitment in the 98 session, Kentucky now has the most technologically advanced classrooms in the nation. These high-tech classrooms have enabled us to have the nation's first, largest and best virtual high school. And all our students now have access to Kentucky's best in the nation virtual library. Think about it. Our children have more opportunities to learn to use the tool of the future, the computer, than the children of any other state. It makes chills run up my spine to realize that in the area that very well may determine the destiny of our nation, Kentucky is the leader.

Last November 5th, I accepted on your behalf the National Alliance of Business "State of the Year" award, an honor given by the nation's businesses to recognize extraordinary commitment to education. It was just recently announced that Kentucky is one of fifteen states to receive a grant from the Wallace Reader's Digest Foundation to focus on leadership for learning. And in the past 9 years Kentucky has had 35 teachers receive the coveted Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Who would have ever thought that we could have come this far, this fast. The extraordinary vision, wisdom and courage of the 1990 Kentucky General Assembly was remarkable.

In the first week of his administration, I was invited to meet with President Bush to discuss his Leave No Child Behind education program which was signed into law by the president just two days ago. According to Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, ninety percent of the President's plan looks very much like KERA. Kentucky has pioneered the way for the rest of the nation. I applaud the Kentucky legislature and the Kentucky Court of Justice for your service to the Commonwealth.

It was the responsibility of our administration to be not only the guardian of KERA but to also build upon that legacy. After all, in today's knowledge-based economy, secondary education is the foundation upon which an education suitable for a successful career is built.

While I was a bystander in the battle to enact KERA, I was a central participant in the battle to enact the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997. And once again, the nation praises Kentucky's leadership in postsecondary education.

The list of our successes in improving postsecondary education is long and impressive. Let me review for you just some of the improvements we can point to as a result of our work.

Our community and technical college system has increased its enrollment by almost 39 percent since 1997. The most successful publicly supported virtual university in the nation, the Kentucky Virtual University, has enrolled 5,500 students after only two years of operation. 31,650 students received over 21 million dollars in KEES scholarships last year and that number'll grow by 48 percent this year to about 47,000 students. Overall enrollment in public postsecondary education has increased over 15 percent since reform. Bucks for Brains has increased endowed chairs and professorships at our 2 research universities by over 200 percent and by 1,000 percent at our comprehensive universities. My friends, Kentucky's on a roll.

And in the 2000 session we continued our commitment to life-long learning with improvements to our adult education program and our efforts in early childhood development. As a result of our commitment to our adult learners, enrollment in adult education increased 23 percent last year and since 1997 GEDs earned have increased by 41 percent.

Our commitment to programs for our youngest citizens is driven by the fact that we now know that learning begins at birth and depends to a great extent on health. Because of our actions in the 2000 session, we can take pride in the fact that our youngest kids are getting their best start ever. Over 40,000 women have participated in our folic acid program; 24,000 newborns have had hearing screening; over 50,000 under-insured children have had vaccinations; 3,800 families have improved their parenting skills, Kentucky's infant mortality rate is at an all-time low and we're now serving virtually 100 percent of eligible pre-school children with educational services. And, quoting the Lexington Herald-Leader, "The Education Week report puts Kentucky at the forefront of early childhood education, both for its preschool program and for more recent initiatives to improve health programs and day care for young children." These are the things that government is supposed to do. And we're doing them. And we're doing em right.

Kentucky's moving forward at every level of education and it's our joint efforts are making that possible. Let us recommit ourselves to education here tonight and let us vow to stay the course.

And of course, one of the objectives of a good educational system is to prepare our people to be successful in the world-class economy we're building right here in Kentucky. We're building those world-class companies by creating a business climate where Kentucky companies can provide our people with high quality jobs while making a profit in an increasingly competitive world economy.

And here again, Kentucky has been among the most successful states in the nation in growing our economy over the past decade. Site Selection Magazine ranked Kentucky second in new jobs created, fifth in new and expanded manufacturing facilities and tenth in capital investment. We're 12th in value added per worker, 9th in manufacturing growth, 15th in per capita income growth, 8th in growth of exports. We're now 3rd in the production of light motor vehicles, 3rd in the decline in poverty rates and we have 10 communities ranked in the 100 best small towns for corporate expansions.

Our New Economy Initiative has attracted attention nationwide and our tourism development efforts have been uniquely successful.

We have made progress and we're going to make more.

And we have faithfully executed any government's first responsibility, protecting the lives and the property of its citizens.

We've made Kentucky safer, creating one of the nation's best Unified Criminal Justice Information Systems, improving the training and pay of our sheriffs and police officers and eliminating parole for violent offenders; we've established family courts, and new judgeships and we've invested more in new courthouses in the past six years than in the previous sixty years.

And in particular, we've made Kentucky's women and children safer, thanks in large measure to my wife, Kentucky's First Lady, Judi Patton; stand up, sweetheart.

She's been the inspiration for our administration to work with you to establish the unique VINE victims notification system which is being emulated nationwide, to enhance protective services, to expand spouse abuse centers and rape crisis centers and put victim advocates in prosecutors' offices; and create the nation's most extensive network of children's advocacy centers.

And Judi's been an advocate for women's health, helping us establish an office especially for improving women's health and she's brought the subject of breast cancer to the forefront as an important public issue that needs attention. Thank you, Judi Patton.

Our children are only twenty percent of our population but they are one hundred percent of our future. And as we discuss our children, I can report to you that we've now corrected all the deficiencies in our juvenile justice program which brought us under the control of the federal Department of Justice. We've transformed our worst in the nation juvenile justice system into the best in the nation; something you should all be proud of because together we've increased our expenditure to help our most troubled children by 162 percent.

We've successfully implemented our 2020 water quality initiative and through our children's health insurance program, over 50,000 children, previously uninsured, now have healthcare and our Kentucky Access Health Insurance program, enacted by the 2000 General Assembly, has made insurance available to people who didn't have it and returned competition to the healthcare insurance market.

We've improved our efforts to create a qualified professional state workforce by increasing average compensation by 28 percent, and raising the classification of nearly 8,000 employees who were working in jobs classified as much as five grades lower than they should have been. Even though we have more to do, these actions have brought our employment policy more inline with the private sector. And at last, many of our employees have an effective method, chosen by them, to communicate their desires about their terms and conditions of employment to their employer.

Our Cabinet for Families and Children has reduced welfare dependency by more than 50 percent and has also more than doubled its efforts in employment services, job retention programs and child care assistance. We're improving our farm economy, preserving our environment and restoring our inner cities. We're moving Kentucky forward and our people are prospering.

As difficult as our current fiscal challenges are, there are still many substantial issues that we can and should address in the next three months.

The first is unfinished business and at the top of that list is fairness for our coal miners who've contracted black lung. I've appeared before you before and admitted that the 1996 reform of our workers' compensation system went too far.

It was my expressed desire in 96 to reduce a $100 million black lung program to about $8 million, a reduction of over 90 percent. The fact is that we, for all practical purposes, eliminated black lung as a compensable disease even though it has not been eliminated from Kentucky coal mines.

Today as I speak to you, we have in the bank here in Frankfort almost $17 million which has been paid in by Kentucky coal companies for coal miners black lung benefits and less than 400,000 dollars has been paid out. Obviously the program hasn't worked the way we meant it to.

My proposal is not a return to the open-ended black lung program that operated before 1996. It's to train diseased coal miners for another occupation after they've contracted the disease but before they've become totally disabled. To take the position that a miner has to continue to work until he or she has become disabled and their life shortened before they can receive training for another occupation is ridiculous; and it's inhumane. My proposal does not affect any other employer and is easily affordable by the Kentucky coal industry. And above all it is the right thing to do. And now is the time to do it. I call on this legislature to act and to act now.

Another issue that demands action is the repeal of the laws that protect the large pharmaceutical companies at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens. Our Medicaid pharmacy program has grown 63 percent in 2 years. That's an increase of 220 million dollars more than we were paying two year ago. A big part of the reason is ours laws and regulations which keep us from finding ways to bring spending under control. I've fixed the regulations, and established a clinical committee to advise us on prior authorization of drugs. Now I need your help fixing the laws.

Even though we've increased funding for Medicaid by almost 47 percent since I've been in office, it's still inadequate to provide our needy neighbors with the basic healthcare we want for ourselves. Again, the time to stand up to the big drug companies and act on behalf of Kentucky's medically fragile is now. And I call on you to act. Now.

And surely we can successfully address the issue of telemarketing. Our telephone is one of our most valuable assets. It should be a resource not a nuisance. We should be the master of who uses it, not the slave to selfish interests. We can reduce these unwanted calls. Let us put aside partisan differences and let's get the job done, this session.

And above all, we must maintain faith with our family farmers. Two years ago, you made a commitment to Kentucky farmers to help them preserve their unique culture; a commitment unparalleled in the history of the United States. We've been diligent as we've administered House Bill 611; plowing unchartered terrain, learning as we went, listening to the input of thousands of farmers. We're investing 50 percent of the tobacco settlement funds in our family farms to improve the efficiency of current farm activities, to precipitate new agriculture activity that will increase farm income and to improve the quality of life in rural Kentucky. We urge you, no matter what the temptation, no matter how great the need in other areas, no matter how great the pressure from other deserving constituents, to stay the course, to maintain the commitment, to keep faith with our farmers. And if we do, we'll be able to look back ten years from now and say that we've helped preserve that unique rural culture of Kentucky which has been the mainstay of our values, the source of our work ethic, the strength of our people that has made Kentucky, Kentucky.

But our task is not to just act on unfinished business. It's to look for more ways that we can improve the quality of life and standard of living of our people. Even though our fiscal position makes it impossible to commit financial resources to new or expanded programs, there are still things we can do to move Kentucky forward in this session.

And one of those is to make sure our law enforcement officers can enforce the laws we enact. It's already the law in Kentucky that every passenger in a motor vehicle on Kentucky highways must wear a seatbelt. The only problem is that, except in certain circumstances, we won't let our police enforce the law. And that's wrong. This handcuffing of our police officers breeds contempt for our laws and those who enforce them. To allow people to violate the law in front of a police officer and then prohibit that officer from enforcing the law is unconscionable. Besides that, not being able to enforce the law costs the lives of 75 motorists on Kentucky's highways every year. Name me one other thing we can do this session that will save 75 lives a year and not cost the state treasury one dime in increased expense. Just this past new year's holiday weekend twelve people died on our highways. Ten of them weren't wearing seatbelts. This is another area where I have to admit that I was wrong in 1992 when I missed the opportunity to put our present law into effect two years earlier.

The time has now come to take the next step. I don't intend to be wrong this time and I hope you, too, will support this measure which may, in the years ahead, save the life of a neighbor or perhaps a family member or maybe even yourself. Again, it's simply the right thing to do.

Another positive step we can take is the refinement of our business recruitment tools that have made Kentucky such an outstanding place to grow a business. These programs, from the enterprise zone law enacted in 1982 to the tax increment financing program enacted in the 2001 session, have worked well, but they've been enacted one at a time, not in a coordinated fashion. The revisions we'll propose won't break any new ground as it relates to philosophy, but they will make our programs more efficient and more effective.

As we renew our commitment to our traditional industries, we must maintain our commitment to the new economy. Under the leadership of Dr. Bill Brundage, we're prepared to build on the foundation laid with House Bill 572 enacted in the 2000 session. We need your support of this effort.

And as we speak of improving the business climate in Kentucky and building a more just society, we cannot ignore the subject of tax reform. We stand ready to address, on a bi-partisan basis, comprehensive and revenue neutral tax reform. This is a subject that leaders ought to be able to agree on and do what's right for the long-term future of Kentucky.

But perhaps our greatest opportunity for this session is to improve our already good environment. Kentucky's still a beautiful, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing place to live, work and raise a family. And that can become one of our biggest assets. Our challenge is to keep it that way, because today we're losing our rural landscape at an alarming rate, second fastest in the nation.

That's why it's important that we make the commitment to growing correctly in this session. Many of the recommendations of the Smart Growth Task Force are based on incentives to encourage quality growth instead of government mandates. Our dire fiscal position prevents us from providing the resources we need to do all we could do to preserve the Kentucky we know. But our fiscal situation won't be a permanent condition. When you return here in two years, I'm confident our economy will be strong and new revenue will be available and we can devote more resources to education, social services, and preserving our unique environment. We need to lay the foundation for quality growth now.

However, there are quality growth issues that aren't impacted by our General Fund crisis that we can address in this session. Among these is the regulation of the siting of new power plants and transmission lines, a subject we'll have a recommendation on very shortly.

Likewise, we'll propose the regulation of non-coal mining and oil and gas well drilling particularly in the vicinity of some of our most ecologically sensitive areas like Pine Mountain. Our administration has saved Black Mountain. We've made major progress in preserving Blanton Forest and we've preserved the unique environment of Pine Mountain Settlement School. The time has now come to address the entire Pine Mountain Range, Kentucky's most unique geological feature.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Pine Mountain, it's that massive upheaval in eastern Kentucky that runs almost parallel with the Virginia border and stretches from the Breaks Interstate Park in my native Pike County to Pine Mountain State Park in Bell County.

This mountain range extends about 120 miles along our southeastern border. It's truly majestic, with some of Kentucky's most breathtaking scenery; and the summit of Pine Mountain is home to some of our most unique and endangered flora.

The Pine Mountain Trail is that path along or near the summit of the mountain that was first established by our native Americans of pre-history and the animals they stalked, and used by our first settlers as they sought the easiest way to traverse this rough land on foot and horseback.

Today, a part of the trail is being restored and marked by citizen volunteers and is used by hikers and nature lovers from across the country. Some of those volunteers are here with us tonight with Secretary Bickford and I'd like to recognize them - Duane Mix and his wife, Pat; Dennis Crowley; Dee Roberts; and Kenneth Mullins. Their hard work and dedicated service has brought this asset to our attention and I look forward to working with them and others to make their dream come true. I applaud their efforts.

The time has now come for the state to become directly involved. I propose to establish a linear state park which encompasses the Pine Mountain Trail, a state park 120 miles long and 1,000 feet wide, traversing the summit of Pine Mountain from Elkhorn City to Pineville and connecting our already existing publicly owned areas, to preserve forever one of Kentucky's truly unique assets.

Tennessee has established a similar linear state park in the Smokies, the Cumberland Trail State Park, running 280 miles from Chattanooga to the Cumberland Gap. These two linear state parks, along with the Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to New York, can form the nucleus of an eco-tourism industry of which we can all be proud.

I understand that many of the property owners will donate the property or at least an easement for this proposed park; and where the land won't be donated, I propose to purchase the land using existing resources like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the TEA-21 Fund, the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund and in future budgets, state appropriations.

In the meantime, I propose to regulate gas and oil drilling, coal and non-coal mining, and timbering activities within this area so as to preserve this treasure that belongs to all Kentuckians.

And if we're going to be serious about our environment, we have to address the solid waste issue. I think Representative Stumbo has made a reasonable proposal to address this issue. Over the past year we've learned a lot more about the problem. We now estimate, based on a more detailed study of the state, that there are more than 10,500 illegal, unsightly, unhealthy open dumps in Kentucky. We know there are about 550 old municipal dumps which haven't been properly closed and which are polluting our streams and our ground water. We see everyday the litter that despoils our scenic highways and we know we need to encourage curbside pickup and recycling. Representative Stumbo straightforwardly recognizes that it'll cost money; and we the people of Kentucky will have to bear that cost. Seven dollars a year is a reasonable price to pay to clean up Kentucky. It'll be, in my opinion, one of the greatest bargains we'll ever get.

Yes, we have a serious fiscal challenge before us. But, as you can see, there's still much we can do during this session to move Kentucky forward.

Working together we can continue our commitment to excellence in education. We can improve the safety of our highways. We can improve a business climate that will bring us even more new jobs. We can remain committed to our family farms. We can preserve and maintain the natural beauty of our state. We can help grow quality communities; and we can make Kentucky cleaner.

Working together we can continue to build on the foundation that we and our predecessors have established as we pursue the goal of a standard of living and quality of life above the national average.

We're on a 20-year journey. We have to think long-term; because you don't stop 100 years of decline in just 1 year, or 6 years, or 12 years.

The real issue before us tonight is, will Kentucky, not just Paul Patton - but Kentucky, live up to the commitments we've made, and make the sacrifices that have to be made, to do what has to be done. That is the question.

We've been working together for 6 years and this session may very well be the most difficult challenge we've had in our common effort to move Kentucky forward. Let us not be found wanting.

I began this message by recognizing the Kentuckians who've been called to serve in our military forces. These courageous individuals are being asked to take up the mantel of leadership and fight to protect our way of life.

We must follow their example. We must also have courage and assume the mantel of leadership and protect the legacy that's been passed on to us.

We must put aside our differences and do what's right for all of Kentucky.

The challenges before us are immense. The opportunity to move Kentucky forward is in our hands. And we will be judged by what we make of this opportunity.

I look forward to these next three months as we work together to make Kentucky better.

Good night, God bless you, and God bless America.
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