Louisiana State of the State Address 2006

BATON ROUGE, La., March 27 - Following is the prepared text of Gov. Kathleen Blanco's (D) 2006 state of the state address:
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the legislature, and special guests, 
It's nice to stand before you today with signs of normalcy beginning to return to our state.  For example, a number of our universities' basketball teams made it to the NCAA tournaments. Congratulations to the men and women of Southern University, Northwestern State, and Louisiana Tech. 
And then of course there's the LSU Tigers!  I want to wish Coach Pokey Chatman and the Lady Tigers good luck.  Hope you reach the Final Four tonight.  And the LSU men have already made it to the Final Four.  Congratulations and good luck!  Let's bring home two National Championships.  Geaux Tigers!
This is the first General Session since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  No legislature in Louisiana's history has served at a time of greater challenge.  And no legislature has witnessed a time of greater promise.  We cannot turn back the clock on the devastation unleashed by the storms.  But we can seize this opportunity to design a more inclusive, safer, stronger and brighter future.
Our challenge is to rebuild the affected areas while making progress as a state.  I urge you to support bold investments in statewide priorities while keeping your foot on the accelerator driving our recovery.  Some will say that focusing on long-term goals during a time of urgent need is in conflict with our recovery.  I say it's in concert.  We can bring our coastal communities back in a way that increases opportunities for all citizens.   
Our greatest hurdle is the need to provide homes for our citizens and rebuild our neighborhoods.  I am doing everything in my power to make that happen.  Building the road home requires far more than simply bricks and mortar. 

A well-designed road home will be paved with improved education.  A well-designed road home includes the workforce training that drives economic development.  A well-designed road home requires access to health care and safe communities.  And a well-designed road home requires a ladder with steps out of poverty.  We must dream big in order for our people to reach high. 
Here in Louisiana we come from hardworking stock.  We have a proud history of stepping up to the plate when the stakes are the highest, and we are doing it again now. 
We have seen a lot of dark days, but each day shines a little brighter.  We have to keep on fighting to make sense of our new world.  I'm a fighter, not a quitter.  Our people are fighters, not quitters.  Together, we will win this battle.  
Today, I ask for your support as we continue to rebuild the affected areas.  I ask you to support priorities that will strengthen our economy.  We can only do this by building a stronger education system and training a skilled workforce.      
We can be proud of the progress underway.  We have achieved a number of benchmarks on our road to recovery.  I want to remind you of just six of these efforts:
1. We put safety first.  We consolidated our levee districts to improve oversight and maintenance.  Now we are counting on the federal government to do its part to make the lasting improvement needed to protect our people;
2. We created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to develop the state's master plan for strong and integrated coastal restoration and hurricane protection;
3. We adopted the first ever statewide building codes to rebuild safer and stronger;
4. We are recreating Orleans Parish schools to give our children the quality education they need and deserve;
5. We are providing short-term bridge loans and the relief businesses need to put our people back to work; AND
6. We enacted a comprehensive accountability program to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted.  
This is only a beginning list of the reforms we have enacted together. 
Just this past week, the federal government released $769 million dollars for health care relief for Louisiana.  This includes $383 million to reimburse Louisiana health care providers who gave free care to thousands of uninsured patients following the hurricanes.  I worked with Washington for more than three months to secure this extra Medicaid money.  I am working with Secretary Leavitt to secure a long-term commitment of the federal government to help Louisiana finance a redesigned health care delivery system.  
Last Friday marked the 6-month Anniversary of Hurricane Rita.  This Friday, I am teaming up with our Southwest Louisiana delegation to lead a bus tour of the Rita devastation.  They are going to be urging you to join us on the bus tour to see firsthand the Rita devastation.  I encourage all of you to join us too. 
We have two people here today who experienced the wrath of Rita.  They represent the hardworking people of Louisiana who are putting their lives back together. 
Let me tell you about Jeffrey Jackson of Lake Charles and David Zachary of Sulphur. 
Mr. Jackson is like thousands of families in Louisiana.  He is living in a FEMA trailer with his expectant wife and two children.  He is hoping that Congress funds our housing plan so that he can move his family home. 
David Zachary is a businessman.  He owns one business in Sulphur, and was opening another location in Lake Charles when Rita came in and destroyed both locations.  With our state bridge loan package, he's reopen for business. 
These two men and their families represent the hundreds of thousands of citizens we're helping to get back to their homes and back into business.  Mr. Jackson and Mr. Zachary, would you please stand.
I said we come from hardworking stock.  You look at these two individuals and you see the pioneering spirit that inspires me and I know inspires you. 
Let's show our commitment to rebuilding coastal Louisiana.  We must rebuild all of our communities stronger than before. 
Hurricane season is only two short months away, and we must be prepared.  We are incorporating the lessons learned from the storms into our emergency planning. 
I have instructed the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to make improved communications a top priority.  You will be encouraged to hear that new mobile command equipment will be ready to dispatch in time for hurricane season.  We learned that you can't coordinate if you can't communicate.

I ask you to make this next round of emergency response legislation our first order of business. 
We don't have a moment to spare, because we will still be in Session when hurricane season opens on June first.  My emergency response package will accomplish needed fixes, including two key reforms.  These bills would:
First, improve and organize the National Incident Management System at the state and local level.  This would allow us to coordinate and prioritize requests for assistance so the state can more effectively respond in times of crisis.
And second, require plans for continuity of government at the local level.   This would ensure that our citizens receive essential services in the event some or all of the local government is incapacitated. 
Next, we have plans in place to rebuild our neighborhoods.  It took a huge team effort to get commitments for our fair share of federal housing funding.  With more than 75% of the loss suffered by our people, we were disappointed to receive only 54% of the funding.   
We fought hard to make Washington understand that our families cannot rebuild without an additional $4.2 billion in housing funding.  Our request was included in President Bush's Supplemental Budget proposal.  This is a great victory for Louisiana!  
Now we need Congress to seal the deal and deliver our promised funding.
I hope all of you had a chance to review our housing plan known as, "The Road Home." 
Our plan offers a fair and practical solution to return people to their homes and their communities.  It prioritizes reinvestment in Louisiana.  We propose up to $150,000 dollars in relief to homeowners affected by both storms who want to rebuild, relocate, buyout or sell their property.  The Road Home also lays the groundwork for affordable rental opportunities in mixed income communities. 
I created a housing registry so we could implement the state's housing plan as soon as the FEMA flood maps, local rebuilding decisions, and federal money become available. 
I recently met with displaced residents enrolling in our registry.  Over 87,000 homeowners have called our registry thus far.  I heard optimism in the voices of people wanting to return home.  We must honor their optimism with results. 
As the federally required public comment period for different stages of our housing plan concludes, I will call upon this legislature to adopt resolutions signing off on the plan.  These resolutions will allow us to move forward with our application for the Community Development Block Grant funding. 
With your approval, we can send our plans to Washington and get this money where it belongs:  Into the hands of our people.     
Four of our parishes are still awaiting the FEMA flood maps that determine base elevation requirements.  Local governments must have the FEMA flood maps to determine the footprints for rebuilding safely.  Seven months have passed, and we are still waiting. 
We were promised federal flood maps in March.  Now we are told maybe in April.  Some say you don't have to have them.  To those of you waiting for guidance on rebuilding in Orleans Parish - and specifically the Ninth Ward, Lakeview, Gentilly and other neighborhoods of New Orleans - I am deeply aware of your frustration.
I am also aware of the frustration of people awaiting flood maps who reside in Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes.   
I desperately want all of our communities to be able to rebuild.  Decisions being made behind closed doors in Washington must not be delayed.  I say, if FEMA has to keep people working around the clock to produce the flood maps, by all means do it. 
Enough is enough.
Every community deserves an inclusive and open planning process.  People want to understand the safety issues they face and how they can rebuild their homes.   
The facts about levees, flood maps and housing opportunities must come together for wise decisions to be made.  The LRA's Charettes in Lake Charles, Vermillion and St. Bernard Parishes have gone well.  Planning efforts are also underway in other parishes. 
We are moving forward. 
An item of unfinished business remains from the last Special Session.  Let us continue our efforts to right size New Orleans government.  Tough times call for tough decisions. 
Streamlining New Orleans' government will make it more efficient and accountable to the people.  What works for the rest of the state will work for New Orleans too.  Our goal is not to rebuild the same, our goal is to rebuild better than before. 
That's what the people want and I invite everyone to join me in accomplishing that goal.   
I also ask you to support statewide priorities to increase opportunities for our citizens and produce results for our state.  Today I want to discuss three priorities in a larger package I proposed: 
First, we must strengthen our children's education by recruiting and rewarding our quality teachers. 
Second, we must retrain and grow our workforce to ensure that Louisianans reap the benefits of the jobs created by this new economy; AND
Third, strengthening our education system and building the workforce of our future will energize and power economic growth.
Improving our education system will make the road home smoother.   A quality education is the ladder out of poverty. 
As the mother of six and grandmother of eight - On Friday, Raymond and I received our newest grandson, Miles Ignatius Eble, to the world - I can relate to what displaced mothers must be thinking.
From the moment I saw Louisiana children enrolling in schools nationwide, I was more determined than ever to do better in education.  I met a displaced mother in Atlanta who confirmed my reaction:  for the first time her daughter was in a good school, and she insisted that only better schools would bring her back. 
This legislature wasted no time after the hurricanes taking control of the academically failing New Orleans schools.  Thank you for supporting this important step.  Now we must continue to improve education in the affected areas by opening schools of excellence for our children.  I ask you to support my proposal to offer more competitive salaries to teachers across our state.
I am proposing that you invest $105 million dollars in our teachers.  This would result in an average pay raise of $1500 dollars per year.  I am confident that our economy will stay strong.  The proposal is both fiscally and educationally sound.  Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the region - and in the country.  This is simply not conducive to long-term progress in education.  After all, student performance is directly linked to quality teachers.  There are good teachers who evacuated and are teaching in other states for higher wages.  Let's bring them home. 
I also propose a $31 million dollar investment to retain higher education faculty.  The same thing happened there. 
We can plug the brain drain of displaced professors taking higher-paying jobs elsewhere. 
Any loss of educators will be followed by a brain drain of students. 
We want our students and young professionals to stay in state.  We need them to be a part of building our future economy.
We are building a strong education foundation.  Louisiana recently received national recognition for our pre-K program and our teacher training efforts.  We are earning praise for accountability.  We are improving in key subject areas such as science.  Our schools are meeting their improvement goals, and student test scores are on the rise in spite of raising the bar for success. 
A strong recovery demands a strong education system.  It is our best weapon to fight the poverty exposed by Katrina and Rita.   
Education feeds into workforce training.  Preparing our citizens for good jobs is another important step on the ladder out of poverty.  It is also a key step on our road to recovery. 
Training a quality workforce influences economic development by attracting new businesses and industries to the state. 
This is why I ask you to support a $15 million dollar investment to expand and retrain our workforce.  Rebuilding our state requires skilled workers on an unprecedented scale.  We can train displaced workers to rebuild their neighborhoods. 
We can partner our businesses and industries with our colleges and training programs. 
This investment will prepare the first 10,000 additional workers to meet the coming demands of a rebuilding economy. 
A strong Louisiana workforce will fuel our recovery and spur economic development. 
We can be proud of our progress before the storms.  We were attracting new manufacturers to create jobs and invest in the state.  Over the past two years, Union Tank Car, General Motors, Shintech, and Roy O. Martin invested in Louisiana. 
After going through a strenuous process, I am proud to announce that Louisiana has become the first state Economic Development Agency in the nation to earn designation as an Accredited Economic Development Organization. 
Jeff Finkle, the head of the International Economic Development Council, the accrediting organization, is here in the audience with Secretary Mike Olivier.  Mr. Finkle, would you please stand. 
Thank you, Mr. Finkle, for being here to present us with this designation. 
Congratulations to Secretary Olivier and to my Department of Economic Development.   
Over 18,000 of our businesses have still not reopened their doors after the storms.  I am not about to sugarcoat the tough road ahead of us.  But we were on a roll before the storms. 
Katrina and Rita have washed out a few bridges on the economic development highway. 
We temporarily slowed down, but we are on the rebound.  Let the message ring out that Louisiana remains open for business.
Our state has introduced loan programs to help storm damaged businesses starving for cash. 
So far, we have made available over $40 million dollars available in short-term loans, with a maximum of $100,000 dollars available to businesses.  We have applications pending for additional federal aid.  Once this funding hits the pipeline, we will make an additional $60 million dollars available for business recovery. 
We are working with businesses to fully leverage the federal tools available to us through the Gulf Opportunity Zone, commonly called the Go-Zone.  And we are working hard to recruit new investors. 
I ask you to support key economic development proposals in my budget. 
For some time now, I have been laying the groundwork to attract a major manufacturer into Northeast Louisiana.  If we are to succeed, we must be site-ready.  We have identified a 1400 acre tract in Richland Parish that we want to purchase for $4.6 million. 
This mega-site, on I-20, east of Monroe, will be attractive to manufacturers.  It qualifies for federal tax incentives by virtue of its location in a Renewal Community. 
In addition, I propose adding $6 million dollars to the Economic Development Matching Grant program. 

This will help local entities spur business growth.  Investing now will reap great returns in the future. 
I've noticed that a number of bills have been filed to expand gambling.  I want to re-iterate my position on that, no!  And if I'm not clear - veto!
We all know that Louisiana is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. 
As stewards of these resources, we carefully maintain the delicate balance between economic development and the environment. 
Today as I stand before you the balance is disrupted.  Both our state's economic energy and environmental vitality hang in the balance.
Louisiana's investment in the oil and gas industry has fueled our economy, but it has also damaged some private properties.  Many land owners have sought their solutions in our courts, seeking million dollar judgments for environmental damages.  Although the land owners were awarded tens of millions of dollars, none of it was invested to clean up the property. 
These huge awards have chilled oil and gas exploration and have created an uncertain business climate.  They have done nothing to clean up the environment. 
Restoring the balance is crucial for our economy and our environment. 
I am proposing legislation that will require a standard for cleaning up old oil and gas sites, commonly referred to as legacy sites.  My plan will preserve the right of landowners to access the courts, but it will ensure that the environmental damage award is used to clean up the property.  The true legacy should be a cleaner environment.  
I want to close with an issue that has been on all of our minds. 
Louisiana is fighting for our fair share of revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling.  I have threatened to block the sale of offshore oil and gas leases up for renewal this August if we do not see progress.  Make no mistake:  this is not an idle threat. 
For the first time in more than a decade we are seeing signs of movement on this issue.  The storms may have produced a small silver lining to the horrible tragedy we have just weathered.  Perhaps the federal government will finally see the wisdom of giving us the revenues we deserve. 
We have been warning for decades of the danger to our people from our lost wetlands.  It's no consolation to say I told you so, but this seems to be the best shot we have had in 20 years of getting our fair share of offshore revenues. 
This would allow us to target dollars to our hurricane protection and coastal restoration plan.  I will not give an inch until we bring home this victory.       
We have an ambitious agenda before us, and we must seize the moment.  We can transform our darkest days into a legacy of progress and promise.  A new day is coming for Louisiana.  May God bless us and guide our work as we strive to be the architects of a brighter future. 
Thank you.
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