Nebraska State of the State Address 2005

LINCOLN, Neb., Jan. 26 Following is the prepared text of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's (R) 2005 state of the state address.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Legislature, Tribal Chairmen, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Fellow Nebraskans: Thank you for the opportunity to address this body under these unique circumstances.

As I look out among you, it's reassuring to see familiar faces. Some of you are longtime friends. Speaker Brashear, our friendship over the course of the past two and a half decades has been very special to me. Congratulations on being chosen to serve as Speaker of the Legislature. The confidence your colleagues have expressed in you is well placed. Your attention to detail, creativity, and leadership abilities will serve this body well.

Senator Schimek, in a sense you and I cut our political teeth together long ago. I am grateful that we have always set aside political and philosophical differences to enjoy a friendship that follows in the great tradition of this nonpartisan institution.

I want to recognize my senator, Ray Janssen. Not only have I appreciated your representation, Senator, I appreciate the long-standing friendship that Sally and I have shared with you and Nancy. I h ave great respect for your work in this Legislature.

Now, I'll say a word about your senior member. Long ago, Senator Chambers and I rallied behind a piece of legislation that was proposed to assist a single individual who had been wronged by our state. Following the passage of that bill, the senator paid an unannounced visit to my office to express his appreciation. I have never forgotten that visit. So, I use this occasion to publicly thank Senator Chambers for reminding us of our responsibility to care for the less fortunate in our society.

I also see among you new acquaintances. The broad backgrounds and enthusiasm of our freshman senators are sure to contribute to the depth of debate. Whether you are beginning your first year or your 35th year of service, you were elected to serve in this capacity because you have demonstrated a commitment to our state. I share that commitment. Together, I believe we can look ahead with vision and accomplish much for our citizens.

It is quite likely that our state will never again have so much collective knowledge and experience present within this respected chamber. You have a unique opportunity to leave a lasting legacy. By extending your focus beyond the needs of today, to anticipate the future needs of Nebraska, you create a solid foundation to build upon when the torch is passed to the decision makers of tomorrow.

I am also presented with a unique opportunity. I come to this post because a great honor has been given to our 38th Governor. A resounding sense of pride is beaming from the citizens of our great state knowing that the nation's agriculture sector now has a man of wisdom and integrity at the helm. Equally important, the farmers and ranchers of our state and our nation now have an advocate who will speak passionately on their behalf. Soon, the nation will know what the citizens of Nebraska have long known that Secretary Johanns will prove worthy of the confidence expressed in him by our President and the United States Senate.

As we wish him well in his new post, I become the first Lieutenant Governor in 45 years to assume my new post by operation of our state constitution. That fact only intensifies my determination to provide effective and insightful leadership.

I will do everything in my power to earn the trust, respect and confidence of the citizens of this great state as I begin my tenure in this new capacity. I promise you this: I will not shy away from difficult issues. I am committed to making our state an even better place in which to live, work and raise a family. Ladies and gentlemen, that journey begins here, with you.

The state of the economy offers reasons for both optimism and caution. Our state's growing economic strength is reflected in the fact that we closed the books on fiscal year 2004 more than $100 million ahead of projections and revenues continue to exceed projections this fiscal year. Yet, I submit to you that caution is in order. I am mindful of the projected $233 million budget gap, the low-level waste obligation, and other significant financial obligations that we face.

The budget proposal before you reflects both optimism and caution. It is a balanced budget with no tax increases and yet it funds important priorities. It addresses the low-level waste obligation in the most cost effective manner possible to ensure this burden is not passed on to future policy-makers. It is remarkable that we can financially satisfy this debt in one payment, considering the economic struggles of recent years.

You certainly demonstrated a willingness to make difficult, forward-looking decisions during the last legislative session. Despite the difficult economic times, you passed three historic reforms. I propose continuing this state's commitment to those endeavors.

My budget provides funding to build upon the very impressive progress that has already been made toward expanding behavioral health services across our state and bringing treatment closer to home. You have brought new meaning to the lives and futures of thousands of Nebraskans who view your passage of LB1083 as a declaration of their value and an invitation to contribute to their communities.

This budget continues to finance the most comprehensive reform of our child protection system in state history. And, it supports the continuing efforts to ensure the wise stewardship of water, for the sake of generations to come.

You revealed a vision for the future in all three cases and set aside individual interests to put positive change in motion. I, too, have a vision for the future. It is based on four priorities that will guide my decisions as Governor.

I believe education is the great equalizer. Our children are our hope for the future, so we have an obligation to provide them with the tools to succeed. There is no more powerful tool than knowledge.

Secondly, I believe economic vitality must be a central focus of our leadership. The population of our state shows only modest growth while the average age of our citizenry increases. As we care for our aging population, we must contemplate the future implications of this equation. It is critically important that we grow our economy. Doing so requires an examination of the many factors that influence our state's financial status.

We must support the industry that drives our state's economy. That means being very attentive to the needs of our farmers and ranchers. It means aggressively exploring opportunities in the areas of biotechnology, value-added agriculture, and foreign markets.

Inspiring growth also requires that special attention be paid to small business development, entrepreneurial support, business attraction, and worker recruitment and training. My budget sends a message to small businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly in rural Nebraska, that we are eager to support them in an effort to expand the economy of this state.

My third priority is efficiency in government. It is important that we continually seek new pathways to efficiency. I believe technology is one key to achieving this goal. Technology can provide a link that further unites our state - a link that bridges our vast prairies and sandhills. Technology has revolutionized farming, it is helping to bring health care services to the smallest of our communities, and it has opened new doors of learning in our schools. We must build on the superb progress that has been made. That means striving to be a customer friendly, customer responsive government in everything we do, from issuing permits to answering telephones.

The previously mentioned priorities matter little, however, if we fail to protect our families and provide for safe communities my fourth priority. We are fortunate to live in Nebraska, where the crime rate is low and the level of neighborly concern is very high. Yet, we do not take the good life for granted.

We know that methamphetamine continues to destroy lives all across our state. We are fighting back on several fronts. The Attorney General and I propose to dramatically reduce the supply of a key meth-making ingredient, pseudoephedrine, through legislation that has been introduced by Senator Bourne and several others. That legislation also stiffens the penalties for meth dealers and manufacturers. On another front, I propose adding 21 troopers to ensure that we have a strong state patrol to continue fulfilling their broad responsibilities from the war on drugs to patrolling our highways.

You can expect to find these four priorities - education, economic vitality, efficiency in government and the protection of families - woven into my decisions as Governor. They will serve as my compass as I work with you to chart a future course for our state.

That brings me full circle, back to the opportunity that lies before us. I believe it is time for us to engage in a statewide conversation with our citizens about the future of Nebraska. While we are taking care of present day needs, we must prepare for our future by asking ourselves the following questions:

Do we have a 21st Century government infrastructure that matches a 21st Century economy? I ask you to work with me to establish the kind of infrastructure that will be needed to deliver local and state government services, health care, social services and education decades from now.

Are we preparing our children for 21st Century work opportunities? Is the classroom of the future a virtual classroom or a classroom with four walls? We must ensure that our children receive a technologically advanced and challenging education.

How do we make government more efficient? Are there well-intended government programs that began many years ago, which are no longer essential? I propose that the most important priorities for our state be identified and funded first.

Do we have a tax structure that encourages investment in future job opportunities or is it focused on job opportunities of the past? I appreciate the challenges surrounding this particular issue but I believe that now is the time to tackle them. Nebraskans understand the implications of having a virtually stable population that is aging. They know that we must grow our economy or we simply will not be able to afford the services that we currently expect from government. More importantly, we need to grow our economy to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to find fulfilling employment right here in Nebraska.

It is time for Nebraska to adopt a 21st Century business climate that attracts new, dynamic and growing businesses of the future. I want our state to be the best state in the country, a state where opportunities truly are endless. Our citizens are ready for change. The question is whether we, in government, are ready to make the necessary changes to meet future challenges. I say that it is time to put Nebraska's future interests above any past special interests.

I believe we are ready. I am calling on every Nebraskan to share their thoughts, their concerns and their suggestions with me about how to strengthen our state. Send me a letter or an email with your ideas and I will read every one.

Members of the Legislature, you and I have a unique opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for our state. Over the next few years we must address the needs of today and then look beyond them to our future needs. I ask you to seize this opportunity to blend the knowledge and experience of long-time senators with the enthusiasm and innovation of new members and work with me to boldly set our future course. With input from our citizens, I am confident that together we will meet the challenges before us to ensure a vibrant future for our state.
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