Ohio State of the State Address 2001

Following is the full text of Gov. Bob Taft's State of the State address on Jan. 24.

Speaker Householder, President Finan, Members of the General Assembly, Lt. Governor O'Connor, Chief Justice Moyer and Justices of the Supreme Court, elected officials, Cabinet members, fellow Ohioans... thanks for joining us today.

I am honored to deliver my third State of the State Address. My friends, the State of Ohio is strong. In fact, it's stronger today than when I first took office. And my enthusiasm for the job only increases.

Even as I watched the inauguration of President Bush, I didn't think he was getting the best job in America because I already have it.

And this year in Columbus, there is an excitement in the air that I first felt 25 years ago when I entered the House. I can sense the enthusiasm among the new legislators.

From my own experience, if there is one piece of advice I can give to the freshmen members, it's this: Always listen to the Governor.

Right now, of course, you have little choice.

But I commend you for entering the arena. As we talk and get to know each other better, I realize how fortunate we are that men and women of good character and sound values are willing to serve our state. And to the members who are returning, thanks for your support the last two years. In the more challenging days ahead, your wisdom and experience will be called upon as never before.

Although the General Assembly is organized along party lines, some would say battle lines, that is not how most Ohioans think about state government.

They don't send us here to wage partisan war. They want results. They want us to work together to address the people's business and the big issues of our day.

Speaker Householder, I congratulate you on your election as leader of the House. I was inspired by your opening remarks that we must offer a "passport of unlimited opportunity" to our children and "progress, not partisanship."

I echo that sentiment and look forward to working with you and your leadership team.

And during my many years of working with you, Senator Finan, I've seen your leadership for our hometown, our entire state, and at the national level.

Thank you, Senator, and the members of your leadership team, for being such good partners these past two years.

To Minority Leaders Ford and Herington, I value the continued cooperation we've had with you and with your members.

And to my hard-working Cabinet, thanks for allowing me to rest easy at night, confident in the good job you do. Please rise and be recognized. Let me thank First Lady Hope Taft for her tireless efforts to help families and young people in our state.

This year, Hope tells me she will help build 25 Habitat for Humanity Houses across Ohio.

After that much drilling, sawing, and hammering, Hope, you may soon be eligible for a union card from the Building Trades.

Hope, thanks for all you do for Ohio and for me.

With the support of the General Assembly, we've accomplished many good things this past year. We merged two cabinet departments to create a seamless system of workforce development. We reduced our welfare rolls to the lowest level since 1967. We cut our workers' compensation rates, even as other states were raising theirs.

We won passage of the Clean Ohio Fund to revitalize urban areas and protect our waterways and green spaces. We made a dramatic addition to our state parks by purchasing 120 beautiful acres on Lake Erie's Middle Bass Island. We enacted a nationally recognized plan to invest tobacco settlement monies in smoking cessation, public health, minority health, education, and technology.

Last year, I challenged our Cabinet to move customers from in-line to online. Today, we're making progress.

Employers and workers can now file workers' compensation claims and pay premiums online.

Within two years, half of all personal income tax returns will be filed electronically.

Through the leadership of Lt. Governor O'Connor, some 40,000 Ohioans have registered their vehicles quickly and conveniently at Oplates.com.

We completed the work of the Management Improvement Commission to create a more efficient, customer-friendly state government.

I was pleased that my Trade Mission to Japan helped secure $127 million in new investment for Ohio.

Through the Job Creation Tax Credit, companies invested more than $1.4 billion in Ohio, helping retain or create 35,000 jobs last year.

Finally, with your help, we've provided more than $2.2 billion in tax cuts in the past two years deductions for health care, job training, adoption, and research and development; raising the homestead exemption, lowering estate and inventory taxes, and providing more than $1 billion in income tax cuts for Ohio families. Now that's a record we can all be proud of!

It's a record that reflects the willingness of Ohioans to roll up our sleeves and pull together to get the job done.

This is the spirit of our people, the Spirit of Ohio. And as we renew that spirit today, we face challenges unseen in nearly a decade.

Our economy is slowing. Revenues are down. And Ohioans are concerned about the future. The budget I will submit next week will be challenging. Many agencies will receive less in the coming fiscal year than in the current one.

A tight budget requires tough decisions. In making those decisions, I had three goals:

  • One, to balance the budget without new taxes. We've done that.

  • Two, to hold the line on spending for overhead and reduce the size of the bureaucracy. We've done that.

  • And finally, and most importantly, to invest 50 percent of all new spending in education at all levels. I'm proud to report we've done that, too!

    We are already confronting our budget challenges. I've directed agencies to cut spending by 2 to 4 percent in the remainder of this fiscal year. I want to thank my Cabinet for your cooperation and sacrifice.

    The personnel caps resulting from our hiring freeze are working.

    Since January 1999, we've reduced the size of non-corrections staffing by nearly 1,000 positions.

    Despite these efforts, we harbor no illusions about the future. If we dip into a true recession, more drastic measures will be required.

    But for us, this is nothing new. We have weathered challenging times before. The Spirit of Ohio gives us the strength to do so again.

    So today, as we celebrate shared achievements of the past, let us chart our course for the future.

    Enabling every child to succeed is my number one priority. It drives our agenda and fuels my enthusiasm.

    We know that Ohio will succeed in the 21st Century only if our students succeed. We have many good schools and even more that are improving. Yet too many students leave school unprepared for the skilled jobs of today.

    We also face a June deadline for responding to the latest DeRolph decision. Working together, we will meet that challenge with a plan that goes beyond adequate funding a plan to make Ohio a national leader in student success.

    Already, we are well on our way:

  • Our first education budget was the largest ever, investing half of new resources in education;

  • Our $10 billion school building plan is the most comprehensive in the nation;

  • And OhioReads has exceeded our greatest expectations.

    In my Inaugural Address, I called for 20,000 Ohioans to serve as volunteer reading tutors. Frankly, some thought I was setting the bar too high. I did not.

    I am pleased to report today we have far surpassed our goal - more than 27,000 Ohioans are making a difference by tutoring a child!

    In spite of all our progress, we cannot rest!

    We cannot rest until every child learns how to read in elementary school until every child graduates from high school prepared for college or for the jobs of today.

    No, we cannot rest until every child helps renew the Spirit of Ohio. As many of you know, my style is plain and simple it's listen, learn, and lead.

    During the past year, I've been listening and learning all over this great state, in schools, on my field trips, in meetings with superintendents and legislators.

    I've listened to parents who want their children to succeed in college, on the job and in life. I've listened to teachers who know that modern, safe school buildings mean more learning in the classroom. I've listened to school leaders about unfunded mandates and the challenge of addressing children with special needs. And I've listened as the Supreme Court spoke to us all in their landmark school funding decisions.

    Here's what I've learned.

    We all share the same goal we want our children to succeed. And we're getting ready to soar to new heights of learning, and many people deserve the credit:

  • This General Assembly, which has dramatically increased funding for schools;

  • The Supreme Court, for prodding us forward but taking into account the progress we've made;

  • Thousands of educators in our elementary, middle and high schools who care deeply about our children;

  • And finally, I've learned that student success is about more than better teaching. More than high standards. More than accountability. More than choice. Even more than additional money.

    There are no quick fixes or magic cures. The battle for student success must be fought on many fronts.

    Toward this goal, I am announcing a comprehensive plan: "The Building Blocks for Student Success." It is achievable. It is workable. And it will move Ohio to the Head of the Class!

    The first building block is "The Measure of Success." It's about clear standards, common sense assessments, and holding schools and educators accountable for results.

    We will implement the recommendations of the Commission for Student Success, which are fully funded in my budget.

    I want to thank the leadership for your willingness to introduce the Commission's work as House Bill and Senate Bill 1.

    When fully implemented, Ohio will have a system of standards, assessments and accountability that ranks among the best in the nation!

    I appreciate the extraordinary effort made by each one of the commission members legislators, educators, employers and parents. Two special members, Kay Shrewsbery, a teacher from Toledo, and Lee Miller, a teacher from Sidney, are here with us today.

    Kay and Lee, thank you for your hard work, for sharing your classroom experience, and most importantly for your commitment to student success.

    Let me also commend the Ohio Supreme Court for recognizing the importance of standards and accountability. The court said a thorough and efficient system of schools requires statewide standards that are fully developed, clearly stated, and understood by educators, students and parents.

    Our first building block will do just that.

    "Preparing for Success" is the second building block. Early childhood education and health care will enable every child to enter school ready to learn. And children must have a foundation for lifelong learning before they leave elementary school.

    In order to move Ohio to the head of the class, we will:

  • Refocus the Help Me Grow program to assure newborns, infants and toddlers have the best possible start in life;

  • Continue our commitment to children's health insurance;

  • Upgrade the skills of Head Start teachers and keep Ohio a national leader in early childhood education and public pre-school;

  • Provide extended learning opportunities for students who are falling behind;

  • Continue the early success of OhioReads by bringing it to more schools across Ohio; and,

  • Offer state funding for all-day kindergarten to over 50 additional school districts serving 12,000 children.

    There is strong evidence that all-day kindergarten helps ensure student success. And don't just take my word for it, ask our guests from Ecole Kenwood Alternative Elementary School in Columbus.

    Along with teacher Jai Scott, we are joined by all-day kindergarteners Abigail Nypaver, Ashley Cooley, Malick Sow, and Delshon Jackson. Thanks for being here.

    The third building block is "Classrooms Equipped for Success."

    With the support of the legislature, we continue to implement our 12-year, $10 billion plan so that every child goes to class in a safe, secure school building.

    Since I've been Governor, we've invested nearly $800 million in school building renovation and repair. Since 1997, the state has provided $1.8 billion for school buildings, an average of 81% of the needed dollars for these projects.

    In fact, we have so many school projects planned that when I leave office, I may go into the school construction business. I know it's steady work. There's no question that Ohio has the most ambitious school building program in the nation. Thank you for making it possible!

    Our fourth building block, "Partners in Success," will ensure that Ohio has highly trained teachers ready for the classroom and principals ready to lead.

    We will provide almost $80 million for teacher training over the next two years, expand Summer Institutes for Reading Intervention, and provide mentors for entry-year teachers. We will enable more teachers to become national board certified, maintaining our leadership among states in teaching excellence. And, we'll continue to fund the Principal's Leadership Academy and assist school districts in providing training and support to entry-year principals.

    From my many visits to classrooms throughout Ohio, I can tell you that good teachers plus good principals equal good students. Our success plan ensures all three!

    Our final building block is "Making Success Possible" - a new method of funding our schools. The Supreme Court noted that the current basic aid formula may not reflect an adequate amount of funding. So we raised the bar!

    Our new formula looks to spending levels in successful, high performing districts which meet 20 of 27 current state standards, provide at least one advanced-placement course, offer pupil-teacher ratios of 21 to 1 or less, and have at least 80 percent of their teachers with five or more years of experience.

    Using this new formula, we will increase the base cost per pupil to $5,484 in five years. And we eliminate the remaining unfunded mandate the cost of increased graduation requirements.

    We will increase the state's share for special education and begin paying most costs above $25,000 for students with exceptional needs.

    The state share of school transportation will increase from 55 to 60 percent within two years. In addition, our budget continues funding for steps already taken to end school district borrowing and offset the impact of property tax rollbacks. And our budget boosts funding for OhioReads, alternative schools, gifted education, disadvantaged pupil impact aid, and student intervention.

    Let there be no doubt, our plan will provide a more than adequate education for every child in Ohio and will reduce reliance on property taxes!

    Building Blocks for Student Success is a systematic reform of education. Its five points are linked. It must stand together and not be pulled apart if we are to ensure that no child is left behind.

    Our work does not end with primary and secondary education. With a rapidly changing economy, our students need more than a high school diploma to compete for the best jobs.

    Higher learning equals higher earning. And some are getting the message. Enrollment at Ohio's public colleges and universities rose by more than 2,600 students last year. That's the good news.

    The bad news is that only about half of our high school graduates go to college. This must change! And so despite the tight budget, we're investing in higher education.

    We expand Ohio Instructional Grants, and provide new dollars to community and technical colleges and university branch campuses. We guarantee that during the next two years, they will freeze tuition!

    Higher education performs a leading role in our strategy to promote prosperity for all Ohioans. Finding qualified employees remains the number one challenge facing employers. Ohio's workers must be trained and retrained to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

    Therefore, we'll expand Jobs Challenge funding to enable two-year campuses to provide more training courses. We will create the Higher Skills Partnership to marshal the resources of two-year colleges and career centers, to jointly align and market their training services for Ohio businesses.

    More Ohioans with higher skills are needed to attract the high tech jobs of the future, and we have an ambitious technology agenda. The Ohio Plan will provide $40 million to support research and development in bio, nano and information technology. A new Biomedical Facilities Fund will provide $12 million to leading research institutions.

    We continue to support our Technology Action Fund to strengthen our ability to compete for federal research dollars and provide funds for promising technology initiatives.

    We're helping to fund start-ups like iMEDD, which recently moved here from California to create breakthrough medical devices. iMEDD is a success story in the making. CEO Carl Grove is here with us today. Carl, thank you for joining the entrepreneurial Spirit of Ohio.

    We must make Ohio a more attractive place to launch a high-tech firm. While most high-tech start-ups don't turn a profit in their early years, they often owe a significant net worth tax. So today, I'm proposing that new high-tech firms be exempted from that tax during their first three years of operation. Let's give start-ups a fighting chance to succeed!

    The Spirit of Ohio will see us through a slowing economy. But we can take action now to ensure that Ohio remains a good place to do business, not just for high tech firms, but for manufacturers, services and small businesses as well. I've asked the Development Department to work with the legislature to craft a Jobs bill.

    It will offer incentives to create new jobs and protect existing ones, including a Jobs Retention Tax Credit for companies that invest at least $200 million in Ohio facilities and retain at least 1,000 jobs. It will offer a strong incentive for companies to stay in Ohio, invest in Ohio, and keep high-paying jobs right here in Ohio! As we seek to keep our job climate strong, we know that some industries are threatened and some areas have not fully shared in our prosperity.

    I recently visited two steel mills LTV to the north and Wheeling Pitt in the east. One steelworker I spoke with, Denny Sargeant, a heater at Wheeling Pitt, told me of his concern that he might not be able to provide for his family. Next week I'll convene a special meeting of the Ohio Steel Council to discuss the challenges facing this critical industry. And then I'll take the Council's ideas, and the concerns of Denny Sargeant and many others like him, to Congress and to the Bush Administration.

    Let there be no mistake, I support free trade. But I will fight illegal steel dumping that harms our state and threatens our jobs!

    We must extend our prosperity to two additional areas our urban centers and Appalachia.

    We will use the Clean Ohio Fund to reclaim urban brownfields and change our tax laws to revitalize whole neighborhoods and communities, not just single parcels of land.

    Last year, we doubled funding for economic development in Appalachia, and we'll keep that commitment again this year. We'll work to attract more federal funds to distressed counties. And we'll fund the Appalachian New Economy Partnership to increase information technology skills and to provide assistance for start-up companies in the region. Through education, technology and entrepreneurship, the people of Appalachia who have given so much to our state will once again join in the prosperity of Ohio!

    As we help our children succeed and our economy prosper, we will not lose sight of those in need our youngest, our oldest, and persons who are physically, mentally or developmentally disabled. Already, 38,000 Ohioans are cared for in home or community-based settings, rather than in large and costly institutions.

    My budget expands these services, including PASSPORT, which serves elderly Ohioans in their homes; Home Care, which provides home nursing services to persons under 60; and more Individual Options for Ohioans with mental or developmental disabilities.

    We'll also address the staggering cost of prescription drugs for our senior citizens. This year alone, we'll spend more than $800 million on prescription drugs for low-income Ohioans. But the high cost of prescriptions is a burden for everyone, especially for seniors whose prescription costs have more than doubled in the past 8 years.

    Insurance companies routinely negotiate discounts of up to 30 percent off the price they pay for drugs and some will pass these savings along to consumers. I will propose legislation to allow the state to select the best possible discount program for all Ohio's seniors, and make it available through our Golden Buckeye Card. It's time to give seniors a helping hand on the cost of prescription drugs!

    In caring for those in need, I have one last thought Ohioans need relief from the high cost of heating their homes! Ohio is in the midst of one of its coldest winters. Unfortunately, fuel supplies are low and demand is high. We continue to help families meet these unplanned expenses. The average low-income assistance payment is almost twice what it was last winter. But we must do more. Violet Hull, a 90-year-old widow who lives alone wrote to say her bill jumped from $249 in December to $606 in January. She's even had to sell some of her furniture to pay for heat. Millions of Ohioans like Violet have felt the squeeze. So today I'm announcing "Project THAW", a one-time home-heating credit of up to $250 for families and seniors of modest means.

    I have also instructed Alan Schriber, PUCO Chairman, to issue a 60-day moratorium on home-heating disconnections to protect those customers participating in a company payment plan. Further, I've asked Ohio's natural gas companies to contribute a total of at least $5 million to help low-income customers pay heating costs. Let's act now, so no family doing their best to pay their bills will be without heat this winter!

    Another danger is menacing our children. Whatever you call it meth, ice, or crank methamphetamines have many street names but a single result lives destroyed. Law enforcement officials are seizing record amounts of meth, and seeing an alarming surge in the number of labs that produce it. So today, I ask you to join me in enacting laws to fight this illicit drug and to attack these toxic labs. We will not allow this drug to destroy more lives in Ohio!

    As you can see, we have an ambitious agenda. But Ohioans are an ambitious people.

    Ohio was the first truly American state shaped by the Congress from the whole cloth of the Northwest Territory. We embody in our spirit those uniquely American qualities of resourcefulness, ingenuity, hard work, and the ability to pull together to care for one another.

    I saw that Spirit of Ohio at work last year when Mother Nature again unleashed her fury on Xenia, killing one, injuring many and destroying millions of dollars in property. I mobilized state agencies to assist the people of Greene County in recovering from the deadly tornado.

    And when I toured damaged areas the next morning, clean-up efforts were well underway. Fire, safety and rescue forces and debris-removal trucks poured in from all over Southwest Ohio. The government response was tremendous. But even more impressive was the human response.

    Neighbors helping neighbors. Red Cross workers setting up emergency shelters. Ohioans from around the state sending gifts of food and clothing. There were indeed many heroes of the Xenia tragedy.

    One hero is William Bahun here today from Xenia Christian High School. William organized his fellow students to immediately help their devastated community. They cleaned up debris. They boarded up houses and buildings. They even provided home-baked cookies and bottles of water to victims.

    To William, and all the heroes of Xenia, you are the true Spirit of Ohio.

    My friends, we can renew the Spirit of Ohio time and time again in the coming years as we pull together to improve our schools, create new jobs and technologies, care for those in need, and promote the health and safety of all Ohioans. We will make this state, which we all love so dearly, an even better place to live, to work and to raise a family at the dawning of the 21st Century.

    Thank you and may God bless Ohio and her people.
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