Oklahoma State of the State Address 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Feb. 1 - Following is the prepared text of Gov. Brad Henry's (D) 2010 state of the state address:

Members of the House and Senate, Lt. Governor Askins, President Pro Tempore Coffee, Speaker Benge, Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, distinguished Cabinet and elected officials, honored guests and my fellow Oklahomans and friends:

Facing Crisis with Resolve

As I stand before you today to deliver my final State of the State address, I am honored and humbled to have worked with you - my respected colleagues and friends - to improve the lives of Oklahomans. We have accomplished much together.

Today, we start the monumental task of building on our successes while navigating our state through troubled times. Whatever difficulties lie ahead, I know the immensely talented and dedicated people in this chamber, and across our great state, are more than up to the challenge.

We have proven that, again, in recent days, with our state in the grip of a severe winter storm. It's simply the Oklahoma way: we worked together and looked out for one another; we responded quickly and effectively; and we did what we needed to do.

And that is exactly what each of us in this chamber must do as we turn to another urgent and important task.

The economic storm that has seized our nation has also battered Oklahoma. We face a budget shortfall of more than 1 billion dollars. State programs and agencies have already experienced substantial cuts. The state's lagging revenues reflect the fact that far too many Oklahomans and their families are struggling with lost jobs and lost wages.

But what we have not lost, and what will lift us through this challenge, is our steadfast resolve. Oklahomans are tough and resilient; it's all but encoded in our DNA - a fearlessness and unwavering faith, the ability to survey a vast, uncharted territory and see the seeds of opportunity. We are bold when others hesitate, and that grit and determination will see us past this crisis, just as it has so many times before.

Shortly after being elected seven years ago, I stood in this chamber amid grim fiscal uncertainty. At that time, we faced a historic budget shortfall of nearly 700 million dollars.

The pessimists wrung their hands and panicked. The naysayers braced for huge tax hikes and catastrophic cuts. The cynics predicted rank partisanship would rule the day.

But I challenged legislators to put aside partisan differences and work with me for the good of the state. And that's exactly what happened.

The challenges in 2003 were great, but so were the opportunities. We did not point fingers and assess blame. Instead, we assessed the situation, drafted a course of action, and brought Republicans and Democrats together for a historic budget agreement. We shielded education and healthcare from crippling cuts, and we balanced the budget without raising taxes.

Together, we made hard choices, weathered the storm and emerged even stronger.

A Rainy Day

For many in this chamber, today's fiscal crisis is uncharted territory. More than 70 percent of this session's House and Senate members were not here during our last revenue failure.

This budget crisis will test each of us, and it will demand our best. It will require listening to the needs of our people, not the noise of partisan rancor. It will demand cooperation and collaboration, not confrontation and political calculation. The decisions we make will affect millions of Oklahomans today and in the future. The stakes are that high.

But we are up to the task. It's been said that Oklahoma's strength has been shaped by adversity. That's partially true. But adversity not only builds character, it reveals character. And our character is our greatest asset.

Families across Oklahoma work hard to put food on the table and provide the best for their children. Almost all of them depend in one way or another on state programs and services, whether it's the local public schools that educate their children, state troopers who protect them from harm, or the road crews who keep highways and interstates safe and clear.

As we respond to this fiscal storm, we must keep the needs of these hardworking Oklahomans at the forefront. At no time is that more urgent than now, during economic distress, when people increasingly must turn to us for help.

We all will be asked to sacrifice. But we cannot balance the budget at the expense of the most vulnerable among us.

Certainly, more cuts are unavoidable. Agencies and programs, already hit hard by fiscal reality, will be asked to absorb further reductions. There will be an impact, and it will be painful.

That is why we must wield the budget knife carefully, with clinical precision.

Today, I present to you a balanced budget that does just that, making necessary cuts but still mindful of the real people behind the numbers. There will be disagreements - and that's the noise of democracy - but, this session, in particular, critics must do more than cast blame; they must also be collaborators, offering ideas of their own and solutions for the people of Oklahoma.

As we proceed, I implore you to remember there are very real - and human - consequences to budget cuts. The men and women who make state government work are not numbers on a spreadsheet.

Government is the schoolteacher grading papers at night. It is the meat and poultry inspector ensuring a safe food supply. It's the child welfare specialist investigating suspected child abuse. It's the nursing home attendant caring for a loved one ... the speech pathologist working with special-needs children ... the corrections officer tasked with keeping dangerous criminals behind bars.

Slashing government spending can make for catchy campaign rhetoric, but rhetoric has ramifications - human ramifications - that demand to be considered.

Fortunately, Oklahoma is not without resources to meet this crisis.

When we faced our last revenue shortfall in 2003, the Rainy Day Fund was virtually depleted. We were caught in a downpour without so much as an umbrella.

In the years since, I worked with the Legislature to prudently restrict the use of the Rainy Day Fund. We beat back annual efforts to raid the fund and, today, for the first time in history, the Rainy Day Fund is full, preserved for its intended purpose: a rainy day.

And ladies and gentlemen, it is raining.

This budget crisis is precisely the kind of emergency that citizens envisioned 25 years ago when they voted to create the Rainy Day Fund. Now is the time to use our reserve dollars to preserve crucial services.

We must also ensure that our emergency fund is adequate to meet our future needs. This year, I ask for your support in raising the cap on Rainy Day Fund deposits from 10 percent to 15 percent of general revenue collections. We owe that to the people of this state.

Protecting Our Foundation

Working together for the good of all Oklahomans, I have confidence we will resolve this crisis responsibly and effectively.

I am confident of something else, too: This recession will end. The storm clouds will roll away, and the sun will shine again. We must not allow the crisis of the moment to erode all that we have built over the last decade.

Our deliberations today must account for the promise of tomorrow. The foundation we have constructed must be protected and nurtured so we are poised for the inevitable recovery.

Through the innovative Insure Oklahoma program, we created a partnership with small businesses and their employees to make health coverage affordable for tens of thousands of Oklahomans. This nationally recognized program is a model for states across the country, and it has enjoyed strong support from both sides of the aisle.

We cannot turn back the clock. Insure Oklahoma can provide coverage for many more Oklahomans - if we make the right choices today. We must provide adequate funding for this vital initiative so more Oklahomans can live longer, healthier lives.

Early in my administration, I asked leaders in the business community to collaborate and offer suggestions about what Oklahoma can and should do to diversify our economy and move forward in the 21st century.

Their top recommendation was the EDGE Research Endowment. Since its inception, EDGE has spawned ground-breaking research, created high-paying jobs to fuel the economy and planted seeds of opportunity for future generations.

The EDGE Endowment is our greatest tool for diversifying our economy and creating jobs for our children and grandchildren. Turning our backs on EDGE would send exactly the wrong message at the wrong time. I challenge you to think beyond the present and find a permanent funding source for this critical job-creating economic development tool.

Even in times of economic distress, the safety and security of Oklahomans is paramount.

As part of our efforts to be tough and smart on crime, we have invested in drug courts and mental health courts to put low-risk offenders on a more productive and cost-effective path. These programs are having dramatic results.

Mental health and substance abuse services impact the lives - in fact, they save the lives - of Oklahomans of all backgrounds. These vital programs keep families together. Just as important, they offer solutions to problems before they escalate to the costly criminal justice system.

I urge you to remain tough and smart on crime by investing in mental health and substance abuse services. We can save lives today and taxpayer dollars tomorrow.

A Strong Education

Nowhere has our work been more critical - or our accomplishments more resonant - than in the arena of education. We've made tremendous progress and achieved powerful results.

Through education, we are building a skilled and creative workforce, forging the strong and diverse economy of tomorrow. We are molding the leaders and citizens who will decide the fate of issues we cannot yet imagine, and we want those citizens to be discerning, thoughtful and well-informed.

Most of all, by giving every Oklahoma child a great education, we give that child a chance to pursue his or her dreams. There is nothing greater we can do for our children or our future.

To that end, we invested resources in the classroom. We equipped teachers with the tools of tomorrow so our children can compete for the jobs of tomorrow.

Through the Achieving Classroom Excellence initiative, we've raised academic standards and increased accountability in the classroom. End-of-instruction exams make a high school diploma more meaningful and ensure that students master core subjects. And, today, more students take a rigorous, college-bound curriculum, and fewer students start college with a need for remedial courses.

Because of ACE, Oklahoma now ranks among the top 10 states in the nation for standards and accountability. In fact, Education Week magazine recently gave our standards and accountability rating system a perfect score.

Building on our success with ACE, Oklahoma has applied for a Race to the Top grant. If awarded, these funds will enable further reforms, like performance pay for teachers and a comprehensive data system to track the success of our students, teachers and schools.

It was a massive undertaking, and I thank State Superintendent Sandy Garrett and Kathy Taylor for their diligent work.

We also recognized the hard work of our teachers by increasing their pay and, for the first time in history, covering the full cost of teachers' health insurance. This helps Oklahoma attract and retain the quality teachers our students deserve, and it tells our teachers that we value their commitment and acknowledge their work to be vital to the future of our state.

Our responsibility to our students is sacred, and our progress in schools has been tremendous. I will not tolerate any effort to cut teacher pay or siphon resources from our classrooms, our students, or our future.

Our future also depends on college graduates. Because of our vision, high school students can earn free college credit through concurrent enrollment. In fact, some students have as many as 30 college credits before they graduate from high school, giving them an important head start on a college degree.

By providing a permanent funding source for our college scholarship program, we kept "Oklahoma's Promise" to students and rewarded good grades and good behavior with a free college education.

Those efforts have propelled Oklahoma to 10th in the nation in the percentage of students enrolled in public higher education. In fact, Oklahoma is one of only 12 states to have increased the percentage of adults with bachelors' degrees in this decade.

While improving access, we have also improved the quality of higher education in Oklahoma. We approved a 475-million dollar bond issue for transformative capital improvements on our college campuses - the largest single investment in higher education capital projects in our history.

We also began funding an endowed chairs program that doubles our money and attracts the best professors to Oklahoma. This session, we have an opportunity to endow more than 900 new professorships at 21 of our colleges and universities without any new appropriations. I urge you to enact this critical proposal quickly so our students can reap the benefits.

Through our commitment to colleges and universities, we have sown the seeds of our future success and prosperity. I will fight any effort to uproot that progress and diminish the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Perhaps most important is the focus we have placed on our youngest students. Heeding the overwhelming evidence that most brain development occurs before age 6, we put enormous effort into early childhood education. That work resulted in full-day kindergarten and a voluntary pre-K program that is the model for states from coast to coast. We will see dividends from that vision as those students enter higher grades and higher education, better prepared for the challenges that await them. We cannot undermine those efforts and jeopardize the future of our youngest Oklahomans.

My favorite proponent of early childhood education - and education at every level - is here with us today. A schoolteacher, a key education advisor and my best friend, please help me welcome my wife, First Lady Kim Henry. With her today are two of my three smart and beautiful daughters. Please welcome Laynie and Baylee.

Family, Coming Together

Like other Oklahomans, my family is my foundation. We have each chosen to serve in this building because of our love and commitment to the Oklahoma family.

Working together, we made landmark investments of nearly 4 billion dollars to build and improve roads and bridges across the state and keep Oklahoma families safe.

And through strategies like the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, we combined our expertise in traditional energy development with cutting-edge research on alternative and renewable energies.

After decades of neglect and inaction at the Tar Creek Superfund site, we took action and moved families with young children out of harm's way. We implemented policies that reduced tobacco use among teenagers and replaced junk food in our schools with healthy options. And we are building world-class diabetes and cancer research centers to give Oklahomans better access to quality health care and longer, healthier lives.

We endured natural disasters together, sheltered our neighbors in their time of need, and rebuilt their shattered communities. We honored our friends and loved ones as they marched off to war, and we provided comfort for those they left behind with groundbreaking assistance programs like Operation Homefront.

With an eye on protecting our most vulnerable citizens, we expanded health coverage for children, implemented reforms in nursing homes and cracked down on cyber predators.

And we attacked the most insidious drug problem facing today's society - methamphetamine - declaring war on its manufacturers and dealers while targeting education campaigns at potential users.

Through these accomplishments and many more, we helped revise and revitalize the amazing story that is Oklahoma. We must not back down. We must not let the challenges of today destroy our dreams for tomorrow.

The Story of Oklahoma

As I address this body for the last time as governor, I cannot help but reflect on the many friends I've made in this chamber, or the progress we've achieved by working together.

But the greatest and most humbling honor has been to serve the wonderful people of Oklahoma, who have allowed each of us to play a small role in this state's continuing drive to excellence.

I entered this office determined to move our state forward. One of the things I thought was most critical for Oklahoma was to build, renew, and - in some cases - instill pride in this place we love.

Oklahomans, for all our enviable characteristics, are also quite modest. We are humble, perhaps to a fault. We sometimes whisper the story of Oklahoma when we should be shouting it from rooftops.

This is a unique and inspiring state. A literal and figurative crossroads of America, we are a fusion of seemingly contradictory traits. We dream big, but with feet planted firmly on the ground. We know self-reliance but revere charity and compassion. We are humble, but boast an unconquerable spirit. We honor our heritage but look to our future with pride.

Consider how far we have come. A mere 75 years ago, drought and the raging windstorms of the Dust Bowl had turned much of this state into a near wasteland, leaving psychological scars that took decades to heal.

One of the more poignant descriptions of that time came from Caroline Henderson, a farmer and writer whose eyewitness accounts deftly captured the magnitude of the plight. In June of 1935, Henderson wrote the following words:

"Dust to eat and dust to breathe and dust to drink. Dust in the beds and in the flour bin, on dishes and walls and windows, in hair and eyes and ears and teeth and throats, to say nothing of the heaped up accumulation on floors and window sills. ...

"Pastures have changed to barren wastes, and dooryards around humble little homes have become scenes of dusty desolation."

That Oklahoma, thankfully, is a distant memory.

In my many travels across this state, I am struck time and again by how much Oklahoma is always changing, always evolving. It is a story as exciting and dynamic as it is unpredictable.

Biotech startups and nanotechnology are revolutionizing how we view ourselves and the world around us. Medical breakthroughs at institutions like the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are changing the face of medicine and saving lives. Information technology, aviation and aerospace are shrinking the planet and transforming our lives. Sensor technology and weather research are protecting our homes and families. Renewable energy promises a cleaner planet and new jobs in rural Oklahoma.

These new industries and others have joined Oklahoma's great economic drivers like energy and agriculture. We are changing perceptions with new, innovative approaches and revolutionary ideas.

Our cities are growing, bustling with new businesses, entertainment and the arts. The BOK Center in Tulsa and the Ford Center in Oklahoma City are ranked among the top entertainment venues in the country. We have the NBA in Oklahoma City, and the WNBA in Tulsa. Top-flight museums, art galleries, restaurants and festivals - even a School of Rock - have cast a new and distinctive spotlight on our state.

Dust has given way to destiny. Oklahoma is emerging as one of the most dynamic stories of America in the 21st century. It is a tale of fortitude and fearlessness, of innovation and ingenuity, of family and unflagging faith.

I am proud of the contributions we have been able to make to this incredible state these past seven years. And I am heartened by the certainty that our best days lie ahead.

God bless you all, and God bless Oklahoma.

All State of the State Addresses for Oklahoma :