Oklahoma State of the State Address 2005

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla., Feb. 7 Following is the prepared text of Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry's (D) 2005 state of the state address:

Members of the House and Senate, Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, Lt. Governor Fallin, Speaker Hiett, President Pro Tem Hobson, distinguished Cabinet and elected officials, honored guests and my fellow Oklahomans and friends:

Our Heritage of Values

In two months, our state -- our nation, in fact -- will observe the anniversary of one of the most tragic episodes in American history. April 19th will mark the 10-year anniversary of the massive bomb that tore through Oklahoma City's Murrah Building. One hundred and sixty eight of our friends and neighbors lost their lives. Hundreds more were seriously injured.

And yet the legacy of that dark day is one of compassion and decency and goodness. In the weeks and months that followed, Oklahomans demonstrated the caliber of our people. Something called "the Oklahoma Standard" became known throughout the world. It means resilience in the face of adversity. It means a strength and compassion that will not be defeated.

Most of all, it means coming together as a family, the family that is Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Family

That legacy the Oklahoma Family is worth remembering today as we embark on a historic legislative session.

Family is woven deeply into the tapestry of Oklahoma. Families are the compass that guide us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.

Like most Oklahomans, I was raised with a deep and abiding appreciation for, and love of, family. My parents, sadly, are no longer with us, but their spirit lives on in what they taught me about being a husband and a father. I am blessed to have three wonderful daughters. I am so proud of them, and they are here today to see how their dad does Leah, Laynie and Baylee.

And allow me also to introduce my wonderful wife my best friend and closest education advisor a graceful, gracious and incredibly poised First Lady, my wife, Kim Henry.

The collective unity of the Oklahoma Family has led us to make tremendous strides forward these past two years, from progress in education to economic development and job creation, from building a better health care system to ensuring public safety. As stewards of state government, we have a moral responsibility to continue working together and moving our state forward.

The mission is simple, but monumentally important.

We must give Oklahoma families the opportunity to thrive and prosper. We must give Oklahoma children the ability to reach their potential. We must give our respected senior citizens access to world-class health care. We must give all Oklahomans the tools necessary to pursue the American dream. And then, we must get out of the way.

I can report to you today that the State of the State of Oklahoma is strong and getting stronger, and positioned for greatness.

We have the will and the commitment. We have the momentum. And now we must build on that momentum.

The Road to Now

It has been a challenging journey. When I became your governor two years ago, Oklahoma faced the worst funding crisis in the history of our state, a budget hole of nearly $700 million. It was a bleak time. Businesses struggled to make ends meet. Far too many Oklahomans were without work and having difficulty finding a job. Schools from Sayre to Stilwell braced themselves for disastrous cuts.

But I reached out to both political parties and asked you to put aside your differences and put Oklahoma first. Together, we made the difficult decisions and emerged from the crisis without raising taxes and yet we still managed to protect education and health care from catastrophic cuts. We worked together for the sake of Oklahoma and demonstrated that, together, there is no obstacle too daunting, no goal too ambitious.

We didn't simply pay lip service to fiscal responsibility; we walked the walk. We enacted zero-based budgeting to make sure every dollar is well-spent. We placed restrictions on the Rainy Day Fund to safeguard it for true emergencies. And we did both while still raising pay for our hard-working state employees.

And we funded education first.

Since taking office, I have labored each day to give every Oklahoma child the opportunities and advantages of a great education. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have joined me in the pursuit of educational excellence, and I applaud each of you for your commitment.

No other investment yields as great a return as the investment in education. An educated workforce is the foundation of every community and the future of every economy.

But it is vital we remember that education is more than economic development. Education is not solely about earning a great living. It means living a great life.

We have focused on the single most important factor in education, the quality of instruction. And that meant long-overdue help for Oklahoma's dedicated, hard-working and historically underpaid teachers.

Our schools are full of great teachers. I've met them, I've talked to them I even married one. But our teachers are the worst-paid in our region and consistently among the worst-paid in the nation.

No longer will we allow that travesty.

Together we embarked on a plan to raise our teacher salaries to the regional average, and we strengthened classroom instruction by restoring mentoring programs and promoting National Board Certification.

We built upon the promise of early childhood education, so much so that our preschools are now hailed as the best in the nation. For that, we are indebted to the many champions of early childhood education, a group that ranges from one of our most visionary businessmen and philanthropists, George Kaiser, to my personal favorite preschool advocate, Kim Henry.

In November, I kept a campaign pledge when voters overwhelmingly approved an education lottery and tribal gaming regulation act, the first new revenue streams for our schools in more than 15 years.

To get it done, we entered a new era of cooperation with our great tribal nations for the benefit of all Oklahomans. And, we learned we can accomplish so much more by working together.

Higher education is also vitally important to our state, and here, too, we have made significant progress. We ensured full funding for college scholarships, expanded research opportunities, and finally funded a backlogged endowed chair program.

But an educated Oklahoma is meaningless if it is not also a healthy Oklahoma. Our new Premium Assistance Program will help our small businesses and provide health insurance for thousands of uninsured Oklahoma families.

We also corrected a glaring discrepancy to ensure that Medicaid covers the cost of screening for breast and cervical cancer. We secured funding for our state trauma care system, and we finally committed to building a world-class cancer research center right here in Oklahoma.

And I am proud that we finally brought help to the families of beleaguered Tar Creek. We implemented a voluntary relocation assistance program to help families with small children escape this lead poisoning nightmare.

We dealt with another kind of poison, too, by delivering a powerful blow against the scourge of methamphetamine. As a result of our tightened restrictions on a key ingredient of that insidious drug, meth lab seizures have dropped by as much as 70 percent. No wonder other states are clamoring to duplicate our actions in battling this vicious threat to Oklahoma families.

Drug addiction is not someone else's problem. It is every Oklahoman's problem. That's why we expanded our drug court program, which succeeds not only in being tough on crime, but also in being smart on crime. I commend the advocates of drug courts for their efforts to expand this worthwhile program, people like Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane.

In the arena of economic development, we have witnessed many successes these past two years. Dell, Quad Graphics, American Airlines, Vanguard, Cardinal Glass and Tracker Marine are only a few of the companies that either came to Oklahoma or expanded operations here to create thousands of good-paying jobs.

We also enacted serious, long-term tax relief. We permanently reduced the income tax rate, eliminated capital gains taxes on Oklahoma-based property and investment, and lowered taxes on our retirees. As a result, we bolstered economic growth, provided needed help for hard-working citizens and breathed new life into our state's entrepreneurial spirit.

Building on Momentum

We have accomplished so much for Oklahoma families in education and health care, jobs and public safety that it's easy to forget just how daunting the situation was when we first began. But our work is far from over. Challenges remain. And so, undeterred, we must build on the momentum of these past two years and push ahead.

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that "where there is no vision, the people perish." I believe that to be true. This is no time for timid dreams. Oklahomans expect us to devote the same imagination, hard work and resolve that they employ every day of their lives.

Operation Homefront

That resolve is ingrained in Oklahomans. For proof, you need only look to our brave men and women serving in our armed forces. During the height of the Iraq War, Oklahoma's National Guard led the nation in its percentage of mobilized forces.

Among those Guardsmen is Captain Scott Houck, a 14-year veteran of the Oklahoma Guard. Captain Houck recently returned home after serving nearly a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan. He earned many decorations including the Bronze Star. I know his wife Kimberly Ann and their 13-month-old daughter, Kaelyn, are happy to have him back home. Please join me in honoring Scott and Kimberly Ann Houck, who are here representing Oklahoma's dedicated and selfless Guardsmen and their families.

Scott Houck is typical of how our Army and Air National Guard have made an extraordinary commitment for our state and nation. And so it is time we make an extraordinary commitment to our Guard and their families.

Under "Operation Homefront," the State of Oklahoma will provide a tax exemption for military pension income for all veterans and purchase a $250,000 life insurance policy for every Guardsman. In addition, we will establish the Military Family Relief Fund and give all Oklahomans an opportunity to donate to Guard families who need the help most. We honor their sacrifice, and it's high time we honor their families, too.

Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) We are making important inroads in education. While there is no shortcut to prosperity, we do know the road to prosperity invariably begins in the classroom.

That is why we have committed so much to paving that road through increased teacher salaries, strengthened classroom instruction and, of course, new revenue sources

to pump millions of additional dollars into our classrooms. Now we must pass and implement the Achieving Classroom Excellence or ACE initiative.

Last year we made a promise to our teachers. We pledged to pay 100 percent of their health insurance premiums, and we did. But, we also pledged that Oklahoma would no longer tolerate shamefully low wages while other states tried to lure our great teachers away.

This year, we must honor our commitment and stay the course. Oklahomans went to the polls and championed our schools. Now Oklahoma leaders must champion our teachers.

A rock-solid education also means the expectation of excellence. It means lifting up our children so they can see the horizon of possibilities that stretches before them. It is only through raising expectations and striving for excellence that our children can reach their full potential.

The education reforms I bring before you this session have a clear and vital aim: To make sure our children learn what they need to learn in our schools. We will identify students' needs and ensure they get the tools that will enable them to achieve excellence.

We will expand full-day kindergarten so our youngest generation can begin that journey to excellence.

In our middle schools, we will improve lagging math scores by providing additional training for math teachers and computer labs for students. And, we will require meaningful 8th-grade testing, with resources and help for students who need it, to ensure every student demonstrates the skills and knowledge necessary for future success.

In our high schools, we will promote a college-bound curriculum and phase in end-of-course testing that demands results from our students. We'll require three years of high school math, and we'll make the senior year count by encouraging more of our students attend college. We will do that by offering to pay full tuition costs for up to six hours of college credit per semester for our high school seniors.

We will also employ additional performance reviews to guarantee more education dollars get to the classroom and we get the biggest bang for our education buck. And, we must also continue to fully fund scholarships so every student can attend college.

It is within our reach to make Oklahoma schools the best in the nation, and now is the time to build on our momentum.

Higher Education Capital Bond Issue

That same commitment extends to our colleges and universities. First, the good news about higher education: Oklahoma college enrollment is at an all-time high.

Now for the not-so-good news: We're running out of room.

But help is close at hand. No longer can we abide overcrowded facilities, crumbling classrooms, obsolete equipment or deteriorating research labs. I urge this Legislature to join me in passing a $500-million capital bond issue for higher education and to do it quickly while interest rates are low.

This bond issue is important for strengthening our colleges and universities. But, it's absolutely critical for the economic growth and vitality of Oklahoma.

With more than 140 construction projects in 36 communities across our state, this economic injection will have an immediate impact of nearly $740 million and the creation of more than 4,000 construction jobs. But, more important, the economic reverberations of higher education will be felt for generations to come.

Job Creation

Once we pass this bond issue, we should build upon our economic momentum to further fuel business growth. This year, let's pass the rest of the tort reform package I brought before you last session.

We have implemented commonsense reforms to cut costs and curb frivolous lawsuits. In fact, medical malpractice cases have dropped dramatically since we enacted reforms by more than 60 percent in some areas. But, as I said last year, there is still more to do.

Last year, I also empanelled a bipartisan task force of experts to examine the most effective workers' compensation systems in the nation to determine what works best. That report is in, and the time to act is now. I urge you to pass the comprehensive reforms recommended by that task force so we can reduce costs, help businesses and ensure fair compensation for injured workers.

Oklahoma Growth and Taxpayer Fairness Act

Fairness is a core Oklahoma value, and it must be our guide when it comes to the rights of our taxpayers. This session, I ask you to enact the Oklahoma Growth and Taxpayer Fairness Act.

Under my proposal, whenever the Rainy Day Fund is full, half of any excess funds will be returned to those who most deserve it, the taxpayers of Oklahoma. It is projected that, this year alone, taxpayers could receive a rebate of up to $100 million.

The other half of the excess funds should be invested in our future. These funds would help build the $1-billion EDGE research endowment to truly transform Oklahoma into the "Research Capital of the Plains."

This proposal, crafted by visionary Oklahoma business leaders like Larry Nichols, Jim Everest, Gene Rainbolt and Robert Lorton, was a key recommendation of our EDGE initiative. As we have seen from the incredible successes of OCAST, dollars invested in research and technology are dollars invested in job growth and prosperity. In fact, for every dollar we invest in research, we get 12 dollars in return. That's a 1,200 percent return on our investment.

This proposal also ensures fairness in our tax code through other commonsense measures. We will finish the job we started last year by eliminating the corporate capital gains tax on Oklahoma-based property. We will give collateral heirs the same exemption we give lineal heirs for estate tax purposes. We will continue to lower taxes on our retirees and make Oklahoma more attractive for our citizens facing retirement. And, we will establish an annual sales tax holiday so our families will buy their back-to-school items here in Oklahoma.

Including the rebate, this tax-relief and investment package totals more than $263 million and that's money back in taxpayers' pockets. This is something we can all agree on, and Mr. Speaker, I sincerely appreciate your endorsement.

Prescription for Savings

Our state must also confront another financial concern plaguing many families. We are all aware of the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs especially our seniors, many of whom face impossible choices between purchasing food or needed medication.

Some people would have you believe we don't have a say in the matter. I disagree. We must challenge the system, even if it means taking on the federal government and the big pharmaceutical companies. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

It is vital that we ensure affordable prescription drugs for all Oklahomans. Growing numbers of states are reimporting such drugs from Canada and other industrialized nations, and for good reason. They are the same medicines, same exact brands, same effectiveness.

There's only one difference, but it's a big one: reimported drugs are more affordable.

With our prescription for a healthy Oklahoma, we will help Oklahomans purchase cheaper medications by facilitating the reimportation of prescription drugs from other industrialized nations. And we'll do it through collaboration with Oklahoma pharmacies and supplying help through an Internet Web site.

In addition, I propose the creation of SmartCards that will enable Oklahomans to purchase their prescriptions from Oklahoma pharmacies at significant discounts without the mounds of paperwork and bureaucratic red tape.

Make no mistake: Out-of-control prescription drug costs are unconscionable, and we must find a remedy. The worst thing we can do is to do nothing.

Healthy Oklahoma

The same is true for Oklahoma nursing homes. I have proposed a reform package to ensure high quality care for seniors and peace of mind for their loved ones.

As we address the health needs of our parents and grandparents, we must not neglect the physical fitness of other Oklahomans. To encourage a healthier state, I will launch a comprehensive wellness campaign in April. This public-private partnership will promote healthier lifestyles and a more fit Oklahoma.

Strengthen Anti-Methamphetamine Law

One of the major roadblocks to a healthier Oklahoma is substance abuse, especially the epidemic of methamphetamine. We have the toughest anti-meth law in the nation, but there is more work to do. We must strengthen our efforts by creating a permanent state database to link pharmacies and prevent circumvention of the law.

Beyond that, I will continue to urge my fellow governors to pursue similar legislation to cut down on meth ingredients being smuggled into Oklahoma from other states. I'm also working with Congressmen Tom Cole and Dan Boren to push for tough restrictions on the federal level. We must remain vigilant in our defense of the families torn apart by this deadly drug.

Our Task

Today is the first day of the first session of the 50th Oklahoma Legislature. It is the final Legislature of Oklahoma's first century. We have before us a historic opportunity an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a second century of statehood that will propel Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Family to new heights.

My administration has demonstrated that we do more than preach bipartisanship. We practice it. And I urge all of you gathered here today to make a similar pledge to that spirit of unity. The election is over, and with it we must set aside the divisiveness and polarization that fuel campaigns but foil good government.

If ever there was a time for true bipartisanship, it is today.

All of us in this chamber were elected so that we may govern with purpose. We cannot govern for the purpose of being elected.

The pundits and political observers say Americans have never been more divided than they are today. They speak in terms of what supposedly separates us red state or blue state, rich or poor, black or white and on it goes.

But I don't believe we are defined by our differences, and I don't think most Oklahomans do, either. Simply put, we are more alike than we are different.

There is too much at stake for us to surrender to the politics of polarization. What unites Oklahomans today is what has always united us: Our unshakable faith. Our love of family and compassion for others. The unlimited promise of a hopeful future.

We cannot and will not lose the momentum we have created. So much that we have accomplished to date in education and job growth, health care and public safety is meaningless if we close our eyes to the vision that can unite us. We all understand and appreciate the importance of family and the steadfast legacy of the Oklahoma Family. We all of us in this chamber today are a microcosm of the Oklahoma Family. And we must never forget that as we embark on this historic legislative session.

Oklahoma is a state of greatness, but I am absolutely convinced that our greatest days are still ahead. Now, let's get to work, and let's work to honor the Oklahoma Family.

God bless you, God bless America and God bless Oklahoma.
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