Tennessee State of the State Address 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Jan. 31 Following is the prepared text of Gov. Phil Bredesen's (D) 2005 state of the state address:

Governor Wilder, Speaker Naifeh, Speaker ProTem DeBerry, members of the 104th General Assembly, justices, constitutional officers, friends and guests, and my fellow Tennesseans:

I stand here tonight for a third time as Governor to report to you on the State of our State, and to fulfill my obligation to recommend to the General Assembly a budget prepared according to the requirements of our Constitution. Once again, I will recommend a budget that is balanced, that is honestly balanced without fiscal gimmicks, and that requires no new taxes.

I want to acknowledge that as we convene here this evening, there are many thousands of Tennesseans serving our nation abroad, and that as of this evening, 35 of these soldiers from Tennessee have lost their lives in this service. We are humbled by their sacrifice. Please join me in a moment of silence honoring them.

We have here this evening as invited guests several representatives of the Tennessee National Guard:

  • Captain Tony Lacy, representing the 194th Engineer Brigade.

  • Mrs. Kim Bishop, whose husband Lt. Col Brad Bishop is deployed in Kuwait.

  • PFC Brandon Sandrell, who was severely injured in Baghdad in September 2003.

  • Mrs. Geraldine Pippin, whose husband CSM James Pippin, a UT employee, is in Diyali Province in Iraq. CSM Pippin requested and received a waiver of the age limitations for deployment. He is 61.

  • Master Sergeant Jimmy Edwards, whose wife Staff Sgt. Michelle Edwards is also deployed in Diyali province.

Please join me in showing our appreciation to all of our Tennessee volunteers represented by these five here tonight.

I was flying back to Nashville a couple of weeks ago, it was well into dusk, becoming night, and as I looked out I could see the fields, the roads, and the lights of the towns and farms of Tennessee. If you just squinted a little, you could make these works of man almost disappear, and there was a moment where it seemed that I had turned time back and could glimpse what Tennessee, what America must have been like when it was forest and river and mountains, when it was a new land which God had given us on which to build America and to build Tennessee. What a wonderful thing it would have been to have lived then, to have experienced the miracle of a new land and the promise of an unlimited future.

A part of the genius of America is the way we have so often taken a different road to accomplish something. Those first pioneers brought some bedrock values with themfaith, self-reliance, hard workbut they used them in new ways to build a nation. They left behind kings and queens and aristocracy, they left behind religious intolerance, they left behind the idea that you were born into some station in life. They left the old behind and invented something new.

At my inauguration, I spoke of a "Third Way," and as I present to you this evening my priorities I will ask us to do some conventional things, but also in the spirit of those pioneers, to try some new ones. We've accomplished a lot together these past two years. In our first month together, with a difficult financial situation, I didn't know how we were going to close the books at the end of June. We solved that problem and tonight you are being presented a third common-sense budget without new taxes.

Next year will be thin, and we can't do it all, but our financial situation is sound. We closed last year with a surplus, and our rainy day fund is not only preserved, but this budget leaves our rainy day fund at the highest level in the history of our state.

In years past, some sought to persuade us that the choices were between an income tax on one hand and deep cuts to fundamental priorities like education on the other. We found a "Third Way" that worked. We have dealt successfully with the contentious issue of workers comp reform, and we are moving forward on the biggest problem of all reforming our TennCare system. We are dealing with these issues in a constructive, bipartisan way.

In preparing our budgets and priorities, we Democrats and Republicans alike must stay focused on the fundamentals, and the most fundamental priority of all has to be the one that opens so many doors: The education of our children.

In this year's budget, I have proposed the addition of $194 million for public education. This budget again fully funds the Basic Education Program, and adds $11 million in additional support under the BEP formula for schools with high numbers of at-risk students. The Imagination Library also is a great success, up and running in 35 counties and being planned in three dozen others. These items I have just described on their own constitute strong support for education. But I am asking you tonight to join me in making three new commitments as well.

First, and the most important of all, I am asking you to join with me tonight in committing to the establishment of a voluntary pre-k program for every 4-year-old in Tennessee. When I meet with groups of teachers, I often ask them, "If you had another dollar to spend on education, where would you put it?" Overwhelmingly, they say, "Pre-K."

I have asked you in this budget for an additional $25 million, in this first year from the lottery excess funds, to take the first steps. I also want local communities through their school systems to contribute their share, as they do now with K-12. The total state cost of such a program is in the range of $200-275 million, depending on how many students enroll. While I am asking that excess lottery funds be used in this first year, I recognize that future increases will have to come largely from Tennessee's general fund. I will propose additional funding each year that I am governor until all Tennessee children whose parents want them to participate have access to a pre-k classroom.

Second, I want us to commit to career-long professional development of our teachers.

In education, the whole game is the teacher in the classroom. If we have great, motivated, supported teachers, we will do fine by our students. If we don't, no amount of testing or mandates will keep us from failing. Great organizations recognize that their greatest asset is their people, and they invest in their development. We need to do the same.

I propose that you fund an initial $5 million to begin the design and implementation of a professional development program that is better than anything that exists in our nation. I want us to use technology, I want us to use our higher education infrastructure, I want us to use our creativity. I'm tired of being 48th in anything. I want Tennessee to be the model for other states in how to support the professional development of our teachers.

Third, I am deeply supportive of our entire higher education system. We have recommended an additional $127 million in capital expenditures in this budget to continue much-needed capital maintenance and to fund the next group of building projects on campuses across our state, including major commitments to Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, to Dyersburg State Community College, to Walters State Community College in Morristown and others.

But I want to start focusing some extra attention on our flagship university, the University of Tennessee. I want UT to grow in stature as a first-rate teaching and research institution. When I pick up the latest US News rankings of public universities, I see we are ranked at #42 nationally. The top-ranked universities are not just those in high tax states the University of Virginia is #2, and our neighbors in the South hold four of the top ten slots.

Top-of-the-line public universities do so much for their states. They power the economy, they build reputation, they keep the best and the brightest students at home. This is a place for a "Third Way:" Don't stay #42, but also don't just dump in money in an unfocused way. This is a place for partnerships, and with institutions like Oak Ridge National Laboratory right in our backyard, we have a unique opportunity to begin this transformation at the University of Tennessee.

I have recommended funds in the budget to be matched by the national lab to begin to attract more nationally-recognized faculty members. I also recommended some capital funds that are being augmented by substantial private investment to start providing infrastructure. There is an opportunity today for the University of Tennessee to rapidly become world class in some areas like supercomputers, materials science, and nanotechnology, and we need to grab it. Our pioneer ancestors wouldn't have known what supercomputers were, but I believe they would have understood our aspirations perfectly.

Education: Stay the course in what we are already doing right; commit to a quality pre-K program; commit to the nation's best professional development program; and commit to the growth of our flagship university as a top-ranked teaching and research institution.

I want to talk with you now about jobs.

This past fall, I sat in a coffee shop, appropriately enough in Coffee County, and talked with two young adults who were in school at Motlow State. They were enthusiastic, they had great confidence in the future, and I loved being with them. I also talked in that coffee shop with a couple in their forties who were scared. There are so many Tennesseans just like them. While they have children who might be dreaming of becoming engineers and nurses, they themselves still need to provide for those children using the skills that they were taught twenty and thirty years ago.

That couple was scared because their jobs in manufacturing were being consolidated or seemed headed offshore. The competition for these more traditional jobs among the states is intense. And I won't be satisfied until every Tennessean who wants a good job has one.

I've asked in this budget for a substantial commitment of money $20 million this year to improve our efforts here through incentives, through help with infrastructure, through job training. I know that this is a lot of money, but as we plan for the future we need to also keep our eyes on today as well, and I ask for your support in this.

On a related issue, we passed legislation recently to implement a number of changes to our sales tax system, specifically the streamlined sales tax. In tight times, I'm concerned about the possible adverse impact these changes could have on the competitiveness of Tennessee businesses, and on local governments, when they become effective this July. I want you to know we are reviewing these changes and may propose altering or delaying their implementation.

Education and good jobs are two of the fundamentals. Now I'd like to talk with you about a third: The environment.

Tennessee is not only blessed with a people of character and common sense, we are blessed with some of the most beautiful and fruitful land and water on the face of the earth. I want us to start protecting more of our natural resources.

While there are tremendous opportunities all across our state, I'm asking that we start this year on the Cumberland Plateau. It is one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse places on the planet, and yet it is being clear cut, vast tracts of land owned by timber companies are on the market, and in many cases are being bought by speculators from out of state. Nothing good can come of this.

I am proposing two initiatives. First, the establishment of a public-private foundation, perhaps called the Cumberland Plateau Foundation, that can move quickly, can collaborate with other organizations, and preserve these lands for the future. Second, I have placed in the budget $10 million of one-time money to start the process. This initial investment on our part will leverage a great many private and federal dollars as well, and will allow us to take the first steps in preserving this unique and beautiful part of Tennessee.

I propose to begin with the Cumberland Plateau, but I want to expand the vision in the years ahead to other areas as well, areas like the Mississippi River Corridor, the Appalachians, the river valleys and others. Outdoor spaces are important to our people's health, they are important to the preservation of our heritage, and to creating jobs and attracting people who will create jobs.

My dream is that a generation from now, if we are diligent, our children and grandchildren will have of hundreds of thousands of acres of protected land for their use, for hiking and picnicking and hunting and fishing and just for enjoying with their own families the beauty of God's creation here in Tennessee.

Fundamentals: Educating our children; jobs and opportunity; protecting the environment.

We need to keep our eyes on the future, but we also need to deal with the challenges of today. Let me speak to a few of these specific issues. This is a tight year. The total budget, including federal dollars, is declining slightly, by about one percent. The state portion, the taxpayers' budget, is growing by about 1.5 percent. We have not had to ask for across-the-board cuts, but neither are we able to do it all.

In this year's budget we're proposing a total of 2 percent in raises for our employees 1 percent in continuing funds and an additional 1 percent as a bonus, as we did in this past year. If the revenue estimates improve in the spring, as I believe they may, I want us to use additional funds to improve these raises. State employees are the backbone of state government, and I want us to get in the habit of making them a priority every year.

As I promised last year, we are also restoring in this budget half of the cuts that were made two years ago to state shared taxes. We intend to restore the remaining half next year. In addition, we are restoring all of the cuts that were made to local jails. We also have returned a second third of the real estate transfer tax money that is used for wetland purchases, and have added one-time money to restore the total to its full amount.

We have placed $10 million of one-time funds into the road fund to begin the process of restoring that as well. I recognize that this is only a small portion of the almost $66 million that was reallocated in our crisis, but hope that it will be seen as a good faith effort to begin addressing the full restoration of these road building funds as well.

These are promises kept, and I am proud of them.

We also are introducing legislation this year that will permit a sales tax holiday before the opening of school. My goal is to have this fully implemented and online by July 2006.

We have a disease in Tennessee: The epidemic of methamphetamine manufacture and abuse.

This budget contains an additional $7 million to fight this, and we also will be proposing legislation to better control the sale of the over-the-counter medications that are used in the cooking of methamphetamine.

We are focusing this year on improving the efficiency of services provided by the state. For example, we are revamping the process of issuing and renewing driver's licenses...it should not take a day out of your life to renew your driver's license. At its core, the driver's license process is really about logistics, technology, and most of all, customer service. We happen to have in Tennessee one of the world's leaders in each of those fields: FedEx. Its CEO, Fred Smith, has agreed to lend us some of his experts help redesign this process.

There are other processes and procedures in state government that demand our attention, and none is more important than our process for protecting children in need. To that end, we are investing $4 million to continue our three-year program to increase pay for case workers who are on the front lines of the Department of Children's Services. I have an unyielding commitment, shared with Commissioner Miller, to improve the operations of DCS.

I want to spend some time discussing an issue that has consumed us all this past year: TennCare. The unchecked growth of this entitlement is a full-blown and very dangerous crisis, and I am working to guide us with a steady hand through to a solution. The General Assembly has done everything that I have asked thus far, and as governor I deeply appreciate this.

I love to fish, and sometimes when you cast, you get a big old tangle in your line. If you get impatient and frustrated, if you claw and tug at it, it just gets worse, but if you calm down, take it carefully, loop by loop, you can always get it straightened out. The TennCare problem is just like that tangle, and we need to stay the course of calmly untangling it and not claw and tug and make it worse.

We are untangling the knot with a commonsense three prong approach. First: To reduce the enrollment and benefits in the program to a level that we can afford today. Second: To establish a strong managed care system to maintain this program in the years ahead. And third: To aggressively seek relief in the courts to return control of the program to the people of Tennessee and their elected representatives.

Let me be clear: I do not like one bit where we are today, especially because it was so unnecessary to hurt people in this way. We had a plan that had broad support, that would have kept everyone with health insurance at reduced benefits, and it was thwarted by a few individuals in the name of "public justice." But getting mad or frustrated at things beyond your control is like getting mad at that fishing line and about as unproductive.

Please remember this: There are many people who claim to represent the "public interest" in this, but not a one of them has ever stood before the voters. The people in this room tonight have earned a vastly stronger claim to represent the public interest than anyone else involved, and if we untangle this knot together in a commonsense way, our state and our people will come through this fine.

As I close, I want you to think back to that vision of looking out the airplane window at dusk, and squinting a little and imagining for a moment a Tennessee that is new and waiting for a people to build upon it. That land has changed, and now there are farms and town and cities where those forests once stood, but the miracle is still there. The miracle is that we are still young, and the spirit of our nationits vision of an unlimited futurestill inhabits the darkening land.

There are towns and lights where those forests once stood, but the genius of America is that we are still a land of undiscovered shores, and we are at our best when we open our hearts and allow the night winds to bring renewed visions of great deeds.

I ask you to join me in pursuing those visions, I thank you for the privilege of serving as your governor, and I pray: May God continue to bless Tennessee and her people, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Good night.
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