Tennessee State of the State Address 2002

Following is the full text of Gov. Don Sundquist's 2002 State of the State Address, delivered on Feb. 4:

Governor Wilder, Speaker Naifeh, Madame Speaker DeBerry, Members of the 102nd General Assembly, Constitutional Officers, Justices of the Supreme Court, Attorney General Summers, Members of my Cabinet, Director of the TBI, My family, My fellow Tennesseans.

This evening, on the occasion of my eighth and final State of the State address, I am reminded of what brings us together as leaders of our great state.

A common goal of making Tennessee the best it can be ... a common goal of creating a better Tennessee for our children and grandchildren.

I want to start this evening with a heartfelt thank you to the members of the General Assembly. Thank you for your service to Tennessee and for your willingness to be a part of our great democracy. While it is seldom easy, your service at this time in history is the most important part of realizing our common goal of achieving the best Tennessee possible.

Governor Wilder, Speaker Naifeh ... elected leadership ... I thank you for the time we've spent making important decisions for Tennessee. Together, we have made much progress over the past seven years.

Thank you to the talented and dedicated members of my Cabinet, past and present. You've been the greatest team in the world during some of the most difficult and rewarding times.

And thank you to our state employees. Here tonight representing the thousands who quietly serve Tennessee each and every day are three very special career public servants.

First, a man who always keeps his cool when confronted with the challenges of disaster. Whether it's the ravages of a flood, the devastation of a tornado or the after effects of nine-eleven, Tennessee has been well served for over 30 years by one of the nation's leaders in Emergency Management. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in recognizing the director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency ... Mr. John White.

Next, a woman who has always served this state with dignity, class and the utmost integrity. She rose through the ranks to one of the toughest jobs in state government and has always been a voice for our greatest asset - our employees. She recently retired after 30 years with the state ... former Commissioner of Personnel, Mrs. Dorothy Shell.

And finally, a man who has forgotten more about the state budget than most of us will ever know. While he wanted to retire several years ago, he continued to serve during one of the most important times in Tennessee's history. One of this state's greatest resources ... Deputy Commissioner of Finance and Administration ... Mr. Jerry Adams.

Since our early days of statehood, nearly 206 years ago, Tennessee has been a state full of promise. Each new generation has built upon the progress of the generation before. Each day's successes are borne out of the previous day's resolve. We've produced presidents, Olympic champions, Nobel prize-winning scientists and entrepreneurs.

Our musical heritage alone has influenced and changed the world. We had a wonderful celebration of that heritage just a few weeks ago when the U.S. Mint released the Tennessee quarter.

During that ceremony, as Ruby Wilson sang a version of the Tennessee Waltz that sent chills down my spine, I was overcome with pride ... pride in a state and a people that have never let adversity or hardship stand in the way of promise.

No matter what amount of adversity we face today ... no matter the magnitude of the problems before us ... they are nothing compared to the promise that's alive and well in Tennessee. Every day, with each new baby born, promise is renewed. A promise renewed 84,000 times a year in Tennessee.

Eighty-four thousand babies born without hate, prejudice or fear. Eighty-four thousand little minds eager to learn. And if we teach them well ... if we do our jobs right ... 84,000 new opportunities to build a brighter future.

So while each of us here this evening is mindful of the challenges before us, we also must be mindful of that promise.

We must rise to the challenge and find the courage to make a difference in the life of every single child in our midst. We have found that courage in the past.

Working together over the last seven years, we've enacted good public policy that has helped parents lift themselves, and their children, out of poverty.

Together, we created jobs, offered affordable healthcare, childcare and transportation. We enacted a rating system for our childcare centers that's leading the nation and setting new standards for the care and safety of those most precious to us.

We've doubled the rate of adoption and lead the nation for health screenings among children in state custody.

We're building roads and schools that in turn build opportunity and hope.

We now have more children living in families with full-time employment than two-thirds of the country. Fewer children live in poverty in Tennessee than at any other time in history. And yet, that's not good enough.

One child living in poverty is one child too many.

Five years ago, Martha and I began sending congratulatory cards to the parents of every baby born in Tennessee. It seems like a small thing, but the little things really do make a difference.

We receive hundreds of replies to these cards. Many include pictures of the tiny little newborns. I'll never forget one, in particular.

The mother of a little girl named Raven wrote to say how much it meant to her that the State of Tennessee sent a card welcoming her new baby into the world. It was the only one she received.

So those cards really do make a difference to a lot of people. And by including a vaccination schedule for that first year, those cards have also helped make a difference in our immunization rates.

In just seven years, childhood immunization rates have gone from less than 79 percent to nearly 90 percent. Well above the national average. We're on our way to wiping out deadly diseases that once took a heavy toll on our children, as well as our communities.

TennCare, with its focus on prevention, has been key to boosting those rates.

I'm proud to say that when it comes to health care coverage for children, we lead the nation. That's reason enough to keep the promise of TennCare alive. Preventive care is keeping Tennessee's children healthy, keeping them in school and making them better learners.

And our schools are safer. Every public and private school in Tennessee is now inspected annually to make sure they comply with state safety standards and fire codes ... something that hadn't been done statewide in nearly two decades.

As promised, the Basic Education Program is fully funded and class sizes have been lowered. In just one year, we greatly improved standards and accountability in our classrooms. We all remain committed to making sure diplomas mean something in Tennessee.

Achievement results are now available and online for every school in our state. We know exactly how well our students are performing in every subject. Educators across the country are implementing the Tennessee model, a model implemented here because of our collective will.

States are being judged by many standards, but as technology continues to transform our society, the quality of our math and science instruction has never been more important.

We're making great progress in that regard. In fact, we lead the nation in the percentage of 8th grade math teachers with access to computers in the classroom. We know how important that is to teaching modern math and science skills so vital in today's high-tech economy.

We set the stage for that kind of success back in 1996, when we became the first state to connect every classroom to the Internet. And, knowing that wasn't good enough, we have continued to invest in the latest technology at every level.

Tonight I announce another first ... the use of that network to instantly notify our schools of bad weather, natural disasters and other threats. With this, our children will be safer.

We're on track for dramatic safety improvements at nearly 1,000 railroad crossings along school bus routes throughout the state. Thanks to the help of Congressman Wamp, along with Congressman Rogers of Kentucky, Tennessee won special federal funding for the project ... the first of its kind in the country, and one sure to make our children safer.

In many important respects, the State of our State has never been better: Our policies have encouraged unprecedented economic growth. We rank among the top 10 ''Hot Spots'' in the nation for new business development. We've gained over 300,000 new jobs in the last seven years higher paying jobs that are helping raise Tennessee's standard of living. Families First, which we crafted and implemented together, has meant fewer people on welfare in this state.

Part of our economic success is the result of our investment in roads especially in our rural areas. As promised, we've nearly completed the economic lifeline from Monteagle to Memphis known as Highway 64.

We're moving forward with the Upper Cumberland Development Corridor to connect our high unemployment counties with more jobs. For the people there, improving Highway 52 will complete the dream of better jobs that will forever change the lives of their families.

And while our roads have paved the way for opportunity, they've also been voted the best in the nation, as well as one of the most scenic. We help keep them safe by being among the toughest in the nation for truck inspections.

To top it all off, our roads are debt free. It would be a mistake to raid our road fund for a temporary fix to a perennial problem.

And at a time when Tennessee's roads are safer than ever, it also would be a mistake not to strengthen our drunk-driving laws. Let's pass .08 this year.

Together, we're building an Intelligent Transportation System along our urban interstates, using the Internet, cameras and highway messaging to relieve congestion and save lives.

We'll continue to use technology to cut costs and improve efficiencies throughout government.

Since the launch of our TennesseeAnytime web site, Tennesseans are spending more time online than in line for all kinds of services. In just over seven months, TennCare providers have used our new Internet service to verify eligibility for over half a million people, getting them the care they need faster.

We've dedicated the last seven years to making our environment the cleanest it's been in a generation. Tennessee is now one of just a handful of states that meets all current federal air-quality standards.

We brought other southern governors to Gatlinburg last June to sign the Southern Air Principles ... to improve air quality not just in the Smokies, but across the South. Raft down the once-blackened Pigeon River and see the trophy small-mouth bass that have returned to its clear waters. Visit the rugged hills of East Tennessee, where elk not only run free for the first time in over 100 years, but they're thriving. Count the thousands of acres of the most beautiful land in the world set aside for protection through innovative corporate donations. Watch as the new Brownfields law turns deserted urban areas into places of hope and opportunity.

Together, we have accomplished great things for Tennessee.

Cooperation must continue to be the cornerstone of this legislative session as we keep alive the promise to our children.

Last year, in the middle of a tough national economy, we had over 6 billion dollars in new capital investment in our state. That puts us on track to realizing over 40 billion dollars in new business investment in 8 years.

But none of us can afford to say that's good enough. We must shift our focus from the records we've set to the goals we seek for the future, making sure we prepare every Tennessean for the jobs of tomorrow.

We want the world to know we're a low-tax, low-cost place to do business. We want everyone to know about our central location ... our ready access to America's major markets ... our skilled workforce and our strong work ethic.

But what we offer today isn't good enough for the future. We must work harder and invest more wisely if we are to fulfill the promise of each new child.

Technology will be an increasingly important part of that equation. With our new Tennessee Means Technology initiative, we're redoubling our efforts to leverage Tennessee's abundant science and technology resources.

A shining example is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which more than a half a century ago, helped save our democracy. Today, under the management of the University of Tennessee and Battelle, the Lab has joined forces with state government, broadening access to its vast resources.

Most of you here tonight, including Governor Wilder and Speaker Naifeh, joined me in providing support for the construction of the world's largest science project ... the Spallation Neutron Source. Included in that project is a state-of-the-art computational science center, housing the fastest computer in the world. A computer soon capable of 10 trillion calculations per second, and one that will help UT become a world leader in the field.

In return, Oak Ridge National Lab is becoming an even stronger economic development partner, helping create 26 new start-up companies in just the last 18 months. The same thing is happening on the other end of our state in Memphis where St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is doubling in size through a billion-dollar expansion. The state is partnering to provide highway and infrastructure improvements, helping St. Jude fulfill its research mission to save the lives of even more children.

From the emerging Med-Tech Corridor in the Tri-Cities...

To the leadership Chattanooga is showing in fiber optics and electric transportation...

To the unique wind tunnels and aerospace technologies at Arnold Engineering in Tullahoma...

To Vanderbilt and Meharry and the amazing medical expertise in and around Nashville...

To the strong, new biotech focus in Memphis...

We're poised in Tennessee to produce a new generation of ideas that will revolutionize the way the world does business.

Tonight I'm pleased to propose a New Economy Strategy to do just that.

I ask for your support to turn the ideas coming out of our high-tech institutions into more Tennessee companies and more Tennessee jobs. I want us to work harder to keep our best and brightest and entice those who have already left to come home.

Our New Economy Strategy will train the next generation of Tennesseans to take full advantage of the emerging industries in our state. Our Strategy will better support and coordinate the many regional technology councils already active across Tennessee.

Working together, we can change our economic landscape to meet the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace.

Health Care is not immune to this new marketplace, and we must meet the demands of change there, too. I have proposed changes that will strengthen and improve TennCare.

In partnership with the federal government, the TennCare of the future will be leaner and more efficient. It will better reflect the private insurance market. It will be more focused, more accountable, and it will serve as the health insurance program of last resort for people with the greatest needs.

I am certain, that working together, we can preserve the promise of available, affordable, quality health care for all Tennesseans ... especially our children.

Our biggest challenge, however, lies in education.

We still have far too many in our state without a high school or college education. But we've proven that hard work and cooperation bring progress. Because of our investments over the past decade, the percentage of adult Tennesseans with a college degree and a high school diploma increased at a higher rate than the national average. That's still not good enough.

I believe that the more we invest to educate our children, the less likely they are to need government assistance later. Or end up in our prisons, where about 70 percent of the population has never finished high school.

I applaud the Legislature's courage and vision in passing our administration's Reading Initiative last year. Unfortunately, a lack of revenue kept it from being implemented.

And so tonight, with faith that this Legislature will act in the children's best interests, I again propose a statewide Reading Initiative that will ensure every child in Tennessee can read by the third grade.

My budget again calls for funding a preschool program for Tennessee's at-risk 4-year-olds, with a goal of reaching every 4-year-old in 4 years.

I propose to use state dollars to expand the federal Reading Excellence Act grant to serve an additional 40 schools and provide online training for every K through 3 teacher. It's imperative also that we address the declining conditions at our colleges and universities.

With us tonight are more than 100 students from our UT system who came here on their own as a show of support for investment in higher education.

They'll be happy to know my budget again will include second-year funding of a five-year plan to improve faculty recruiting and retention at campuses throughout the state. It calls for badly needed upgrades in our labs and in our classrooms where leaky ceilings and aging equipment keep excellence at bay.

My budget reflects a commitment to excellence in higher education. It reflects the needs of Tennessee's children. It puts children and their education first.

The tragic events of September 11th reminded us all just how precious life is. They reminded us to make every day count. That tragic day also demonstrated the good that can come when we unite and act unselfishly toward a common goal.

True to the Volunteer tradition, Tennesseans were among the first to respond to the events of September 11th.

We're privileged to have with us tonight several people who rose to the challenge of the first war of the new Century and showed courage in the face of adversity.

Just a few hours after the attack on the Pentagon, a highly specialized search-and-rescue team out of Memphis was on its way to Washington with over 50,000 pounds of equipment in tow. It was the first working deployment for Tennessee Task Force One, which is one of only six such teams in the country that specializes in weapons of mass destruction.

Several members of Task Force One are with us tonight in the gallery. I'd like to first introduce them and then ask them to stand ...

From the Memphis Fire Department ... Chris Wilson, Bobby Qualls and Barry O'Neill ... along with Paul Nickl, a volunteer with the Germantown Fire Department.

Like so many heroes of nine-eleven, these are people whose daily lives are spent as firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and engineers ... public servants deserving of the public's respect.

We thank you for putting your lives on the line to protect ours.

I'm also privileged to introduce to you several of America's patriots serving in our military.

First, from the 5th Special Forces Group out of Fort Campbell, Captain John Leopold, who recently was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds he received in Afghanistan.

Chief Warrant Officer Terry Reed, also from the 5th Special Forces, was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for wounds he received in Kandahar.

Staff Sergeant Sean Dunn, from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a member of the crew that rescued the aid workers in Afghanistan, including Tennessee's Dayna Curry.

And finally, Sergeant Andres Loor of the 187th Infantry who is about to deploy for Afghanistan with other units of the 101st Airborne Division.

And we will always remember Master Sergeant Jefferson Donald Davis of Watauga, who was among the first to give his life in the fight for freedom.

We're honored that his wife Mi, and their two children, 14-year-old Cristina and 11-year-old Jesse, could join us tonight. Mrs. Davis, would you and Cristina and Jesse please stand...

We salute the Davis family and all of the men and women called into action in the name of freedom and democracy, including nearly 1,100 Tennessee National Guardsmen deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Noble Eagle and state homeland security.

To be sure, our response to the threat of terrorism has been swift and strong.

We were among the first states to deploy our National Guard to our state's airports. We were one of the first to join the President in the formation of a Homeland Security effort, lead by Brigadier General Wendell Gilbert. We remain in close contact with local officials across the state, sharing valuable information from Washington and elsewhere.

We recently received word that federal funds will be made available to aid security efforts in all 95 counties, which will help but won't cover the full cost of our mission. Early on, as part of that mission, we made a vital decision to restore funding to several state agencies that suffered cuts last August.

With that, we began terrorism preparedness training for our firefighters. We increased testing capabilities at our state labs, which processed over a thousand Anthrax threats in a matter of weeks.

Among other things, we re-evaluated the responsibilities associated with protecting Tennessee's transportation network and our region's nuclear-energy facilities.

We must ensure that Tennessee continues to have the needed tools legal and financial to do our part in combating this new war.

To this end, I urge every member of the General Assembly to join Chairman Kisber and Senator Clabough in sponsoring tough, new homeland security measures. Working with our Homeland Security Council, they have developed a great piece of legislation. I hope it gains speedy approval and reaches my desk by the end of this month.

It's odd to think how much has changed in the few months since the last time we were all together in these historic halls. And yet, we still face many of the very same issues. I hope that the resolve and unity of September 11th can set a new tone of cooperation to our work the same tone and cooperation that led to the historic, bipartisan solution to redistricting.

For the last three years, we have engaged in a historic debate about what kind of state we want to be and what we must do, as a government, and as a people, to achieve that vision. We ask the young men and women we send into war to be courageous. We must ask the same of ourselves as we continue the debate here in Tennessee.

Before the recent deployment out of Fort Campbell, television crews showed a commander preparing his soldiers for the battle ahead. He was reminding them of the driving force behind their mission. It was, he said, to fight for America's children and grandchildren so that they can grow up and enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy today.

We share that driving force.

I keep talking about the need to invest in Tennessee and I think many of you do too for the very same reasons. First, because it's the right thing to do. And second, for the future. So that our children and our grandchildren can grow up and enjoy the same opportunities we've enjoyed. And more.

By all accounts we're over $350 million in the hole this year. Add to that the $230 million or so in one-time expenditures that was spent on recurring needs ... plus another $300 million in additional revenue to meet the estimated growth in the state's mandated obligations.

That's nearly $900 million just to keep the state running. Add to that a modest investment in education ... in our employees ... and in the Rainy Day fund, and we need to find somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion.

Everyone in the bipartisan leadership agrees on the magnitude of the problem. Since I've been in office, we've cut over $400 million from the budget ... $100 million of that was just a few months ago.

We will continue to look for ways to cut and make government more efficient. But once you take away all the things that we're required to fund, either by legislation or court order, there is very little left to cut and still maintain any semblance of being a competitive state.

Over the last seven years, we've cut the rate of growth of government spending some 40 percent. We've kept the size of government in check despite legislative and court mandates to add hundreds of new positions. In fact, thanks to efficient and effective management, Tennesseans' hard-earned tax dollar goes further today than at any time in Tennessee history.

That's spelled out, in simple terms, in this document the State Taxpayers' Budget which we'll present in a couple of days. In it you will see the real picture of state government. In it you will find the real budget numbers, which aren't $18 billion or $19 billion, but $9.6 billion. Unlike the budgets you've received in the past, it doesn't include federal funds or all the flow-through dollars, like tuition and child support payments.

This is a change in the way we present the budget, and it ought to continue in the future. The budget I will present is balanced. It also calls for new investment in education, economic development, healthcare and homeland security.

We need a reform plan for Tennessee that lives up to that investment and offers a longer-term fix to our state budget turmoil. It needs to be reform that is simple, fair and grows with the economy.

I will submit such a plan with my budget ... a budget that also includes a well-deserved raise for our state employees.

Make no mistake. We are facing one of our toughest hours in Tennessee. But the challenges before us pale in comparison to the promise ... the promise that comes with each new day in Tennessee when more than 200 babies take their first breath.

We must find the courage to put political gain aside and put the future of Tennessee first. My challenge to everyone here this evening is to find the courage to make a difference in the lives of Tennessee's children. That's a pledge we can all sign.

I want to share with you a letter I received from an elementary school principal.

She writes: ''Every day ... we teach our children about the importance of strong character. One of the traits we value and admire is courage: the ability to stand up for what is right even in the face of adversity and even when it's unpopular. We tell our children that courage is how we act when things are tough!''

"Be courageous,'' she says, ''Let history show that your strength of character created a strong legacy for Tennessee.''

She's right, you know.

The politics of procrastination have held us back too long already. For the next few months, let's put partisanship aside. In everything we do, let's be Tennesseans first and foremost.

Let's do our part to fulfill the promise of the next generation. Let's have the courage to make a difference in the lives of every child born in Tennessee today and everyday.

God bless these United States of America. And God bless Tennessee.
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