Vermont State of the State Address 2000

Following is the full text of Gov. Howard Dean's State of the State address. It was delivered on Jan. 4, 2000

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the General Assembly and fellow Vermonters:

Calvin Coolidge returned to his Plymouth homestead in 1920 and proclaimed:

"Vermont is my birthright. Here one gets close to nature in the mountains, in the brooks, waters of which hurry to the sea; in the lakes shining like silver in their green setting. My folks are happy and contented. They belong to themselves, live within their incomes, and fear no man."

Four days into the new century -- into the new millennium -- we can be proud that Calvin Coolidge's words still apply in spirit. Vermont has a special set of values based on our land and our heritage, a sense of practicality and frugal thoughtfulness, and an extraordinary sense of fairness and compassion.

We must build our vision for the next 100 years with every act we do in this Legislature. The Vermont of 2100 ought to be a place where the lakes still shine; where family farms still form the backbone of our character; where our towns and cities are still distinct, with a strong sense of community; where our schools provide a world-class education, financed fairly so we afford equal opportunities to every child in every town.

One hundred years ago, Gov. Edward Smith stood at this podium and urged lawmakers to legislate for the 20th Century, building a structure of greatness that would exceed the dreams of their forbearers. Today we begin to build a vision that shapes the dreams of our children and our grandchildren.

One hundred years ago, lawmakers approved an 8-cent statewide property tax to equalize the education of every child in Vermont. Today, we commit to making sure that principle of equity is sustained.

One hundred years ago, lawmakers authorized towns to provide free hospital beds for those who could not afford health care. Today, while the rate of uninsured Americans climbs nationally, we in Vermont commit to our system that guarantees nearly every child has access to health care. EVERY CHILD HAS ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. As long as I am governor, we will never go back.

One hundred years ago, the Legislature banned the sale of cigarettes to minors. Today we continue our work to combat this poison and those who push it, a poison that kills roughly one-thousand Vermonters annually -- causing more deaths than car crashes, AIDS, alcohol, homicides, illegal drugs, suicides and fires combined.

One hundred years ago, lawmakers approved pay for the First Infantry of Vermont, volunteers who fought in the war with Spain. Today I will ask you to help honor the Vermont veterans who fought in World War II.

One hundred years ago, lawmakers brought transportation policy into the 20th Century by revoking a requirement that someone -- holding a lantern -- walk ahead of steam vehicles on the road at night to warn the horse and buggy traffic. This year I will ask the Legislature to spend $325 million to preserve and maintain the 3,200 miles of paved roadway and bridges, support our 120,000 statewide rail passengers and the 3 million tons of freight which trains carry each year.

One hundred years ago, lawmakers granted women the right to serve as town clerks and school superintendents. Today, I ask this Legislature -- comprised of men AND women -- for help in preparing our schools and our communities for the new opportunities offered by Vermont's increasing ethnic diversity.

I am again asking the Legislature to help fund the Coming Home Foundation, which will increase the higher education aspiration rate and leadership potential of students who are Vermonters of color. I also ask the Legislature to continue to fund diversity training grants for our teachers.

This is the year that we must make every effort to comply with the new Supreme Court ruling, which confirms that all Vermonters -- including gay and lesbian Vermonters -- are to have equal benefits under the law. We were the first state to outlaw slavery in 1777, and we will remain in the forefront of the struggle for equal justice under the law.

In the last 100 years, Vermonters survived a statewide flood; built an interstate highway that brought the outside world to our doorstep; fought to save our family farms; and created a ski industry that turned the long Vermont winters to our advantage. Now we must turn our vision to the coming Century.

Change is accelerating beyond our imagination. In 1992 there were 50 web sites on the Internet; today there are 50 million. Today 10-year-olds can easily find their way around the Internet.

Thomas Friedman, in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, wrote: "Think about it: thanks to the Internet, we now have a common, global postal system ... we now have a common global shopping center ... we now have a common global library ... and we have a common global university."

Our markets will increasingly be oceans away -- places like Argentina and China; we in Vermont will buy and sell via a worldwide network of satellite-directed technology.

Vermonters in the year 2100 will have more job options that pay higher wages -- jobs based on communications, services and financial management. Our major engines of tourism will be four season resorts, but our small bed and breakfasts will have a much higher occupancy rate because of their ability to market over the Internet. Our population will double, perhaps even triple, as Americans seek a better quality of life and leave our suburbs and cities. And while our population climbs, I hope that we will have a smaller number of prisoners in our jails thanks to programs like Success By Six and Reparative Justice, for which I ask your continued support.

We ought to heed the wise advice of British Ambassador Bryce, who -- overcome by the beauty of the state's natural landscape during a visit in 1910 -- urged Vermonters to "preserve the purity of your streams and your lakes ... and keep open the summits of your mountains." I am proud that today we have more than one million acres of land conserved; and over the last 30 years it has become possible again to swim in almost every mile of the Connecticut River as it courses along the Vermont border.

Today 19 percent of our land is conserved with either easements or public ownership; I hope that by 2100 that figure will be 30 percent.

I hope the quality and efficiency of our health care system will remain, but that it will be available to all Vermonters and to all Americans.

Our tax structure will be different in the coming Century. Because it is nearly impossible for states to tax Internet commerce, the various states' sales tax across the nation will gradually disappear to be replaced by a federal sales tax. It is likely that the gas and tobacco taxes will not be significant sources of revenue since neither of these products will be widely used 100 years from now. And I suspect we will still rely heavily on the property tax to fund education.

The coming Century requires us to rethink the integration of our educational system. We cannot afford to be constrained by the vision of schools as kindergarten through 12th grade. The future requires a wider lens that sees education as preschool through college, post-college, and life-long learning opportunities.

Higher education will change the most, with technical education both at the secondary and post-secondary level assuming a far more important role than it does today. Gone will be our reliance on the classroom, replaced in many cases by instruction over the Internet and other distance learning technology. In the coming Century, a student in Brattleboro will learn physics with classmates from England, Israel and Taiwan -- thanks to technology we cannot imagine today.

By the year 2100, utilities will have long since been restructured and we will be buying our electricity at a cost which will be much more in line with the national rate. Ironically, for a state which has had so much trouble bringing hydro power from Canada, Vermont will rely even more on renewable energy than we do today to provide electricity not only for our homes and our factories, but for our electric and hybrid automobiles. By 2100, only the state archivist will have heard of Vermont Yankee.

Perhaps most strikingly, our population will look much different than it does today. While in the United States as a whole, Americans of non-European descent will outnumber Americans of European descent, that will not be true here. Nonetheless, we will be a much more diverse state and with some foresight and planning, a state which avoids much of the racial and ethnic tensions which have plagued other areas in the country.

We should look to our next generation for guidance in building the respect needed to foster our growing diversity. At this summer's Governor's youth summit, Burlington High School student Hussain Karim said, "Stereotyping comes from adults as well as students. Usually it hurts more when it comes from adults than teens. If adults are stereotyping teens, how will the teens feel? They will feel like they're nothing. I believe respect is everything. If you have respect for yourself and others, why would you feel the need to bully someone else?"

From Columbine, Colorado to Conyers, Georgia, the entire nation needs to listen to these words.

There is much more to be done to become the state that I hope Vermont will be in the year 2100. But the danger today is that we do too much too fast -- that the programs we have initiated will not be sustainable without our careful attention in the year 2000.

It is the nature of man to both seek and fear change simultaneously. Great periods of change have often been followed in human history by great periods of reaction and turning away from change.

We have been fortunate enough to have an outstanding economy. We find ourselves in a far different position than when I first took office and faced the highest marginal income tax rates in the United States, and a deficit that was 10% of the state's general fund budget.

The Legislature has passed the most powerful economic incentive tool ever seen in this state with the Vermont Economic Progress Council. In the past year alone, VEPC has awarded over $63 million in tax incentives to 68 companies and 10 municipalities from St. Johnsbury to Bennington. These grants have generated 7,500 new jobs -- and $1.4 billion in increased economic activity.

We have cut the income tax twice, and eliminated the sales tax on most clothing. Last year alone we worked together to pass the largest tax cut in the history of Vermont -- putting money back in the pockets of working Vermonters and giving a needed boost to retail businesses, particularly those along the New Hampshire border. Today we have the highest bond rating in New England.

We have fought to preserve our dairy farms creating a regional pricing system designed to guarantee farmers a fair price for their milk. Thanks to the New England dairy compact, many of Vermont's family farmers are more easily able to pay their mortgage and send their children to college. My deepest thanks go to Vermont's congressional delegation for their outstanding leadership to save the compact, and I'd like to acknowledge Representative Bobby Starr for his leadership, as well. The compact needs to become a national model, and I intend to do whatever this administration can to make that happen.

We must understand that this prosperity will not last forever. The business cycle has been and will continue to be a prominent feature in the world economy. This year is a year for consolidation and for making sure that the programs we put in place can be fiscally sustainable.

Vermonters understand and appreciate this need for fiscal prudence. Dorothy Canfield Fisher once wrote, "When we read newspaper items about states which have somehow let themselves in for spending more money than they have, we think it's not a bad idea to think a situation over before you start doing something about it."

Our greatest risk is in education. Our solution to educational inequity, which became known as Act 60, was financially sustainable as passed. We were very careful to pass a dynamic law that provided for educational improvement, but was tempered in order to keep spending at a viable level.

Even more importantly, we have set high standards and are seeing substantial improvements in mathematics, reading and writing, particularly in elementary and middle schools. High schools still need improvement, but we have developed a road map to achievement -- and we know it works. We're demanding accountability in the classroom, accountability from administrators, and accountability from school boards.

Act 60 was intended to provide equity, and we will not back away from that commitment. But no law can eliminate the tension between federal, state, and local governments over school funding. No law creates money that doesn't exist. No law can allow us to spend enough money on education so that the difficult choices and the hard work of setting priorities can be eliminated.

We've already seen towns that have passed consecutive double-digit budget increases, believing that Act 60 would provide a windfall, and are now finding it necessary to bring spending back under control by taking painful measures. That can happen under any formula. The real promise of Act 60 is that it creates for the first time fairness and equity. The real promise of Act 60 is that the equal opportunity of a child to get a decent education no longer depends on how many factories or how many second homes happen to be in that child's town. This is the promise that we must keep.

Health care is also a complicated problem, but at stake is our ability to continue to provide prescription help for seniors, and to insure children and low income working Vermonters. After a few years of single-digit growth, the health care industry rates have now gone up much more substantially in this past year. This is true in every state in the nation.

But everywhere else in the country the number of people without health insurance has gone up. Today the number of American citizens with no health insurance is approximately 43 million, 16 percent of our population. In Texas, with the greatest number of uninsured citizens, nearly one quarter of their people have no health insurance. In Vermont, the direction is the opposite -- under 7 percent of our neighbors are uninsured. In Vermont, the state guarantees coverage to over 52,000 children.

We were ranked 5th in the country last year in terms of the quality of our health care. According to a study by Mercer, our insurance rates (even with the enormous rate increases of this January) are the lowest or second lowest in New England. It is no longer legal to deny health insurance to older people or those with serious illness. And we have agreed to pay the bulk of the prescription costs for seniors who are at the lower end of the income scale.

Just three days ago, the VSCRIPT program was expanded to help seniors at 225 percent of the federal poverty level pay for their prescription drugs. In addition, we've dramatically expanded the ability of seniors to live in their own homes, instead of being sent to expensive nursing homes. For many older Vermonters, the addition of a ramp to the front door or a ride to the doctor's office is all that's needed to ensure they can continue to live at home, near friends and family.

I will not allow the clock to be turned back on these accomplishments.

There has been an enormous amount of misinformation circulated about the reasons for the double-digit increases in health care costs this year. Here is what we know about our health care system:

  • 1.There is a large baby boomer generation now working its way into middle age and soon senior citizen status. We will continue to use more health care resources as we get older.

  • 2.The extraordinary growth in technology to save lives and improve the quality of life will continue. The use of MRIs, for example, is up 72 percent in a single year.

  • 3.Pharmaceutical prices have risen at 18% this year alone. That accounts for one-quarter of the growth in our system.

  • 4.The health care system does not work like other markets. Consumers by and large do not make the decisions in health care. Most of these decisions are made by health care providers.

  • 5.We have tried multiple regulation and arbitrary cost containment efforts with only minimal success. Introduction of some public pressure is necessary to reform the system.

  • 6.Despite our remarkable success in Vermont, we are still much too far from our goal of universal health insurance for all Americans.

    These cost pressures have led to some grumbling that we should scale back eligibility for Dr. Dynasaur or the Vermont Health Access Plan, in essence knocking some children and working Vermonters off the state-supported health insurance programs they both need and trust.

    I want to make it clear right here, right now: We will not turn the clock back on the progress we've made to guarantee Vermonters have affordable access to quality health care.

    We're talking about our neighbors, working Vermonters, their children, and their parents.

    People like Noreen Crouch of Putney who wrote:

    "This is just a note to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without your Dr. Dynasaur program, my two children would continue to have no health coverage. It is a comforting feeling to know that my children have insurance should they need a visit to the doctor." To Mrs. Crouch I say: We will not go back.

    Or Dee Nault of Newport Center who wrote:

    "Just a note from a very grateful Vermonter. Thanks for the improved medical allowance. I have rheumatoid arthritisand this month started taking a new recombinant DNA prescription. I'm feeling better already. There's no way I could afford this medicine without your program." To Mrs. Nault I say: We will not go back.

    Vermont has truly taken the lead in trying to guarantee coverage to every child in the state, as well as adults. Some have questioned whether these families really need the help. I urge those critics to knock on the door of any Vermonter who has been without insurance for twelve months -- a requirement for entry into the VHAP program -- and ask those families if they or their children would have insurance if it were not for the State of Vermont.

    I am very proud that Vermont has the fewest children in America without health insurance. Health insurance for children should not be dependent on income; every child in America, let alone Vermont, should have it -- and if necessary, the government must guarantee it.

    We must not retreat on our commitments as some have suggested. Nor should we renege on the 1992 bill which enabled older workers to buy health insurance at affordable rates. We do need and we do want a competitive insurance market in Vermont, but to any insurance company that insists on going back to the old days and exploiting our elderly and our ill -- I say we will not go back.

    I do think this is the time for more creative thinking about ways to ensure that kids have access to care, and hold down future increases in health care costs and insurance rates.

    One community is taking a lead on this front. The Molly Stark School in Bennington has embarked on a bold experiment, providing a dental office in the school itself. In only its first month of operation, the dentist has seen 57 Dr. Dynasaur-eligible children -- many of whom had never visited a dentist. Who are these children?

    Six of them -- most aged four and five, on their first trip to a dentist ever -- were sent to the Emergency Room at the local hospital to have their decayed teeth pulled.

    One five-year-old boy -- every tooth decayed, the top six teeth completely blackened -- was sent to the emergency room for extractions.

    One 6th grader -- on his first dental visit ever -- had six teeth pulled and was forced to miss a few days of school. When Principal Sue McGuire stopped by to visit the boy, he told her -- "I never knew what it felt like not to be in pain."

    There is no reason this model won't work in other parts of the state, particularly in Windsor and Orange Counties where access to dental care continues to be a problem. And I have asked for money in the budget adjustment act to start such a program in Brattleboro.

    I might add that if these larger communities would fluoridate their water, as many other communities have done for years, the cavity rate would drop dramatically. We recently did a study which compared Middlebury, a fluoridated water system, to several communities with no fluoridation. The cavity rate in Middlebury was one-half what it was in the non-fluoridated communities.

    But the principle issue this year in health care is controlling costs.

    I propose improving our financial reviews of hospitals, and enabling the Vermont Program for Quality Health Care to expand its in-depth review of medical procedures, health care costs and most importantly -- outcomes.

    We must get the public more involved in cost control efforts.

    We must add co-payments and deductibles to the medical bills of those who are covered by state-sponsored programs such as Dr. Dynasaur, VHAP and VSCRIPT.

    And we must make sure that physicians, hospitals and other health care providers are aware of the costs of what they order, and are committed in a meaningful way to limiting them.

    Finally, we must take responsibility for the costs of our own behavior. Our personal choices have a big effect on our individual health care costs, but they also have a big effect on the insurance premiums for all of us.

    There are those who have blamed the large increase in insurance rates on the cost shift in Medicaid. But the largest cost shift by far in the medical system comes from Medicare, a federal program over which the State of Vermont has very little influence. The dramatic decrease in Medicare funding -- along with increased utilization and drug costs -- have created this one-year extraordinary increase in health insurance premiums.

    State-passed mandates have contributed about 25 percent of this year's increase in insurance premiums. Many of these I have supported. But this year I ask the Legislature not to pass any additional mandates.

    I also ask the Legislature not to enact a legal provision which would allow additional lawsuits against HMOs and employers. Vermont has the strongest patient protection law in the country regarding HMO's, and opening insurance companies and employers to lawsuits will only drive the price of insurance still higher.

    We cannot vote on the one hand to expand insurance coverage and increase the cost of liability insurance, and then go out in an election year and point the finger elsewhere for the increase in health care costs.

    Most vexing of all is the enormous increase in pharmaceutical prices. I will continue to urge Congress to allow Vermonters to buy medications from Canada at the wholesale and at the retail level. In the meantime, I ask the Legislature to explore many of the ideas to have been put forward on bulk buying. I applaud legislative leaders for their initiative in putting together a regional effort to deal with pharmaceutical costs.

    We have two choices: Health care can be a divisive campaign issue for the 2000 elections. If it is, little of consequence will be done in this legislative session. Our other choice is to work together to deal with increased pharmacy costs, high utilization, and under-reimbursement. I extend the hand of cooperation to every member of this Legislature, regardless of their party affiliation, to work in a constructive way together to bring health care costs back under control, as they have been during most of the 1990s.

    The last hundred years have offered Vermont enormous opportunities. We've used them well to create new jobs, improve education and health care, develop our environmental ethic and our sense of civility. Our successes make Vermont an example to the rest of America.

    We begin this Century with a need to consolidate our gains. This year we build the foundation for the next hundred years and for the future beyond that.

    It's a future that Tom Friedman predicts will be made up of microchips and markets. But, he adds, it will also include "men and women and all their peculiar habits, traditions, longings and unpredictable aspirations." The world will increasingly become "the interaction between what is as new as an Internet web site and what is as old as a gnarled olive tree on the banks of the River Jordan."

    Vermont's olive tree is our values -- our land, our sense of practicality and frugality, our enshrinement of justice and compassion in our Vermont Constitution. As we patiently build the foundation for the new millennium, I ask you to cling tightly to the values we have held so closely for the past centuries.

    Thank you.
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