Vermont State of the State Address 2002

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the General Assembly and fellow Vermonters: Before I begin my last State of the State address, I would like to take a moment of personal privilege to acknowledge a legislator who will be leaving us next week. Senator Barbara Snelling not only reflects the best of Vermont's values and integrity, but has continually shown great courage in overcoming adversity to serve the people of Vermont.

Barbara, we wish you well. We walked into the Statehouse today prepared for a session that in many ways will be like any other.

Just as I have for 10 years, today I will ask you to control state spending, to expand health care coverage while controlling costs, to strengthen environmental protection and to improve education. I will ask you to make life better for Vermonters.

But this session is in fact unlike any other. Our lives and the lives of every American changed on September 11. From tragedy has grown a sincere, heartfelt unity, and public expectation of our bipartisan achievement has never been higher. We all have our stories. Let me tell you mine.

Shortly after September 11, I went to Ground Zero with members of the Vermont State Police, New York State Police, and New York Emergency Management personnel. I left that encounter with a sense of shock at the smoke, the dust and the rubble that just days before had been the World Trade Center. Like many Americans, I knew people who died in those buildings. And like many Americans, I prayed for the 3,000 victims and their families.

But greater still was my sense of hope. There were thousands of men and women in hard hats and uniforms at the site. Enormous trucks were coming and leaving every sixty seconds, hauling away debris. Even in the few days that had passed since the attacks, there was enough space to stand on an adjacent street which had been buried under 10 feet of rubble.

I knew America would recover when I saw that army of working people preparing to put New York back together. I am proud of the Vermonters who participated in this, donating their time, their money and even their blood for the relief effort.

Within 48 hours, Vermont State Troopers Matt Birmingham and Jeff Lawrence from the Rutland barracks were at Ground Zero, removing the body of a New York City firefighter from the rubble. Vermont Air National Guard F-16 planes were in the air, guarding the New York skyline.

I marched in a Montpelier processional with retired New York City firefighters Kevin O'Donoghue and Mike Penchina, who now make their home in Vermont. I attended a memorial service led by Bishop Angell, who lost his brother and sister-in-law when the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center.

Even Vermont's children played a role in the recovery effort. Kids in the Addison County 4-H Clubs ran a bottle drive called "Nickels for New York"; and 7th grader Kelsey Dumont of Swanton began a food and craft sale on the village green, raising over $1,000 to help the victims' families.

I was especially proud that Vermont tree farmers sent Christmas trees to the fire stations throughout New York City. One fireman, grieving over the deaths of half his fellow firefighters, noted that the victims from his station alone left behind 27 children at Christmas. He looked at the Vermont tree and said: "Vermont is a small state with a big heart."

I'd like to read from a letter from Ruthann Schuster, whose son-in-law died on September 11: "It was such a beautiful, fresh tree! The children were delighted. My daughter originally wasn't planning a tree this year, but Michael (age four) was worried that Santa wouldn't deliver presents if he didn't have a tree to put them under. Vermont's kindness has helped us handle yet another painful situation.

Our son-in-law, Michael Haub, was a member of Ladder 4, Engine 54 in Battalion 9, Midtown Manhattan. Their house lost 15 men. To date, not a trace of any of them has been found, not even the truck. He was so proud to be a firefighter. He had graduated from the Academy in November 1999, so was a fireman less than two years.

Vermont happens to hold a special place in our hearts. We have spent many a happy vacation in your beautiful state, and Michael and Erica spent their honeymoon at the Trapp Family Lodge in May of 1997. Thank you for your kindness. God bless you and your families."

I believe in what Professor Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard calls "The Great Asymmetry," that every spectacular act of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness.

Today, Kelsey Dumont and members of Vermont's firefighting and law enforcement communities are here. I would like to them to stand for all the Vermont volunteers -- and those who risk their lives every day for their neighbors -- to be recognized for their extraordinary patriotism and understanding of the promise of America.

The lessons of September 11 have been painful, but America will be stronger because of them. The most important of these was summed up recently by Lieutenant Governor Doug Racine, visiting a New York City fire station, who said: "September 11th made the neighborhood a lot larger."

America is connected to the world as never before, and Americans must never forget that. Vermont is connected to the world as never before, and Vermonters must never forget that.

Since 1998 I have used this speech to highlight Vermont's growing global connection. We are increasingly linked to the world's economic, political and trade networks which extend to every area on earth.

America must now take its rightful place as a moral leader, as well as an economic and military leader in the world. We must do so in consultation with other countries and not unilaterally.

In our nation's history, isolationism has been a strong and powerful political trend. I hope that isolationism is gone for good; we can never again afford to believe that what happens elsewhere in the world has no effect on Vermont.

That New York City fireman was right: Vermont is a small state with a big heart. And this small state has proven that with fiscal caution and caring social policy, Vermont values can serve as a guide for the nation.

This year, facing a tight economic situation, our task is especially challenging. But if we continue to make smart choices built on a firm foundation of old-fashioned New England frugality, we will have served our state well.

Our most important task is to balance the budget. I have submitted a balanced budget for 2002, and I appreciate the Senate and House Appropriations Committees meeting early to begin consideration.

I urge the Legislature to pass the budget adjustment act quickly, before January 22nd when I submit the 2003 budget. I will outline my 2003 budget plan a week later than usual, after new revenue figures are in. But I will say we have made some careful and difficult choices. The Legislature will either have to support these choices or substitute their own painful decisions.

I am optimistic. There are a few of us in this room today who went through the 1990 recession, and that was far more difficult. I believe that by making tough choices in 2002 and 2003, then 2004 will be a better year for state revenues, and the next governor and Legislature will be able to resume the modest growth we've had in the budget since I've been governor.

Vermonters expect us to spend their dollars cautiously. But they also have asked for help, and health care tops that agenda. First, as I have said annually for the past decade, I will not allow any child to be cut from the health care rolls. I am proud that Vermont leads the nation in guaranteeing health care for every child in our state. But we can do more.

  • I deeply appreciate the work of the Governor's Bipartisan Commission on Health Care, and will use some of the report's suggestions and ask the House and Senate to pass a bill that controls costs and moves us closer to universal health insurance.
  • I will ask that we allow small businesses to buy into the Vermont Health Access Plan, dividing the costs between the employer and employee. We clearly have no additional state money to spend on health care, but this would help small businesses afford coverage for their workers.
  • I will ask that many Vermonters who earn below 300 percent of poverty be able to purchase their health insurance through VHAP.
  • I support the recent efforts of some prominent Republican governors -- including Gov. Engler of Michigan -- to bring down the cost of prescription drugs. Efforts in these states, as well as Maine, to negotiate for lower prices by using preferred drug lists are important efforts in the crusade to win fair prescription drug prices for all Americans.
  • I am working with other governors both Republican and Democrat as well as unions and business groups nationwide, to lobby Congress to ensure that affordable generic drugs are increasingly available.
  • And I will ask you to tie hospital budgets to their certificate of need process, which is essential to curb the skyrocketing costs of health care.

    One of the issues that September 11 has brought to the forefront is energy. I have announced an initiative that builds on Vermont's extraordinary record of energy conservation, and on our achievements in encouraging sustainable and renewable energy sources.

    Vermont has the nation's lowest amount of air emissions per capita, and one of the highest percentages of energy savings through efficiency. An extraordinary statistic is this: Our electric rates are the 7th highest in the country, but what Vermonters pay in their electric bills is only 26th in the country. In other words, although our rates are higher, our usage is lower thanks to conservation and efficiency. We need to continue that conservation, be proud of it, and search for alterative energy sources.

    We should do more.

    In my budget, I will propose $750,000 to be transferred from the Petroleum Violation Escrow fund to promote renewable resources, especially wind and solar power. Our goal should be to meet all of Vermont's new energy needs for the next ten years through conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy.

    It is essential that Vermont and the nation reduce the dependence on foreign energy sources from nations which are not democratic, do not respect the rights of women, teach hate in their schools, and harbor those terrorists and others like them who murdered 3,000 people on September 11.

    There are other problems that demand our attention this year. I ask you to create a $500,000 program to address the needs of what we've come to call "high risk" youth young people with emotional, physical or other difficulties that place them at high risk of developing significant problems. This will not require new money, simply a reallocation within the Agency of Human Services to meet this growing need.

    I ask you to compromise and resolve the difficulties around the issue of Act 60. I have spoken with the chairs of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees, and I believe a compromise can be reached. Not only is this the right thing to do, but I believe it will help put the controversy over educational funding behind us.

    I ask you to continue our focus on enforcement, prevention, and treatment of substance abuse. The spotlight has been focused on the tragic problems particularly among young people related to heroin addiction. But our mission is to continue efforts to combat alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, as well.

    I ask you to support legislation drafted by Attorney General William Sorrell and the state Department of Aging and Disabilities to protect Vermont's seniors from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

    And I ask you to pass a bill that gives Vermont the authority to prosecute terrorists when their actions affect the lives of Vermonters, to make it illegal to raise money to support terrorism, and to ensure that our computer systems are protected from attack. Vermont must also be ready to thwart any attack using biological, chemical or other weapons.

    These proposals focus on some of the problems facing our state and our neighbors. But we ought not concentrate solely on the problems, and remember that Vermont is an exceptional place to live. We are still a state where one person can make a difference.

    Shortly after I signed the controversial clear-cutting bill, I met Warren "Jersey" Drown at a meeting of POST a group that strongly opposed the law. Jersey, a forester from the Northeast Kingdom, came up to me after the meeting and we talked about his objections. That began a friendship that continued until the time of his death a few weeks ago. In fact, a couple of years ago Jersey sent me 100 pine seedlings that I planted on my property in Lowell.

    One day about two years ago, Jersey called me at home. He said, "Howard, you know how you built that state building facing Lake Memphremagog so the whole town would turn toward the lake? Well, if the cars are parked in the building's lot, you can't see the lake when you're driving up Main Street. You need to lower that lot so we can see the lake."

    The next day I drove to Newport and looked at that parking lot -- and sure enough, Jersey was right. I called Tom Torti in the Buildings Department and asked him to lower the lot by a foot-and-a-half. And now, when you drive down Main Street in Newport by the state office building, you can see the lake, even if the parking lot if full of pickup trucks. All because one man Jersey Drown called me at home and made a simple suggestion.

    Today I ask the Legislature to name the parking lot of the Emory A. Hebard State Office Building in honor of Warren Drown -- a sportsman, an historian, a great story teller, and a true Vermonter. The Drown family is here today, and I ask that they stand so we may pay tribute to all those Vermonters -- like Jersey -- who make a difference in our lives.

    Although this is not my last address to the General Assembly, it is my last State of the State Address. I want to thank you for the friendships that I've made over the last 19 years, and the support I've enjoyed on both sides of the aisle for the direction the state has taken.

    At the time of my leaving office, we will have the highest percentage of children in the nation with health insurance, and one of the highest percentages of adults with coverage.

    We will have over a million acres of farm and forest land preserved so our great grandchildren may enjoy and work these lands as we have.

    We are one of few states that actually complied with court orders to guarantee a quality education to all children, regardless of the wealth of their communities.

    We will have the highest bond rating in New England, a 23 percent reduction in per capita debt over the last five years, and a long series of balanced budgets.

    We are a state which guaranteed equal rights to all Vermonters regardless of race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation.

    This is the 225th birthday of Vermont's Declaration of Independence and the state Constitution. The values of our founders -- thrift, compassion and conservation -- remain the values of Vermont's present and future. I would like to have all 180 Legislators from the Vermont House of Representatives and the Senate stand and be recognized for your help and service in improving the lives of all our neighbors.

    Franklin Roosevelt said, "It is not enough to clothe and feed the body of this Nation, to instruct and inform its mind. For there is also the spirit. And of the three, the greatest is the spirit." There is no spirit greater than Vermont's. And I am so proud to have been a part of that, with your help.

    Thank you very much.
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