Originally created 01/15/04

Gov. Sonny Perdue Address



ATLANTA -- The text of Gov. Sonny Perdue's combined State of the State and budget addresses Wednesday night:

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the General Assembly and my fellow Georgians. I come before you tonight to report on the state of our great state.

And before I give you that report, I want you to know, I've done my field research for this assignment. Last week I visited communities in every part of Georgia.

From Rome to Savannah. Waycross to Watkinsville. Columbus to Crandall.

As I have done many times in the months since I last addressed you, I met with Georgians from all walks of life, including the courageous men and women in the U.S. military.

In all, I saw and spoke with thousands of Georgians. And you know what I found? If you ask Georgians what they want, they'll tell you.

Our nearly 9 million Georgians differ in our personal goals and dreams.

But I've heard some common themes from those I've met over the past year. Common themes that unite us, despite our differences.

Across all lines of race, religion, and economic status Georgians believe that our children are the most precious resource we have. Young and old, urban and rural Georgians are united in our desire to protect our children.

They are also united in wanting good jobs, a growing economy, and lasting prosperity. And whether they are Democrat, Republican, independent or other, Georgians want an open and honest state government that is responsive to their needs and responsible with their money.

And they want a state government that lives within its means, just as they must do.

From my travels, I know this is the people's agenda for Georgia. We here must make it our agenda for Georgia.

I guarantee you it is my agenda for Georgia. I'm going to share with you tonight how I plan to carry out the people's wishes, with your help.

But getting back to my report - The strength of Georgia, we all know, is in its people. We've had some tough times recently. And many of us are still enduring tough times. But from my travels, Georgians remain as confident - as energetic as resourceful - and as optimistic as I've ever seen.

We have big challenges before us but I have no doubt that, together, we Georgians are more than a match for the challenges we face. So I am proud to report to you all tonight that our foundation is solid and the state of our state is strong and getting stronger!

With that said, I have another important duty tonight. I am here to fulfill my obligation as Governor to recommend to the General Assembly a state budget for next year.

This evening, I'm submitting a budget that is responsible, balanced and principled. It does not contain nor will I allow any new taxes.

In years past, the state budget would be a hefty document. This year, to save time and trees, I will present each of you with one of these -- a CD-Rom containing every detail of my proposed budget.

The state budget is obviously more complex than the typical family budget. But at its heart there is no difference between balancing the state budget and balancing the family checkbook.

What I hold in my hand is Georgia's family budget, a budget based on priorities. Now, the first thing families do when they balance their checkbook is figure out how much money they have.

That's what we've done. I have based next year's revenue estimate of $15.3 billion on a conservative projection of 4.72 percent growth in revenue. I believe this is a prudent and a responsible target.

You don't drive full speed toward a cliff hoping that someone will build a bridge before you get there. I will not put Georgia in the business of recklessly spending money we don't have and may not get.

Here is the reality. When the auditors closed the books last year, our revenues were still below the level of when we closed them in 2000. That's why I directed every state department to reduce their budget requests by 5 percent for the coming year, so we can live within our means.

Five percent may not sound like much, but in the Georgia family it adds up to $800 million. Balancing our budget is even more challenging when you realize that as our resources have shrunk over the last few years, our needs as a state have grown.

As I already mentioned, Georgia is fast approaching a population of 9 million people, the ninth largest state in the nation. In fact, we're gaining about 150,000 Georgians each year -- that's like adding a new Macon or a new Augusta or a new Savannah each year.

I don't know about you, but I'm proud that so many people want to come to our state. But it does put a strain on our resources. Our growing population means more students filling our K-12 classrooms, technical colleges and university campuses. It means increased demands on PeachCare and Medicaid. It means growth in the demand for driver's licenses, prison bed space, road maintenance and all other state services.

Friends, our family has gotten bigger, but our take home pay has stayed the same! Less revenue plus more demand for state services equals just what I said before -- hard choices.

There is a name for the kind of people who make hard choices. They are called "leaders." And this year, on this budget, that is what each of us must be -- leaders who can make those hard choices. And the people are watching to see what we'll do.

Let's work together and make the right decisions to secure Georgia's future. Let's align our spending with our priorities and our priorities with our principles. That is what I have tried to do in preparing this budget.

This past summer, I directed every state agency to identify its core mission identify its customers put a price tag on every program it administers and rank those programs in priority order.

Prioritizing our programs will help us decide our budget the same way responsible families do. It's amazing to me that this had never been done before in the history of our state. By identifying our priorities up front, we're able to focus spending on what we must have now, deferring what we can do without until better times.

This next point is directed at all the Georgia families struggling tonight to pay the bills and make ends meet. I know you're doing all you can to put food on the table, clothes on your children's backs, and a roof over their heads.

I will not allow anyone to make your struggle harder by reaching deeper into your pocket with a tax increase. If you have to live within your means, state government will too. We will not raise taxes to balance this budget. Friends, please don't doubt my resolve on this. Let's play nice together.

Now let me discuss those priorities I mentioned, starting with taking care of our children. As you know, Mary and I believe we have a moral obligation to protect and nurture Georgia's children.

As a husband, I've had an opportunity to see Mary care for our children and grandchildren. But I want to tell you how very proud I am of her and the way she has fulfilled the role of First Lady to improve the quality of life for all of Georgia's children.

None of this was in the job description when I asked her to marry me, but she has used her visibility as First Lady to bring the public's attention to the needs of children. Children are a priority in this Administration, and children are THE priority in this budget.

We have brought new leadership, new procedures and new technology to the Division of Family and Children Services. I am very pleased with Dr. Janet Oliva's resolve in reorganizing and revitalizing this critical agency as its Director. My budget sends 65 new caseworkers to local country offices, where they are needed the most, by cutting a layer of bureaucracy.

This reorganization will improve morale, begin to address our turnover rate, and address case loads at the same time.

My budget also includes almost $24 million to place children in appropriate "Levels of Care" based on their individual needs. We are also preserving PeachCare, Georgia's health insurance program for children. Health care costs are outstripping available resources in every state, including ours. To save this critical program for children who rely on it, we have made PeachCare more like the health care coverage most families rely on.

As we're all too aware, Georgia remains the only state without a child abuse felony law that has real teeth. Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to change that this year, aren't we? And we will protect children from kidnappers by improving Levi's Call, our system that alerts the public to be on the lookout for abducted children.

Just last week Levi's Call helped save three precious little girls in Gordon County from their abductor. We are all thankful for that. My bill will also make it a crime to endanger a child by manufacturing destructive drugs in the presence of a child.

Why is this so important? Let me tell you about a little boy named Shelton Hicks. Shelton was only 11 months old when his parents were operating a meth lab in their home in Catoosa County. An explosion left little Shelton with burns over 30 percent of his body.

His injuries left him blind in both eyes. He suffered extensive damage to his right lung and to his limbs. Four months later, after a long and painful struggle for life, Shelton died.

His story isn't an isolated incident. Many children have been injured, maimed or killed due to meth lab fires, fumes and explosions. They are the youngest victims of this drug scourge. They need our help. They need our protection. They need this law. Enacting child protection has enjoyed unprecedented bipartisan support and I look forward to working with all of you to get this done for ALL children this year!

I have another priority for children that deserves your bipartisan support -- the Faith and Family Services Amendment. Faith based organizations provide critical services to children, seniors, battered women, the disabled, the homeless and other at-risk groups. But our Georgia Constitution is out of step with the U.S Constitution in this area. It discriminates against faith-based providers.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should be the standard for providing care in Georgia, not an outdated provision rooted in a dark period of religious bigotry. The simple 12-word Faith and Family Services Amendment brings our Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.

It will ensure that our citizens can have access to the best providers of social services. I'm asking you to pass the Faith and Family Services Amendment and put it on the ballot this November so the people can decide if faith-based services will continue to be there for children and others who need our help.

As we care for Georgia's children, we must also secure their future by ensuring that they are well educated. We must ensure that "Georgia Learns." In fact, GeorgiaLearns.com is the name of my education package.

GeorgiaLearns.com will inspire and empower students, parents, teachers and all educators to meet higher standards of accountability and achievement. Oh, you're wondering why It's "GeorgiaLearns.com." That's to constantly remind students and teachers and parents of the information and tools available at that website. It went live this morning - check it out.

It's good and getting better. We want to get our children on the fast track for learning at an early age. We want our kids to get a bright start. So we'll refocus the current Office of School Readiness as "Bright from the Start, Georgia's Office of Early Care and Education."

The Bright from the Start office will ensure that every child enters kindergarten ready for school success. It will improve coordination among Georgia's several early childhood programs, including the pre-K program and Smart Start. By eliminating duplication and bureaucracy, we'll ensure that more money goes directly to benefit children's early learning. And by infusing early childcare centers with a greater culture of education we will get all of Georgia's children off to a bright start.

Along with active, engaged parents, one of the best things we can do for education is to attract and keep the best teachers in our classrooms. To help do that, my budget includes a 2 percent pay raise for teachers.

And for veteran teachers there will be an additional increase. In total, my plan will give a 5 percent pay increase to nearly 75 percent of teachers statewide. I don't know if you've been in a classroom lately, but I think they deserve it!

But I want to give teachers more than just a bigger paycheck. I want to restore the respect that teachers deserve and need to create the best learning environment. Georgia Learns.com will make it clear to disruptive students once and for all that teachers are in charge of the classroom.

Disruptive students will get the message that they must respect their teachers and their fellow students. To help get that message across, we'll use one of the things they value the most -- their driver's license. Students need to know they can lose their driving privileges if they disrupt the learning process.

GeorgiaLearns.com promotes accountability by giving local schools and systems the flexibility they need to reach the high standards we expect. And as individual schools show improvement they will be granted even greater flexibility to continue their success.

The purpose of setting high standards of accountability is to inspire and empower, not to play "gotcha." So my plan replaces demoralizing letter grades with numerical scores for schools so that continuous improvement can be measured.

And because our poorer school districts face real challenges in educating their students, my budget will help them by providing $62 million in added relief to the poorest of our state's school districts.

Now! Let's talk about the HOPE scholarship.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about HOPE. So let me make one thing clear, and I want you to hear me- If you don't hear anything else I say tonight, hear this- The HOPE scholarship isn't going anywhere.

It will be there for your kids and your grandkids and beyond. The bipartisan HOPE Study Commission brought forth some good recommendations to secure HOPE for the future. I applaud and support their work.

The HOPE scholarship is and always has been about rewarding academic scholarship. That is why the "O" and the "P" in HOPE stand for "outstanding pupils."

With that in mind, I have another idea that won't deny HOPE to one single B student, but will raise SAT scores.

We should include an SAT component to HOPE eligibility. Georgia must improve our SAT scores. I am not satisfied with 50th place and I am determined to get Georgia's SAT scores out of the basement, whatever it takes. I believe that linking the SAT to HOPE will motivate students to take the test seriously and will lead to better preparation for college and higher SAT scores.

We will give an incentive to students who achieve on the SAT by extending their HOPE eligibility as a reward. GeorgiaLearns.com will inspire and empower greater student achievement and raise education standards across Georgia.

But there is something else we want to create across Georgia -- Jobs! We're all encouraged by growing signs that an economic recovery is getting started. In fact, last year, Georgia was second in the nation in job creation. But I know it doesn't feel that way in every part of the state.

Metro Atlanta gained more jobs last year than any other U.S. city. But I will not be satisfied until all of Georgia experiences job recovery and growth. I want to get Georgians back to work.

Georgia Works is my economic development program to invest in Georgia, create jobs and build a strong 21st century economy for our state. We will accomplish these goals by helping our existing industries grow, by encouraging entrepreneurship, and by investing in the jobs of the future.

Our state may not have a lot of cash right now. But we do have an excellent credit rating. And interest rates are low. So, just as many families are refinancing their homes so they can invest those savings elsewhere, now is an excellent time for us to invest in Georgia.

My budget includes a $1 billion dollar investment in the future of our state in the form of a bond package for transportation and other economic development investments. We will support our existing industries, such as shipping, with $28 million for improvements to the Garden City port terminal in Savannah. And $14 million for deepening the Brunswick Harbor.

We will invest in our workforce with $176 million for school construction and improvements and $47 million for expansion, improvements and equipment for our technical colleges statewide. And we will look over the horizon to make critical investments in the growth industries of the future that will create the jobs of the future.

Computers and information technology reshaped the 20th century economy. In the 21st century, the most dramatic changes will be in the life sciences and nanotechnology. And I want Georgia to be in the driver's seat.

That means building the laboratories that will attract top researchers. Their breakthroughs will lead to new products, new companies, and high-paying new jobs. The Georgia Works bond package includes $10 million for a state-of-the-art biological research building at the University of Georgia.

It provides $5 million for the Medical College of Georgia Research Initiative that will launch new medical research projects and attract more federal research dollars. And we're putting $2 million toward a $45 million state commitment to construct a world class Nanotechnology Research Center at Georgia Tech. Nanotechnology - the engineering and building of products at the atomic level - is projected to be a $1 trillion industry within twelve years.

I want Georgia to be a world leader in creating this new industry.

But I also want to develop the untapped opportunities in a more down home Georgia industry - tourism. With all of our natural, historic and recreational resources, we have great potential to attract many more visitors to our state, which will create new jobs in Georgia.

Now, for those of you who may be, even at this hour, stuck in your cars, forced to listen to me on your radios I want you to know that part of Georgia Works is helping Georgians get to work and back home to your families by relieving traffic congestion.

I have asked our key transportation agencies to come together around a common table and form a common strategy to fight congestion. I expect to announce in the coming weeks the details of a multi-year funding and construction strategy that actually relieves congestion and that promotes economic development across Georgia.

Georgia doesn't have time to be stuck in traffic anymore. It's time to get congestion relief going so we can get Georgia going!

There is one more economic issue I want to touch on, though it is more than that. Georgia has always been a patriotic state and we're always willing to do more than our share for the national defense. Georgia's 13 military installations contribute more than $25 billion and hundreds of thousands of jobs to our state's economy.

With a new round of base closure and realignment scheduled for 2005, we know our bases will be under the microscope. Our base communities and our state are doing all we can to demonstrate our support for our troops and for the vital missions they perform. We're doing all we can to let the best military fighting force in the world know they have a home here in Georgia. Georgians know the price that freedom demands.

We know the sacrifice our troops and their families make. They are all important members of our Georgia family. Tonight, we're honored to have with us in the gallery one of those family members, a young soldier who has completed two deployments with the 3d Infantry Division based at Fort Stewart. He served in one of the first units into Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was decorated for valor. Please join me in thanking Sergeant Raul Belloc and all of our troops who are defending our freedom here and overseas.

Our freedom is what makes America great. It is the cornerstone of our entire way of life. And because we are a free people, we have the right to demand and expect an open, honest government that puts the people's interests first. That's what ethics reform is all about. Honesty in government and putting the people first. Ladies and gentlemen, we're all for it and I think we all sense from our constituents and among ourselves that the time has come to enact strong ethics reform in Georgia.

Members of the General Assembly my friends I've listened to the people. I asked, and they told me what they want. They've told me they'll be watching. And they'll told me they'll be holding us accountable for our results.

We've got our assignments-- Passing a responsible, balanced budget that meets the real human needs of Georgians and does not raise taxes. Caring for children. Strengthening education. Demanding honesty in government.

Leading a statewide economic recovery and creating good jobs for our citizens. Jobs with a future. Those are big assignments for a state that is growing bigger every day and assuming an ever larger role in the world.

There is a little spot of land in our state, just across the brackish water beside a narrow causeway, where the sun gleams low over lilies and marsh grass. Shaded by live oaks draped with Spanish moss, this jewel of our golden coastline is Sea Island. And there, just a few months from now, the leaders of the most powerful nations on earth will convene for the G8 Summit. They'll experience our lively culture, our great food and our unbeatable Georgia hospitality. And they will learn what we have always known.

They'll learn that Georgians are enterprising, friendly, people who are blessed to live in a wonderful corner of God's earth. Ladies and gentlemen, we are doubly blessed. We are blessed to be Georgians And we are blessed that Georgians have trusted us to make the decisions that will determine the future our children will inherit.

I believe we will make the right decisions. And I believe we will secure Georgia's future. Because there is one more thing I believe- I believe Georgia's best days are still ahead. God bless you all -- and God bless the great state of Georgia!