2005 State of the State Address of Governor Ruth Ann Minner
January 25, 2005

Governor Minner may deviate from prepared remarks

Lieutenant Governor Carney, President Pro Tem Adams, Speaker Spence, members of the 143rd General Assembly, members of the Delaware judiciary, other elected officials, members of my Cabinet, state employees, distinguished guests, my family and my fellow Delawareans.

A week ago, after taking for my last time the oath of office that all elected officials in Delaware recite, I told you that these next four years for me would be about sowing the seeds of our state's future.

I talked about engaging in endeavors that I would not see fully realized. And I shared a quote from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero: “We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.”

Today, I am proud to share some of the finer details of the broad portrait I painted last week, a picture of a future Delaware where our schools, our health, our environment, our economy and our government are better than they are now and better than they've ever been. I'm eager to get started.

Education

So let me begin where the future of our state begins: in our schools. The state of our schools is one of emerging excellence, with more and more students meeting our high standards year after year.

This month, Education Week gave Delaware an A-minus for its standards and accountability efforts, among the best in the country. The rating recognizes the work that governors, legislators, educators and parents have done to put high standards in place for what we want our children to know and fair measures for assuring that they have met those standards.

As I said last week, we must complete the process of education reform that was begun more than a decade ago. Now that schools and students are being held accountable for their performance, it is time for teachers to be held accountable as well.

I will work with the educators of our state to finally design a system that is fair, but we cannot delay any longer. I plan to have a teacher accountability system in place in time for the start of the 2005-2006 school year.

As we expect more of our educators, we will also do more for them. The Delaware Teacher Corps I proposed and that the General Assembly funded on a pilot basis has brought 10 bright young people who have committed to teach in Delaware public schools in exchange for their tuition. With us today is one of those future teachers, Robyn Rubolin, a student at the University of Delaware who hopes to teach special education. Robyn, welcome and thank you.

In the budget I will propose this week, I will ask that we expand the Delaware Teacher Corps from the current 10 students to 50.

Part of Delaware's accountability system is under scrutiny and study, the three-tier diploma. Originally a legislative compromise under a previous administration, the three-tier diploma satisfies neither those who want an assurance that a diploma holder has mastered certain skills, nor those who worry that the tiers unfairly brand students who they believe have worked hard.

A panel of national experts assembled by the General Assembly, the education community and me will give us their view in February. I will not prejudge it, but I will say this: A Delaware diploma should signify that the person holding it has mastered the knowledge and skills needed in college and in work. Any change we make should move us toward that goal.

Part of improving the knowledge and skills of Delaware students is providing extra help for children who need it when they need it. That was the idea behind placing reading resource teachers in every elementary school. Now thousands of Delaware students are getting the help they need in the most basic skill, and the positive effect is rippling up through the grades and across other subjects.

But, as you know, I am concerned about other areas as well. We all know that many of the skills most in demand in the 21st century economy are in the fields of science and technology. And we know that mathematics is key to science. But our state test scores show this is an area where we are not doing as well as we could, especially in the middle grades, where students are making the transition from simple math to algebra.

Therefore, I propose that we begin placing math specialists in middle schools in the upcoming school year. These teachers will provide the extra time and extra attention that some students need to learn and master math skills before they fall behind. I will propose funding 22 math specialists. As in the early stages of the reading resource teacher program, these specialists will be placed at the 22 schools with the lowest math scores on our state tests.

I have proposed that we implement full-day kindergarten across our state by 2008, and the budget I will present Thursday will include significant steps toward that goal.

I have come to the conclusion that full-day K should be voluntary when implemented, but I am confident that the vast majority of our state's parents and young students will take this expanded opportunity to prepare for a lifetime of learning.

I have always believed that both adults and children are most inspired when they have a goal for which to reach. More and more young people each year obtain the goal of going to college, but not all do. The knowledge and skills that higher education offers not only produce better people, they produce a better state and nation. It is time for Delaware to help more children achieve that goal.

Building on concepts that Senator Harris McDowell and Representative Nancy Wagner have advocated in this Hall for years, I propose the creation of a program to guarantee a college education for those who want it and work for it. Our promise to our children should be this: if you do well in school, we will pay for you to obtain a college degree.

Modeled after programs like Georgia's HOPE Scholarship, I propose to work with our education community and the General Assembly to create the Delaware “Student Excellence Equals Degree” Scholarship.

The Delaware SEED Scholarship will be based on two principles. First, that the level of achievement necessary to access this scholarship be tied to attaining our standards. And second, that the scholarship be geared toward achieving an associate's degree from our state's most affordable and accessible higher education institution: Delaware Technical Community College.

I look forward to forging the Delaware SEED Scholarship to provide focus for our children's middle and high school years and as a solid step toward their futures.

My belief in the potential granted by each child's education is a result of having to obtain my own the hard way. An inspiring education system is the most important seed we can sow for our state's future. Please join with me in these efforts.

Health

I spoke last week of making Delawareans healthier, and we are doing that.

Our fight against Delaware's high cancer rates will be one of my legacies to the state. Doctors tell me that they see fewer and fewer cases of cancer, lung disease, asthma and heart conditions related to secondhand smoke, thanks to the Clean Indoor Air Act. And the unprecedented program we started last year has provided cancer treatment to 23 individuals who otherwise couldn't have afforded it. One of those is here today: Emma Fulton.

A Screening For Life test in September determined that Emma had colon cancer. She underwent surgery in December, paid for through our new state program. Today, Emma shows no signs of cancer. She credits our new program and screening nurse, Karen Savin, who Emma says saved her life. Karen is also here today. Karen, thank you and Emma, congratulations.

For Emma and thousands of others, we must continue to follow the blueprint for reducing cancer drawn by the Delaware Advisory Council on Cancer Incidence and Mortality. My proposed budget will include full funding for the Year Three recommendations of the council's report.

As we work to improve our state's cancer rates, we face another area of health care where we struggle to understand what is occurring: that is in the area of infant mortality.

Last June, I created a task force on infant mortality to investigate why, at a time when prenatal care in our state has gone up, the rate of infant mortality has gone up as well, especially among certain unexpected groups. I have recently received the task force's interim report, indicating that the problems and the solutions to this challenge are multifaceted.

After receiving input from more than 3,000 Delawareans, the task force, in much the way the cancer council did, has identified 121 priorities for reducing infant mortality in Delaware. Over the next two months, the task force members will provide specific action steps and costs to implement these priorities. I look forward to sharing and implementing them with you.

The cost of health insurance affects every Delaware family. Some Delaware families must simply go without. Others can pay for it, but only by making enormous sacrifices in other parts of their family budgets. Many businesses are being forced to cut back on hiring because of double-digit increases in health insurance costs every year. The cost of health insurance is rapidly becoming a crisis in our state.

There are many ideas on how to deal with this issue. I believe that the best approach that we can take here at the state level is to increase the purchasing power of Delaware's health insurance consumers by creating a statewide purchasing pool. That will give individuals and small businesses in Delaware the same bargaining power and risk-spreading abilities that big companies now have. My hope is that this will result in more affordable health insurance premiums across the board for Delawareans.

This is an issue that transcends party lines. A bipartisan group of elected officials, my office and a number of other stakeholders is discussing legislation that would create such a statewide purchasing pool. I look forward to seeing this legislation, and I will do everything I can to see that it becomes law this year.

In order to make good decisions in life, it's important to have good information. This applies to health care. When someone in Delaware must decide what course of medical treatment to take and where to take it, when businesses and government must make decisions about health care policy in light of spiraling costs, they need good information. But right now, that information isn't available.

I will propose legislation requiring that hospitals and similar institutions maintain and disclose valuable data concerning treatment patterns and costs. This initiative will ensure that the state and its citizens are better informed consumers, and allow us to find more ways to improve delivery of health care services for the benefit of all Delawareans.

By fighting cancer and infant mortality, by working to control the cost of health care and by allowing more informed choices to be made about care, we will move toward the goal I have set of a healthier Delaware.

Environment/Livable Delaware

Benjamin Franklin said there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. But I'd like to add a third certainty: trash. And while some in this room might want to discuss reducing taxes, I want to talk about reducing trash.

It is well known now that Delaware lags behind the rest of our region in the amount of material that we recycle. Our low recycling rate is not a meaningless statistic; it directly relates to our quality of life because the more trash we send to landfills, the larger and less manageable our landfills will be.

The recent issues at Cherry Island landfill near Wilmington bring the problem to the forefront: do we continue at a pace that will require a current nuisance to grow bigger quickly, or do we make a choice that will reduce the impact and extend the life of what we currently have? I believe the wise answer is clear.

A few days ago, the Recycling Public Advisory Council, after years of study and debate, endorsed a plan for increasing Delaware's residential recycling rate from a meager 4 percent to 30 percent. I wholeheartedly endorse the 30 percent goal.

The council has presented the General Assembly and me with draft legislation to implement their recommendation. This legislation provides a strong and thorough starting point. Over the next six weeks, my staff will meet with interested parties with the intention of preparing the legislation for introduction soon after the General Assembly returns from break in March.

Increasing recycling in Delaware is an idea whose time has come and, if put off, may not come again. It is the right and responsible thing to do and I ask those with an open mind to help me propose the most responsible way to do it.

In this address four years ago, I announced a new strategy to control growth and sprawl called Livable Delaware. Today, the principle behind Livable Delaware - that we should collectively plan where to grow and grow only where we plan - has been widely embraced.

This year I will propose strengthening and expanding Livable Delaware toaggressively protect our water quality and other natural resourcesthat are endangered by sprawling development. We will better enforce the state investment strategies we have developed with our counties and towns to manage how and where we grow. I will ask you to join with me to support a legislative package that recognizes and safeguards the natural qualities that make Delaware truly unique before they are degraded or gone forever.

As we all know, the issue of flooding and the damage and potential danger it has caused is one that is especially pressing. I believe that decades of development decisions created the situation we now face and that we must act quickly to reduce the potential for disastrous flooding and to take steps to prevent future residents and governments from having to face it in the future.

I have created a Surface Water Management Task Force to recommend changes to any state or local laws and policies that are worsening rather than reducing our flooding issues. It may also propose new policies to comply with state and federal water quality requirements and will study the costs and potential sources of funding for a statewide plan to minimize flooding and drainage problems.

This group met for the first time Friday, but will report back to me by April 1 so the General Assembly and I can address the flooding issues facing our state by June 30.

The pressing situations of recycling, growth and flooding are ones that have gone unaddressed for too long, but which I intend to deal with so they are less of a concern for future generations. They are part of my plan to sow the seeds of a better future for Delaware's environment and people.

Economy

As I stand before you, Delaware continues to have one of the strongest economies in the country, with one of the lowest unemployment rates among the 50 states, nearly a point-and-a-half below the national rate.

Last February, I announced my New Economy Initiative, a plan to put $46 million dollars of state, federal and private funds into boosting our state's economy. By the time the General Assembly approved the initiative in June, Citizens Bank had added another $14 million dollars in matching low-interest loans to the package.

New Economy Initiative investments have recently begun, with grants that are expected to add $13 million dollars to the gross state product.

But there is more we can do to keep Delaware's economy one of the strongest in the nation. In order to do that, we must help our business owners control their costs.

I want 2005 to be the year that Delaware finally addresses the difficult issue of controlling the cost of workers compensation insurance. Lower workers compensation rates will reduce the cost of doing business here, and lead to more and higher-paying jobs.

To help increase confidence in our Industrial Accident Board, which makes workers compensation decisions, I will be issuing an executive order creating an Industrial Accident Board Screening Committee.

This committee, modeled on our nationally known Judicial Nominating Commission, will screen the names of applicants to the IAB and send me only a small number of qualified names for me to consider for nomination. It is my hope that this Committee, over time, will do the same for the IAB that it has done for our courts: make the Delaware IAB one of the nation's most respected.

This must also be the year when we deal with the issue of high medical costs in workers compensation cases. There are many people who havea stake in this issue: employers, organized labor, physicians, attorneys, and more. To get it resolved will require some serious discussions, but I want the discussions to end and to produce legislation that can be passed during this session.

I will propose legislation designed to deal with the issue of medical costs in workers compensation in the coming weeks. I have no pride of authorship; the General Assembly can pass my legislation, or come up with a better solution. But the issue must be addressed, and it must be addressed now.

Getting the most bang for our buck in government is one of the keys to my philosophy of governing. While I have changed many areas of state government for the better, it seems there is always more to do. This year, I want to focus on the many incentives that we provide to employers in our state.

From the Blue Collar tax credit program on down, many of our employment and training incentives are fractured, confusing, in amounts too small to make a difference and, as a result, are unused. I will propose this year that many of our employment and training incentives be combined and streamlined so they are of more use to our corporate citizens and more of a boost to our state's economy.

Continued wise investment in our private sector by state government and wiser investment of our employment incentives will sow the seeds for a brighter economic future for Delaware.

Legislative and Budget Preview

In addition to the agenda I have outlined for schools, health, the environment and the economy, there are other issues I wish to touch on today. Some of these will be part of my budget proposal. Others will be part of my legislative agenda, which I will unveil, as I have each year, when the General Assembly returns in March.

The safety of our citizens and the emergency responders who serve them continues to be one of my highest priorities. In my first term, we worked together to fix problems with the 800-megahertz radio system, making it one of the most comprehensive in the nation. But our commitment to the firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical workers of Delaware was that we would not stop there. The bond bill I will present Thursday includes $19 million dollars for what we have termed the “next generation” of 800-megahertz, a multi-year effort to expand in-street and in-building coverage and to upgrade the now decade-old infrastructure that supports the system.

Once again, I call upon the General Assembly to pass legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. I ask that the measure be given the chance for a debate and a vote, and that the debate be based on the content and purpose of the bill itself, not on rumors and theories about what might come next.

Once again, I will present to the legislature bills aimed at reducing the anonymous political attacks that we now see in every election, attacks funded by special interest hiding behind innocuous sounding names. I ask that you help reform our campaign finance system by requiring that any organization running advertisements that are substantially funded by just one or two special interest groups list those groups in its ads.

Once again, I will ask the legislature to ban open containers of alcohol from the passenger compartments of vehicles. In addition to making our roads safer, this measure will prevent the loss of nearly $3 million dollars for highway construction.

We, of course, owe a continuing debt to those serving our nation overseas and two Delaware National Guard members are with us today. Master Sergeant Robert Stone of the 166th Airlift Wing is a Chaplain's Assistant. Stationed in Iraq for more than a year, he provided moral support for our troops in a combat zone, many times coming under fire.

First Sergeant Larry Pelkey was the Detachment Sergeant for the Delaware Army National Guard's 249th Engineer Detachment and also served in Baghdad for a year. A state employee with the Division of Facilities Management, Larry and the 249th helped to build infrastructure and restore water and power to numerous homes, schools and businesses. For their actions, Master Sergeant Stone and First Sergeant Pelkey each were awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. Please join me in saluting and thanking them. My legislative agenda this year will include items that will continue to ensure that those who serve as citizen-soldiers overseas and their families do not have to worry about losing their livelihoods at home.

Last week, I proposed to you a reorganization of state government, centralizing many of the administrative and support functions of state government in one agency. It is an effort to both save money and make our government more efficient. I ask that the General Assembly pass legislation making this change on an interim basis as soon as possible and that the members support the permanent change as part of the budget that will be passed in June.

Finally, my proposed budget will contain the next steps in our continuing effort to address the issue of staffing in our state's correctional system. It will include funding to increase security and to increase pay for correctional officers. I know that these issues will be carefully considered.

Conclusion

Last week in my inaugural address, I spoke of sowing the seeds for Delaware's future. The items I have discussed today are progress toward the vision I presented to the people of Delaware.

I ask you to consider each of these initiatives on their merits and, hopefully, favorably. But some of the goals I have will take all four years of my term to fulfill. I intend to work on them right up until January 20, 2009.

The inaugural prayer service last week included a story from the Jewish Talmud about a man planting carob trees. A passerby asked the man why he would plant such trees, since they take 70 years to bear fruit. The man said, “When I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”

My goal this year and for the next four years is to sow seeds that will bear fruit and continue to improve the lives of Delawareans long after all of us are gone. I believe the initiatives I have announced today further that goal, and I look forward to discussing them with you.

Thank you.