Governor Minner may deviate from prepared remarks
Lieutenant Governor Carney, President Pro Tem Adams, Acting Speaker Oberle, members of the 142nd General Assembly, members of the Delaware judiciary, members of my Cabinet, state employees, distinguished guests, my family and my fellow Delawareans.
Perhaps for the first time in four years, I stand before you todaysmiling. Delaware has done well. In facing the worst fiscal crisis for states since World War II, our state was hailed as one of the best run in the country. The votes were cast over and over. Governing magazine. Standard and Poors. USA Today. Moodys. CNN. Fitch Ratings. The Beacon Hill Institute.
Over and over, Delawares name appeared on the lists of the best-managed states. If state government were the TV show Survivor, Delaware definitely would've won the million bucks. And I tell you, in the last year or two, we could've used it.
As with any success in government, the credit is shared. I want to thank the members of the Delaware General Assembly for working with me in the Delaware tradition the Delaware way to recognize and overcome our challenges. The bipartisan support for solving the $300 million budget problem we faced a year ago was not only appreciated by me, but by the people of Delaware.
Perhaps the cooperation is best expressed in a comment made by House Majority Leader Wayne Smith. Representative Smith went with our finance team to one of the Wall Street bond rating agencies last year. He was asked about the ability of the executive and legislative branches to work together. He told them, In Delaware, when it comes to managing the budget, were all patriots. Thanks to all of you for embracing that spirit.
You know, now that I think about it, in this building we work together almost as well as the national champion Blue Hen football team.
There are others to thank as well, including Lieutenant Governor John Carney for his wise counsel, and my cabinet members for their considerable innovation and leadership. But I must especially thank our state employees.
Again and again, through the recession, through two hiring freezes, as the economy sank and budget cuts grew, they maintained the same outstanding level of service to the people of Delaware. I want to recognize them yet again for their efforts to serve their fellow citizens. Please join me in saluting our state employees.
As we look at Delawares history over the past three decades, we know that a time of economic growth will mean good things for Delaware. Like the 1980s and the mid-1990s, the next years of the early 21st century promise to be a period of possibility.
If we stay true to the principles that proved wise in the recent tough times, and if we apply vision to the most pressing issues of the day, I firmly believe that Delaware will enter a new era of opportunity; an era of opportunity where we have the chance not just to survive, but to thrive; an era of opportunity where we continue to set Delaware apart, improving the prospects for our people and writing a new chapter in the distinguished history of our state.
So let me talk today about how we will achieve the new era of opportunity, in education, in our economy, in fighting cancer and in the environment.
For more than a decade, Delaware has been on a path of educational improvement. And the results are showing.
Recently, Delaware students were among the best performers in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, one of the few tests that allow state-to-state comparison of student performance.
In math, our fourth- and eighth-graders showed impressive gains. And in reading they have maintained some of the highest scores in the country. Student scores on our own Delaware Student Testing Program are showing continuous progress as well.
If we set high goals for our children, and if we consistently provide our students and our schools with the tools they need we will see improvement year after year. And Delaware students will become better and better equipped to succeed in college, in work and in life.
As our state enters this new era of opportunity, I have a number of ideas to bolster our childrens basic skills and to lead to ever-higher levels of achievement.
First, I ask the General Assembly to complete the funding of reading resource teachers for every public elementary school. I have said it often and I will say it again: I believe you learn to read when you are young, then read to learn for the rest of your life. It is critical that each Delaware child have this most basic skill.
Currently, 50 of our elementary schools have reading resource teachers and the difference they are making in the lives of our children is real.
Two years ago in my address, I introduced you to Sylvia Stevens, the reading teacher at Fairview Elementary School here in Dover. Two of Sylvias students are Deven and Shawn Barr, brothers who are now in the fourth grade. Sylvia has worked with Deven and Shawn for more than a year, since their regular teachers recognized their need for extra help in reading.
Just since September, Sylvia says Deven and Shawn have improved their reading skills by an entire grade level. Now, on Sylvias tests, both score 99 percent in word recognition with no mistakes. Their progress in their reading abilities is clear, thanks to their work and to Sylvias.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome and congratulate Sylvia Stevens along with Deven and Shawn Barr.
In order to provide more successes like Deven and Shawns, I ask that you support my proposal for 68 new reading teachers, assuring one for every public elementary school in Delaware.
My support for reading teachers is part of my belief that children must receive a firm foundation in their early years for the learning that will go on for the rest of their lives. Research has shown that the time between birth and 5 years old is critical in brain development.
In addition to reading teachers, we must expand our efforts in helping our students at this critical age. We, as leaders of our state, should make a promise to the people of Delaware to offer full-day kindergarten in every elementary school in our state by the year 2008.
This is a promise full of challenge, but worthy goals always are. My agenda for the next year will be to craft an implementation plan that will address the many issues faced in the transformation from a half-day to a full-day kindergarten system. My budget proposal will also include $1 million to begin funding this program for our youngest school students. I ask the General Assembly to support these initiatives.
Children cannot learn without the proper tools and providing those materials is part of our responsibility as well. Since the start of my administration I have worked to ensure that as much new funding as possible goes directly to the classroom.
And so my budget proposal will include $9 million to be sent straight to the classroom and be used for textbooks, technology and other supplies.
Every day, we place the future of our children in the gifted hands of educators. Besides parents, teachers have the most impact on our students and we have recognized and supported them. Over the last several years, we have put more than $3 million into upgrading their skills and knowledge and created the Professional Standards Board, giving teachers considerable responsibility in the effort to improve schools.
We must do more to ensure that some of the best and brightest minds in our state continue to join the teaching profession. We need them to produce the best and brightest minds of the next generation.
And so I propose to you the creation of the Delaware Teacher Corps. Modeled after successful programs elsewhere in the country, the Delaware Teacher Corps would bring new teachers into Delaware schools by offering to pay the cost of their education at state institutions.
For each year of schooling that the Corps pays for, the teacher would commit to spend one year teaching in a Delaware public school. Furthermore, in the first years of this program, I propose that we utilize the Teacher Corps to fill one of the critical needs of our school system: the need for math and science teachers in our middle and high schools.
The budget I will present to the General Assembly next week will include funding for the Delaware Teacher Corps and will propose that most of that funding be used to recruit math and science teachers.
We cannot create an era of opportunity without devoting a considerable amount of our efforts and our resources to our children. I ask that you support my proposals for reading teachers, full-day kindergarten, textbooks and technology and the Delaware Teacher Corps.
Our efforts in education are about preparing for the future. And Delawares economic development strategies have long been forward-looking as well.
As Delaware has evolved over the years, it has diversified from agriculture to manufacturing to chemicals to finance. Our state has a strong history of business and government working together to identify the prospects for strengthening our economy. Again and again, we have improved the quality of life of Delawareans by providing quality jobs.
Even during the recent tough times, Delaware has done well. It has taken a concerted and sustained effort by all of us myself, members of the General Assembly, my economic development team, and especially business leaders from the private sector talking to other business leaders.
Together, we have succeeded in creating or retaining more than 11,000 jobs over the last three years. Just last week, we announced a major win AAA Mid-Atlantic bringing its headquarters, operations center and 750 jobs to Wilmington and Newark. Successes like these kept Delawares unemployment rate substantially below the rest of the country during the recession.
The era of opportunity we are entering presents us with the chance to diversify and fortify the Delaware economy. In February, I will unveil the details of an economic development package.
The New Economy Initiative will be a comprehensive plan to put more than $46 million in state and matching private and federal funds to work bolstering the Delaware economy.
The New Economy Initiative will include a Competitiveness Fund to spur new investments in existing manufacturing facilities; seed funding for technology-based small business start-ups; venture capital funding for Delaware firms on the edge of significant expansion; programs to boost Delawares standing in the areas of emerging technologies, clean energy and fuel cell research; and an investment aimed at improving Delawares research and development efforts, particularly in biotechnology.
Several of the ideas in the New Economy Initiative fulfill recommendations of the Governors Strategic Economic Council.
Taken together, these programs will focus on diversification of Delawares economy, foster a vibrant entrepreneurial culture in our state and create a new era of opportunity for working Delawareans.
Let me turn now to the opportunity we have to combat one of the most serious health issues facing Delawareans: cancer.
Reducing both the number of cancer cases and the number of cancer deaths has been a priority of the Minner-Carney Administration. The Delaware Advisory Council on Cancer Incidence and Mortality crafted a brilliant road map that cancer experts, doctors and patients told us would lead to a decrease in the above-average rates of cancer in our state. Last year, you joined with me to fund the first-year recommendations of the council.
The results in our states fight against cancer are real. The latest data on cancer rates show that both the rate of getting cancer and the rate of dying from cancer in Delaware have decreased again. Delawares cancer death rates have declined almost twice as fast as national rates. Rates of breast and prostate cancer are now below the national average. We are on the right track, but there is more to do.
We now know, thanks to research completed this year, that cancer victims without health insurance receive less than 60 percent of the health care that cancer patients with health insurance get. This means that health insurance for cancer victims can be the difference between life and death.
No more Delawareans should die from cancer simply because they make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to pay for health insurance. I promised when I took office that I would take bold steps in the fight against cancer. Today, I am announcing another one.
I am asking the General Assembly to make Delaware the first state in the country to guarantee health insurance for every person in the state diagnosed with cancer. Some will say, no other state has done it. To them I say, its about time that someone did, and Delaware will lead the way.
In order to fund new cancer treatment for the uninsured and to continue our present efforts against cancer, I propose to double funding of cancer prevention, education, screening and treatment to $10 million in the next budget year.
Please join with me to provide a new era of opportunity to Delawareans who face this deadly disease.
As we continue to protect the health of Delawareans, it is critical that we also do more to address the issue of industrial pollution in Delaware. Over the last three years, we have made great strides to protect our environment and our people.
We have enacted laws strengthening public knowledge of environmental incidents, harshly punishing repeat offenders of environmental laws, regulating aboveground storage tanks and putting a law on the books that will hold industrial company executives personally liable for environmental accidents when someone is harmed.
Last month, the Motiva oil refinery in Delaware City was put on a mandatory plan for improvements in the operations of its entire plant, with financial penalties spelled out in advance if it does not comply. This plan is unprecedented, in that it does not address just the specific issues related to one accident, but instead requires plant-wide changes in order to prevent a future one.
As I said, we have accomplished much to protect our environment, and because of that work, Delaware will be cleaner and healthier for our children. But there is still more to do.
As a result of an agreement with Delaware and EPA, the Delaware City oil refinery will soon ask for permits for pollution control equipment that will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 28,000 tons each year.
Last week, I told the CEO of the new owner of the refinery, Premcor, that I expect this pollution reduction to continue. He committed to me that it would. We must and will follow through on what will be the largest air pollution reduction in the history of the state.
Another major source of industrial pollution in Delaware is the coal-fired commercial power plants in Edgemoor and on the Indian River. Among the pollution emitted by these facilities is mercury, which accumulates in water and can be passed to humans through eating fish and shellfish.
Mercury is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women because of its ability to cause permanent brain damage to young children. It is critical to reduce the amount of mercury emitted in Delaware and to protect Delawares children from mercurys harmful effects.
Thats why I have asked the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to begin a process to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury from Delawares commercial power plants. Our goal is to define reductions in these pollutants this year, so that our children will be safer in the years to come.
Of course, ensuring a Livable Delaware continues to be among the priorities of the Minner-Carney administration. One of the primary ways we have done that is by guaranteeing that the green spaces and open lands we enjoy today will still exist in some far off tomorrow.
Since 2001, we have preserved more than 4,300 acres of open space and protected more than 34,000 acres of farmland from development. This is substantial progress, but we are not finished. For the next few years to truly be an era of opportunity, we must seize the chance to save one of our most precious resources our undeveloped land.
I will propose $22 million for a new Green Infrastructure program. This program will seek opportunities to join with environmental groups and work towards preserving some of the most important natural habitats in our state. The Green Infrastructure program underscores our commitment to Livable Delaware by developing public-private partnerships to preserve our environmental heritage.
I ask that you support me as we work to reduce pollution in our state and to protect even more of our valuable land from development.
Before I conclude, let me mention a few items in my legislative agenda, which I will present in March, and my budget and bond bill proposal, which I will present next week.
In 2003, 33 people were killed on Delaware roads by drunk drivers. Please join with me to save the lives of our families, friends and fellow Delawareans on the roads along with restoring $1.5 million of federal highway construction money by finally lowering Delawares legal blood alcohol level to .08.
Just yards from where I stand right now, Delawares original copy of the Bill of Rights is on display, testifying to our states leadership in securing equal protection and equal rights for our citizens. The General Assembly currently has before it a bill that represents the next step in our country and our states evolution in extending tolerance and understanding.
This legislation does not provide special rights for those it covers, it simply provides equal rights. I ask that you approve House Bill 99, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and accommodations, and send it to me for signature.
You are all familiar with the history of our states 800-megahertz radio system, which provides our states emergency responders the ability to communicate both in their daily work and, importantly, in the event of a large-scale catastrophe.
For the last few months, representatives of the emergency response community have been discussing the steps necessary to take the 800-megahertz system to the next level, to broaden its coverage and effectiveness for our police, fire, medical, public health, environmental and other responders.
The FY05 budget I will propose to you will include $12 million for the next generation of the 800-megahertz system. I ask that you support this proposal.
Let me take a moment to introduce some honored guests. First, Col. John Pray, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base. And now, two very special guests, both recently returned from service in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Please recognize them and, in doing so, recognize the service of all of our states military men and women: Army Guard Master Sergeant First Class Timothy Sinko of the 153rd Military Police Company and Air Guard Master Sergeant Paul Shavack of the 142nd Airlift Squadron.
The sacrifice exhibited by the men and women of our Delaware National Guard, the military reserves as well as Dover Air Force Base around the globe remind us of the service of veterans in years past. My bond bill proposal will include substantial funding for Delaware to soon eliminate its status as one of three states without a home for our veterans.
Lets extend the new era of opportunity to those on our roadways in the path of future drunken drivers; to those whose lifestyles may be different from our own; to the veterans who have served our state and our country so well; and to those in the fire, police and emergency response community who risk their lives for ours every day.
We should not use the recent economic upturn as an excuse to unleash budget growth. Over the last 30 years, the operating budgets enacted after an economic downturn have shown growth from 8 to 11 percent.
That level of growth is not responsible and that will not be acceptable. The budget I will present will show modest growth and will require more of the money-saving initiatives like those we have employed the last few years.
As we consider measures that may affect our bottom line, we must be aware of coming challenges, including the possibility of slot machines in neighboring states; expenses imposed by and shifted from the federal government; the escalating costs of health care; and others.
As we consider our fiscal future, I ask you to stay true to the principles that have put Delaware in such positive shape, to stay the course. Failure to do so might rob us of the ability to take full advantage of this era of opportunity.
In conclusion, my message to you today is simple. Delaware has endured the tough times and, because of our responsibility and our willingness to work together, we have emerged stronger than almost every other state. We face the future with an advantage: a sound and solid foundation, while others struggle to regain their footing.
Our challenge is to build wisely on that foundation, to be the architects of the next stirring phase of the Delaware design. Lets join together, as Delawareans have done at each of the critical moments in our states history, and grasp our bright future. Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our state is that we face a new era of opportunity.