Governor Minner may deviate from prepared remarks
Lieutenant Governor Carney, President Pro Tem Adams, Speaker Spence, members of the 144th General Assembly, members of the Delaware judiciary, other elected officials, members of my Cabinet, state employees, distinguished guests, my family and my fellow Delawareans.
I am particularly proud to appear before you for this State of the State address as it kicks off my last year as your Governor. As you all know, my career in elected public office started in this Chamber, where so much of what I worked on as your Governor began as a priority for me as a legislator.
My annual appearances before you, my legislative friends, have not only been an opportunity to remember my roots but also reaffirm my longstanding priorities, such as creating world-class schools, protecting our precious environment, fighting to keep and create jobs, and working to make Delaware a healthier state.
Many of these efforts began years ago, with many of you here in this Chamber, so it is only fitting that today, we reflect on those accomplishments, celebrate our successes, and renew our dedication to these key areas for the months ahead.
We face a very tight budget year, so we will continue to provide the best possible services for the people of Delaware while keeping costs at a minimum. In this economy, we do not want to start many new programs. Instead, we are building on the initiatives begun during the Minner/Carney Administration that have already made a difference in the lives of so many Delawareans and that will impact our state long after I leave office.
I will take the liberty today to highlight some of what we have done since I first appeared before you back in January of 2001. I am proud to report that Delaware is healthier, safer and more secure, and above all, our children are better educated than seven years ago.
First, I'd like to talk about our schools. In 2001, we knew we needed to improve state test scores, work to implement full-day kindergarten in every public elementary school in the state, upgrade our teacher performance review system, and come up with a plan to attract and keep our brightest college graduates teaching in Delaware classrooms.
Also, if a student could not afford college, he or she often gave up on the dream of higher education, and in some cases, may have even dropped out of high school.
Since I took office, we have put reading specialists in all of our public elementary schools and math specialists in all of our middle schools to help students who are struggling in these key subjects. Our Delaware Teacher Corps program has brought more bright and talented young teachers into our classrooms, and our new Delaware Performance Appraisal System for teachers will be implemented in every district next school year.
And through the persistence, hard work, and leadership of Senator McDowell and Representative Wagner, we worked together to implement the SEED scholarship program, offering free college tuition to any student who works hard, stays out of trouble, and gets good grades. Today, more than 1,300 Delaware high school graduates are successfully attending college and on the path to a degree, a good job, and a better life.
In 2005, Delaware students outscored the rest of the nation in improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in fourth and eighth-grade reading and math, and their improvement continues to remain above the national average. We have also been recognized as one of the top four states in the country for closing the achievement gap among minority, disabled, and low-income students.
Our state test scores continue to rise, and we have one of the highest percentages of national blue ribbon schools in the United States.
I am extremely proud of our accomplishments in the field of education. Let's continue building on that record by passing the Student Academic Reward scholarship program, or STAR, this year. The STAR scholarship would enable high-achieving SEED graduates to continue on to a four-year, tuition-free bachelor's degree. This is a tremendous opportunity for our students and would result in a better educated workforce for our business community.
At this time, I am proud to introduce Cameron Galbreath of Dover, an architectural engineering major at Delaware Technical Community College, and Kelsey Burris of Camden, a theater production major in the Associate of Arts program at the University of Delaware. These two SEED students are currently excelling in their fields of study and would like to take advantage of the STAR scholarship if it becomes available. Let's finish the job we started and make that dream a reality for such hard-working Delaware students.
We will also continue to support the efforts of the Vision 2015 group, an organization of business leaders, educators and state officials who are committed to a plan to make our schools the best in the world. In that effort, we will recommend an appropriation of $500,000 to continue to invest in early childhood education and also make the virtual school a reality by investing more than $250,000 in that cutting-edge project.
Just last week, I met with Skip Schoenhals and Education Secretary Valerie Woodruff, co-chairs of the 18-member Leadership for Education Achievement in Delaware (or LEAD) Committee, that I established to find cost-savings in our public education system. As always, Skip and Val did a great job leading this group and developing an aggressive list of ideas to save our state money. I have forwarded that report to Office of Management and Budget Director Jennifer Davis and directed that she and Secretary Woodruff begin reviewing and implementing some of these cost-saving ideas as soon as possible.
I propose we devote any cost savings through this effort to our early childhood education initiatives and other classroom programs. Again, thank you, Skip and Val, for your leadership on this project.
We will also continue funding for full-day kindergarten, a program that helps children get additional time in the classroom as they are building the foundation for their educational success. My budget proposal for the next fiscal year includes state funding for full-day kindergarten in 11 districts and nine charter schools.
As you know, in 2001, Delaware's cancer incidence and mortality rates were among the worst in the nation, and a quarter of our state residents were smoking. Our infant mortality rate was also the highest in the nation.
I am extremely pleased to tell you that today, our cancer mortality rate is declining twice as fast as the national average, and our colorectal and breast cancer screenings are at an all-time high. We now have the third highest rate of colorectal cancer screenings in the nation as a result of our Screening for Life program, and we continue to be the only state in the nation to provide cancer treatment for the uninsured.
Our smoking rate has decreased from 25 percent in 2001 to less than 19 percent, thanks to our Clean Indoor Air Act and our tobacco prevention efforts, and youth smoking has declined by more than half over the past decade, which is especially encouraging.
Even during the prior recession when other states were making massive cuts in the number of people receiving Medicaid, we have never dropped any of Delaware's neediest residents from our Medicaid rolls.
That is due to our cost-containment efforts, and we continue to look for new and innovative ways to keep our Medicaid costs down so we can continue to handle the increased enrollment without cutting critical services to the people of our state.
Our efforts to address infant mortality also are clearly showing results. We have provided prenatal services to more than 1,800 high-risk mothers, and an additional 5,800 women have received preconception care. Between July 2006 and September 2007, the percentage of low birth weight babies born to women in our program was 6.5 percent, lower than the national average of 7.8 percent. While we still have work to do, our efforts in this area have brought real change and lower infant death rates in the First State.
This year, I ask for your support to continue funding to implement recommendations of the Infant Mortality Task Force so we can further our efforts to save the lives of newborn babies in our state.
Under the leadership of Lt. Governor John Carney, we are addressing the disparities in healthcare services and outcomes among our minority and ethnic populations through the Governor's Task Force on Health Disparities. We must establish a health disparities registry through our health service providers and health insurance companies to identify problem areas so we can target our efforts.
We are also continuing our efforts to promote the health and wellness of our state employees. As Delaware's largest employer, state government covers approximately 110,000 lives through our health insurance programs, including our state workers, their families, and retirees. We know that if we invest in our employees' health now, it can help our workers feel better, assist them in better managing chronic conditions, and lead to greater productivity in the workplace and in their daily lives. It also saves the state money that would otherwise be spent on health care costs.
I have said before that if employees continued on the path to wellness, we must reward them for their efforts. I am once again proud to announce that I am recommending no increase in employee healthcare premiums for the next fiscal year. I look forward to working with the State Employees Benefits Committee to make this a reality for an unprecedented third year. This would be a well-deserved reward for our state employees in these difficult times. It would also be a testament to our work and partnership with the State Employees Benefits Committee.
In addition, we are adding to our successful DelaWELL healthcare initiative. Starting on February 14th, we will be adding a number of benefits to this program to include offering up to a 100 percent refund for the cost of Weight Watchers if employees meet their weight-loss goals. We'll also continue our 5K run/walks and other wellness and education programs, which have been very popular with our employees this year.
In Delaware schools, our nurses, teachers, and principals have been very innovative in creating programs to address the growing problem of childhood obesity. Our Lieutenant Governor, through his Lt. Governor's Challenge program, has reached 43 percent of elementary schools in our state. Today, I challenge the Lieutenant Governor to get his program in every single elementary school in Delaware by this time next year, so all of our children will be challenged to better health.
And due to the growing demands on our hospitals and medical centers, we have invested nearly $7 million during the Minner/Carney Administration toward nursing expansion programs in Delaware. Last year, we authorized a $4 million-dollar loan to support the revitalization efforts at Saint Francis Hospital, and I am pleased that this year the Christiana Care Health System will begin to expand its Wilmington campus, which will provide additional access to health services in that community.
We continue to achieve success in our efforts to protect and preserve Delaware's environment. Since 2001, we have protected nearly 11,000 acres of open space and 87,000 acres of farmland and forestland in our state. We have also partnered with agencies and private landowners to create more than 150 acres of wetlands and restore 6,350 feet of stream corridor.
Our Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has adopted regulations to reduce emissions of mercury, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxides for Delaware power plants.
And we were one of seven states to first sign onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is designed to cap and reduce emissions from fossil-fueled power plants in the northeastern United States.
Since 2003, we have cleaned up 31 contaminated brownfield sites, and 67 others have been awarded brownfield grants. Some of the projects include the site of the AAA headquarters at the Wilmington Riverfront, the Dogfish Head brewery in Milton, and the new Barclay bank building in Wilmington.
As a large consumer of energy and materials in Delaware, our state government must do more to be a leader in conservation, efficiency, and green innovation.
Since last year, we have made some amazing progress by saving more than $21 million through bulk purchasing of electricity with state agencies, school districts, local governments, and fire companies. In addition, a minimum of five percent of our electrical supply must now be green energy.
But we need to do more. I have asked my Cabinet to reduce energy usage in our state facilities and significantly increase our recycling rates. My goal is a 10 percent reduction in overall energy usage and a 25 percent increase in recyclables over the next year. We will achieve those goals through a number of initiatives, such as: replacing older, inefficient fluorescent lighting fixtures with newer, more energy efficient fixtures; requiring automatic sleep mode for all computers; and installing motion sensitive light switches in offices. We will also implement a program to provide comprehensive recycling in all state facilities; construct “green roofs” on new construction, such as the Kent County Courthouse; and install photovoltaic and solar hot water panels on large office buildings to reduce the consumption of energy. Finally, we will maximize our use of energy performance contracts and conduct and act on energy audits in state buildings.
Also, we know energy use contributes a big part of our greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to focusing our efforts on energy efficiency and conservation to help address climate change, I am looking forward to the General Assembly passing legislation early this session to allow our full participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Delaware's participation in this landmark effort must continue and succeed.
And also, ladies and gentlemen, as I said to you last year, the time is now for us to implement a voluntary recycling program in our state. As you know, a lot of work has been done during the last year, and we've gained some momentum in recent weeks, so let's not miss this opportunity.
When I took office in 2001, our Economic Development Office was working with an outdated organization and an antiquated competitive strategy to attract and retain businesses. We desperately needed to update our staffing models and increase resources to meet the global marketplace of the 21st century.
Since then, we have created or retained nearly 65,000 jobs. We rank No. 1 in industry research and development investment and improved from a ranking of 46 to second in the nation in the number of jobs in rapidly growing companies, according to a 2007 report by the Kauffman Foundation.
Our legal environment for business continues to be ranked first in the nation by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and we continue to be one of seven states in the nation to maintain a AAA bond rating. In 2007, EXPANSION magazine ranked Delaware third in the country for attraction and recruitment of businesses over the past eight years.
Together, we created the New Economy Initiative that has invested more than $227 million in state and matching private and federal funds to bolster Delaware's economy. Through those investments, we have strengthened some of our largest employers, helped launch fledgling start-ups, fostered small businesses, and most importantly, advanced Delaware's presence in some of the industries of the future.
The Financial Services sector in Delaware continues to thrive. The Minner/Carney Administration has been working to accelerate the growth of high-wage jobs in this area by implementing new legislative changes to insure Delaware remains competitive and a location of choice for these firms. To that end, I plan to propose a modification to our corporate income tax code that would help attract additional top wage-earning jobs to Delaware.
Last year, with your help and the leadership of Senator Deluca, Representative Oberle, and Labor Secretary Tom Sharp, we reformed Delaware's workers' compensation laws, a priority for me for over three years and a need in our state for more than 30 years. As a result, we will save Delaware businesses millions of dollars through lower costs and help them remain competitive in this challenging economy.
The backbone of Delaware's economy, like that of the United States, is made up of small businesses.
We will continue to work to revitalize our downtown communities with a focused effort on growing the small business base on Delaware's main streets. We will partner with private financial institutions to provide technical and financial services to these new small businesses. This supports my Livable Delaware agenda by encouraging small businesses to locate in areas they were designed for, while also reinforcing a strong sense of local community as we keep our downtowns vital.
In the months ahead, we will continue to market Delaware as the premier location for research and development and will be working to bring more high-tech, life science, and sustainable manufacturing operations to our state.
In 2001, attacks upon our nation brought a new level of security and scrutiny over the demands on our law enforcement officers and emergency responders, the protection of our public facilities and private businesses, and the level of preparedness of our residents.
At that time, the staffing levels for our state troopers had leveled off, new demands and responsibilities on our troopers had exceeded the resources and technology we were providing, and our communications systems were antiquated and unreliable. While we all appreciate and value our volunteer fire and ambulance services, we learned they, too, needed to invest in new technologies in health emergencies and communications.
Together, we put more than $102 million into our 800 megahertz system to create seamless, reliable communications for our men and women on the front lines of public safety. We spent nearly $1.7 million in state and federal funds to create the Delaware Information Analysis Center, a center whose primary purpose is to gather information from the public and private sectors, analyze that data, and disseminate it to those public and private agencies that have a need and a right to know.
The DIAC, which has been operating for two years, provides us with valuable information to create advanced situational awareness so we can react effectively in the event of a natural or manmade disaster. We have also helped fund research on avian influenza, developed a plan in case of a pandemic in our state, and invested in our public health laboratories to ensure that we are prepared to protect our residents.
Today, through a multi-year investment in our public health lab operations, we can now test suspicious substances within 24 hours to ensure quick, accurate, and safe responses to potential attacks.
We also now have the largest Delaware State Police force in history, which will exceed the goal of 680 troopers that I outlined two years ago. I have asked Colonel Tom MacLeish to be here today and asked him to bring two of our newest recruits from this historic class. I am very proud to introduce India Sturgis and Ryan Quackenbush, representing the future of the Delaware State Police.
Thank you, Colonel MacLeish, for your leadership, and thank you, India and Ryan, for your commitment to protect and serve the people of our state. Please pass along our sincere appreciation to your fellow recruits.
Finally, I am happy to announce that our Departments of Education and Safety and Homeland Security are again joining forces to protect our children. Beginning this spring, the Delaware State Police will begin offering fingerprinting and other safety-related tools to every fourth-grader in every elementary school in our state. Over time, every school-age child will participate in this program, which will provide our families critical information and serve as invaluable tools for law enforcement during an emergency.
As we enter our final year, I have been asked how our record will stand up over time. In fact, many of you have asked me, “How will our work be remembered?
Will it be the Clean Indoor Air Act? The new veterans home? Our efforts to preserve open space and farmland? Our work to reform our foster care system? Or will it be the improvements we've made in our schools?”
Friends, I believe our work will live on through the people we have helped and the lives we have touched. Our work will live on through the thousands of children who will get a jumpstart in life through full-day kindergarten. Our work will live on through those SEED scholars who get their college diploma and fulfill their dream of a better life.
Our work will live on through those who successfully battled cancer because of an early screening or health insurance program we created. Our work will live on through the thousands of people in our state who will live longer, better lives because they are no longer exposed to second-hand smoke. Our work will live on through those Delawareans who are working and providing for their families through a job we protected or created.
Our work will live on through these programs and others because we worked together, made difficult decisions, and put the well-being of Delawareans before any personal or political agendas.
I look forward to working with you in the months ahead to continue building on those accomplishments and creating an even better future for our great state.