Thank you Governor. First, let me congratulate you on your excellent appointments of committee chairs. I know them all very well and look forward to our successes together. Mr. Speaker, you have also honored yourself with great leadership in your committee chair selections. They are a reflection of your character and grace. Mississippi is truly blessed to have two young and dynamic leaders in you and our Lt. Governor. I am so very proud of you both.
Tonight, I also want to recognize the woman who has been my first lady for 35 years, and the woman who will be a great first lady for our state: my wife Deborah.
As I make this address tonight, I am mindful of the sacrifices of our military who have fought so hard to make our freedoms endure. The right to speak here tonight has been bought by the courage and commitment of our armed services, and I thank them for their valor. I am honored to have our Mississippi National Guard represented tonight by Adjutant General Leon Collins.
Thank you to the membership of the House and Senate for allowing me the privilege of using this beautiful venue for the State of the State address. Thank you all for being part of this very historic Joint Session. To the President Pro-Temp and Speaker Pro-Temp, to all Federal officials, State and Local and members of the Mississippi House and Senate, I offer my profound gratitude and warmest welcome. To the taxpayers who are here today, let me express my humble appreciation. You are the sovereigns of this government, and we are here as your servants.
Just fourteen short days ago, I was sworn into office as the 64th Governor of the State of Mississippi. Our team immediately went to work to properly transfer the responsibility of six executive agencies to new leadership while reappointing five others. I was more than gratified to see one of the nation's top entrepreneurs and business leaders begin his service as Director of the MS Development Authority. No state in this nation could claim a better economic development leader than our own Jim Barksdale.
I have been fortunate to have much of the work on a long range plan for our state already completed by the Mississippi Economic Council in Blueprint Mississippi. MEC's vision and research, along with the enthusiastic involvement of thousands of Mississippians contributed to this effort. Their vision and goals are consistent with those of this administration. Blueprint's vision is, "To enable a more prosperous, vibrant and resilient Mississippi, built upon a foundation of economic opportunity for all of its citizens." I could not agree more.
From cultivating a more robust workforce, promoting healthcare as an economic driver to supporting Mississippi's Creative Economy, I believe the goals of Blueprint Mississippi fit perfectly with my aggressive plans for our future.
I also want to thank the members of my Policy Summit Team. The tireless work you did will help shape my agenda this year and beyond.
Tonight, I will attempt to provide details of my vision for our future. Remembering, a vision without action is only an illusion. So let us set a plan of action we can all see clearly.
In the short time since the inaugural, we have begun to implement a plan that I believe will help grow our economy in Mississippi and put more of our people to work. As I said in my inaugural address, my first job is to make sure every Mississippian has a job.
To help accomplish this goal, I will ask the Legislature for a package of measures that will be known as the "Mississippi Works Agenda." The first part will include a dual enrollment process that will allow students on the verge of dropping out of school to enroll in a community college workforce training program. We will work to give these young adults a marketable skill and help them find jobs. I will ask the State Department of Education, the Community Colleges and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to come together to implement this program. We should set an enrollment goal and get to work, so Mississippians can go to work.
Additionally, to aid expansion of new and existing business, I will ask for the introduction of the "Mississippi Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act," which authorizes a "Small Business Regulatory Review Committee." Their responsibility will be to review regulations in every state agency to determine if it is a necessary function of government and if so, is it a hindrance to job creation? I believe we can modify many government rules to be more business friendly without destroying our planet or endangering lives. Last week Americans saw, the largest potential economic development project in America terminated by regulators and politicians in Washington. In Mississippi, I won't stand for job killing regulations.
In addition to our existing businesses, we must continue to incentivize new business to come to our state. Economic Development is the sun in our universe and everything revolves around it. I will, before this session is complete, ask for 31 million dollars in bonds for economic development incentives packages, less than half of what the Legislature authorized last year. Other special incentives may also be requested as the need arises. I will continue to aggressively pursue new industries at home and abroad, and when we are successful, I will ask for your help to bring them to Mississippi.
To enhance and grow our energy economy, we should look no further than our own Gulf of Mexico. We are proceeding on a thoughtful, steady course for off shore energy recovery in a limited area primarily southeast of Mississippi's Barrier Islands. This recovery effort could produce 350 billion cubic feet of natural gas to help fuel America and Mississippi's economy. Just as important, it is likely to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Mississippi's Educational Trust Fund. This funding is critical to our children's future and we cannot squander it by allowing fear and rhetoric to guide our decisions. We can produce jobs in our energy economy, and help make America more energy independent.
The cooperation of the Gulf Coast leadership and the citizens of south Mississippi, who understand the desperate need for energy jobs and revenue, has been inspiring to me. I ask for a calm and open discussion from those who oppose this project. Remember, Mississippi cannot afford to turn our backs to an opportunity that both Louisiana and Alabama now enjoy. We need these jobs and our school children need this revenue.
Mississippi is a leader in the energy economy: supporting and developing traditional sources of power, exploring new ways to fuel our economic growth, including tertiary oil recovery, natural gas, and biomass. From nuclear plants to gas pipelines, our energy economy will drive Mississippi's economic growth into the 21st century.
Also, I am transmitting to the Legislature the Energy Sustainability and Development Act of 2012. This will create incentives for manufacturing and industrial employers to make energy efficiency upgrades that result in significant savings, allowing them to be more competitive, retain or hire more workers, and further invest in their operations. It will create the Biomass Center for Excellence, which will be a partnership of the public, private, and education sectors to coordinate and promote biomass research, development, and manufacturing. In addition, performance incentives for the public sector will reduce the amount of tax dollars spent on energy by our government, freeing up money better spent on infrastructure, public safety, and education.
When it comes to energy innovation, my administration will lead by example. One aspect of this plan includes asking the Department of Finance and Administration to implement a pilot program for transitioning fleet automobiles to natural gas-powered cars and trucks. Natural gas is clean, more efficient and more reliable, and will save taxpayer dollars in government's day-to-day operations. We can and must save valuable tax dollars and achieve new energy innovation.
Of the two driving economic forces in our future, energy is one and healthcare is the other. As I have said many times before, we must expand our healthcare economy in Mississippi. To begin this process, I have proposed the creation of Medical Zones throughout Mississippi where a cluster of medical facilities and services exist. This will include, but is not limited to, the medical corridor in metro Jackson. Within these medical zones, we will encourage expansion by offering construction tax credits and job creation incentives where new high tech careers begin. We must be mindful of the increasing demand for health care, realizing that collaboration of all healthcare providers is the only way to achieve success. We must heal together, research together, and find better ways to serve our citizens together.
To achieve this goal, I have asked the Mississippi Economic Council to conduct a study to find how we can build greater economic development opportunities in health care. This is not an academic study but an action plan for the future of healthcare development all across our state. I have asked the nationally recognized researcher doing the work for ten recommendations to move our health care industry forward. This will be an effort unlike anything in the nation; a comprehensive action plan to provide health care as an industry of necessity. I look forward to sharing the progress of this review with all of you before the end of this session.
To encourage the placement of doctors in medically underserved areas of our state, I will ask the Legislature to also consider capping the State Income Tax of every new physician who chooses to practice in these underserved communities. This will allow doctors to serve the rural areas of our state while maintaining the necessary income to support his family and small medical business. The added health care services can also reduce the cost of Medicaid by improving the health of recipients. By focusing on the increasing need for acute care we can improve the health of our bodies, and the health of our economy, for we know that each new Doctor creates an economic impact of approximately 2 million dollars for his or her community.
As citizens, we must do a better job with our individual healthcare. Every Mississippian should realize that a sound diet and exercise program will save lives and reduce health care costs. We should not be the most obese state in the nation, leading the worst statistics of heart attacks and strokes. Walk, run, go to the gym, plant a garden or ride a bike. Getting active is key to your own health care and I again intend to lead by example. Each year, I hope you will join me on a 5K run starting at the Governor's mansion. I look forward to seeing you this summer for our first 5K Governor's Run for Health.
Increasing the educational achievements of Mississippi is critical to developing our future workforce. To help in this effort, I will offer an executive budget recommendation that will level fund MAEP and will also seek to replace the funding for high growth areas and fully fund the national board certified teacher program. We must do all we can, even during these challenging times to keep our best teachers in the classroom. Additionally we must make sure our teachers graduate from college prepared to teach. Just now, Dr. Hank Bounds and Dr. Tom Burnham are working to increase minimum entrance standards for teacher training programs at our universities. We must have the best and brightest students in our university classrooms become the best teachers in our schools.
A Mississippi Department of Education pilot program is also being completed in seven districts and ten schools to quantify the characteristics of a quality teacher. As a former teacher, I know how rewarding this profession can be when your students achieve. Once we have the data from this program, I will recommend a "Pay for Performance" program for our teachers based on student attainments and not on subjective evaluations. It is time we started paying for quality, not longevity.
I have always believed the responsibility for a childs earliest learning belongs to the parents. I do realize in today's society many of our children are in taxpayer funded day care centers. Headstart and other Federal programs provide Mississippi more than 241 million dollars annually for child care programs. I would suggest that we collaborate our efforts in early childhood learning by monitoring the learning opportunities in licensed child care centers to include more than just the room size and number of bathrooms.
Currently, the Department of Health receives funding from the Department of Human Services for inspection and monitoring of licensed child care centers. If we combine their functions into a Division of Early Childhood Learning under the Department of Human Services, we could streamline services and improve our ability to identify the quality of programs for early childhood learning. This can be done with enabling legislation that has no cost. The funding now being transferred from the Department of Human Services to the State health department will simply be retained and shared.
In the next year we will gather additional information from ongoing programs such as Building Blocks, Excel by 5, Allies for Quality Childcare Project, and the Quality Rating System, that will give us the metrics we need to determine the best practices for Early Childhood Learning.
Reading must be at the forefront of our educational plan. Statistics tell us that Mississippi children confront a wide range of obstacles during their primary education. I know this challenge firsthand. As a child, I struggled with dyslexia and believed I was a failure until the fourth grade. I then had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Henley, explain to me I simply did not see the letters on the page like other children. I had to practice my reading and work hard to keep up, but I had a desire to succeed. I did what was expected of me and soon began to see the world of the written word, and in doing so, learned to love reading. Thanks to the love of that wonderful teacher and the support of my parents, I have obtained three college degrees, have served as a professor of American government and have been honored with a successful career in public service. Reading is personal for me, and I want every child in Mississippi to have that same opportunity.
The solution to this problem is complex and challenging. It would be easy to ask every parent to make certain their child has a proper eye exam. That should be done. But identifying and managing the complications of Dyslexia is something we must confront. I would encourage teachers and parents, who believe a child is Dyslexic, to seek assistance from the Mississippi Dyslexia Program at the Department of Education. Awareness of this learning disability can often help a teacher or parents understand their child's difficulty in reading and spelling. As Governor, I will work to improve our response to this challenge to success.
I am a proponent of Teach for America and the MS Teachers Corps, two programs that bring in bright and energetic young leaders from many different disciplines to teach in our most challenging schools. I will ask the Legislature to accept my EBR recommendations placing 12 million dollars towards funding these necessary programs. Keeping the best teachers in the classroom must be a priority. Local districts will add a portion to this appropriation to keep these quality teachers in the classroom. This is another major recommendation from Blueprint Mississippi that I believe has real merit and is attainable.
I will also ask the Legislature to pass the Education Administration Consolidation Bill that mandates the non-educational duties of school districts to be consolidated to one central county office by 2014. That means centralized human resources, centralized purchasing, centralized transportation and other duties that can be consolidated without disturbing one single student or teacher. In the 1980's Mississippi passed the unit system law for county administrative duties. It took the old country beat system and consolidated them into one central unit. Elected officials retained their duties while county governments became more efficient. Let us now take that model to our school districts. I want education dollars spent in classrooms, not offices.
Finally, I ask and fully expect the Legislature to pass a workable Charter School Act once and for all!
As all of you know, I have asked for the passage of the Smart Budget Act. This act has passed the Senate by super majorities for the last two years and has died in the House. With new visionary leadership, I am hopeful we will pass this act and start budgeting on performance, not politics. The defenders of the status quo have controlled the budget process for far too long. It is time for bold leadership to bring the budget process into the 21st century. I ask you to put the Smart Budget Act on my desk this session. This will show the voters who sent us here that we deserve their confidence and when dealing with their money we will lead.
Currently in Mississippi, there are more than 150 Boards and Commissions that were often created when we could not make a decision on a difficult subject and appointed a committee to study the problem. Good people serve on these committees and boards but the purpose of many has been exhausted and their existence should be reviewed. Tonight, I am asking Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who has the statutory authority to record each appointment, review the necessity of these boards and commissions and offer recommendations to the executive and legislative branches on possible termination or consolidation of our boards and commissions. Any final decision would obviously rest with the Legislature but I trust Secretary Hosemann to help vet these recommendations before we take action.
Another issue that we must boldly confront is the epidemic of teen pregnancy and dead beat dads. Without hesitation, we must begin the public discussion of how to reduce teen pregnancy in Mississippi. As you know, we lead the nation in teen pregnancy and consequently, low birth weights and high infant mortality rates. We know a child born to a teen mother almost always has a difficult path to success. We must change the direction of this reality beginning with the most obvious offender…the adult male. Any adult male who fathers a child with a teenage mother under the age of consent should be sought out and prosecuted as a sexual predator. Every father should know the taxpayers are not responsible for his children. We must continue to use every means possible to successfully collect and distribute child support payments. If you father a child in Mississippi, you will pay for your child.
I would hope the Mississippi Legislature will pass and send to my desk the "Child Protection Act." This will be the first step in identifying the predators who take underage girls to an abortion clinic to hide their crimes. I ask you to send me that bill and I will gladly sign it to keep our children safe.
Additionally, I have asked the Director of the Department of Human Services and the State Health Officer to provide me, within 30 days, an aggressive plan to address our teen pregnancy rate and suggestions on how to curb it. We can no longer pretend that teen pregnancy and illegitimacy are non-issues — we must boldly confront the facts and address them.
During this very busy month, I will also release my Executive Budget recommendations to the Legislature. My EBR will include setting aside two-percent of our revenue to replenish the State's Rainy Day Fund. As Lt. Governor, I fought to fully fund our cash reserve and to prevent its depletion. I am proud to say we maintain some 281 million dollars in funds today that can be used to help balance our budget while delivering necessary services to the taxpayers of the state.
I am fortunate to have fiscal conservatives in our legislative leadership who will help me control our spending, set aside some revenue for the future and continue the reduction of spending one time money for recurring expenses. If we do our job, Mississippi will maintain a savings and be prepared for the challenge of a turbulent global economy.
Please rest assured that I also have not abandoned my hope of making Mississippi abortion free. I continue to believe that every life begins at conception and that every child should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I strongly believe that we are a nation of laws rather than of men and that people who illegally cross our border, violating our federal laws, cannot be ignored. It is not only the state's right but responsibility to determine if these violators are among our general population, particularly when they have also violated the criminal statutes of Mississippi.
I am also excited to announce the overhaul of Mississippi's official website at www.ms.gov. The site serves as a gateway to an array of official partner sites, including 135 online services and 139 agency websites. The primary mission of ms.gov is to provide enhanced government information and service delivery to Mississippi residents, visitors and businesses. Citizens can go to the site to see government expenditures and determine exactly where their money is being spent.
January is a month for renewal and reflection. Each year we begin anew, striving to better ourselves, and to realize those goals we were unable or unwilling to achieve in the preceding year. In Mississippi government, every fourth January is a time of special renewal, when new legislators and state officers begin their terms.
In my lifetime, there has never been such an historic change as we are witnessing in our state government. In the few weeks since January began, Mississippi welcomed a new Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House and inaugurated a new Governor. For the first time in generations, all three share a common conservative philosophy about how best to move our state forward.
As scripture reminds us, "there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under Heaven . . . . A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot . . . a time to tear down, and a time to rebuild."
My friends, now is the time to build together. We have endured many challenges in our history, and we have endured them with grace and strength. These challenges have tempered us for the opportunities that lay ahead.
I call on every Mississippian, no matter what our race or region or party, to rise above our petty differences and build together the Mississippi our citizens deserve. Let us go forward from this time and place, unafraid to make the bold changes that will help us to rise together.
May God bless each of you, the state we all love, and may God bless the United States of America.