Online editor's note: The following is the text of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' State of the State address, delivered Monday night to the Kansas Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Madam Chief Justice, legislators, justices, Cabinet officers, elected officials, leaders of Indian nations, honored guests, and, most importantly, fellow Kansans.
We're gathered here tonight in the State Capitol, a building that stands as a testament to our forefathers' belief in the power of freedom and in the opportunities it provides.
Three years ago, those opportunities seemed dim. An economy in recession took a hard toll on Kansas families, and it starved Kansas schools. Rising health costs threatened businesses, while rising meth production threatened communities.
Many expressed doubts these challenges could be overcome. Some said they were too big to tackle. Others said we should wait for the federal government to act, or that we should do nothing at all.
To shrink from those challenges would go against everything it means to be a Kansan. We wouldn't be here tonight if the pioneers who settled our state had looked out upon the wide, open prairie and turned back saying the challenge was just too difficult. Instead, with conviction in their hearts and hope for the future, they moved forward.
I'm proud to say we too chose to face the challenges of our time, and our state is stronger, healthier and more prosperous as a result.
Hope has returned to the heartland.
Kansas is moving in a new direction and Kansans now have more tools to make the most of their own lives. But we couldn't have provided these tools without changing old habits which left state government essentially bankrupt.
From day one, my administration set out to cut waste in a state bureaucracy that lost its way. We did things as simple as selling cars and as complex as refinancing the highway plan. And we reduced the state workforce, so today there are fewer employees in state government than when I took office.
I'm proud to say we've changed the way government operates returning our state to financial stability, and doing it without a tax increase.
This is a real victory for the people of Kansas, and I call upon the Legislature to sustain this victory by keeping spending in check. My administration will continue to lead the way by building on the nearly $1 billion in savings and efficiencies we've found so far, finding new ways to reduce overhead and streamline government.
Cutting government waste not only helps taxpayers it helps our economy. And it's the growing economy which is the greatest sign of our restored prosperity.
This prosperity hasn't come easily. When I took office, my first priority was to get our economy back on track.
We took action to provide job security for thousands of workers in our aircraft industry. We held Prosperity Summits around the state, bringing together business and community leaders to find ways to create jobs and invest in our future. We made a commitment to grow the biosciences industry in our state, to encourage the creation of small businesses, and to promote investment in rural areas.
Eliminating a Barrier to Job Creation "We must help all businesses by giving them an incentive to create jobs in Kansas." Kansas should encourage businesses to invest in new equipment and new technology, which is why Governor Sebelius calls on the Legislature to exempt all commercial and industrial machinery and equipment purchased after January 1, 2007 from property taxes. A 1997 report by Kansas, Inc. indicates reducing this tax will create new jobs and boost personal income.
Health Coverage for All Children 5 and Under "Our children cannot take advantage of life's opportunities if they're sick." To give every Kansas child the opportunity to start life healthy, the Governor proposes using $3.5 million to provide health coverage to all children from birth to age five who currently do not have health insurance. An estimated 15,000 kids would receive health coverage as a result of this action.
Role Models for Kansas Kids "Every Kansas child deserves someone he can look up to." Moms and dads are the first and best teachers for their children, but other caring adults can help parents by serving as role models for our kids. To encourage adults to get involved in the lives of children, Governor Sebelius proposes Kansas Mentors, a statewide effort to strengthen Kansas children through the help of caring adult role models. Former K-State Head Coach Bill Snyder will lead this initiative.
Electronic Tracking of Sex Offenders "We can surely take some common-sense steps to make our families safer." In addition to renewing her call for a doubling of prison sentences for sex offenders who prey on children, the Governor proposes using electronic tracking devices to track all repeat sex offenders after their prison sentences have ended. This will place roughly 225 sex offenders under lifetime 24-hour electronic surveillance and help ensure the offenders comply with the conditions of their supervision.
Because of these actions, and the countless achievements of individual employers, Kansas has experienced 21 straight months of job growth. More Kansans are working than at any point in our state's history.
Let me be clear, these jobs aren't created by state government, and I will continue to fight any attempt to put government where private industry should be. But we've created tools to help existing businesses grow, and to recruit new companies to Kansas, and we're more prosperous for it.
We can't stop here. I want to build on those successes.
I believe we must continue to encourage development in our state's rural areas, and we must help all businesses by giving them an incentive to create jobs in Kansas. That's why I propose eliminating the property tax on new business machinery and equipment. It will encourage Kansas companies to invest in new technology to better compete around the world, and it will ensure our economy will continue to provide good jobs for Kansas workers.
Another way we're helping employers and employees alike is by investing in our schools.
It had been five years since Kansas made a real investment in its children and in an educated workforce. During that time, parents and teachers saw class sizes increase and courses disappear; while businesses and homeowners watched their property taxes rise. We all wondered when the state would pay its fair share when it would commit itself to ensuring first-class schools in every Kansas community.
I'm proud to say that changed last year when we made an historic investment in the future of our state. That investment is already reducing class sizes so children get more attention from their teachers, and it's ensuring those teachers receive the training they need to prepare our kids to enter the workforce.
This cannot be a one-time event. Just as our children grow and change, so must our schools, and that's why the budget I'll present to you builds on the investment made last year.
Earlier today, this Legislature received the results of its cost study. I again stand ready to work with you to meet this challenge with a multi-year effort to ensure all Kansas children have an education that will take them as far as they can dream.
But it isn't just about money. We can't spend our way to excellence.
Any new investment must include new accountability, which is why I've pushed so hard for audits of Kansas schools. We can continue to do better and even the best districts can improve. That's why my budget will include additional audits to hold school districts accountable and ensure we get the best possible return on our investment.
But while we invest in schools, we all recognize moms and dads are the first and best teachers for their children. I know Gary and I have worked hard to teach Ned and John the same lessons and values we learned growing up.
But parents today face new challenges that we didn't have when our children were younger. Video games and music lyrics promote violence, while ever-looser standards for movies and TV shows bring inappropriate material right into our living rooms. The Internet poses safety threats I never dreamed of when my boys were little.
Moms and dads shouldn't be alone in their fight to raise children the right way. They shouldn't be alone in their fight to instill the values that lead to a life of meaning, rather than a life wasted.
We can help parents by giving them access to tools to block inappropriate web sites, guides showing which TV shows and movies are family-friendly, and limits on access to violent video games. In the coming days, I will make these tools available to parents across Kansas.
There's other assistance we can provide. If we think back to our own childhoods, we can each remember those special individuals who, along with our parents, helped guide us. A little league coach. The neighbor down the street. The pastor of our church.
These special people are called mentors. But too many kids don't have a role model to follow.
Every Kansas parent deserves help pushing back popular culture so she can instill in her children the values that lead to a good life. Every Kansas child deserves someone he can look up to.
So tonight I'm launching "Kansas Mentors" a statewide effort to strengthen Kansas children through the help of caring adult role models. I'm so pleased to introduce the man who has agreed to lead this important effort.
In his 17 years at K-State, he led his teams to victory. But he always knew his most important job was to lead his players to be better people. Please welcome someone who has mentored countless students on the field and off Coach Bill Snyder.
Bill has agreed to continue his service to our state by helping recruit more volunteer mentors for Kansas kids, to raise awareness of the wonderful opportunities for mentoring in communities throughout Kansas, and to make it easier for adults to take some time to help Kansas children reach their God-given potential.
But our children cannot take advantage of life's opportunities if they're sick.
A lack of affordable health care is one of the greatest challenges we face, yet I've heard over and over that we should wait for the federal government to act.
More than one in ten of our neighbors has no health insurance. While we strive to reach our hopes and dreams, they have a different kind of hope they hope they and their children won't get sick.
I don't believe we should allow Kansans to go without health care simply because Congress cannot, or will not, act. That's why affordable health care has been one of my top priorities. It's why I've worked every day to give Kansans the health care they need.
Forty-one thousand more Kansas kids have health insurance today than when I took office.
We've made discount medicines available to Kansans of all ages, and are giving help to seniors desperate to know which Medicare drug plan is right for them.
We're giving businesses new health insurance options for their employees and we've lowered health costs for state workers.
The Lt. Governor is leading an effort to use technology to increase quality, lower health costs and reduce medical errors.
But we have the opportunity and the obligation to do more.
Good health is important to every Kansan, but it's especially important for children in the first few years of life. An illness then can set back a child's development for years.
We can give our children the chance to grow up healthy and pursue all the opportunities life has to offer. We can cover every Kansas child from birth to age five, and we can do it this year.
The cost to the state will be minimal, but the benefit to 15,000 Kansas kids will be immeasurable. It will also ease financial pressure on moms and dads across our state, and let them have different hopes for their kids.
But the security that comes from knowing your kids can see a doctor, means little if you don't feel they're safe at the neighborhood playground.
Safety is important to every Kansan, but it's especially important to parents. I worried about my kids every minute they were out of my sight. They're now 21 and 24, and I still worry about them.
We can't eliminate every cause for worry, but we can surely take some common-sense steps to make our families safer.
A year ago, I called on the Legislature to put cold medicines behind the counter so meth makers couldn't get to them. Tonight, I'm happy to tell you meth labs in Kansas are down by 60 percent since you passed the Sheriff Matt Samuels Act.
That's a simple step that's made a real difference.
But I, and parents around Kansas, have been asking you for three years to take another step: to double prison sentences for sex offenders who prey on children. That's just common sense. The Attorney General joined me in this proposal, and yet the Legislature did nothing.
I ask you again to act this year because if these criminals are in prison, they can't hurt our children.
And when they've served their prison time, I want to require all repeat sex offenders wear electronic tracking devices for the rest of their lives. These tracking bracelets will allow law enforcement officers to monitor their locations at all times. I've put money for this in my budget because, again, it's just common sense.
In addition to law enforcement, there's another group of Kansans who devote every day to keeping us safe.
Kansans have a long tradition of military service, and our state is home to four key military bases. To protect these critical assets, we brought together our congressional delegation, along with key legislators, business, community and military leaders, in 2004.
That effort resulted in a real success for Kansas and for the defense of our country. Not only will all four of our state's major military bases stay open, but we'll also welcome the Big Red One back to Kansas.
At a time when many other states are losing troops, nearly 13,000 new military and civilian personnel will call Kansas home, spurring our state's economy. The Governor's Military Council will continue to ensure a successful transition and encourage additional growth in the future.
It's no secret that service to country is a core value for Kansans. Around the world, thousands of Kansans are courageously serving in the armed forces.
Until recently, a Kansan commanded all American forces, capping 40 years in the military with two terms as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's a proud K-State graduate and tonight, he and his wife Mary Jo join us in the gallery. Please help me thank General Richard Myers for his service to our country and for his continuing service to Kansas.
In addition to General Myers, we have another military homecoming to celebrate.
A year ago, we wished Godspeed to a member of this Legislature Lt. Col. Lee Tafanelli. We hoped and prayed for his safe return.
He and the men and women of the Kansas National Guard's 891st Engineering Battalion spent last year in Iraq, and I was honored to meet them during my trip there.
Colonel Tafanelli is Representative Tafanelli once again. Lee, we're happy for your safe return. Welcome back.
But as we welcome back one citizen soldier, we wish Godspeed to another.
John Potter started as an intern in this building ten years ago. Until recently he served as Chief of Staff to Speaker Mays. Now he's leaving for Iraq to serve a higher calling as a National Guard chaplain.
In times of danger, we turn to our faith in God to deliver courage and comfort. Chaplain Potter will bring both to the men and women he ministers to. Good luck, John. We're all praying for your safe return.
Indeed, we're praying for the safe return of all our men and women serving overseas. But we're also backing up our hopes and prayers with actions.
Last year, I proposed the Kansas Military Bill of Rights which shows our military families we recognize the sacrifices they make for us. We made it so the opportunity for a college education isn't lost if a parent or spouse falls in battle, and exempted recruitment and retention bonuses from state taxes. And we gave Guard families a measure of financial security should a loved one fall while serving our nation.
One of the families which paid the ultimate price is the family of National Guard Staff Sgt. Clinton Wisdom who was killed while serving in Iraq.
His wife Janet now works with Kansas National Guard soldiers and their families, helping them receive the benefits they deserve. Janet is in the gallery tonight, and I ask you to join me in expressing our gratitude to her and to the other families in Kansas for the sacrifices they've made.
I intend to continue our help for those who defend us. I also propose we add a new tax check-off that will allow Kansans to donate to military families in need simply by checking a box on their tax returns. This is a great way to show our support for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and Marines whose service allows us to pursue all the opportunities life has to offer.
These opportunities seem brighter tonight because hope has returned to the heartland.
We can continue our progress, but only if politics doesn't stand in the way. There will be plenty of time for campaigning later, so I ask you to join me in putting the people's hopes and dreams first.
After all, it was those hopes and dreams that first brought settlers to Kansas, including Christine Hokanson, who settled on a farm near Marquette in 1869.
She later wrote, "How grateful we are to God, who guided our steps to this wonderful country of the brave and the free, and who has helped and guided us through the struggles:of the pioneer days. May His rich blessings rest on the coming generations as it was rested on the pioneers."
We, too, are blessed to live in Kansas, and to live here during a time of unprecedented opportunity.
We've been through a valley. We now stand atop a hill, looking toward the horizon and all the promise it has to offer.
Join me in fulfilling that promise. Join me in helping all Kansans achieve their hopes and dreams.
Before I close, I'd like to thank my husband and partner for the last 31 years, Gary Sebelius, and the rest of my family. Without their love and support, I wouldn't be here tonight.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to Lt. Governor John Moore, the cabinet members and staff, who do a great job for Kansans every day.
Most of all, I want to thank the people of Kansas for the honor of allowing me to serve as your governor.
Good night, and may God bless the great State of Kansas and the United States of America.