March 7, 2006
Gov. Jeb Bush
President Lee, Speaker Bense, members of the Legislature, members of the Supreme Court, honored guests and my fellow Floridians, it is my privilege to come before you one last time to review the state of our beloved state, to outline the next steps in our progress, and to thank you for all that Florida is today and will become tomorrow.
My wife, Columba, joins me here today. My greatest blessing, and the love of my life, she is also a remarkable First Lady for Florida. Her work to prevent drug abuse and her passionate advocacy for the arts have touched countless lives, and inspired us all. I couldn’t be any prouder of her, or to be her husband.
The young man beside her is my son, George, and I’m glad to have him here as well.
I am also joined by Lt. Governor Toni Jennings. During my first term as Governor, she earned my respect as a Senate President of principle. Working closely with her over the past three years has only deepened my respect, and I thank her for her tremendous service to our state.
We enter 2006 storm-wearied, but steadfast. For the second year in a row, Floridians weathered the wrath of nature as hurricanes battered our state, sometimes reopening wounds not yet healed from earlier storms. For the second year in a row, we have emerged with unprecedented strength and unlimited optimism.
We’ll face the challenges of this new year armed with record employment, record financial reserves, and record revenue. We have the resources to meet the needs of our state and invest in our future.
We also have the will, the discipline, and the proven strategies to continue our progress toward our vision of all that Florida can be.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thanks to your commitment and hard work for our state, and the contributions of Floridians who build -- and rebuild -- their lives here, the state of our state grows stronger every day.
I first came to this chamber in the last year of the last century. Many of you were here then, others have come to serve more recently. You have all contributed to the success of our state, and it has been my honor to serve with you.
The first time I stood at this podium, I spoke of a shared vision for Florida in the new millennium and asked for your help to make it real.
That vision includes an education system that fully prepares our children for the future. Today, more Florida children are reading at grade level, our high school graduation rate is rising, our drop out rate is falling, and our students, especially our minority students, are making greater learning gains than their national peers.
We envisioned safer neighborhoods, where children can play and elders can live without fear. Today our crime rate is the lowest in Florida’s history.
We want a state where people who need our help, get it. We’ve increased funding to serve Floridians with disabilities, to protect children, and to provide community based care for elders, each by at least 140 percent. We’ve also taken the first critical step to create an effective and efficient Medicaid system.
Today, thousands more Floridians with disabilities and addictions are getting the help they need, and thousands of children are getting the loving adoptive homes they dream of.
We want future generations to enjoy the natural resource that make our state so special today. We’ve acquired 1.3 million acres of conservation land, and we’re investing more than $3.2 billion to clean and restore the Everglades.
We want a robust economy to give everyone in our state the opportunity to work and to flourish. Since January 1999, Florida has added more than 1.1 million net new jobs, 16 percent of all jobs rated in the United States during that time.
After 40 consecutive months of job growth, we now have the lowest unemployment rate in the recorded history of our state.
Finally, we want a state government that requires less money from Florida families. Today, Florida’s government has almost 11,000 fewer state employees and takes a smaller percentage of personal income than when we started 7 years ago.
We wanted all of this for the people of Florida, and because this Legislature made the choices for required for change, we’re achieving it. We should celebrate these achievements because of what they mean for our state. We must also do more, because progress is perpetual, success is never final, and reform is never finished.
We must take the next steps in reform to drive more improvement in our schools. We must create a culture of preparedness so we’re ready for any future disaster, whether it’s a hurricane, an attack, or a pandemic. And, we must continue to enhance our business climate and diversify our economy.
This is not a year for rest or caution. It’s not a year for legacy. This is a year for taking our progress to the next level to build an even bigger future for Florida. This is the year we do even more.
More Education Reform
In 1999, this Legislature passed the “A+ Plan” to transform public education in Florida. Since then, working together, we’ve added a steady progression of new education reforms. We created the strongest policy against social promotion in the country. We have the nation’s largest effort to drive reading instruction into classrooms. We expanded advanced placement and other opportunities for academic challenge, and we raised the standards for high school graduation.
It took courage, trust, and a lot of hard work from parents, teachers, principals, education leaders, and lawmakers, but achievements that are still considered impossible in other states, are now commonplace in Florida. And I thank you all.
I can’t tell you how many students in our schools were reading at grade level in 1997. Because no one had measured.
By 2001, we had tested every student in grades 3 through 10, so we knew that only 46% of them could read at grade level or above. Today, 53% of Florida students have this critical skill.
We still have a long way to go, but we move forward every year. We know, because we measure.
We measure because we care whether students in our schools can read. We care whether they can calculate math. We’re starting to measure science knowledge, because we care whether students understand it. We care about what these skills mean, for the future – theirs and ours.
Today, our schools are serving our students better, but we’re not done. We must build on this stronger foundation for success to do more.
Florida’s High School Reform Task Force studied the way our high schools serve students, and recommended a strategy to better prepare them for success – starting in our middle schools.
Too often in grades 6 through 8, there’s a break between the intensive skill building of the early grades, and the challenges of high school. A break in which many students don’t build on the former, and aren’t prepared for the latter.
By requiring them to earn 12 credits in math, science, language arts, and social studies before they are promoted to high school, we can ensure they are prepared to succeed in the higher grades.
Our reforms include summer academies to give struggling students the extra help they need in the required subjects, and intensive reading instruction for students who aren’t reading at grade level.
Strong students, who are ready for a greater challenge, should be able to take high school courses, for high school credit while they’re still in middle school.
You have already proven the will, and the ability, to drive great change in our schools. This year, we must take the reforms, and the progress, to the next level. We must transform Florida high schools to prepare students to compete in a global market, and to build successful futures of their own design
I've had the chance to talk to a lot of high school students. I am constantly amazed by how perceptive these kids are, and how skeptical they can be of requirements that aren’t connected to their ambitions. Our high schools need to provide a stronger link between a student’s goal, and the preparation required to achieve it.
Colleges draw a much clearer line from classroom to career. All students take a general education core curriculum for basic knowledge. Then they each choose a major, and possibly a minor, according to their own dreams and the knowledge they’ll need to achieve them. We need to bring that same balance between core requirements and student aspirations to high schools in Florida.
The first step is to strengthen the core curriculum of our high schools, by requiring an additional, higher level math credit. Additionally, all students should focus 15 of the 24 required credits on rigorous core subjects, to give them a strong foundation of knowledge.
The remaining nine required credits can be taken in a major or minor program chosen by the student, such as math, science, fine arts, or career and vocational skills. Students who can see the relationship between their classes and their dreams are more likely to stay focused, and stay in school. Our "Ready to Work" certification program will give vocational students the credentials that tell employers they’re ready for the workforce and have the skills required to succeed.
Students who work hard to prepare for higher education need to know that the doors of our colleges and universities will be open to them, regardless of their background or bank accounts. This is especially true for students striving to become the first person in their family to achieve college.
This year, I’ve asked for the largest increase in the history of the needs-based Florida Student Assistance Grant program. With your approval, we can provide $135 million in financial aid to help 117,000 Florida students make their college dreams real.
Florida students have a lot of champions in this chamber. And I’m grateful for your continued commitment to raising the quality of the education they get in our schools. Let’s do more for them this year, by adopting the bold and logical next steps toward an education system that truly serves the individual needs of every student.
Even with all our reforms, quality teachers remain the single most important success factor in our schools. We need to more for them, and we need to recruit more of them. I’m recommending we invest $239 million to create incentives to attract teachers to Florida, and to compensate them for their contributions and achievements in our schools.
$40 million of that money will be used to match the funds local school districts spend to recruit or retain teachers. We want to increase their ability to provide signing bonuses, down payments on homes, professional development, student loan repayments, or anything else that will draw the teachers they need into their schools.
I appreciate the support of the Florida School Boards Association, The Florida PTA, and the Florida Association of School Superintendents for this proposal. We’re asking you to make it a reality.
School districts also need to pay teachers according to their performance, expertise, and added value.
Districts that desperately need math or science teachers in their schools ought to pay more to get them. Districts should encourage high-performing teachers to work in low-performing schools, by paying them for the skills, experience, and hope they bring to the challenge. Teachers who inspire their students to significant achievement, or who perform additional duties, should see our appreciation for their efforts reflected in bigger numbers on their paychecks.
As important as teachers are, the top priority of our education system has to be the students in it. Public education will never meet the unique needs of every child.
Holding children in schools that limit their learning not only frustrates their futures, it defies decency. And common sense.
For the last six years, Florida has given parents the power to move their children out of chronically underperforming schools, and into the school of their choice. We have empowered students with disabilities to find the most supportive educational environment, public or private. And we have given low income parents the same options wealthier families have always had to get the best education for their children.
We’re committed to school choice because equal opportunity starts with equal options for education. And because the competition of choice drives positive change in our public schools.
Students don’t even need to use school choice to benefit from it. Independent research has proven that, given the choice between losing students and state dollars, or raising the quality of education, schools rise to the challenge and make tremendous gains.
In other words, simply giving students the power to choose is enough to make their schools work harder to serve them better.
For that reason, school choice is an essential tool for real education reform. It’s also a fundamental right for Florida families – a right that is now threatened.
But, as I said before, Florida students have many champions here. Leaders like Senator Ken Pruitt and Representative Marco Rubio, who are introducing proposals to protect school choice in Florida.
I applaud their leadership on this critical issue, and strongly encourage this Legislature to join their efforts to protect the moral imperative of school choice – for the 733 students in the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the 29,641 low income and disabled students in the McKay and Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship programs, and all future generations of students in this state.
More Hurricane Preparation
As we do more to prepare our students for the opportunities of the future, we must also do everything in our power to prepare our communities for the challenges of today.
Experts called the 2004 hurricane season unprecedented. In 2005, with 27 named storms, we learned that records are made to be broken. We don’t know which new storms will hit us, but we know more are coming. And we must be prepared to respond, recover, and continue our progress.
The tremendous work by our first responders, volunteers, government workers, and the Florida National Guard in the wake of the hurricanes was some of the finest public service it has ever been my privilege to witness.
We learned a lot about preparing and planning from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, so we were better equipped when disaster hit 12 years later. Likewise, the lessons of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, were reflected in our responses for Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
Our enhanced response capabilities served Florida well, and also supported our neighbors in need. In the largest mutual aid response in history, Florida first responders rushed to provide help to our neighbors in Louisiana and Mississippi, at a cost of $150 million.
Our disaster response is the most effective in America, and serves as a national model. But we can, and must, do more to make the best in the country even better.
Every Floridian must accept hurricane preparation as a personal responsibility. And their government must make it a top priority.
I've asked for a permanent 12-day sales tax holiday for hurricane essentials, to coincide with National Hurricane Awareness Week each May. Please make it your first order of business, so the people we serve will be better prepared for the hurricane season starting on June 1st.
We’re proposing a $5.3 million effort to create a culture of preparedness in Florida, including a campaign to raise public awareness about the need for an emergency plan, and how to create one. I'm also requesting $50 million to help at least 10,000 lower income Florida homeowners install hurricane shutters, reinforce roofs, and take other steps to improve the chances that their homes will still be standing when the winds stop blowing and the water recedes. I hope you’ll approve this request, and that future legislatures will follow your lead, until substandard housing in our state has been hardened to handle most storms.
I also hope you’ll remove current exemptions from our building code, to create a statewide, uniform code that is based on science instead of politics, and will ensure new construction in our state will withstand hurricanes.
As part of our disaster preparation, we propose an investment of $70 million to protect and enhance our Emergency Operation Centers.
When the 2006 hurricane season starts, we’ll have shelter space for almost 817,000 people, compared to 187,000 in 1999. But we need more. My budget includes $12 million dollars to expand our shelter capacity to serve an additional 100,000 people by the 2007 hurricane season. We also need to make sure we have adequate support for frail and critically ill Floridians during a storm by installing permanent generators in more than 100 special needs shelters to serve 20,000 vulnerable storm victims.
First we prepare. Then we respond. And ultimately we recover.
My budget recommendation includes $243 million for traditional housing programs, an increase of 26% over current funding. I’m also recommending an additional $302 million to support affordable housing needs in communities impacted by the storms of the last two years.
I thank you for your quick response during Florida’s time of need, and I encourage you to build on that progress to do even more this year.
More Economic Development
Despite the challenges of the last two hurricane seasons, today we have the resources to address critical issues and invest in future opportunities because we have a strong economy, fueled by a world-class business climate.
Month after month, for more than three years, Florida has created more jobs than any other state in the union. Week after week, businesses relocate or expand to Florida, creating even more opportunity for our residents, and more revenue for our government. Day after day, entrepreneurs build their dreams here.
They’re drawn by our quality of life. They’re drawn by state incentives and local support. They’re drawn by our skilled workforce. They’re drawn here because our tax structure lets them keep more of what they earn.
In 1999, we took a bold step to lead the race for businesses and jobs, by enacting a $1 billion tax cut, the largest in state history.
We’ve provided more tax relief year after year, to ease the burden on Florida families, and attract the businesses we need to strengthen and diversify our economy. We’ve provided $14.5 billion in cumulative tax relief since 1999.
During that same period, our state revenues have grown by 51%, and our financial reserves have increased by approximately 530% -- to their current level of almost $8.4 billion.
It’s a simple fact that every dollar we take in taxes leaves people with less money. Less money to buy groceries, pay for medical care, or send their kids to college. Less money to invest in their business, save for retirement, or lift themselves up from poverty.
Every dollar we take increases their potential dependence on government and the services it provides.
Every dollar we take deserves our respect for the hard work behind it, our appreciation for the sacrifice it represents, and our commitment to take no more than absolutely necessary to serve the people of this state.
When it comes to taxes, less is really more. Year after year, less taxation has meant more growth and more revenue in Florida. This year, let’s do more for the people of Florida by taking even less from them. Let’s send an additional $1.5 billion back to the people who earned it.
It’s time we stopped penalizing people for taking responsibility for their own retirement by saving and investing over a lifetime. It’s time to repeal the last fragment of the insidious intangibles tax.
It’s time we repealed the onerous and complex “by the drink” tax, that confuses business owners who pay it, and costs them and the State of Florida far too much to administer.
And it’s time to make the 9-day "Back to School" sales tax holiday permanent for Florida families.
My proposal includes property tax rebates of $100 each, to 4.4 million homeowners, and hundreds of thousands of mobile home owners, to provide a total of $500 million in relief. We’re also proposing a 9.1% reduction in required school tax rates, saving taxpayers a total of $570 million. Even with this proposed tax relief, school revenue from property taxes will still increase 7.3%. The rebates and tax relief, totaling more than a billion dollars, will help defray the rising costs of home ownership in Florida, including property insurance rates.
To bring more high-wage, high-value jobs to Florida, we need to exempt the sales tax on machinery and equipment used in manufacturing, R&D, and the space and defense industries. We need to provide incentives for alternative sources of energy, as well as tax credits to encourage early state capital in Florida.
This comprehensive tax relief proposal will bring the cumulative total of tax relief we have provided for the people of Florida since 1999, to $20.3 billion. I hope you’ll pass it, and I hope you’re as proud of that achievement as I am.
We’re consistently creating more jobs than any other state. We need to build on this success to do more to diversify our economy to create high value jobs that generation greater prosperity. I’m asking you to invest $630 million into our economic future this year.
First, I propose an investment of $100 million to recruit the most brilliant scholars, their teams, and their labs to our state. The World Class Scholars Program will match funds raised by universities to endow chairs and provide equipment to put Florida on the vanguard of emerging technologies and their commercialization for long-term high-wage job creation.
We’ll also need $100 million to enhance the successful Centers of Excellence Program, to leverage other resources to advance research and private sector job growth. I’m also asking you to create the Florida Innovation Incentive Fund, with an investment of $250 million. The fund will expand Florida’s next generation economy, with matching dollars to help local communities capture R&D and large business projects that will generate the jobs we want for Florida.
We’ve built one of the most attractive business environments in the world. But to state
competitive, we must deal with two impediments to our future success. First, we must repeal Florida’s joint and several liability law, a job killer of the first degree.
We must also take on the tough issue of property insurance reform, for the sake of our state’s homeowners and economic future
President Lee, Speaker Bense, I appreciate your personal commitment to resolving these challenges, and I respect you both for the courage required to address them.
There is so much for us yet to do in the service of this state. There is always more to do, because success is never final. I urge you to continue the great work you’ve done to improve the opportunities and the quality of life for the 17 million people in our state today, and those who will be here in the future.
Let’s build on Florida’s success to reach higher. Let’s use this momentum to go farther. Let’s work together to do even more.
We have to keep going. The minute we stop moving forward is the moment we fall behind. The moment we stall, we limit the future of our state.
It has been an honor to serve with you these past seven years. Many of you, like me, will leave office in less than a year. Until then, we have a lot of work to do. I look forward to working with you to honor the trust of the people of Florida, by fulfilling the commitments we’ve made to them.
Thank you. May God bless you all, and may God bless the Great State of Florida.