NGA Plenary Session
July 16, 2002
GOVERNOR PATTON’S TALKING POINTS
Thank you. I’m
honored to assume the position of chair of the National Governors Association.
This is no doubt the most important national leadership role that I’ll
have the opportunity to fill and I’ll do my best to help this organization
pursue your agenda.
My heartfelt thanks to Governor Engler for his allowing me
to be a significant part of his leadership team this past year.
He’s presided during our country’s most challenging and trying time
in over fifty years. He’s presided during a year when virtually every state has
experienced unanticipated, and in some cases unprecedented, revenue shortfalls.
And during his year as Chair, our nation has experienced the first
hostile military attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor.
During these difficult times he kept us focused on the
issues that were the most critical to our states. His effort on the reauthorization of welfare reform has
helped to produce a tripartisan package that could provide greater flexibility
to define what counts as a work activity, increased childcare funding, and the
continuation of existing TANF waivers.
He encouraged us to refocus on technology and the ever-changing role it
plays in state government and on an individual state’s economy.
And he led the effort to nurture clusters of innovation in our states and
within regions in order to attract and develop the industries of the new,
knowledge based economy. John, it was an honor and a pleasure to work with you.
On behalf of the 55 governors of the states and territories, I’d like
to present you with the traditional NGA commemorative gavel in recognition of
your outstanding year as Chairman of this association.
Thank you and your lovely Michelle for your outstanding work and
dedication. Judi and I hope to carry the torch you’ve passed to us as
effectively as you both did.
During last year’s NGA conference in Providence the world
looked very different than it does today. While
we knew we were experiencing an economic slowdown, I doubt if many of us were
prepared for the fiscal crisis most of us have had to face during the past year.
We begin this year in a very different position.
We face many challenges; unique challenges, that are more urgent than the
one’s we experienced when our economy was strong.
There’s probably not a governor in this room who hasn’t had to
reprioritize the needs of their state because of budget constraints. Many
of the decisions we’ve had to make were and are extremely difficult and
painful. At the present time nearly
all states face revenue shortfalls that have resulted in $27 billion in
emergency budget cuts along with employee layoffs in many states.
The experts tell us that we’re in a recovery…but for states, it’s a
very slow recovery…a recovery that’ll require us to adjust our way of
thinking…and adjust our approaches and tactics.
We must maintain the necessary services our citizens depend on every day
while improving the critical programs on which the future of our states rest;
programs like education reform, economic development, the new economy and high
technology industries and now homeland security. We
must meet this crisis without loosing ground!
As states we’ve had to bear the brunt of the current
economic crises…but we can’t afford to become so embroiled in the crisis
that we loose sight of the long-term needs of our people.
First, we must continue to focus on key policy issues being
addressed by the current 107th Congress…particularly, by bringing
to closure, our efforts to refine
the nation’s welfare reform program. As
governors, we must also encourage our states to continue working together,
regardless of what legislation is passed, to improve the quality of life for
some of our most “at risk” citizens.
And we must begin to prepare for the 108th
Congress. I believe that the reauthorization of TEA-21, along with other
transportation related issues, including the reauthorization of AIR-21…and
many environmental issues relating to transportation like air pollution and
water quality…will make transportation a critical, if not a key focus for us
during the 108th Congress. As
an engineer and a native of rural eastern Kentucky, I understand the importance
of roads to economic development and quality of life. Our interstate highway system is the greatest public works
accomplishment of the 20th century but the system is in crisis.
This interstate system that we’ve become so dependant on is
overused…and inadequate to meet the demands of our modern society.
But we have a more immediate problem with the Federal Surface
Transportation program. Due to a combination of several factors that couldn’t
be foreseen when the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century
was enacted, we’re in the midst of a short-term funding crisis. The formula used to determine federal highway funding has
resulted in a proposed 27 percent reduction for Fiscal Year 2003…This is a
reduction in critical road funds at the same time we’re experiencing rapidly
shrinking state revenues and distressed budgets; and increased congestion on the
We also must work with Congress to seek sales tax equity
between our domestic retailers and remote vendors through the state’s
Streamlined Sales Tax Project.
Our success as governors depends on our ability to provide
our citizens with the skills they need to succeed. Skills that will have to be built on…adjusted… and
changed over the lifetime of their careers.
During my year as chair of the NGA, we’ll launch two programs that
address critical areas in the learning equation…the first initiative will
focus on the disturbing number of low performing elementary and secondary
schools we have in this nation. And
the second issue will address early childhood development and the importance of
preparing our very young children for a successful school career.
Reaching New Heights: Turning Around Low Performing Schools will
be the title of the Chairman’s Initiative.
Governor Kempthorne and I
will work with the NGA staff, and each of you to identify strategies our
states can take to turn around low-performing schools. A brochure describing
this initiative has been placed in front of you.
The school reform movement has had many successes—and I’m very
proud of the fact that Kentucky has played a leading role in education reform.
A lot of other states have made great strides in this area, but a number
of challenges still remain…one of which is the high number of consistent, low
performing schools that are failing our children in communities around this
country. This is an issue that must
be addressed if we’re going to provide all children with a quality education.
This initiative is generously supported by the Broad
Foundation, whose CEO Eli Broad has kindly joined us this afternoon. In just a
few minutes I’d like to invite him to make a few remarks.
The second education initiative we will undertake is
entitled Preparing America’s Children to
Learn: A NGA Task Force on School
Readiness. Governor Kempthorne and I will also Co-Chair this important effort
that’ll focus on preparing our young children for a successful school
career. Education must start prior
to entering school because research clearly tells us that the majority of a
child’s mental development occurs before they enter Kindergarten.
In fact 90% of the architectural structure of the brain is
developed by the age of three. The
goal of our initiative is to study the current views of how to prepare children
for school and then to identify best practices for actually assessing a
I look forward to an exciting year as we work together to
serve the people of America. In closing, my six and a half years working in this
organization has led me to conclude that the strength of this association is the
ability we have as governors to unite around our commonalities, and leave our
political differences at home. The
fact of the matter is we are more alike than we are different.
We must continue and strengthen the traditional bipartisan nature
of this association. That’s been the secret of our success.
Almost without exception, all of us are strong supporters
of our respective parties. We
believe in their fundamental values. As
a consequence, we as governors will disagree on some important issues.
And outside the context of this organization we’ll compete for
the allegiance of the voters. But
as governors, we have a higher obligation than partisan politics.
We must first be champions of progress for our people.
I’ve had the pleasure to work with almost 100 governors
during the past six and a half years. And
I’m pleased to say that as a group you’re among the most honorable and
capable people I’ve ever known. Your
confidence in me is very humbling.
To the new vice-chair of the NGA, Dirk Kempthorne, I look
forward to a productive year working with you.
Your unique experience at the state and national level will be invaluable
to our joint efforts. I’d also
like to take this opportunity to thank you, along with the volunteers and
citizens of Idaho for hosting this year’s Annual Meeting.
During the past four days, you and Patricia have been outstanding…and
certainly warm hosts. Many of you may not know this but Kentucky’s new slogan is
“Kentucky…it’s that friendly.” However,
after experiencing the hospitality of your citizens and volunteers during the
past few days, that might have to become a shared slogan.
You’ve done a good job and we’ve enjoyed it.
Before we conclude NGA’s 94th Annual Meeting I
would like to introduce a very important partner in our Reaching New Heights: Turning Around Low Performing Schools
initiative…Mr. Eli Broad, Chair of the Broad Foundation to say a few words.
In closing, I look forward to the challenges of the year
ahead. As your new chairman I now
adjourn the 2002 Annual Meeting of the National Governors Association.