TUESDAY, JANUARY 4, 2000 - 7:00 p.m.

Speaker Richards, President Williams and members of the General Assembly, Justice Lambert and members of the Judiciary, Governor Henry and other members of the Executive, distinguished members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation, my fellow Kentuckians.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss the state of the Commonwealth. 

And I can report to you that in many ways the state of the Commonwealth is good, --- but we’re not convened here to glory over the things that are good.  

We’re assembled in biennial session to address the things that can be made better. 

And we certainly have a full plate.

But first let me thank you individually for the kindnesses and courtesies and advice and counsel that you’ve shown Judi and me and the other members of our administration. 

It’s been a memorable and productive four years and we’re going to work as hard as we know how to work to make these next four even better. 

And I want to thank the hundreds and even thousands of state employees who’ve contributed to the success of our administration and committed their lives to the people of Kentucky. 

I admire the professionalism you’ve shown as you daily go about the business of improving the lives of our people. 

I know you’re the ones who do the work.  You’ve made our administration what it is.  Thank you, I’ll always be in your debt. 

And members of the General Assembly, I believe as we plan for the state’s future, we must make it a priority to treat these employees fairly. 

Over the past four years, as our administration has dealt with the issues that have made the headlines, we’ve also dealt with the issues that make government work, the issues like getting enough patient aides to care for our institutionalized clients. 

The 69% turnover rate for these jobs is directly attributable to the fact that the private sector and every state around us pays more, much more; Ohio twice as much.

As we are assembled here tonight, 36% of these positions are vacant.  

I could cite similar statistics about other job classifications.  

Illinois pays correction officers 49% more than we do.  Virginia pays parole officers 58% more.  Indiana pays social workers 43% more. 

We checked 5 jobs against 6 neighboring states, 30 comparisons; we were competitive in only 3. 

As we’ve analyzed these problems, our attention has been drawn to the state’s system of compensating its 35 or so thousand full-time employees.  

The more I learn about our system, the more frustrated I become.

It’s so structurally flawed and there’ve been so many attempts to patch it up that it’s totally compromised.

Let me cite just a few facts. 

18,475 of our employees are holding jobs that are assigned one or more grades lower than they should have, some as many as 5 grades too low. 

We have 3,361 employees one or more grades higher than they should be.  We have 3,227 employees making more than the maximum wage assigned to their grade!!!!! 

These last 2 groups I mentioned aren’t necessarily overcompensated, in fact most aren’t. 

It’s just that grades and minimums and midpoints and maximums are in some ways meaningless, in others inflexible.

This is a system near the point of collapse.  We must address it and we’re working hard to develop a proposal that will serve us and our employees better.  And we’ll be discussing a proposal in the very near future.

But one question we need to address it’s why did it happen?   Why hasn’t someone already been drawing our attention to the problem? 

The answer is, many state employees have no voice in Frankfort; at least the prison guard from Eddyville doesn’t; the social worker from Covington doesn’t; the grader operator from London doesn’t.  

And giving these people a voice is the reason I support collective bargaining for public employees!!!

I want to make sure that you in the General Assembly and you, the people of Kentucky watching and listening tonight, clearly understand what collective bargaining for public employees is. 

It’s not forcing anybody to agree to anything.  It’s not forcing anybody to sign a contract.  It’s not forcing anybody to raise taxes. 

It’s about government living by the same rules that government makes private businesses live by.  That’s the issue!!!!

I’m not saying that any group of public employees in Kentucky needs a union.  That’s not for me to say.  That’s their decision.  What I am saying is that if a majority of the employees of any public employer want a union, then, just like in the private sector, they ought to have the right to have one!!!

--- and their employer ought to sit down and talk to their representatives about the terms and conditions of their employment and they ought to do it in good faith!!! 

That’s what our laws make private employers do.  And government ought to live by the same rules!!!

Hey, folks, this isn’t the end of the world.  Thirty states have it including right-to-work states like Florida, Tennessee and Nevada, Iowa and Nebraska. 

In fact, Kentucky gives this right to firefighters in our largest cities.  If we’ve given this right to one group of public employees, what’s wrong with giving it to all of them? 

This is something we need to do and we need to do it this session!!!

While our objective in state government is to address the issues that affect our citizens’ lives, to do that efficiently and effectively, we have to have an administrative structure staffed by competent, adequately compensated employees who feel they’re appreciated and treated fairly.

Knowing they have a vehicle to address inequities will make them more dedicated to their task!!!

While fair treatment of our employees is essential to our success, we’re also here tonight to address issues that directly affect the daily lives of our people. 

The four most important issues we’ll talk about this session are education; education; education; and education!!!

Let us never ease up in our efforts to improve our common schools; half our budget; the very foundation of our society; the most important task we do as a people.  Let’s keep up the momentum begun by the Kentucky Education Reform Act!!!

March 29, 1990 was this body’s finest hour.  That was a day when statesmen and stateswomen took to the floor of these chambers and stood up for the children of Kentucky, the future of Kentucky, without regard for their own political future!   

What that legislature and Governor Wilkinson did is still legendary in the minds of the leaders of education in this country because they know how right for children it was and how hard for politicians it was to do.  Let us not lose the vision, let us stay the course!!!! 

We must continue to provide the financial support necessary to do the job.   

I’m proud of the fact that during our watch we have fully funded the transportation element of KERA, we’ve guaranteed teachers a cost-of-living increment and we’ve fully funded our technology program, giving Kentucky the most technologically advanced classrooms in the nation!!!   

But we must do more!  

As a minimum, basic SEEK must get a 2.4% increase.  We must fund all the family resource centers envisioned in KERA.  We must do more to help our teachers do a better job, a very difficult job, the most important job in Kentucky, and we must do something to reduce dropouts!!! 

On another level, we must persevere in our commitment to make postsecondary education an equally high priority.   

Let us fulfill the promise we made to the people of Kentucky almost three years ago, when we enacted the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997. 

This is the crucial session for that initiative.  We’ve set specific goals for the year 2020.  The Council on Postsecondary Education has told us what we need to do this session to keep on track towards those goals.   

We have more discussions ahead, but in the end, we must listen to those we instructed to give us the framework to get to where we want to be.   

We must fund the Council’s final recommendations!!! 

And let us not forget the adult Kentuckians who, for whatever reason, didn’t get the education they needed during the traditional years or whose work life has changed and who need more education to keep up with the changing economy or who need to change careers.   

Let us heed the message of the task force on adult education that we created last session and let’s give hope to those in danger of being left behind!!!     

And let us not forget our children, our very young children, those whose environment has been altered by the pressures of modern society. 

I, like many of you, didn’t fully understand how the brain develops during the first years, even the first months of a child’s life. In fact, I didn’t understand it at all.    

I thought you just fed ‘em and protected ‘em and when they got to be five or six years old you just programmed their little computer brains and inputted a lot of data into their little random-access memories and everything would be fine.  

I thought their brains came already assembled like their heart and their eyes and their legs.   

But I was wrong; they don’t come with a ready-built brain, they come with an erector set; all the bits and pieces but little of it put together.   

A child’s brain is assembled by life experiences.  And the experiences can be good or bad.   Their brain can be assembled right or wrong.   

This brain development happens at a reverse exponential rate, extremely high at birth, almost finished at puberty. 

Very young children need nurturing and protection but they also need good health, a challenging environment, social contact with their peers, and caring parents who’re knowledgeable about the needs of their infant.  As best we can, we need to help them have these things.   

We have to realize that modern lifestyles, as wonderful as they are in many ways, have changed the way we raise our children.  Most of these changes are good.  Some are not.   

Because of our mobile society, many young parents have lost the family support system of parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles that many of us relied on as we developed our parenting skills.    

We have thousands of young parents, many of them young single women, struggling to raise very young children and support them with none of the support that most of us had; many without the experience of being raised in a caring nurturing home.    

The time has come for us to do what Ohio and Florida and North Carolina and many other states have done.   

And the reimbursement by the tobacco companies for smoking-related healthcare costs the state has incurred gives us the chance to do that.   

Realizing that we’re going to spend millions of dollars helping older kids who’ve gone wrong because of inadequate early care, let’s reduce those costs in the future by investing in these kids earlier, in their most formative years.   

Let’s do what’s right for us as taxpayers, for the parents, for our children; and let’s do it now!!! 

As important as education is, there are other needs we have to address.   

A top priority among these is economic opportunity for our people; the opportunity to use the education we’re going to provide. 

For the past eight years, I’ve been intimately involved in the states efforts to improve our economy.  I’m proud of what we’ve done. We need to do more.  

I’m open to ideas about how we can become even more attractive to emerging high-tech industries and financial services companies.

We must begin immediately building that knowledge-based economy we’ll need for the 21st century; the only kind of economy that can bring us the prosperity we seek!!!!   

As we look at growing our overall economy, let’s not forget our traditional industries in trouble, coal and tobacco.   

We’ve already addressed one major issue with coal, worker’s compensation, and the industry is still in trouble.  It’s still facing the threat of cheap western production. 

Let’s face up to the fact that regardless of the near-term prospects of our coal industry, it will not sustain the people of our coal-producing regions in the future.   

We must and will continue to pursue alternatives!   

We will not neglect the social and economic needs of our citizens in the coal fields, especially the Eastern Kentucky coalfields!!!   

Eight years ago we recognized those needs and with the leadership of Governor Jones we made a commitment to devote 50% of the coal severance tax to rebuilding their economy.   

We’re making progress towards that goal and I promise my people that the budget I present two years from now will reach that goal.   

We will live up to our commitment!!!! 

The challenge now is to invest these resources wisely.   

I’m pleased with what we’ve done so far with the Local Government Economic Development program.   

But we’ve only just begun.  I am determined that, using this and other tools that the legislature has made available to Eastern Kentucky, four years from now, with my personal involvement, we will begin to see tangible and significant results that, pursued for twenty years, will fundamentally change the region!!! 

Yes, we’ve developed special programs to help build the economy of Eastern Kentucky, an area which has special needs.   

There’s another part of our society, another geographic area, that needs special attention.   

That’s our inner cities, many times the homes of some of our most disadvantaged African-American citizens.   

We need to take the same kind of extraordinary action, the development of special programs and incentives, to induce economic revival in our inner cities, just as we’ve done in Eastern Kentucky.   

I’ve studied this problem since I was Secretary of the Economic Development Cabinet and I believe that we’ve finally come up with a program that will help.   

I’ll be discussing this idea with you in the not too distant future.   

And while we’re talking about our inner cities, let’s talk about our society’s policy of the throw-away city.  Just because we have abundant open space in the proximity of our cities that is the backbone of our agriculture economy, and is relatively cheap in one sense of the word, is no reason to ignore the long-term cost of random growth.   

Let’s not just abandon our hundred-year-old downtowns and let them become deteriorated and the least valued part of our community.   

Let’s not live like a ringworm, destroying the center and leaving it to decay while expanding outward into our natural areas and having only the outward ring of prosperity surrounding an ever-increasing area of decline. 

And let’s preserve the natural uniqueness which is rural Kentucky.   

It’s more than Black Mountain and the Red River Gorge, and the Palisades of the Kentucky River and the Land Between the Lakes.   

We have such a beautiful state.  Let’s set aside some of our most unique areas so that future generations of Kentuckians can enjoy what we sometimes take for granted. 

And let us make a commitment to keep it clean!!!   

We live in times of unparalleled prosperity and we’re creating waste at an unprecedented pace.   

And it doesn’t make any difference whether we live in a city or in rural Kentucky.  

Today, everybody creates large amounts of solid waste and it’s everybody’s responsibility to properly dispose of it!!!   

We’ve made a lot of progress since Senate Bill 2 was passed in the 1991 extraordinary session.   

The time has come to make another step toward a cleaner Kentucky!!!    

As we think about rural Kentucky, our minds, of necessity, turn to agriculture, our original industry and one that has created in our people the kind of moral values and the work ethic that makes Kentucky a great place to live and work.   

All of our agriculture industry is in trouble, but it’s tobacco that has systemic problems that are beyond our control, conditions that will reshape our society.   

The time has come for us to realize, and for political leaders to admit, that tobacco will not play the role in our lives in the future that it has in the past.   

Big tobacco has lost about all the political battles they can lose.    

They aren’t as dependent on our political support as they once were.    

As they continue to face financial pressure, I expect they’ll take any measures they can to reduce costs and try to survive.   

They’ve pulled practically all their manufacturing out of Kentucky.   They’re working everyday to increase the capacity of burley tobacco growers around the world.   

The future of the Kentucky tobacco farmer is not their primary concern. 

But it is ours. Let’s get on with the business of building a different farm economy, especially for our family farms!!!!   

We truly have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make fundamental change in rural Kentucky as we decide what to do with the money being reimbursed to the state as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco companies.   

A substantial amount of this reimbursement, but not all, must be spent to help the family farm, and these funds must be spent right!!!!   

I solicit your continued input as we develop a program for their use.    

The budget’s going to be tough but I will not submit to you a budget that uses the Phase I tobacco money to solve the budget problems and I won’t sign one that does!!!! 

It’s the only hope we have to begin new programs and there are some new things we need to do in addition to helping our farmers and our very young children.   

We need to address the issue of the high cost of health insurance for our fellow Kentuckians who have to buy their health insurance in the individual market.  

Most Kentuckians have group insurance where the risk is spread over a large group like insurance is supposed to be.  The individual market just doesn’t work that way.   

Let’s look to the monies being paid to the state for incurred costs of healthcare to help our sickest people who buy their insurance in the individual market, many of them farmers, enjoy the benefits of shared risk.   

Let’s restore a competitive healthcare insurance market so these citizens can realize the benefits of the economies the insurance companies will have to pursue as they compete for their business.   

It’s the American way, and it’s the right thing to do!!!   Let’s restore competition to the market!!!!! 

And let us not forget the welfare of our fellow citizens who are less fortunate than we.   

Like most Kentuckians, when I was in the private sector, I didn’t have occasion to be exposed to the problems of our disadvantaged fellow citizens.    

I chose to criticize those who were on welfare and didn’t work because I viewed them from my perspective, through my eyes, as a person who’d never experienced their hardships or seen it in my family.   

I was one of those who resented my hard-earned money going to support people who didn’t work, not realizing that in fact it was only pennies of my tax money.

But let me tell you that eighteen years in public service has changed my view.  I’ve had to deal with the problems of unfed children, homeless parents, untreated illnesses.

I’ve seen the struggle of parents trying to care for very loved and very special children; worrying about what’s going to happen to their child when they get too old to care for them.  I’ve been to Oakwood, and Central State, and the Home of the Innocents.   

I’ve seen it.   

And until you’ve seen it, my fellow Kentuckians, my friends in the legislature, don’t pass judgment on the needs of this very special group of Kentuckians.   

I know how Louie Nunn felt when he became governor and had to face up to the terrible neglect our society was showing for these children, no matter their age, who will always need someone to care for them.  I respect his courage for doing what he had to do, and his skill in getting it done.      

That’s why, when his son came to Frankfort with Jimmie Lee two months ago I committed myself to ask for substantial increases in funding for mental health and mental retardation.   

I endorsed their proposal and I committed to including it in our budget, and I will, and that’s the only specific increased spending I’ve committed to publicly.   

I don’t know where we’ll get the money, but I’m determined to do it because I realize that every time I see one of our less fortunate special people with special needs, I think to myself, there but for the grace of God go I; or Judi or our children or our grandchildren; or someone else I love.   

The people of Kentucky are special.  We will take care of our special people!!!

We have other social needs that we must and will address but we have a responsibility to address all the needs of our people, current and future.   

As we address our immediate needs, we cannot neglect the future needs of our society; the infrastructure essential to the success of our people; the roads, the schools, our water and sewer systems, our cultural facilities and our prisons, our parks and courtrooms, our airports and playgrounds; all those things that make our communities livable, our cities safe, our economy grow.   

We’re prosperous and safe and enjoy a high quality of life today because of the infrastructure built and paid for by those who’ve come before us.    

They balanced our future needs against their current needs because they realized their obligation to leave Kentucky better than they found it.    

We have the same obligation to our children and their children’s children.  No matter how tight the budget is, no matter how pressing the current needs are, we must live up to our obligation to invest some of our resources in the infrastructure of our society.   

Our responsibility is to serve all the people of Kentucky and even though a particular need may affect only a few of our people, if we serve one, we should serve all!!!   

All of our people need access to postsecondary education.  It’s no longer for the few.   

The same goes for some of the other things that many Kentuckians have taken for granted but some Kentuckians still don’t have; things like roads and water and sewer and community facilities.   

I always say a good road in front of your house isn’t a big thing unless you don’t happen to have one.  Then, it’s just about the most important thing in the world.   

It’s only 5% of our population who still live on a dirt or gravel road but if you’re one of those 5%, you know what I’m talking about.   

I’ll be calling on this legislature to develop a program which will set us on a course of providing every Kentuckian a decent road to their home, and getting that done in twenty years!!!   

Another essential of modern life is water.  An adequate source of safe, clean drinking water is nothing to get upset about unless you don’t happen to have any; then it becomes a matter of life and death.   

And over 10% of our people don’t have it.   

I’ll also call on you to make a similar commitment to provide water to every Kentuckian and we can do that within 20 years, too!!! 

I’ve mentioned some of the issues we should address this session but we have a lot more to do.   

Let us continue to support our law enforcement officers, our courts, our entire criminal justice system that helps Kentucky have one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.   

We’ll be suggesting ways to reduce the incidents of rape, and the trauma it causes.  We must address the inadequacies of our public defender system and let’s improve our campaign finance law.  Let’s support the arts and our parks and the recreation facilities that add so much joy to life. 

Let us not shrink from the challenge that is before us!!!           

Let us take care of the present, let us invest in the future, let us do what’s right, and fair.  Let’s invest in every part of the Commonwealth.  Let’s look at the needs of every citizen.  And let’s make sure that every Kentuckian pays their fair share of the cost of government!!! 

We all know that government doesn’t give us anything; government is we the people, pooling some of our resources to do the things that we, through our elected representatives, think we have to do.   

All that anyone should expect from government is that our money be spent efficiently and effectively and we all be required to contribute our fair share according to our ability. 

Let’s look at our tax structure; all of our tax structure!!!   Let’s make sure, as best we can, that it’s adequate and that it’s fair!!!   

As we begin our work to determine the direction of our society for the next century, let us be cognizant of our opportunities and responsibilities.    

We have the opportunity to have a great session.   

This will be the third session that our administration has worked with most members of House leadership.

We know each other very well and we have a healthy working relationship. 

We’re all aware of the leadership changes that have occurred in the Senate which will require us to develop new working relationships and I’m confidant they’ll be just as healthy and productive. 

To the Democrats in the Senate, you can take pride in the leadership that you’ve provided that body over the years.   

You’ve dealt honorably with the challenges that come with responsibility.   

In this session you must concentrate on advancing the causes you champion by building bipartisan coalitions around specific issues that are important to you and the people you serve.     

And to the newly empowered Republican majority in the Senate, you have achieved your goal of majority status in that body.   

I’m confident that you can deal with responsibility as well as authority.   

The people will be looking to you to focus on issues and not partisanship, an admonition I would deliver to all members of the legislature and to myself and our administration. 

This is a time for statesmanship!!!!     

And finally, we must decide what our primary objective is, the next election or the business of the people.   

For me, the choice is clear.  I’ve found that the majority of the people are wiser than many politicians realize.   

I’ve found that the people, the silent majority, not the vocal, selfish minority, want us to address the hard issues, to do what’s right; and trust their judgment.   

After all, the people’s primary interest is not that any particular individual is re-elected but rather that their long-term interests are served.    

To each individual legislator, let me say that I understand that we will not agree on every issue.  My position will prevail on some, yours on others.  Let us keep each issue separate.   

Let us not engage in retribution on one subject because of a disagreement on another.  To do differently would be an invitation to gridlock.   

And we can’t afford to do that, for the sake of our people.   

I hold no personal or political animosity towards any of you.  I know of none of you who hold ill will towards me as an individual.   

We have a challenging three months ahead of us.  I hope to finish our work here with an even closer relationship than we have now.   

And I and the people of Kentucky expect us to finish this session having made a difference for the better in the life of every Kentuckian!!! 

I look forward to working with you these next three months and these next four years to build that better opportunity for all our people; that’s what the people sent us here to do.  That’s what I intend to do.   

And that’s what I know we will do!!!   

Good night.  God bless you.