Governor Kulongoski’s State of the State Speech

State of the State Speech 2009
Remarks by Governor Ted Kulongoski – As Prepared for Delivery

We are assembled here this morning to answer only one question: What do we have to do to make things better? What do we have to do to restore prosperity and lay the groundwork for a future where our children are the best educated in America, our environmental leadership is unquestioned in America, and our economy stands ready to take full advantage of the green industrial and energy revolution that is stirring in America. I don’t raise this question to start an argument about how America fell into its current economic crisis. That is the last thing we need. I raise it to spark an agreement between both parties that the time for action is now!

In a little more than a month, Oregon will start a year-long celebration of 150 years of statehood.

A century and a half as America’s brightest star and spiritual destination — always moving forward but tempering progress with the preservation of our values and natural beauty — is an achievement that belongs to every Oregonian.

Because this is our 150th birthday, I want 2009 to be a year when we remember the past, celebrate the present, and imagine the future.

But I also want this to be a year when we look deep inside ourselves — and take pride in our values, our character, and our stubborn independence.

It’s not a myth — we think our own way and we go our own way. The grit and fortitude of the earliest Oregonians runs in our hearts.

Our forefathers and foremothers didn’t come to Oregon because they’d lost hope — they came to Oregon because they believed in hope.

Oregonians have faced difficult times before. Some much worse than what we’re going through now. Wars. The Great Depression. Natural disasters. And — at times — falling short in our pursuit of equality, tolerance, and social justice.

But we always treat these difficult times not as the hand of fate at work — but as a call to get to work with our own hands, minds and spirits.

That is what we must do again — by building on what is already here: Our quality of life. Our diversified economy. Our educated workforce. Our rich natural and cultural landscape. And most of all, our pride in — and love for — Oregon.

This is the strong foundation on which our economy rests. And no recessionary storm — not even the painful one sweeping over Oregon now — can topple it to the ground.

Only we can do that — by losing confidence, failing to act, and surrendering to fear.
Today I say to you — do not use this legislative session to surrender to fear. Use it to redeem hope and to fulfill the highest calling of public service: To pass to our children — and their children — a healthier, better prepared and more resilient Oregon than was passed to us.

* * *

If this past November election was about anything, it was about hope and confidence in the future. I do not believe that the people of Oregon have lost confidence in themselves. They have not lost confidence in the greatness of our state. And they have not lost hope.

But in these difficult times — they are skeptical of the ability of government to solve the very real problems they read about in the newspaper and are living every day.

They don’t need more statistics — they need more answers.

They don’t need to be told what’s gone wrong — they need to be told what will make things right.

They don’t need partisan arguments — they need bipartisan solutions.

And they’re not looking for someone to blame — they’re looking for someone who will help.

* * *

I want you to look at the mural behind me. We’ve looked at this mural countless times over the years while serving the people of Oregon.

The mural depicts the meeting at Champoeg on May 2, 1843, when residents of the Oregon country voted to establish a provincial government under the flag of the United States.

Oregonians on that day were deeply divided over this issue. The vote was very close — with 52 of the 102 in attendance voting in favor of the proposal. One vote made the difference.

But if the divisions that arose in that first vote shadowed these early Oregonians in everything else they did, Oregon would never have become the place, the hope, and the beacon we call home.

The same is true on January 12, 2009.

No one should want our politics to fail. Over the last few decades, nationally — and even here in Oregon — politics has become a zero sum game where a victory for one side is viewed as defeat for the other.

Policies are opposed not because they are right or wrong — but because they bear the signature of the other caucus.

So if I say only one thing today that echoes throughout these chambers — let it be this: The public has had enough of division, stalemate, and partisan warfare.

They want something different. They voted for something different. They deserve something better.

And it is our responsibility to give them something better.

That is why, as we face what is certain to be a very challenging six months, Oregonians are not looking for short-term fixes that give the illusion of being painless — and carry no political risk.

They’re looking for winning ideas that will put Oregon on a path toward long-term prosperity.

* * *

The Biblical injunction is right: “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

The truth is that you can’t find your way to where you want to go unless you know where you are right now. The budget I presented on December 1st was based on the November revenue forecast. You and I both know that’s not where we are right now.

We will have a new forecast in March, and I believe the numbers will be down again. What the actual numbers will be — I don’t know. Nobody does.

But I do know this: We have difficult decisions to make — and they have to be made in the next 30 to 60 days. There is no warm up time for the 75th Legislative Assembly.

The facts have changed. The state’s General Fund has changed. And our hope for an early economic recovery has changed. But what has not changed — and will not change — are my priorities.

The ground on which — together — we will build a budget for the next biennium has shifted. But the pillars of that budget — children, education, health care, renewable energy, green technology, and transportation — cannot be shaken.

* * *

If we’re going to turn unemployment checks into paychecks, the state must invest in our human infrastructure.

My top priority for this upcoming biennium remains education — because only by creating the best trained, best skilled, best educated workforce in America will we be able to create the employment opportunities that are this state’s future.

I’ve been saying for months that the way to turn despair into hope, and uncertainty into prosperity, is to build a protective wall around funding for education.

That is how we will grow our economy. That is how we will match the training students are paying for — with the skills employers are looking for. And that is how we will guarantee that the arc of Oregon’s destiny continues to bend toward hope, confidence, certainty and prosperity.

* * *

In January 2003 — standing at this same lectern — I gave you one of the guiding principles of my life: When times are tough — children go to the head of the line.

The time has come to rise to that challenge — and to accept the moral responsibility of making sure that every Oregon child from birth to age 19 has health insurance.

Yes — that means finding the political courage to raise revenue. What are we afraid of? These are our children!

I understand the way this building works. I used to sit right where you’re sitting.

There will be no shortage of lobbyists and interest groups trying to persuade you that this isn’t the right time, or the right plan, or the right investment.

My question to you is: If not now, when?

Today, January 12, 2009, there is more than one-billion dollars in Washington D.C. with Oregon’s name on it — approved in waivers to cover uninsured children and adults through the Oregon Health Plan.

But that billion dollars is going unused — just as it does every two years — because we haven’t had the political will to come up with our share of the matching funds.

Getting that billion dollars will be a win for everyone — our children, the uninsured, as well as Oregonians with insurance”¦.because right now the cost of the uninsured is being shifted to them.

* * *

Another priority of mine that will not change is fighting for energy independence and energy security.

There is a green revolution stirring in America, and Oregon is the beating heart of that revolution. But it won’t be for long if we call a timeout on our move toward investing in renewable energy and green technology.

We have already laid down clear markers of leadership in building America’s new energy future:

The largest number of photovoltaic solar cells in North America will be manufactured in Oregon. The most ambitious renewable energy portfolio was codified in Oregon. The highest per capita use of hybrid vehicles is here in Oregon. And the longest — and most storied — tradition of protecting our natural heritage remains in Oregon.

The state is taking the lead in cutting greenhouse gases — everything from buying electric cars to investing in wave energy.

But meaningful reductions will require meaningful changes in the way we produce and use energy.

If we’re going to significantly cut greenhouses gases — we’re going to have to think bigger than capping emissions and trading credits.

We’re also going to have to innovate, educate, and invest!

That means more research and development into energy efficiency and conservation. Creating a larger science infrastructure that will attract and train scientists and engineers. And making sure Oregon businesses have the opportunity to generate a critical mass of brainpower, financial power, and marketing power.

When it comes to fighting climate change, recently I’ve been hearing a chorus of naysayers singing a three-part harmony of — too costly, too burdensome, and too soon.

But this chorus is out of tune — and out of touch — with Oregon’s future.

The time has come to put away the old songbook about a healthy environment being an impediment to a steady, strong and sustainable economy. It wasn’t true 30 years ago — and it is not true now.

* * *

There is no way to talk about climate change without also talking about transportation. We can all agree about that.

The disagreements start when the question becomes: Can we have both more transportation — and fewer emissions?

The answer is yes. Rebuilding our transportation infrastructure is a win in the fight against carbon — because we will not just repair roads and bridges, we will invest in the most green, sustainable, multi-modal, energy-efficient transportation system in the country.

Our roads, bridges, public transit, rail lines, airports and seaports are the circulatory system of Oregon’s economy. If our transportation arteries are blocked by congestion, inefficiency, decay and neglect — our economy is going to end up on life support.

To keep our economy healthy and ready for a national recovery, these investments must continue. But the current recession makes it even more urgent that we act — and act now.

* * *

As I said before, this is a difficult time for Oregon. But Oregon has always been a family — and like any family, the pain of one is felt by all. So in these difficult times — those of us who remain sheltered from the economic storm must never turn our backs on those who are not.

We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper — and there are food banks and other organizations that stand ready to help if we stand ready to contribute.

But charity does not come only from the wallet. It also comes from the heart. And since the heart is universal — each of us has something to give.

That something is the hope that blooms in anyone whose hardship — and loss — is not forgotten. So let us never forget.

We were elected to make difficult choices — and the next six months will test our patience, our partnership, and most of all our courage, as it is already testing the courage of so many of our fellow citizens.

But Oregon has always been stronger than any economic downturn. So while this winter of economic discontent is an especially long and harsh one — spring will make its return.

And when it does, every drop of pain and loss being felt now will be repaid with an equal drop of renewal and joy — when the economic sun rises again.

I came across this quote recently: “If it’s possible, it will be done. If it’s impossible, it will take longer.”

I intend to live by this saying throughout the session — and you should too because every goal I set and every priority I challenge you to meet is within our grasp. They will just take a little longer.

So neither the possible nor the seeming impossible will defeat us. Instead, what was true on the first day of statehood — and all the years before and since — is still true: Powerful, beautiful, resourceful, and graceful Oregon was blessed to endure — and endure we will.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Oregon.

– End –