Speaker Huebsch, Speaker Pro Tem Gottlieb, President Risser, Majority Leader Robson, Lieutenant Governor Lawton, Constitutional Officers, Supreme Court Justices, members of the Legislature, tribal leaders, members of the Cabinet, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens of Wisconsin.
Let me begin by congratulating the new leadership in the Assembly and Senate. It's a new day in our state …and I believe we do can great things for Wisconsin.
Three months ago, we were entrusted with a sacred responsibility by the people of Wisconsin. On November 7th, they issued a mandate not for any party, but a mandate for action. They want us to end the divisiveness and partisan fighting, and focus instead on making progress for middle class families. Democrats, Republicans … let us pledge tonight: we will come together … to get things done.
In the past year, we've added tens of thousands of new jobs, made new breakthroughs in medical research, and expanded our manufacturing base while other states faced a decline. We changed the minimum wage to give working families a raise, we changed laws to keep sex predators away from our kids, and we changed lives by protecting and investing in our schools.
Today, we're safer, stronger, and ready to seize the opportunities of our time…
The opportunity to lead the nation in renewable energy – using our resources – smartly – to power our cities and power new jobs...
The opportunity to revolutionize medical science with stem cell research, pioneered right here in Wisconsin.
The opportunity to make health care affordable for every Wisconsin family…
The opportunity to fulfill a promise to the next generation – to make college affordable and available to every kid willing to do the work and make the grade.
Yes, in 2007 Wisconsin is a place where anything is possible. And over the next four years, let's make it our number one priority to expand the opportunities available to every citizen of Wisconsin.
There's one challenge we have to address head-on: the middle class squeeze. From filling up the tank to paying the health care premium, it's still too hard for many families to make ends meet.
Wisconsin must remain the state of opportunity for all. We must fight to ensure that middle class families thrive.
Two weeks from tonight, I'll present a budget designed to do just that, while putting our fiscal house in order. It will cut waste and yes, cut taxes for hardworking Wisconsin families.
We must always stay true to a basic Wisconsin value: living within our means. In the 1990's, state government created a huge financial mess for us. It was a ticking time bomb of runaway commitments and excessive spending that exploded four years ago, and we are still cleaning up the wreckage.
We've cut the size and cost of government, eliminated overhead, balanced two straight budgets, and cut the so-called structural deficit in half. Yet we still have more work to do, or we'll face a growing imbalance between what we spend and what we take in. In my budget, we'll make some tough choices, and take the next steps to put our state on a permanent path of fiscal responsibility.
We'll work on behalf of middle-class families on many fronts, from producing clean and affordable energy to creating new, high paying jobs. But two priorities stand out above the rest: first, making quality health care affordable to all, and second, preparing our kids for the jobs of tomorrow.
The simple truth is, the time has come for the wealthiest nation in the world to provide access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance for its citizens – and Wisconsin can lead the way.
The steady march of medical science has extended and improved the quality of our lives, but it has also driven up the cost so that fewer and fewer families can now afford it. Health care spending has gone up dramatically in recent years, but incomes haven't kept up. More people go without insurance, more employers can't afford to provide it, and worst of all, a growing number of our kids go without the care they need.
It is a national problem, and it is costing our nation dearly.
Families who can't afford insurance end up in emergency rooms; minor ailments that could have been treated or prevented end up as major illnesses. The cost is passed along to everyone else who has insurance.
Here in Wisconsin, the number of people with health coverage from their employer fell by 10 percent from 2001 to 2004. And unless we take action now, the situation will only get worse.
Tonight, I propose a bold effort to make Wisconsin America's health care leader. It represents a comprehensive strategy to reduce cost, improve quality and expand access to affordable health care coverage.
At the heart of this effort is BadgerCare Plus, which begins with a simple premise: in Wisconsin, no child should go without health care.
First, through BadgerCare Plus, starting next January, we'll offer every Wisconsin family – regardless of their income -- the chance to buy coverage for their kids, starting at about $10 a month. No family will be denied coverage for their child just because their income goes up.
Second, I meet working people all over this state who fit the income requirements for BadgerCare, but are denied access because they don't have children. So tonight, I am proposing a major expansion to cover these people as well … helping more than 71,000 hardworking men and women get the health care they need.
Many of them are working two and three jobs to get by… and they deserve affordable health care.
Under my plan, an individual making about $20,000 a year will have access to coverage whether or not they have a child … and pregnant mothers making up to $30,000 will be covered as well.
Third, we'll simplify and streamline the eligibility process for BadgerCare and Medical Assistance. And we'll partner with private organizations to identify eligible kids and sign them up for insurance.
Fourth, following the recommendations of my Healthy Wisconsin council, we'll create a purchasing pool to help businesses – particularly small businesses – afford catastrophic health coverage for employees. And we will provide resources to help doctors and hospitals use computer technology to greatly reduce medical errors that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars every year.
Finally, I believe health care reform doesn't have to be complicated and bureaucratic. My plan is straightforward, and easy to navigate.
One application form. One piece of paper. No cumbersome bureaucracy.
Because of the way we are structuring the program, the federal government will pay most of the cost – bringing us an additional $60 million from Washington. The state's share will be paid for in my budget … including money we'll save by streamlining the program and taking greater advantage of managed care.
More importantly, as more of our fellow citizens have access to insurance, they'll spend more time with their family doctor and less time in the emergency room. When someone has a major illness, it will be paid for by their insurance … not yours and mine. That will reduce the cost of insurance for everyone, saving an average Wisconsin family up to $500 a year.
If – in your heart – you believe no child, no worker, no family should go without health coverage … if you believe the cost of inaction – in lives and dollars – is both immoral and unacceptable …
If – as Democrats, Republicans, Wisconsinites – you take this bold step forward … here is what you will achieve:
At least 98 percent of our people will have access to health care coverage … more than any other state in the nation. More than any other state in the nation.
We can make it happen.
When we're talking about health, there's one more thing we need to confront: tobacco.
I've devoted much of my public career to this fight. As Attorney General, I helped lead the national effort to take on Big Tobacco and beat them in court for the first time in forty years. We made them take down the billboards, get rid of the vending machines, and send Joe Camel into retirement.
As a result, teen smoking is down 40 percent since 2000 and sales to minors are now at their lowest level in Wisconsin history.
Despite this progress, too many of our kids are still lighting up. Too many lives are being cut short, and the cost has swelled into the billions.
In fact, Wisconsin taxpayers are forced to pay $500 million every year in Medicaid costs directly related to smoking.
And so, after consulting with public health leaders from around the state, I am proposing to raise Wisconsin's tobacco tax by $1.25 a pack … and set the money aside to pay the cost of tobacco-related illnesses.
Not only will it help fund our health care needs, it will save lives. Health groups like the American Cancer Society say that every day, 5,000 kids try their first cigarette and another 2,000 kids become regular smokers. One third of these kids will eventually die from their addiction. These health groups say that in every state where the tobacco tax has been increased, kids end up smoking less.
We all have family and friends who smoke – good people of good character – who want to quit and fight this addiction every day. And I want you to know that this increase will be coupled with a major new initiative to help you quit smoking and live healthier. We'll commit $30 million to help people who are smoking … stop smoking – because you are an important part of Wisconsin's future.
Finally, we must protect our families from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.
Because everyone has the right to breathe clean air at work and in public places, tonight, I am calling for legislation to make all public buildings and workplaces completely smoke-free.
Let's pass this bill to protect our families and most importantly … save children's lives.
As I've often said, anyone who knows Jessica and me knows that my first priority is education.
I'd like you to meet someone who shows us that when we support and invest in the young people of Wisconsin, they can achieve anything.
Even when he was still a student at Brookfield Central, his teachers, coaches and fellow players knew that he was bound for great things.
Not only is he an All-American, but he's also been named twice to the Academic All-Big 10 team. This year, he was named the top lineman in America and he ranks as one of the best in history. He has helped lead the Badgers to two straight bowl victories and he'll be one of the top picks in the NFL draft. Won't you join me in thanking Joe Thomas for giving us all a reason to cheer these past four years.
Joe, I'd like to give you some free advice: you'd look great next season wearing the green and gold!
Joe has enjoyed tremendous support from all over Wisconsin these past four years. Now, let's demonstrate that same support for all our students – so that every young person can succeed.
Tonight, and in my budget next month, I'll offer a comprehensive education agenda to prepare our kids for the jobs of tomorrow.
We'll start with the Wisconsin Covenant... a promise to every high school student that if you work hard and make the grade, we'll make sure you have a place in higher education, and a financial package to pay for it.
Last fall, I joined with University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly, Wisconsin Technical College President Dan Clancy, State Superintendent Libby Burmaster, and Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities President Rolf Wegenke. We signed an historic agreement to make the Wisconsin Covenant a reality.
I don't want any high school kid to think college isn't for them, or that it's only for rich people. I want every boy and girl to know … with the Wisconsin Covenant, college is within your grasp, just reach for it.
In my budget, I'll provide funding for the Office of the Wisconsin Covenant. And to prepare for the day when the first Covenant scholars walk through the doors of our Universities, I'll propose a major increase in financial aid.
The Wisconsin Covenant will not only make college more affordable, it will make high school more meaningful. But we can go even further. To make sure our kids are prepared to compete in the world … I urge you to pass my proposal to make a third year of math and a third year of science mandatory for high school graduation.
Our education agenda will also make sure kids get the right start. As a first step, we should agree that it is not acceptable for Wisconsin to rank 50th in school breakfast participation. We'll triple the state's support for school breakfast … because we know that good learning depends on good nutrition.
Parents and teachers also know that students learn better when class sizes are smaller. As part of my budget, I'll ask you to honor the agreement we made last year … and provide a major investment to reduce class sizes from kindergarten to grade three.
Smaller classes, higher standards, good nutrition, a strong start in life, and a ticket to college for every kid willing to work for it. That's our education agenda, an agenda of opportunity.
In my inaugural address, I spoke about the tremendous changes happening throughout our economy, and our world.
We face a new challenge to our competitiveness, and I believe the states that have the fastest, most flexible worker training programs are going to be the ones that succeed.
In the next decade, Wisconsin will need more welders and nurses. We'll need more engineers, machinists, and skilled manufacturing workers. That's why we need to invest in job training – increasing our efforts from $2 million to $8 million in the next budget – to help Wisconsin's technical colleges train an additional 36,000 workers.
We'll also build new, unique partnerships between businesses and high schools to get our kids ready for the world of work. To do that, I ask the Legislature to double funding for the highly successful Youth Apprenticeship Program.
Wisconsin has thousands of researchers and entrepreneurs with good ideas for new businesses, but they need venture capital to get these companies off the ground. Tonight, I propose a new Wisconsin Venture Center to give our entrepreneurs an edge. This center will be focused on helping Wisconsin's innovators connect with investors from around the country.
With investments in workers, a strong commitment to manufacturing, and by unleashing a new generation of entrepreneurs, we can win the global competition … and put Wisconsin to work.
Many states will try to compete with us, but we have an unique and special advantage they'll never match: the University of Wisconsin.
Tonight, I propose a new investment in the University to produce more college graduates, more engineers, scientists, and nurses. We need more research, and more support for innovation that will be the cornerstone of our success.
This will be a major undertaking for the University and for the state, but the benefits will be wide and far reaching.
We'll expand enrollment from Green Bay to La Crosse to Oshkosh, Superior and River Falls, making the dream of college a reality for thousands more of our citizens.
From Parkside to Whitewater, and across the UW system, we'll expand financial aid, recruit more minority students, and provide additional academic help to those who need it.
We'll create a new Health Sciences major at Stevens Point, new opportunities for technical college students at UW-Oshkosh, improve services for adult students at Green Bay, strengthen student retention efforts at River Falls, and expand the liberal arts programs available at Superior.
In partnership with the UW-Platteville, we'll expand opportunities at UW colleges as well, like a new mechanical engineering degree at UW-Fox Valley, an electrical engineering degree at Rock County, and opportunities for hundreds more students throughout the state.
It's not only an investment in our students. It's an investment in our economy. We'll train more nurses and teachers in Oshkosh, more engineers in Platteville, and more biologists in Green Bay.
We'll fund an innovative partnership between Eau Claire, Stout, and the Chippewa Valley Technical College to produce more graduates in advanced disciplines like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and polymer engineering.
Early next year, we'll break ground on the Institutes for Discovery – without any ideological strings attached. Together, we'll launch a new and exciting era in which the University of Wisconsin-Madison will not only help create thousands of new jobs, but will help unlock cures to deadly diseases through biotechnology and stem cell research.
And at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, we'll make a major new investment in research. We'll recruit top experts from around the country, and build partnerships with the Medical College and leading health care corporations that will strengthen the regional economy. It will cement our status as one of America's leaders in scientific and medical research.
Now I'd like to introduce you to a very special person, someone who will benefit from this investment.
Last year, while he was on duty in Iraq, a Russian-made rocket exploded just a few feet away. He was hit in the neck, right arm, torso, and lower body, suffering a stroke and losing his left leg.
He is a devoted husband, a father of two. Would you please join me in welcoming Wisconsin National Guard Specialist Ray Hubbard – a Wisconsin hero.
Ray is an example of the tremendous service and sacrifice made by our men and women serving in harm's way. What's even more remarkable is that Specialist Hubbard has decided he isn't finished serving his country. This fall, with the help of the veterans education plan you approved, he'll be a student at UW-Whitewater, on his way to becoming a teacher.
Specialist Hubbard, your continued service not only makes us strong, it makes us proud. On behalf of a grateful state, thank you, and good luck.
As I said earlier, making sure our citizens have access to affordable health care and providing good quality education are our top priorities. But there are other challenges that need our attention.
St. Paul wrote that "each of you has your own gifts from God." And when you look into the eyes of our children, it's not hard to see those gifts.
I believe we have a sacred obligation to help every child in Wisconsin realize all the potential that God has given them.
Right now, Wisconsin has a cabinet level department devoted to prisoners, but not one devoted to children and their families.
Instead, we have a patchwork of overlapping programs divided between many agencies.
Two separate agencies responsible for child care.
Two separate agencies responsible for low-income families.
Two separate agencies responsible for child support and child welfare.
Two separate systems, two separate bureaucracies that families must navigate, leaving them frustrated and confused.
In my budget, I'm proposing a major shift in the way state government serves our families. We will create a single Department of Children and Families, with an intense and singular focus on the safety, economic and social well-being of our youngest citizens. We'll make sure that bureaucracy never gets in the way of doing what's right for our kids.
Whether you live in Milwaukee or Marinette, the future of our state's largest metropolitan area affects you. For Wisconsin to thrive, we need a strong and growing Milwaukee. It is a great and vital city -- our center of culture and commerce, the hub of our economy. Yet Milwaukee also faces unique challenges. Unless our entire state joins together to help meet those challenges, our entire state will suffer.
Next week, I will join with leaders in Milwaukee to announce a comprehensive strategy to help the Milwaukee metro area to succeed and thrive. From supporting kids, to cracking down on violent crime, to creating jobs and investing in infrastructure, I'll ask you to join me in making an investment in Milwaukee for the sake of all Wisconsin.
I've spoken tonight of opportunity – and the opportunities before us are nearly limitless. But we also are entrusted with great responsibility.
From the quiet waters of the Apostle Islands to the abundant forests of Northern Wisconsin, to the majestic farmland valleys of the Mississippi, we have been blessed with incredible natural beauty in Wisconsin. And as St. Luke reminded us, to whom much is given, much is required.
Since the days of Gaylord Nelson, more than a million acres of pristine Wisconsin lands have been permanently set aside – forever protected so that our great hunting, fishing, and conservation traditions will always be safe. In the last four years, we have added 160,000 acres to this legacy, including the largest purchase in history, the Wild Rivers Forest that spans more than 100 square miles in Northeast Wisconsin.
Unless the Legislature acts, this program will expire, and our preservation efforts would come to an end. Tonight, I am challenging the Legislature to reaffirm decades of bipartisan support … and reauthorize the Stewardship Program.
And speaking of good stewardship, we must also live up to our responsibility as protectors of the largest body of fresh water in the world. One year ago in Milwaukee, ten Governors and Premiers signed the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact to preserve these waters for future generations. Tonight, I urge you to ratify this compact.
But we have other responsibilities as well.
Over the past few years, the world has awakened to the growing, accelerating threat of global warming.
There is no question that global warming demands immediate action by the federal government. It is a disgrace that so many national leaders have turned a blind eye to what is a scientific fact. Yet the scope and consequences of this problem are so massive that the responsibility for action rests not only with our leaders in Washington, but with all of us.
With new technology, and a commitment to renewable fuels, we can not only reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming, we can and will help this nation kick its addiction to foreign oil.
In my budget, I'll propose the next major step forward in our effort to become America's leader in energy independence – a $40 million investment in renewable energy like solar, wind, hydrogen, biodiesel and ethanol.
We'll provide incentives to dramatically increase the availability of E-85. We'll move four university campuses off the power grid in the next five years. And next year, we'll more than double our commitment to energy conservation.
Tonight, I am announcing a Governor's Task Force on Global Warming, comprised of business, industry, labor, environmental, government and community leaders to develop a comprehensive plan of action that we can all get behind.
Of course, one state, acting alone, can't do everything. But my fellow citizens, we have a responsibility to do everything we can. I ask you to join me, and make a commitment that when it comes to global warming solutions, Wisconsin will lead the way.
Tonight, we've talked about an aggressive agenda of change and reform. And some pretty big change happened just today.
Earlier this afternoon, Republicans and Democrats joined together to agree on the most sweeping ethics reform in thirty years – creating a strong Government Accountability Board that will have the power to enforce our laws, investigate and bring prosecutions against those who violate the public trust.
It is a model for what can happen when people in both parties set aside differences and do what's right, and I look forward to signing it into law.
But we shouldn't stop there.
Every two years, our TV sets are bombarded by nasty and negative ads from shadowy groups that don't play by the same rules as everyone else.
But we can put a stop to it. Tonight, I ask you to end the phony issue ads … and require these groups to follow our campaign finance laws. They should disclose their donors, abide by contribution limits, and be forbidden from taking corporate contributions that would otherwise be illegal. Let's pass this vital reform now, and clean up Wisconsin's airways.
Finally, we need to improve the way campaigns are financed in Wisconsin.
Today, we have new leadership and a new opportunity to achieve consensus. I have asked Speaker Huebsch and Senator Robson to work with me to come up with a strong, comprehensive bill that can win the support of both parties. Let's get this done, and do what's right for the people of Wisconsin.
I'd like to close tonight by recognizing three young people who sum up what this is all about.
Please welcome members of the eighth grade class of Franklin Middle School in Green Bay -- Jordan Gilliam, Sidney Ly and Tyler Dessell. Thanks for being here kids.
These students have agreed to be among the first to sign the Wisconsin Covenant.
Later this year, I'll join with them as they pledge to stay in school, maintain a B average, be good citizens and take courses that prepare them for college. Over the next four years, they'll have to work hard in high school to live up to that commitment … and we are going to have high expectations of them.
In return, we'll make the dream of affordable college a reality for them and their families.
I've spoken often of the Wisconsin Covenant, which is really part of a broader promise I believe we must make to all the hardworking families of Wisconsin.
Together, we must make Wisconsin a place where anyone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard …can afford to get an education, buy a home, raise a family, and enjoy all the good things that life in our state has to offer.
Yes, Wisconsin is filled with opportunity … and filled with a determined people ready to seize it.
Now let's get to work.
Thank you, and On Wisconsin.