Lt. Governor Cagle, Speaker Ralston, Governor Perdue, Members of the General Assembly, Members of our Congressional Delegation, Members of the Judiciary, Members of the Consular Corps, my fellow Georgians:
On this second week of the second decade of the 21st Century, my wife Sandra and I enter the service of our native state with excited expectancy, sincere humility and unwavering resolve.
As we stand here in this beautiful Capitol building, I recall my first visit here as a fifth grade student at Sandersville Elementary School. Our class rode the Nancy Hanks train to Atlanta and visited here and the Cyclorama. For many of us it was our first train ride and our first visit to our Capitol city.
Much has changed in the more than a half century since my first visit here, but my sense of awe and appreciation of our history has not. The historic journey on the road of self-government which our nation and state embarked upon almost two and one half centuries ago has taken us through the battlefields of Revolution, Civil War and World Wars.
Throughout this "Experiment in Democracy," there has been a healthy skepticism by "We the People" about the role of government which we have "ordained and established." The lingering pain of this "Great Recession" in which we are still engulfed has underscored the urgency of re-examining the role of government in our lives.
The evolution of society has infringed on much of the elbow room our ancestors enjoyed and government has been asked to regulate our actions as we bump into each other in our frantic search for success. In times of economic prosperity, we often ignore the costs and inconvenience of governmental paternalism. But in times such as these, with more than one of every ten of our employable citizens out of work, we must justify every cent that government extracts from our economy. Therefore, we must concentrate our attention and our resources on the core responsibilities of government.
Our State Constitution provides that "Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people..." (Article 1, Section2, Paragraph 2). Keeping our citizens safe, therefore, is one of state government's primary responsibilities. The challenge is great. Presently, one out of every thirteen Georgia residents is under some form of correctional control. It cost about Three Million Dollars per day to operate our Department of Corrections. And yet, every day criminals continue to inflict violence on our citizens and an alarming number of perpetrators are juveniles.
College students should be concerned about their grades not whether they are going to be mugged on their way home from class. Visitors to our cities should be treated as welcomed guests and protected. Families should not live in fear of gang violence and drive-by shootings. But most of all, our dedicated law enforcement officers must not be targets for criminals. Anyone who harms one of them harms us all, for they embody the Constitutional mandate that government provide us with protection and security.
Breaking the culture of crime and violence is not a task for law enforcement officials alone. Parents must assume more responsibility for their children. Communities must marshal their collective wills; civic and religious organizations must use their influence to set the tone for expected behavior.
For violent and repeat offenders, we will make you pay for your crimes. For other offenders who want to change their lives, we will provide the opportunity to do so with Day Reporting Centers, Drug, DUI and Mental Health Courts and expanded probation and treatment options. As a State, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions. It is draining our State Treasury and depleting our workforce.
As Governor I call on local elected officials, Sheriffs and local law enforcement personnel to work with me and State law enforcement officers to break this cycle of crime that threatens the security of all law abiding citizens.
One of the other core responsibilities of State government is the education of our children. This is an undertaking that has been the primary focus of several of my predecessors in this office. Despite their best efforts and that of dedicated teachers and educators all across our state, our public education system in grades K through 12 has failed to make the progress we need. This failure is a stain on our efforts to recruit businesses to our State and is a contributing factor in the frightening crime statistics previously mentioned. High dropout rates and low graduation percentages are incompatible with the future I envision for Georgia.
We are blessed with many schools that are producing excellent results and it is their example which we should attempt to replicate all across the state. We are also blessed with dedicated teachers and principals who work very hard to improve the lives of the young people they teach. In addition, we have many support staff and dedicated parents who are an important part of our education system. I thank them for their service and encourage them in these difficult economic times. I will do my best to reward their efforts.
Improving public education is not just the responsibility of educators. Therefore, I call on all Georgians to rededicate themselves to the improvement of education. I ask parents to read to their young children and cooperate with teachers so that educational excellence is a family goal. I ask teachers and educators to recommit themselves to their profession and be willing to embrace new ideas. I ask local school boards to listen to the opinions of parents and teachers as they adopt education policies. And I ask the members of the General Assembly and our State School Board to work with me to restore discipline in our schools, eliminate bureaucratic nonsense, adopt fair funding mechanisms and reward quality and excellence. If we do these things, we will convey the magic of learning to our children and restore the joy of teaching to our educators.
One of the bright stars of education in our State is the HOPE Program. This initiative of Former Governor Zell Miller has greatly enhanced the Pre-K, Technical College and College and University opportunities for our young people. As the scope of these programs has expanded and as the number of participants has increased, the financial reserves are being rapidly depleted. I am dedicated to honoring the promise that has been made to our students through HOPE and will work with the General Assembly to tailor the program to the financial realities we face today. I was not elected to make easy decisions, but difficult ones. In this legislative session we will save the HOPE for future generations.
Another core responsibility of State Government is transportation. With an expansive land mass that is populated by one large metropolitan area, several medium-sized municipalities, and many smaller cities and rural counties, our transportation needs are very diverse. With our ports at Savannah and Brunswick, we are part of an expanding international trade community. We will do our part to deepen the Savannah port in order to accommodate the larger vessels that will soon pass through the Panama Canal. But we must do more. Our rail capacity and cargo routes must be improved and expanded. We must not miss this opportunity to provide jobs for Georgians.
Highway congestion, especially in the Greater Atlanta area is a deterrent to job growth in the region. If we do not solve this problem soon, we will lose the businesses who want to expand or locate in our State. I am dedicated to working with all elements of government to improve our transportation system and I call on all Georgians to join us. We must put aside some of the regional differences of the past and work for the common good of our State.
As our State continues to grow, the demand for water has likewise increased. As Governor, I will continue to pursue negotiations with Alabama and Florida to reach a resolution of the long standing dispute over the use of water in our Federal reservoirs and our major rivers. We will develop regional reservoirs and continue our conservation efforts. We have been blessed with abundant water resources and we must use them wisely.
Georgia cannot achieve its potential if its people are not healthy. As Governor, I will resist the efforts of the Federal Government to mandate its solutions on our people, our businesses and our State government. We will do our part to provide healthcare to our most vulnerable citizens, but government cannot make or keep us healthy. The primary responsibility for good health rests with individuals and families. We can help cultivate a culture of wellness in our educational programs and offer incentives in Medicaid and the State Health Insurance Program, but it is only individuals and families that can make healthy lifestyle choices.
There are many other functions of our State Government, but I consider these to be the most important. Each in its own way is a part of the greatest challenge we face, the creation of jobs for our citizens. If we make Georgia the best place in the country to live, learn and work, businesses will grow and expand and we will achieve real prosperity. That is my goal and the actions of my administration will always be focused on it.
So today as we embark on this journey to lead our State forward, I call on all Georgians to assume responsibility for themselves and their family. I call on communities and civic and religious organizations to continue and expand their efforts to serve the needs of people in their area. State government cannot and should not be expected to provide for us what we can provide for ourselves.
Let us refocus State Government on its core responsibilities and relieve our taxpayers of the burden of unnecessary programs. Let us be frugal and wise. Let us restore the confidence of our citizens in a government that is limited and efficient. Together let us make Georgia the brightest star in the constellation of these United States.
May God bless you and our great State of Georgia.