Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner delivered her 2007 State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 18, highlighting her key initiatives in the areas of education, health care, economic development and the environment.
Gov. Minner touched on the state's past successes, while laying out her vision for the future, which includes continued funding for full-day kindergarten, placing math specialists in every middle school in the state, increased funding for cancer treatment for the uninsured, first-year funding for forestland preservation, and the continuation of her New Economy Initiative, designed to recruit and retain businesses in Delaware.
"We have made tremendous accomplishments that I am extremely proud of, many of which will have a positive impact on Delawareans for years to come," Gov. Minner said during her address in the Delaware State Senate Chamber of Legislative Hall. "But we still have work to do, and I can assure you we will work as hard during the final two years of my term in office as we have for the previous six."
Gov. Minner proposed the addition of 10 math specialists in Delaware's public middle schools, which would complete her plan to have a math specialist in every middle school to help students who need additional help with their math skills to keep them from falling behind.
She will also recommend complete funding for full-day kindergarten in 11 districts and eight charter schools, as well as continued funding for pilot full-day kindergarten classrooms in two other school districts. In a further effort to help the state's youngest students, Gov. Minner said the state plans to provide financial incentives for child care centers that do the best job with the children in their care.
The Governor also said she has directed Adjutant General Frank Vavala of the Delaware National Guard to develop a Youth Challenge Program in Delaware, which aims to get students who have dropped out or been expelled from high school to get their GED or a high school diploma and possibly continue on to college.
Based on the Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) scholarship program, which provides a free associate's degree for qualified students, Gov. Minner said she would like to take the next step in helping those students achieve their educational goals. The STAR scholarship program would enable SEED students who excel while pursuing their associate's degree to receive free college tuition for another two years if they choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
"This academic incentive scholarship is the logical next step we can take to ensure that all Delaware children can pursue the dream of a college education," Gov. Minner said.
While Delaware's efforts to fight cancer are paying off, with the state's cancer incidence rate having decreased four times as much as the nation's rate and the state's cancer death rate declining twice as much as the nation's, Gov. Minner wants to continue those efforts, in part by increasing funding for Delaware’s one-of-a-kind state program to provide cancer treatment for the uninsured from one year of treatment to two years.
And now that a vaccine exists to prevent a virus that causes cervical cancer in women, Gov. Minner wants to provide that vaccine for all uninsured girls between the ages of nine and 17—the target population for this preventative program.
Gov. Minner said she will propose continued funding to carry out recommendations of the Infant Mortality Task Force so the state can continue to reduce infant mortality.
Delaware also will continue its efforts to keep state employees healthy, Gov. Minner said, expanding the existing Health Rewards program and "Know Your Numbers" campaign to a major state employee healthcare initiative called DelaWell. In addition, Gov. Minner wants to address the problem of childhood obesity in Delaware by proposing funding for a health assessment for every fourth-grade student in the state.
"This report will empower parents with information to help their children make healthy choices now to prevent more debilitating health problems in the future," Gov. Minner said.
And through a proposed increase in the cigarette tax of 45 cents per pack, Gov. Minner would like to expand the Delaware Healthy Children Program (CHIP) to an additional 975 families.
"We must also address the growing problem of health disparities among the diverse populations of our state," Gov. Minner said. "Through the leadership of Lt. Gov. John Carney, the Health Disparities Task Force is finalizing recommendations which will serve as a path forward for developing a comprehensive plan to eliminate disparities in health and health outcomes among different ethnic groups."
As part of further efforts to protect Delaware's environment, Gov. Minner said the state will continue funding farmland preservation, while also providing first-time funding for a forestland preservation program.
"Protecting our environment has been one of my top priorities since taking office, and I am proud to report that since 2001, we have permanently preserved almost 11,000 acres of open space," Gov. Minner said.
She said the state will continue efforts to curb sprawl. Past efforts have led to comprehensive growth plans for almost all of Delaware's 57 municipalities, as opposed to the handful that existed when Gov. Minner took office in 2001.
"As you can see, Livable Delaware is not just a 'feel-good' program," Gov. Minner said. "By growing in an orderly, planned manner, we ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent more effectively."
The Governor said she plans to bring back a Transfer of Development Rights bill introduced last year that would preserve open lands at no cost to taxpayers while also funding infrastructure so existing lands are not saddled with the costs of growth. And she wants to continue efforts to improve Delaware's recycling rate.
"Our rate continues to be among the lowest in the country, with only 12 percent of residential household waste being recycled," Gov. Minner said. "This isn't just about extending the life of our landfills and spending a little out of our pockets now to save tens of millions in the future. It is about being responsible stewards of our state and our world, something our citizens expect and deserve from their elected officials."
Since Gov. Minner took office in 2001, Delaware has created or retained more than 35,000 jobs thanks to its economic development efforts such as the Governor’s New Economy Initiative.
"This month, we were named one of just two states in the nation to receive straight A's on the 2007 Development Report Card of the States released by the Council for Economic Development," Gov. Minner said. "Clearly, we are not the only ones who recognize what Delaware has to offer."
Over the coming year, the Delaware Economic Development Office will market a new initiative to promote the Technology-Based Seed Fund, the Emerging Technology Center and the New Intellectual Property Program—all part of Gov. Minner’s New Economy Initiative.
"We can provide entrepreneurs with ideas for business by offering a patent for new products, we can help fund new start-ups through the Technology-Based Seed Funds, and we can help get new businesses off the ground by providing resources and guidance through the Emergency Technology Center," Gov. Minner said.
Gov. Minner also commended members of the Delaware General Assembly on Wednesday's passage of the worker's compensation reform bill.
"I am pleased to say that last night about 6:30 I signed S.B. 1, a bill that will reform our workers’ compensation system and result in estimated savings of 20 percent or more," Gov. Minner said. "As I have said before, this reform is critical to our competitiveness and will help us to retain and attract businesses to our state."
Legislative and Budget Issues
Gov. Minner detailed last year's efforts to begin to address a shortfall in the state's Transportation Trust Fund. She said that thanks to the state’s cost-containment efforts, the initial estimate of a $2.7 billion shortfall had been cut by nearly half to $1.5 billion.
"Next week in my budget address, I will give further details of our plan to contain costs, maximize our federal dollars and add revenues to the Trust Fund so we address the financial shortfall and provide a stable, predictable future for our transportation system," Gov. Minner said.
The Governor's budget will also include operational funding for the Veterans Home, as well as funding for an additional six state troopers, bringing the total to 661. Gov. Minner previously set a goal in 2003 to increase the Delaware State Police ranks to 680 troopers within five years.
Gov. Minner also addressed the need for continued support of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families to work with children in the state's juvenile justice system.
"I can assure you that we will not slow down," Gov. Minner said as she concluded her speech. "Our work continues and our focus remains on keeping our state a place where people want to live, work and raise their children. We cannot do that without the help and support of our General Assembly. We have worked well together in the past, and I look forward to continuing to work to make Delaware the best state in our nation."