Gov. Mary Fallin: Thank you very much. Lieutenant Gov. Lamb, statewide elected officials, Speaker [Charles] McCall, President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, members of the court, honorable senators and representatives, cabinet members, statewide elected officials, and our tribal leaders that have joined us here today, and most of all, the great citizens of Oklahoma – welcome. It’s good-- to have you all here.
It is my honor to present the second regular session of the 56th Legislature, my State of the State address, and the final one of my administration. I’m going to give myself a cheer on that one.
I would like to take a brief moment to thank my fellow Oklahomans for the great honor and the opportunity of a lifetime to serve as the governor of the great state of Oklahoma. My family and I have really loved travelling across the state, meeting all kinds of outstanding Oklahomans.
And words cannot express how much I appreciate the sacrifices of my entire family, their love and their support over the many years that I have served the state – and that includes my loving husband, who filled the shoes as the first First Gentleman of the state of Oklahoma. He deserves a round of applause for that. And our combined six children. Two of our children have joined us here today. My daughter, – Christina Fallin, who was three years old when I sat in the back of that chamber — second-to-the-last row, right up this aisle, whoever’s sitting in my seat there, as a freshman legislator and my son, Price, who was four months old when I started my legislative career. He’s out of state right now on a business trip, of course, because he’s older now. I also have with me my stepson, Adam, and his wife, Elizabeth Christensen, who have joined us here today. Thank you guys for coming.
I also want to express my deep gratitude to my “extended family.” And that extended family includes three groups:
· First, my faithful prayer partners, and there are many who are in this room. Thank you so much for your love and support and your your prayers;
· My Cabinet members and staff, both past and present, that have joined us here today, cabinet members, staff that are here today, and;
· And my informal advisory board, now these are composed of dozens – maybe even hundreds of people who intercept me down on Northwest 23rd when I’m getting a Diet Coke at On Cue. They make sure that I slow down and that I listen to their wisdom and their concerns, and a little bit of common sense they like to share with me, my fellow Oklahomans.
I also want to thank our legislators and our other elected officials who have joined us here today. Thank you for all of your hard work, and your service and your sacrifice to the state. Thank you for all of your hard work and your service and your sacrifice to this state. We know it takes a tremendous amount of time way from your family and your job and we appreciate you. Now we set many goals since 2011. We've accomplished much but there are still many more opportunities ahead of us. And legislators, it’s great to see you back again, which I know hasn't been very long ago. What’s it been, about a month now? But we're glad to have you back here.
And seriously, I do appreciate your service to the state, your time and your efforts during this past year and agreeing to come back for two calls of my special sessions. I appreciate that. I feel we are making great progress, but I do understand it's been very challenging, it’s been very difficult this past year for all of you, so thank you for your service. Glad to have you back here.
Now, tradition tempts me to take this opportunity to reflect on the past seven years of what has been my blessing to be able to serve as governor of the state we all love. But today is not for yielding for tradition. Today is not to look over our shoulder and think about the past, but today is a day that we press forward for a better future for the state of Oklahoma.
And that, my friends, is the last you're going to hear me talk about today the last previous seven years of my service as governor. Instead, let's focus on the future and make sure that we recognize and embrace the opportunity we have in front of us.
You know, the Constitution of the state of Oklahoma makes it my duty today to provide a budget and to report on the health of our state. Neither duty, however, will be fulfilled by what I say here. The budget and the health of our state are not mine to determine. Instead, both will be decided by what this legislature does in the next couple of weeks.
Let's make no mistake about it, this is an historic defining moment before us. What we do as a unified group of people elected by the citizens of our great state could be considered the moment in time that changed Oklahoma.
We are in a very unique period as this legislative session begins with a concurrent special session. We also are at a special time in Oklahoma's journey because of the prospect of a brighter path forward is so very near.
Only in Oklahoma would a group of private business and community leaders that care enough to work so tirelessly in a bipartisan manner to sculpt a series of budget and reform compromises that could bring new life into the entire state and put us on a better course.
Only in Oklahoma, can we gather in this house of the people to demonstrate yet again what we know is at the heart of Oklahoma. The basic truth is this: when the hardest challenges come, when a crisis threatens, that's when Oklahomans as one, rise up to show our state, our nation and the world what we have always loved and called the Oklahoma Standard.
Now, it is our solemn duty to raise up the torch and to show again that the Oklahoma Standard lives. And when the people say we can't do it, we can't solve our budget problems, our budget crisis, and we can't give our teachers a pay raise or we can't bring better accountability, let's show the people of Oklahoma we can.
Tradition also tempts me again to now talk you through all the elements of the budget package that you will be considering. Instead, the proposed budget is detailed and materials have been provided to each of you. But now, we are all familiar with the choices before us, with the Step Up Oklahoma plan.
Yet for all of us, there frankly are parts of it, what is proposed that we may want to embrace and there are parts that we may want to reject. But our goal this session should be to fix the chronic budget crisis, address the important policy goals that are in front of our state.
There are no perfect solutions or plans. We know there is no perfect legislation. We also know that compromise is at the very core of the budget on which you will vote. Just as compromise forms the foundation of America, I believe compromise can fortify the foundation of Oklahoma.
Now, as we consider recurring revenue, let's be clear. It's not revenue alone that gets us to a place of budget stabilization.
We have to include reforms as well. My budget includes money for agency performance and accountability efforts, which will ensure the public confidence and help us bring forth the resources that need to be spent appropriately and to be able to address the public confidence that we have lost a little bit of in our state governance. That accountability, that transparency will go a long ways.
But we also have to remember that our state is at a crossroads. The actions that we take will be a game changer.
It’s time to decide what future we want our families and our children to have.
One path would be to continue year after year with the air of uncertainty that consumes our thoughts, drains our hopes. Like the old saying, “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” And then, frankly, Paul runs out of cash. Have you heard that before? If we are to effect change, we can't keep doing the same old thing and expect a different result.
Now, that path I just mentioned will lead, frankly, to more chaos at the Capitol. We have to ask ourselves what kind of future do we want to have? Do we find it acceptable to have four-day school weeks? Is it acceptable for Texas to steal our teachers and leave classrooms short of teachers? We all know Oklahomans expect us to beat Texas on or off the football field.
So do we just accept that a budget fix, that we just have to cut things like provider rate cuts and other essential health and human services for the needy and our most vulnerable citizens? Is what we just accept? Is that good enough? Do we believe the only solution to helping our mothers and our fathers, our sons and our daughters and our friends who are not violent, but need substance abuse treatment, do we believe that the answer to that problem is just to warehouse them in prison? Or will our state be more successful if we help them put their families back together, get jobs and become taxpayers?
Or do we just think this is how it is, and that's the best Oklahoma can do? No. Absolutely not. We can do better and we must do better.
And we need to dig down deep in our souls and recall the Oklahoma Standard of neighbor helping neighbor, as we did during the Murrah Federal bombing tragedy. We need to restore the attitude that we are Oklahoma strong. We can fix it, like we felt after the Moore tornadoes. We all joined in and we fixed it. And in the face of crisis, Oklahomans come together and they solve the problem.
The people of Oklahoma expect excellence and demand that we solve our state's problems. And frankly, that is why we were elected: to lead, to roll up our sleeves, get to work, solve the problems, find solutions.
And this is a defining moment for our state. We have two clear choices. We can continue down the road, the path of sliding backwards, or we could choose a second path. Which is to say, “Enough is enough. We can do better. We deserve better. Our children deserve better, too.”
This is a great opportunity to address our ongoing challenges to strengthen our state's image, and frankly, our state’s brand. Think about our image, and think about our brand when we constantly have these budget crises that we've been experiencing.
Now, as we all know, close to 100 fellow Oklahomans from across the state have developed a plan called the Step Up plan. And it designed to put our state on a fiscally stable path to bring much needed reform, to give our teachers a $5,000 pay raise and frankly, to break the gridlock that’s existed in this building. We don't want to be like Washington, D.C.
And because of the urgency of this situation, this outside group in a very short period of time, has endorsed both reforms and some revenue. They support ideas that, frankly, are against their own financial interests, in order to further the state's interests. They have come together to help this legislative body unite behind a plan to move Oklahoma forward.
And they did it because they love Oklahoma. We love Oklahoma. So now is our time to step up, to be courageous, to do our job and to pass this plan.
Now, without passage of this plan, there are important policy initiatives that can't be advanced and initiatives that each of you care about, such as education, criminal justice reform, health, human services, transportation infrastructure, and restructuring inefficient government entities. We can't do that unless we stabilize and fix our budget.
And that is why five former Oklahoma governors who are all still with us, Republican and Democrat, have endorsed the Step Up plan. They have shown us what it's like to put aside partisan differences and to join together for the good of our state.
So now is our time to act.
No more delay, no more putting things off, no more kicking cans down the road, no more addressing long-term budget problems with short-term fixes.
We can do this and we must do it now.
Now, Governor George Nigh said of the Step Up plan, he said, quote “It would help our state break free from the boom and bust cycle that harms all Oklahomans.”
He said the very nature of compromise means that Oklahomans are on both sides of the aisle may not like everything in the plan, but we must come together as Oklahomans and move past partisan politics that stand in the way of progress.
Governor Frank Keating said, “Paralysis and dysfunction are not credible public policy. Revenue failures damaged the credibility of the state. The civic and business leaders have thrown as a lifeline.” That’s Governor Keating.
I will conclude with some final thoughts, because I just think this is so important, that this is a time that we have to get to work and have to have action. Now, we talked a lot in a long time, about permanent solutions for our budget crisis. We debated a lot of things. In fact, members of this legislature will cast votes on the budget and the days are short ahead of us. So my prayer will be for you to remember our fellow Oklahomans and remember their hopes and their dreams of a prosperous state.
Before you cast your vote on any issue, focus on things like a teacher who will see a $5000 pay raise, not just as a way to pay that teacher’s bills, but a way to validate their vital vocation. And remember the business community that sees how committed we are to a strong, educated workforce.
Or perhaps, as you reach that vote button on your desk, you may want to picture in your mind a caregiver who seeks the state's help so the elderly mother or father that can't live on their own, that are living out their final years, will have security and will have dignity in their life.
Or maybe, before you vote, think about some young college students that are up here. College students, glad to have you here, I see you waving. Good to have you here. Think about how much of their future and that of an entire generation of Oklahomans rests with a decision you make, if we appropriately fund education.
Remember the important policy initiatives we have implemented already: smart on crime, or treatment for those that have substance abuse or mental health issues and how that affects our state's success.
And by the way, too few Oklahomans are getting the treatment they need for substance abuse and mental health issues, and are instead winding up in our criminal justice system.
We need to stop warehousing moms and dads and sons and daughter in prison, when many just need some substance abuse treatment.
See, we can unite together.
We need to continue to focus and do so without — we can do all that without jeopardizing our public safety. Now there are bills that been proposed by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force that are smart, data-driven solutions that can safely and prudently fix our criminal justice system. So send those bills to me and I'll sign them.
As you're beginning to vote, remember all the road and bridge construction you’ve seen across the whole state, and the good image that Oklahoma has when we invest in our infrastructure, how important it is to business.
Remember our desire for safe homes and communities when we make decisions this session that may affect or may not affect our prison population, which is at 112 percent capacity.
Remember the great policy strides we made to enact on the Department of Human Services Pinnacle Plan to meet the needs of abused or abandoned children. We have more safe, loving foster care homes now because the work we’ve done. In fact, Oklahoma has the highest number of foster care homes in the nation right now.
Ronald Reagan once said, and he reminded us that “America is too great for small dreams.” Friends, Oklahomans deserve more than small dreams. They need solutions. They need solutions that will allow their big dreams to come true.
So, before us is a rare opportunity to bring forth an enduring reality to a promising future. Oklahomans deserve nothing less.
Now is the time to summon the courage.
Now is a time to invest.
Now is the time to do the people's work.
Let's make Oklahoma a special place where our children and their children choose to live.
May God guide you as you vote. May God bless you. May God bless Oklahoma. Let's get to work.
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