Ann Richards

State of the State Address - Feb. 6, 1991

Ann Richards
February 06, 1991— Austin, Texas
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In 1841, when Sam Houston took the oath of office for his second term as president of the Republic, the frontier was still a dangerous place, only three or four towns had a population of more than a thousand, and Texans were in the midst of a gnawing recession.

In his inaugural address, Houston faced the unhappy duty of informing congress that the cupboard was bare; there was not one dollar in the treasury. Listen to what he told them:

"Patriotism, industry, and enterprise," he said, "are now our only resources."

One hundred fifty years later, this "nation" we call Texas has become so powerful, so complex, so sophisticated that even the great Houston would have had trouble imagining our success. Our patriotism, our industry, and our enterprise have earned Texans a reputation as people who know how to tum disadvantage into advantage, setbacks into success.

We're going to be progressive in this administration, progressive in the proud tradition of Sam Houston. We will not sit back and let crisis overwhelm us. We will not wait until prodded by court order.

We will be active, alert, as even the most conservative businessperson is alert, on the lookout for opportunities to make the business of government work better.

Texans will know that the reins of government are in the hands of officials ready to make the difficult decisions they were sent to Austin to make. They will see us making changes that should have been made a long time ago. Together, we will be working to build a New Texas.

And what will a New Texas look like? This afternoon, let me sketch in some ideas. Let me offer a blueprint.

In a New Texas, there will be no doubt in people's minds that this government is here to serve the people. It is hardly a radical notion—Thomas Jefferson would have understood it—but it is one that many of our fellow Texans have grown skeptical about. With good reason.

They are suspicious about our motives, yours and mine. They are distressed about the seductive smell of money in the political process and the influence of narrow special interests. Sit in a barbershop some afternoon or on the stool of a small town drugstore counter and listen to what the people say.

They hate the bureaucracy. They come to Austin looking for answers, for help, and what they get is the runaround. They get bounced from one office to another until their eyes blur and their feet give out.

That is going to stop. Texans will know that this government exists to serve them, not us. And if they do not get the service they deserve—legendary customer service is what I expect—they should call the governor's office, and we'll put our ombudsman, my troubleshooter, on the case. She is authorized to go into any agency, cut through any red tape, do what it takes to make sure that state government is courteous, accessible, and efficient.

In a New Texas, government will be worthy of the people's trust. We will demand the highest ethical standards. We will demand that every official put public interest above personal gain. It is my sincere hope that this legislature will underscore the importance of ethics by passing strong ethics and campaign finance reform legislation early in this session. The legislation should include an ethics and election commission.

We will each be accountable to the people who sent us here, starting with our appointees. The days when an appointment was a nice honor and a good excuse to travel to Austin are gone. This administration will train its appointees in the work of the agencies, in setting and achieving goals, in methods of cutting the bureaucracy, and in ethics.

Chairs of boards and commissions will meet regularly with me as an executive council. They will be held accountable for their success in carrying out our policies and improving the performance of their agencies.

Every appointee, every staff member in my administration, knows that the most important aspect of his or her job is elimination of duplication, inefficiency, and waste. They know they are expected to open the doors of their agencies to all Texans: in hiring, in purchasing, in providing extraordinary customer service.

We are building. We are standing up to the challenge the state supreme court has placed before us, and we are saying, "Yes, we can do it. We can build a public school system in this state that is fair and equitable and stable."

After all the years you have struggled with the beast of school finance, you know better than I do that it is a devil of a task. But the payoff makes all the effort worth it. We are working for that little guy who was carrying a Ninja Turtle backpack as he walked to school with his buddies this morning, past the icehouses and modest homes of San Antonio's West Side, and for that little girl in the saddle oxfords who rode with her friends in a carpool Suburban past the manicured lawns of Highland Park. For both of them. They both deserve a chance.

We have no patience with those who carp about "leveling down" or "mandating mediocrity." We will create an equitable and stable funding system for public schools, a system that meets both the spirit and the letter of the court's unanimous decision.

The task is great and our time is short. All of our options are difficult. But to meet the April 1st deadline, I believe that any successful plan will include some form of tax-base consolidation coupled with provisions to recapture excess tax wealth generated in a very few of this state's more fortunate school districts.

But let's be honest with the people. Any solution we adopt that meets the mandates in the supreme court decision will drastically change our ideas about local control of school finance.

You know, we have perpetrated a hoax about local control. The hoax has been that school districts had control because they could assess and collect taxes. In fact, our state government usurped their power years ago with mandates that require local tax increases and regulations that turn local educators into Austin-controlled robots.

Local control is a myth when Austin bureaucrats draft 10 rules for every action a teacher takes. It is not surprising you get all those rules when you've got a thousand employees at TEA whose only job is to generate them. Heaven knows how many extra employees it has taken on the local level to comply. We will strip TEA policies down to the bare necessities.

It is time to streamline the bureaucracy and give the schools back to the parents and the teachers and the students at individual schools. Educators called it site-based management. We call it local control.

We will treat teachers like professionals. These men and women are expected to make decisions about our children that will have lifelong impact. We will pay them accordingly.

We will scrap the career ladder. Instead, we'll have a pay scale with mandated minimum salaries, automatic annual cost-of-living increases and real financial rewards for careers devoted to excellence.

We will see that local school districts have access to adequate health insurance for their employees.

In cooperation with business and the private sector, we will ensure that schools receive the computers and advanced technology that schools equipped for the 21st century deserve.

We will weave what one respected educator has called a "seamless garment" of educational excellence from kindergarten through the highest reaches of advanced learning. Every qualified student in Texas who wants to go to college will have that opportunity. Once they're there, we'll make sure they are getting the best education possible.

We will provide more financial aid for college students, and aggressively recruit minority students and faculty. As UT Chancellor Hans Mark reminded me recently, Texans who are in the minority population today will make up the majority by the year 2020. The people who will become this majority have already been born.

We are building a New Texas. A cleaner Texas. Starting today, that wonderful slogan "Don't Mess With Texas"—you see it on pickup bumpers from Dalhart to Del Rio—applies not just to trash on the roadside. No longer will Texas be a toothless tiger when it comes to penalties for polluting.

We have established a governor's environmental office to initiate action and monitor results. More is coming.

We will make dead sure that our appointees to environmental boards and commissions are sensitive to the environment. We will hold them accountable for their performance. The "revolving door," that convenient little arrangement that shuttles officials into cushy jobs with industries they regulated, is shut.

We will impose stiff criminal penalties for environmental violations, and we will create a high-visibility SWAT team to do the enforcing. What we all have to understand these days is that environmental laws are matters of life and death. We have to treat them with the seriousness they deserve.

We are getting serious about hazardous waste. No more will hazardous waste facilities be rammed through the permit process, over the objections of local communities. No more will they be located near schools or residential areas or water supplies.

We are calling on the Water Commission today to institute a two-year moratorium on permits for new commercial hazardous waste incinerators, cement kilns, or injection wells involving salt domes.

We are going to protect our precious coastal lands and waters. We support Land Commissioner Garry Mauro's efforts on a Coastal Zone Management Plan and on providing effective oil spill legislation.

We will recycle. We are proposing a broad initiative that will be a model program for state government.

One more thing: we're going to make sure that after all these years, the colonias along the border and in South Texas have clean, safe drinking water and sewage systems. Those hardworking people have waited long enough. They too are a valuable part of a clean New Texas.

We are building. We are building a New Texas that is safer and more secure. You and I live in a state with one of the highest crime rates in the nation. I don't mind being in the top 10 on some things, but crime rate is not one of them. If the most sacred and fundamental obligation of government is to protect its citizens, then that sorry statistic would suggest that government is not doing its job. We are going to change that.

This state built nearly 12,000 new prison beds last year; we'll add nearly 15,000 more by the end of this fiscal year. We will need to build a minimum of 12,000 more in the coming biennium. We will do everything we can to make sure that dangerous criminals stay locked away. If they commit violent crime, they'll do the time—all of it.

We will streamline the criminal justice system and work with government at all levels to make sure that hardworking, law-abiding Texans get the protection they deserve. We'll make sure the system works. And we will start by creating a law enforcement council composed of working police officers to ensure that the concerns of frontline officers are addressed.

But we will go further. We will ask the hard questions about the roots of crime: in social discontent and despair, in poverty, in racial oppression and ignorance, in suffering and deprivation. We won't excuse criminal behavior; we cannot wait until we understand crime before we protect our citizens from its dire consequences. But we would be foolish if we did not try to dig up the fetid soil where criminal behavior takes root.

We are going to keep our kids in school and get to them before they get into big trouble. We must ensure access to substance abuse prevention and treatment programs in communities and require basic literacy skills training and treatment for addiction in our prisons before any offender with those problems is released.

In a New Texas, we will invest in our most valuable resource—our people. Health and human service expenditures are sensible investments in our future. They grow out of the painful wisdom that needs ignored always come back to haunt us. Ignore now and pay later: in tax dollars and in wasted human achievement.

Those investments will flow into education, economic development, crime prevention, reducing drug and alcohol addiction, prenatal care and infant nutrition, immunization and family violence prevention programs. Our efforts will be efficient and cost-effective. Short-term and long-term, they are going to save money.

We will also invest in a new Texas economy, an economy that can prosper now and keep on growing as we move into the new century. But first, we will get the Department of Commerce shaped up: expand the board and get its financial house in order.

Federal authorities have consistently criticized the management of the half billion dollars in Job Training Partnership Act funds. We can no longer abide the lame excuses the Department of Commerce offers. "We lost it in the accounting system," or "We meant to spend the money, but we could not figure out how to do it," are not worthy of a responsive state government.

I have today instructed the federal government to return control of JTPA funds to the governor's office, where we will ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely, for the purposes they were intended. These funds can ensure that Texans receive the job training they need to support their families.

With approval of the proposed free trade agreement with Mexico, Texas will be at the geographic center of a hemispheric free trade zone. It will be larger than the new European Economic Community. We can take advantage of this new arrangement, although we have to be careful not to jeopardize Texas jobs.

We are going to sell this state. We will promote home-grown industries. We will bring clean new industry, like the film industry, to Texas. The entertainment industry means jobs for Texans. We have so much Texas talent, and it is wonderful advertising, free advertising, for the Lone Star State.

When new businesses get here, when new Texans arrive, they will find a state government that works. A government that works for the people. I can tell you today exactly where it starts.

You would be appalled at the number of horror stories I heard during the campaign last year from Texans mistreated by high-handed insurance companies. And when Texans turned to the State Board of Insurance, they found no relief from the regulators.

But indifference to consumers is only the tip of the iceberg. When the insurance industry demands outrageous rate increases and threatens to boycott the state if it does not get its way, the board scurries to please.

Just last week, after I had pressured the board to hold off on a 30 percent auto rate increase, they announced a delay so they could audit the data the industry had given them. Isn't that what they are supposed to be doing all along? Of course it is. The board's rubber-stamp rate increases have cost Texans millions of dollars.

The board has also refused to protect consumers from failing and disreputable insurance companies. Its foot-dragging response to insolvencies has earned the ire of a grand jury as well as of independent management and financial experts. The state auditor has warned that more than three billion dollars in premiums are at risk today because of the state board's mismanagement. This gross neglect of duty must stop NOW.

Current law does not allow an incoming governor to appoint a majority of the members of the State Board of Insurance until the second year of the term, 1993. That will not do for this governor or for Texas consumers fed up with an insurance mess that results in higher rates, canceled policies, and unaccountable regulators.

I am going to do three things to put Texas policyholders in the insurance driver's seat and to ensure accountability.

First, I am calling on the holdover appointees of the State Board of Insurance to resign by February 15. Their resignations will give us the opportunity to initiate management changes and clean up the mess.

Second, if the holdover appointees refuse to tender their resignations, we will then move to put the state board into conservatorship. Under a conservatorship, the management of the state board would be turned over to the State Conservatorship Board, which would exercise power to correct the management and fiscal failures of the agency.

I am determined that the State Board of Insurance will protect the public interest of Texans. Older Texans on fixed incomes, young families, small business owners, they all must be assured that the State Board of Insurance is working for them.

The third action is to ask the legislature to approve legislation to allow future governors of this state to appoint a majority of the members of every board and commission during their first year in office.

This action cannot help me, but it is an important step for my successors. It is the only way we will ever have governors and board members who can truly be accountable to the people of this state. We'll be providing clear signals to Texans about who is really in charge and who is actually responsible for actions that affect their lives.

Our fundamental goal is to provide affordable and accessible insurance for Texas citizens. We are working the house and senate to draft a comprehensive insurance reform bill; it will be introduced next week. These reforms will stabilize rates and make insurance companies more accountable to policyholders.

Like any sound business, this government has to get its financial house in order. We have got a lot of work to do.

The place to start, I am convinced, is to thoroughly review the budget, the agencies, and the tax laws. We must be able to reassure Texas taxpayers that they are paying no more than their fair share AND that they are getting a dollar's worth of service for every dollar they pay.

I want to say right here that I am grateful for the budget work of John Sharp, our new comptroller. He has done yeoman service on helping us identify new revenue without new taxes.

I commend the lieutenant governor, the speaker, and the members for your speedy action in passing Senate Bill 111. This historic legislation mandates a sweeping performance review. We will be able to do deep-down, no-holds­barred audits to find out where there is duplication and inefficiency and waste. We can start by looking at the 17 separate agencies delivering health and human services in Texas. The duplication of these services wastes money and causes problems for clients. They need to be consolidated.

And what about the 28 agencies that license and regulate occupations? The proliferation of administrations and turf protection is expensive. And it has not provided better service to clients or consumers. We will consolidate.

We believe that the functions of the Finance Authority can be performed by the Bond Review Board. The function of the Housing Agency should be combined with the Department of Community Affairs, as the Sunset Advisory Commission recommends.

A performance audit for our tax system is just as urgently needed as an audit of our state agencies. I will reactivate the Select Committee on Tax Equity.

First and foremost, we must recover the dollars lost from our franchise tax, the tax on corporations. It is unfair, it is unreliable, and it causes more than its share of headaches. It is such a mess that by 1993 it will have cost us $2.3 billion in tax refunds. I suspect it worked fine in 1907, when it was first passed, but it does not work for a New Texas.

Just as we ask business to pay its fair share, we must ask that we receive our fair share from Washington. Texas ranks 47th among all states in federal aid. That is not good enough.

The Highway Department, at my request, has put a watchdog in place in the State Fed office in Washington to ensure that we get the highway dollars we deserve.

And speaking of dollars we deserve, we will integrate the functions of the 12 agencies that administer our Medicaid program. They will maximize their efforts to achieve federal matching dollars. This action alone could net us $700 million annually.

We must integrate the work of the 16 agencies administering disability programs. This action could make us eligible for another $350 million in federal aid.

We will consolidate agency special operating funds. These funds are not private stockpiles of bureaucrats. We hold them in trust for the tax and fee payers of the state. It is time to cut the strings that bind these funds; it is time to use them efficiently for the benefit of the state.

In a New Texas, we will be on the alert for new sources of revenue. Fortunately, we don't have to look very far. Public opinion polls show that as many as four out of five Texans want a lottery. We should be listening to the people.

We have to act now so that we can put a revenue stream in place as early as possible next year. The one opportunity we have is passage of the lottery. We cannot ignore a chance to bring in $700 million next biennium.

The people have a right to choose. In these times of fiscal belt-tightening, I believe they will choose what is best for Texas.

And let's plan ahead. We've gotten in the habit of responding to problems about the time we're startled by the bright lights of looming catastrophe. As many a Texas armadillo has learned, that's too late to leap.

At least 36 states require some type of comprehensive long-range planning. Not Texas, despite the fact that we are in the business of spending nearly $25 billion a year. I cannot imagine a business of that size bumbling along blind, without a strategic plan. In a New Texas, we'll be planning for our future.

We will work with the legislature to design a strategic planning process for state government. Every agency will plan for the future based on accurate economic and demographic forecasts. Any agency that fails to develop a plan can anticipate the governor's veto.

Sam Rayburn, a great Texan who once sat where Speaker Lewis now sits, said something one time that I think applies to us. He said there's no limit to the good you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit. And I don't care.

What I care about is building a New Texas. I am confident that in the coming months Texans will look toward Austin and see a government that works taking shape. A government that is conscientious about the amount of money it spends and the number of people who spend it. A government whose bureaucracy is both lean and effectual. A government where those who are responsible for spending the public's money communicate with each other, and with the taxpayers. A government with a realistic, clear-eyed notion of what it wants to accomplish.

We are building a government that means something good in people's lives, a government that is going to make the lives of ordinary Texans better.

When I moved into the Governor's Mansion the other day, I found a gallon of honey waiting for me. Attached to it was a handwritten note on a scrap of paper.

The hand that wrote that note was old and shaky. It was written by a man who had worked hard all his life but didn't mind sharing some of the fruits of his hard labor.

The note said, "We believe we finally have a governor who cares about ordinary people and the poor."

As we begin the task of building a New Texas, I promise myself one thing: I will always try to remember that beekeeper's hope. I know that he is home this afternoon watching me—watching all of us—and I know that his hopes and his grandchildren's dreams depend on how well we build, how well we remember that government's purpose is to serve the people, to improve the conditions of their lives. I intend to remember that man and his hope that we will make a difference in his life.

Today, with sleeves rolled up and tools in hand, let us begin the task before us.

Source:

Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Speeches by Governor Ann W Richards.. Retrieved on Jun 18, 2020, from https://lrl.texas.gov/legeLeaders/governors/displayDocs.cfm?govdoctypeID=6&governorID=42.

PDF version: https://lrl.texas.gov/scanned/govdocs/Ann%20W%20Richards/1991/SOS_Richards_1991.pdf