Last Monday, I had the privilege of delivering my annual State of the State address to the legislature and all Arizonans. With the start of a new year and a new legislative session, I'm looking forward continuing the progress our state has made in the last five years.
This year will be about continuing that progress and building on our achievements while we confront challenges caused by the softening of our housing market. Simply put, Arizona's future is far too important to stop investing in now. In today's fast-moving and competitive world, pausing would mean losing valuable time. The state of Arizona - its people, its resources, and its potential - is very strong, even amid a dip in our recent economic fortunes.
Education will always be my number-one priority, and this year, more than ever, we should look to the future. I believe that we should make some key assurances to our students: First, a university student's tuition shouldn't rise in the middle of their coursework, and should stay the same for four years. Second, we should make a contract with our students, starting with today's eighth graders - the Class of 2012, and Arizona's "Centennial Class" - that if they get good grades and stay out of trouble, they can go to an Arizona community college or university for free. These moves would open the doors to education for even more students.
In dealing with our economy, we should continue to make long-term investments in innovative industries. And while we work with homeowners, I also proposed a three-part plan to protect new homebuyers and prevent a mortgage meltdown from occurring in Arizona again.
In the past several years, we've improved public safety in our state; and while we continue our support for law enforcement officers, we should make sure they can more easily target human smugglers and property managers who rent them their "drop houses" for human cargo. We must also protect children. By executive order, I have already moved on this priority and put the addicted parents of children in the child protective system first in line for substance abuse treatment.
As a state exploding in population, it is critical we deal with transportation and growth. I have asked the legislature to send to voters a long-term, comprehensive statewide transportation plan, as well as needed reforms to our state trust land system. I am proposing initiatives on energy that will fight greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, conserve energy, and boost our use of clean energy, rather than continue down the path of dependence on oil.
We must keep up our important progress on health care, focusing in particular on children. It makes sense to build on our successful program, KidsCare, by allowing families who are shut out of the health care system to buy health insurance for their children from this program, at cost, with no subsidy from the state. We can also help young adults - the fastest-growing group of uninsured Arizonans - by finding ways for them to stay on their parents' health insurance up to the age of 25. We will work to boost the number of health care professionals we have in underserved rural and tribal areas, and to increase the number of veterans' benefits counselors who put Arizona veterans in touch with the benefits they've earned.
We will manage our way through this budget year, as we have in the past, and we will continue to make progress. I know we can do these things and balance our budget for this year and the coming year, all without raising taxes. When the going gets tough, that's not an excuse to stop working; rather, it's time to hunker down, get creative, and keep working toward what we believe in.
As always, feel free to call my office at (602) 542-1318 if you have questions or thoughts. Or visit our Web site at www.azgovernor.gov for information and news in state government.