Ryan Declares Illinois a Strong State; Urges Changes to Make State Government More Accountable, Efficient
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2001
SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today said the State of Illinois and its people are "strong, confident and ready to face the future" in 2001.
In his annual State of the State address
to a joint session of the General Assembly, Ryan said state government
in the last two years has vastly improved education and social services,
expanded economic opportunity, rebuilt a crumbling statewide infrastructure,
strengthened public safety and kept the state on a sound financial footing.
"The state of our State is strong," Ryan said. "Through better cooperation, more hard work and an on-going dedication to our neighbors in every part of this state, we - together - will continue to build a 'New Illinois.'"
The governor re-committed himself to bipartisan cooperation with the legislature and Illinoisans in every part of the state, a hallmark of the first two years of his administration that has led to a vast array of accomplishments.
Ryan also proposed a number of new initiatives designed to improve services, streamline government and make state agencies more accountable to taxpayers:
- The governor pledged to work with parents, school officials and legislators to develop a new "foundation level" of per-pupil school funding to meet the growing needs of all public school students throughout the state. The current foundation level is $4,425 per student.
- The governor said he will propose reforms at the State Board of Education designed to reduce bureaucracy, eliminate unnecessary red tape and make the agency more accountable to taxpayers and the General Assembly.
- The governor proposed a new capital improvement program specifically for the state's 47 community colleges that will replace old trailers now used by students and will improve and rehabilitate classrooms, laboratories and buildings regularly used by the public.
- The governor renewed his call for a reform of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to make the 270-mile system less congested.
- Ryan announced the creation of a new Illinois Children and Youth Commission, which will help coordinate statewide programs and polices for young people in conjunction with First Lady Lura Lynn Ryan's "Futures for Kids" initiative.
- Ryan said he would work with legislators to find money in the FY2002 budget to boost the salaries of people who work with men, women and children with disabilities and the elderly.
- The governor said state government will move forward with a new program involving digital identities and "public key infrastructure" that over the next 18 months will allow as many as one million Illinois citizens and businesses to conduct secure electronic transactions with the state.
- The governor announced that he will propose the elimination of approximately 100 unneeded advisory boards and commissions within state government.
- Ryan proposed the consolidation of 16 existing state authorities that can sell bonds on behalf of the state into one new "State Financing Authority." The current boards are responsible for $19 billion in state debt and they coordinate funds for new housing, rural development and economic opportunity, among other services. The consolidation will streamline the bureaucracy and cut costs.
- The governor said he will propose tough new reforms to the state's government ethics laws that include preventing all state employees from soliciting or making financial contributions to political candidates and allowing the state's existing ethics boards to independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing. Currently, investigations of this nature only begin after a formal complaint has been received by one of the eight ethics boards.
During his speech, which was broadcast live over the state's Internet website, Ryan outlined a long list of achievements that bipartisan cooperation has produced during the first two years of his administration.
"As a result, Illinois is a better place today than it was two years ago. We are a better educated state, a more prosperous state, a healthier state and a safer state," the governor said. "Our successes during the last two years are a shining testament to a government that places people before politics."
Ryan paid tribute to Illinois' late poet laureate, Gwendolyn Brooks, by quoting a line from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Annie Allen," that he said sums up the accomplishments of the last two years.
"'But one by one, they got things done,'" Ryan said, quoting Brooks.
- Education The governor has kept his commitment to annually dedicate at least 51 percent of all new state revenues to education and workforce training, which has resulted in $991 million more for education over the last two years. Additional funding for summer bridge programs, early childhood education and reading classes has led to learning improvements for more than 80,000 students. For higher education, record budgets have included a $23 million increase in state scholarship funding as well as new resources for classroom teaching and research. Illinois is rated number one by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
- Economic Development Since the governor's inauguration in January, 1999, new economic development policies and programs have resulted in more than $5 billion in new economic development and the retention and creation of more than 60,000 jobs. At the end of 2000, a record 6 million people were working in Illinois and the unemployment rate was 4.3 percent - the lowest in a generation.
- Illinois VentureTECH During 2000, the governor and the legislature created a five-year, $2 billion program to enhance the future of Illinois, which has the nation's fourth-largest high-tech economy. VentureTECH includes money for research and development, new buildings and laboratories as well as more than $700 million in state investments for new commercial high-tech products and services. Illinois has 17,000 high-tech companies and 51 percent of our exports are technology products.
- Illinois FIRST The major statewide initiative of 1999, Illinois FIRST, has rebuilt, revitalized and improved more than $3 billion worth of roads, bridges, school buildings, water systems and other basic infrastructure needs that had been unattended for years. The state's annual road program doubled to $2.3 billion. More than 5,000 new classrooms have been constructed. More than 500 new transit buses have been purchased. Illinois FIRST has developed 500 miles of bike trails and 256 parks, sponsored 155 economic development projects, 408 water sewer projects and 622 public safety initiatives - new fire trucks, bullet proof vests and ambulances.
- Environment and Natural Resources Over the last two years, the state has been able to purchase more than 28,000 acres for open space and recreational areas, has cleaned up more than 1,800 acres of urban "brownfields," 33 abandoned landfills and 1,300 orphaned and spilling oil wells. Environmental protection efforts have led to cleaner skies and waterways throughout the state. The "Green Illinois" program is strengthening state and local recycling efforts and the "Illinois Tomorrow" program is helping communities deal with urban sprawl.
- Agriculture Programs initiated over the last two years have helped strengthen the state's number one industry. About $10 million in state funds has been invested in state-of-the-art ethanol research and production facilities that will help Illinois farmers who grow corn. State funding was tripled for food and agricultural research programs and more money was dedicated to cooperative extension and rural development programs. Illinois is number one nationally in soybean and ethanol production.
- Human Infrastructure Since 1999, funding for social service and health programs has increased by $1.5 billion. As a result, fewer teens are having babies, more poor children are covered by health insurance, welfare and child poverty rates are down and more infants are living past their first birthday. Funding for child care services has increased to $664 million, helping 218,000 children get day care. Enrollments in the KidCare program are up by 400 percent since 1999. For three straight years, Illinois has led the nation in adoptions - more than 13,000 during 2000. Welfare rolls have dropped by 55 percent - the lowest level in 31 years. The governor and General Assembly enacted a "patients' bill of rights" for HMO members and increased funding for the services to people with disabilities, for smoking prevention efforts, for medical research and for rural telemedicine programs. Funding was increased by 15 percent for various services that allow seniors to stay independent.
- Public Safety The tough-on-crime initiatives of the last two years continue to help bring down Illinois' crime rate. Violent crime dropped 8 percent during 1999 - the lowest rate in 27 years. The initiatives include the 15-20-LIFE law that increases jail terms for using a gun during a crime, the "Operation Windy City" program that puts parole agents on the street with police to catch parole violators and the reenactment of the "Safe Neighborhoods Act," which requires felony penalties for the illegal possession of a firearm. The state is also putting into place a state-of-the-art radio communications system. The governor's moratorium on executions in Illinois has garnered international attention and placed Illinois at the forefront of this debate.
- Tax Relief In 1998, 1999 and 2000, $1.1 billion in tax relief was approved for families in Illinois. Income tax relief totaled $425 million. A tuition tax credit was created, saving families $75 million. An earned income tax credit was created to save low-income families $105 million. Eligibility rules for the state's Senior "Circuit Breaker" program were broadened and more than 100,000 additional seniors will save money on prescription drugs and property taxes. A one-time property tax rebate was created, returning $280 million to homeowners all over Illinois.
- Government Management The state ended the 2000 fiscal year with a budget surplus of $1.5 billion and will end the current 2001 fiscal year with an expected $1.2 billion surplus - good management practices that have improved the state's credit rating and saved taxpayers money. The Illinois Federal Clearinghouse has boosted the state's share of federal funding by $1.4 billion to more than $55 billion. The office of Technology has helped increase Illinois' overall "technology" rating among the states from 49th in 1998 to 4th in 2000. The new statewide performance review process has proposed the elimination of 30 obsolete boards and commissions and 600 pages of unneeded regulations, as well as the re-writing of 400 sections of administrative code. A new commission is re-writing Illinois' 40-year-old criminal code to streamline and modernize these confusing state laws.
"Illinois is a better place today," Ryan concluded. "We've proven that partisans need not be enemies. It is possible to reach across the aisle and work together for the good of the people," Ryan said. "One by one, we've gotten things done - and this State is the better for it."