Mr. Speaker, Madam President, Members of the Assembly, fellow Hoosiers,
Four is a number of special affection for me. Its the number of daughters with whom Cheri and I were blessed. Its the number of my birth month. It was Duke Sniders uniform number. And it is now the number of times you have afforded me the privilege of this historic platform.
Four, of course, is also the number of years given to an Indiana governor and, because none of us can see the future, I would not want tonight to pass without using what could be my last such opportunity to say thanks, sincerely, to each of you, for your courtesies and kindnesses, but mainly for the work we have done together.
Because of things we have done together, Indiana is tonight a stronger state: economically, fiscally, in the effectiveness with which it acts on its citizens compassion for those less fortunate. And we have it before us to make this fourth year one of special achievement, as we strengthen the security of families in their homes.
But first, a brief report. In all the ways that matter most, we enter 2008 with positive momentum. Unemployment among Hoosiers is the lowest it has been in six years, all the way back to the bubble economy of 2001. In 2007, for the third year in a row, all records were broken for new investment and new jobs coming to our state. From Amazon in Munster to IBM in Daleville to AT&T in Evansville to Really Cool Foods in Cambridge City, companies of all kinds chose Indiana and Indiana workers over a world of alternatives.
State government is leaner and cleaner, and more taxpayer-friendly. The size of state government has been reduced by more than 10 percent, over 4,000 employees. Even though we have raised worker pay more than in previous years, it costs taxpayers less to meet the payroll of state government today than it did in 2004.
And governments service to taxpayers is provably, measurably better. A new crew of people from outside government has been at work in departments large and small on a mission to make government work for people. Twenty thousand more single parents now receive the child support theyre owed. Public retirees now receive their first pension check without delay. Taxpayers refund checks come back in half the time. Two hundred seventy-five more state policemen are on the roads and fighting crime. There are hundreds of such examples. But lets examine just one that captures and typifies them all.
Last month, the average total visit time at an Indiana BMV license branch was anyone care to guess? eight minutes, 11 seconds. Statewide, the customer satisfaction rating was 96 percent. And thats among those who had to go to a branch at all.
You can now do almost all your business by mail, or Internet, and get a discount for doing so. You can register a new vehicle at the dealer, rather than making a second trip to a branch.
If you have to go in person, you can check online and see exactly how long the visit times are right now at every branch near you. Or, you can make an appointment, so when you get there, you dont wait at all.
These improvements did not come quickly, or easily. We made mistakes along the way; some experiments worked poorly, and were abandoned. Some changes, like most changes in life, aroused concern and discontent. But the results are real, and dramatic. I dwell on this one example because, as most Hoosiers readily understand, if our people can fix the BMV, they can fix anything.
Because of a stronger economy, and businesslike stewardship of government, our fiscal situation is also profoundly better. The bankruptcy of three years ago is far behind us. The states debts are paid. We have a surplus once again, some of which we can now return to taxpayers in the form of property tax reduction. Searching for savings is still an all day, everyday assignment, but the publics finances are responsible once more.
No one is satisfied, nor will we ever be. There will always be more jobs to recruit, waste to root out, services to improve. But if youre not at least a little proud of Indiana tonight, youre not paying attention.
Take a quick look at neighboring states. Had you noticed that, for some time now, we have had the lowest unemployment in the Midwest? That while unemployment has been going down here, it has been going up in every other Midwest state?
Have you noticed the financial crises in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois? The major tax increases enacted or pending in those places? We are met here tonight to discuss tax cuts, the largest in state history; everywhere else the only direction under discussion is up.
I have long admired John Adams diary entry of 1775: Facing incredible hardships and, for all he knew, a hangmans noose for his patriotism, his only thought was "Great things are wanted to be done."
We have proven ourselves capable of great things. We fixed our fiscal problems, and did it without raising taxes. We solved the transportation shortfall of the state, without either taxes or borrowing.
The telecommunications bill you passed, on a bipartisan basis, is the best in America and has brought us thousands of new jobs. The health insurance bill you passed, on a bipartisan basis, has now begun bringing peace of mind to thousands of the previously uninsured and unprotected.
These are great models of cooperation in the public interest. We are called now to act once again, together, on a great thing that is wanted to be done: to bring lasting fairness and affordability to the taxation of property in our state.
A quick google of the words "property tax" and "crisis" would turn up hundreds of hits among news reports of recent months. And, for many Hoosiers, the bills of 2007 can fairly be labeled that way.
If you are watching tonight in any of the 250,000 Hoosier households where property taxes went down, you may be asking if the word "crisis" is an exaggeration. But if you are in South Bend, or Muncie, or anywhere else where bills suddenly skyrocketed, you wont think its too big a word. None of us should think so because, as in everything, we are in this together, and a crisis for any Hoosier family is a problem for us all.
Many of you know the Chinese concept "wei ji," the single character for "crisis" that means both "danger" and "opportunity." Indianas property tax dilemma presents us with a glistening opportunity not merely to alleviate a problem, but to create yet another positive advantage for our state.
We are off to a fine start. Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tem, taxpayers could not ask for more fair-minded cooperation than you each demonstrated by beginning work immediately on the framework bill I proposed.
The tenets of that framework are well known to each member, and need no lengthy elaboration here. I ask you to take four theres that number again major steps on behalf of taxpayers.
First, immediate relief to every homeowner, taking Indiana property tax levels to some of the very lowest in America. The plan I sent you would place our state among the lowest eight or nine states anywhere, and by far the lowest in the Midwest.
Second, permanent protection against the return of unaffordable taxes, through a permanent, constitutional cap of one percent of a homes value, an absolute ceiling beyond which no homeowner would ever pass. Make the cuts further secure by lifting permanently the costs of child welfare protection and school operations off the property taxpayer altogether.
Third, reform of our hopelessly unfair assessment system, with its unexplained inaccuracies and its unequal treatment of like properties.
And fourth, genuine limits on total local spending and borrowing, with none of the loopholes and exceptions that have permitted such spending to balloon in recent years. I hope you will join me in giving citizens what they have in most states, a final say over major capital projects through a straightforward referendum. I do not share the fear of some that Hoosiers cannot be trusted to weigh the pros and cons of big investments for which they will pay the costs. I say, trust the people; give them the facts, and let them vote.