Montgomery, AL – Governor Bob Riley addressed lawmakers and the public last night as he outlined Alabama's progress and future challenges. His State of the State speech included good news about the state's economic health, some educational initiatives, and a call for the government to reflect the moral values of Alabamians. Alabama Public Radio's Butler Cain reports.
The strength of Alabama's economy was one of the main themes of this year's State of the State address. Looking back to the beginning of his administration in 2003, Governor Bob Riley said today's economic conditions are the best in several years.
"In the past two years, Alabama's economy has created more than 42,000 new jobs. 77,000 more Alabamians are working than one year ago. Our unemployment rate has dropped 9 percent."
And according to the governor, those conditions created a net gain of jobs last year. Riley also said Alabama has emerged as an economic leader in the southeast, and the state is being recognized for its improvements.
" We rank fourth among the 50 state in employment growth, fourth in average pay growth, and the first in the variety of industries located in our state. And for the second consecutive year, we're named State of the Year by Southern Business and Development magazine."
But the governor tempered his praise with a caution that more work is necessary to reform Alabama's government. Riley announced his intentions to submit several accountability proposals for legislative approval. He began by targeting the state's political system.
"I ask you to pass a ban on money transfers between PACs so there will no longer be any disguising of who's making political contributions in this state."
Governor Riley supports limited home rule for local governments and an independent transportation commission to take the political edge off of transportation projects. He also emphatically called for ending the practice of padding budgets with discretionary spending.
"I ask you once and for all to place a permanent ban on pass through pork."
The governor then turned his attention to Alabama's education system, asking for accountability measures that would require school system audits and eliminate tenure for school administrators. Riley also introduced plans for two new teaching initiatives.
The first is called ACCESS, an acronym for Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators, and Students Statewide. The project would give students the opportunity to take classes through the Internet and videoconferencing when those classes aren't available locally.
"Just think about it. A kid in rural Clay County or Wilcox County will have the opportunity to take advanced physics, to take calculus, or even take Chinese."
The second initiative would establish a group specifically charged with considering teachers and their professional needs.
"Tonight I'm launching the Alabama Commission on Teacher Quality to recommend better ways we can support teachers, retain them in schools with the greatest needs and reward them for results."
Riley said his budget proposal will fully fund the requests of K-through-12 schools and the state Commission on Higher Education. And, he said there will be enough left over for a teacher pay raise.
"I believe a pay raise should be as much as we can afford, but no more. So my education budget includes a pay raise of four percent.
Riley described his proposals as part of a wide-reaching agenda. And, he said that includes reflecting the moral values of Alabamians. He asked legislators to officially recognize marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"Marriage is a sacred institution and its protection is essential to the continued strength of our society. Alabamians want us to to protect marriage, and we should."
He continued to take a stand against gambling, saying he does not support it and his budget proposal does not need the revenue gambling would provide. Governor Riley also spoke of the value of life and the need for the law to recognize it, even for the unborn.
"Therefore I call upon the legislature to pass a law acknowledging the fact that crimes of violence against pregnant women have two victims, and those who commit such crimes should be punished for committing two offenses. At least 32 other states already have this law in the books. Alabama should join them."
The governor ended his address by encouraging the legislature to resist special interest influences, and he asked them to ignore the urge to look toward future elections. Riley says Alabama has too much at stake right now.
For Alabama Public Radio, I'm Butler Cain.