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Public Statements

Weekly Democratic Radio Response

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Date:
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Federal News Service

February 21, 2004 Saturday

SECTION: WHITE HOUSE BRIEFING

HEADLINE: WEEKLY DEMOCRATIC RADIO RESPONSE SPEAKER: ARIZONA GOVERNOR JANET NAPOLITANO

BODY:
Good morning. This is Arizona governor Janet Napolitano. Like many of my fellow governors, I recently delivered a State of the State Address to my state's legislature. And like many of my colleagues, I laid out my plans to solve problems that states everywhere are facing: problems with our public school systems, affordable health care and environmental issues. Unfortunately, we're finding it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to rely on the current administration to help us tackle our state's challenges. In fact, the administration often causes these challenges.

The latest evidence of an administration at odds with the states is President Bush's proposed federal budget for 2005. The President would spend against a record deficit of more than half a trillion dollars. That's more than $1,700 for every taxpayer in the United States just to cover this year's deficit. That number is bound to be even higher given that its budget does not fully account for the cost of fighting the war on terrorism. Despite record deficits, the president's federal budget fails to fund federal mandates, pushing billions of dollars in spending requirements onto state and local governments.

For instance, nearly one billion dollars in funding for homeland security and bioterrorism response efforts has been cut, leaving police, firefighters and emergency management teams without promised funding for training and equipment to keep communities safe. In addition, $147 million has been cut in the community services block grant which provides employment services, housing, family counseling, transportation, medical and dental care to families in need. Given that 3 million private sector jobs have vanished and personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high under the Bush administration, the need for these services is clear. And so it has fallen to the states to pick up the burden imposed by Washington, D.C.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in public education. The president's budget fails to provide $9.4 billion in promised funding to help our children improve their reading and math skills. It also eliminates federal funding for drop-out prevention programs and fails to provide promised funds for after school programs. In addition, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, hailed as the most sweeping educational reform in decades, is actually creating havoc in America's public schools. It imposes a host of new regulatory burdens on state governments and public schools regardless of any progress or success they were making on their own. The administration's mandates for student testing and teacher training have come with little funding, leaving already strapped school districts in high growth states, like Arizona, scrambling to meet federal requirements while coping with runaway enrollment increases. It gets worse for small schools serving low income populations because much of the federal funding tied to the No Child Left Behind Act requires matching funds that these schools simply do not have. This forces low income schools to choose between investing in core academic offerings or paying for new federal mandates.

While passing the No Child Left Behind Act may have been good for political posturing, it has not helped public schools solve their problems. On the contrary, it's only added to them and many of America's governors are asking President Bush and the Republican majority in Congress to give states the funding they need to implement this act.

In Arizona, we want to expand full-day kindergarten as an option for every parent and we're intensifying efforts to help children learn to read as early as kindergarten, where the seeds of long-term academic failure are success or often sown. At the end of the day, states will improve their public schools by partnering with local districts, parents and businesses. The reality of the No Child Left Behind Act is that currently millions of children are being left behind and we simply must fix this problem.

Also left behind are the West forests because the administration's inaction has forced Americans living in forest communities to remain vulnerable to mega fires destroying those communities. Western forests are facing the triple threat of unprecedented bark beetle infestations caused by historic drought and worsened by the administration's refusal to restore the forests on federal land. President Bush signed the Healthy Forest Act in late 2003. This law authorizes $760 million for excess fuel reduction on twenty million acres of federal forest land, but it does not actually appropriate a single dollar to conduct fuel reduction. The best that Western states can hope for is a paltry $58 million in forest service funding to reduce excess fuels on federal lands, a very small drop into a very large bucket.

Most of Arizona's forests lie on federal lands, but we're doing what we can to reduce excess fuels from the perimeters of such forest communities as Flagstaff, Prescott, Show Low and Payson. Our state land department is using state prison inmate crews to clear dead trees in overly thick forests near these communities. In just one month last year, our prison inmates treated more forest land in the Tonto National Forest than the Tonto National Forest could do in one year.

The West is approaching another dry summer and once again the Bush administration and the Republican Congress are shirking their responsibility to manage federal forests so we at the state level are preparing to battle more mega fires. Homeland security, well-educated children and restored forests throughout America are just some of the challenges governors across America are fighting for. We live in a nation built on the shared responsibility of the federal and state governments to carry out the people's business. Unfortunately, over the last three years, the Bush administration has issued lots of dictates to the states with little of the necessary funding to carry them out.

This is Arizona governor Janet Napolitano. Thank you for listening.

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