Thank you. Thank you Mr. President. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Mr. President, Speaker, Members of the House, Members of the Senate, fellow residents of this great state of Louisiana -- thank you for the opportunity to come address you on this very important day. I want to thank you for your service.
It's hard to believe that just a little over 15 months ago we stood out on the front states of the capital...steps of the capital -- I took my oath of office, along with many of you. On that day I promised and I asked you to work with me together to create a new Louisiana. A new Louisiana so we would stop exporting our greatest assets.
Our greatest exports aren't the crops we grow, it's not the oil, the gas we drill, it's not the products we make. Our greatest exports have been the sons and daughters of Louisiana. They've been leaving year after year to pursue their dreams and opportunities in other states. I asked you to work with me to create a new Louisiana -- where our sons and daughters would pursue their dreams here, we'd create a state where we'd attract the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs, the best and brightest from all over the country to come to our state to pursue their dreams.
I told you that day and I asked you to work with me. I said we had to start by cracking down on corruption and incompetence. We had to wage war on corruption and incompetence.
I want to thank the legislators. I want to thank this body. Literally within the first thirty days, we came together in a special session, promising to enact some of the nation's toughest ethics laws. Indeed the cynics and the skeptics said it couldn't be done. But you proved them wrong time after time.
In this chamber we debated, in the Senate we debated, you passed dozens of laws, bringing greater transparency, greater accountability, cracking down on the inherent conflicts of interest. You passed laws closing the loopholes and the gift-bands. Indeed, we debated and you passed dozens of bills making it very clear that who you know is no longer important than what you know when it comes to doing business in Louisiana. You passed dozens of bills saying that our elected, our appointed leaders were here to serve the people of Louisiana, not themselves.
Requiring elected and appointed officials to disclose income, assets, liabilities. Greater disclosure on the part of spending to lobbyists. Greater disclosure as well and greater prohibitions on elected officials doing business with the state. Louisiana became the only state in the country, the first and only state in the country to post not only its spending online but outcome measures as well.
And you saw results both not only in rankings but people beginning to restore their confidence and trust in their government. Literally, Center for Public Integrity had given us 43 points for legislative disclosure, now we get 99 points. We were in the bottom five on the Better Government Associations Integrity Index, now we rank in the top five. Literally going from some of the weakest to some of the strongest laws according to that index. We sent a strong message to our state and to the country that this was the beginning of a new Louisiana.
We didn't stop there. Literally within a couple of weeks we came back into a second session. Last year you reduced, eliminated six different taxes. Putting more money in the hands of Louisiana businesses and families. In addition to cutting taxes and especially unorthodox business taxes, like the taxes on debt, new equipment and utilities. Louisiana's only one of three states with that tax on new equipment. Companies came and testified to your committees their newest equipment in Louisiana was older than their oldest equipment in other states. But in addition to cutting taxes you invested hundreds of millions of dollars into coastal restoration. Into infrastructure, roads, bridges and ports.
Then we came back in a third session. In that third session you passed several good laws, cracking down on sexual predators. You remember me standing at this podium saying, let's make this the toughest state in the country when it comes to protecting our children and going after those monsters that prey on our children.
In addition you passed laws that put discipline back in the classroom, passing a teachers bill of rights.
You passed bills reforming healthcare, education, making other changes, but we made as our top priority that session -- workforce development. In a state where we've been losing our sons and daughters, we still had tens of thousands of jobs we couldn't fill. In part because we weren't providing the skilled workers the companies were looking for. And so we worked together, we revamped the Department of Labor into the Workforce Commission, making it more responsive to the customers, the businesses -- the employees that it's there to serve.
We put eight and a half million dollars in dual-enrollment programs, to reduce our dropout rate, to encourage more of our students to continue their education even before they leave high school. Put $10 million dollars for high-cost high-growth job training programs. $3 million dollars into a fast-start program so we could work hand-in-hand with the employers who desperately need skilled workers to expand, to grow in Louisiana. 70 percent of companies that want to move here, that want to expand here tell us one of their top two concerns is being able to find a skilled worker.
When you look at that 15 months, you look at a year that started with enacting tough ethics laws, cutting taxes, and revamping workforce training programs, no wonder our economy is outperforming the national economy. Since the beginning of the national recession, going back to the end of '07, when you look at it, we've outperformed the national economy and the southern economy.
In December, Louisiana was the only state in the country to add jobs. In January we were the only state in the country where the unemployment rate went down, not up. And again in February, we were the only state in the country that added jobs. Last Friday, new numbers came out showing yet again, compared year over year Louisiana added thousands of jobs. In January we had more people working in our state than in the history of the state in any January. In February we had more people working in the state than in any February in the history of our state. And again in March, we had more people working in the state than in any March in the history of our state.
Indeed, since we took our oaths of office, over 21,000 new jobs have been announced in Louisiana. $2.9 billion in private capital investment. And you've seen the job announcements in every corner of this state. You've seen three companies move their corporate headquarters into Louisiana and we got another fortune 1000 headquarters here last year. Another Fortune 500 company through an acquisition.
You saw, for examples, the recent success in Monroe. Gardner Denver was starting a project where they were talking about moving jobs from Monroe to Wisconsin. They had nicknamed the project internally, "the Monroe to Sheboygan project." That's how convinced they were they were going to be moving to Wisconsin. But once they looked at the facts on the ground, once we met with the company leaders, they instead decided to quadruple the size of their workforce in Monroe, move hundreds of good-paying jobs into Louisiana from Wisconsin.
You saw it in Shreveport a few weeks ago. Schlumberger announcing 400 new jobs there. You saw it in Lake Charles. Shaw announcing North America's first construction facility for the modular components of nuclear power plants - 1400 good paying jobs. You've seen it all over our state. You've seen it with Albemarle's moving their headquarters right here in Baton Rouge. You saw EA announcing their North American Quality Assurance Center is going to be right here, again in Baton Rouge.
We're now third best state in the country after California and New York when it comes to making movies, setting a record year last year, a record pace for our state last year. And now we want to go to the digital media economy as well. So even in a time of national economic challenges, we've continued to grow our economy, add jobs, outperform the national economy. And I want to thank you for the steps you've already taken to create a New Louisiana.
Now, as we review this past year though, one other thing in terms of measuring economic success for two years in a row; for two years in a row we've had more of our people moving back into our state faster than people have been moving out. Now we still have much more work to do to reverse those years of out-migration, but it does show you we can create a new Louisiana -- that keeps our children and grand-children here, that does attract the best and brightest and the risk-takers from across this great country.
As we review these past 15 months it's also honest to admit I've made some mistakes, and we've made some stumbles. If I had a time machine I'd go back and I'd change some of the things we did. But I don't have a time machine. So I think it's important that we look forward and work together to build on this great foundation we've already started building towards this new Louisiana. You know, we are in this together. And we are a family working together for the improvement of our state.
And before I talk about the challenges ahead of us I want to recognize one of our own is not here today, a member of the house, Nick Lorusso is actually serving us, serving us in the military, serving us in uniform. I'd ask you to join me in applauding the thousands of Louisianians serving us. And I think Michelle is here somewhere in the chamber and I want to thank her; I know it's been tough for her as well.
As we look forward to the challenges ahead of us, we face some very real challenges. Indeed, you saw last year we had to make mid-year budget reductions of $341 million dollars. We have $1.3 billion fewer dollars this year as we put together this year's budget, as we continue to work hard to move our state forward even while we have to do more with less.
And I know that there will be spirited debate in this chamber and in the senate and in the committee rooms in the weeks ahead and that is a good thing. We don't always have to agree, we won't always agree. But what is important, what is important is we come together to work at the end, after we have the debates. After we have the full discussion. After we argue. It is important that we come together to do what is best for Louisiana.
The solutions won't be Republican solutions or Democratic solutions; they won't be administration solutions, they won't be legislative solutions. They need to be Louisiana solutions.
Some of you, like me, are serving your first terms right here in this capital. Others of you have been in this legislature, have been in elected office for several years. Regardless of whether you're new, or whether you're a veteran, we all ran for the same reason -- to serve our state, to be servants.
This is a time, these are challenging times that call for true leadership. The call for us to remember we were elected to serve the people, to make it easier for them to raise their families here. Now the challenges we face are real. I shared with you some of the budget challenges we face this year, the challenges get even harder in the years ahead of us.
We know in the next couple of years the federal government will be reducing our Medicaid program by over $700 million a year. Due to a formula where they have calculated Road Home money and insurance payments as income. We will literally be losing over $700 million per year on top of the loss of stimulus funds, on top of the other drops in revenue over the next couple of years. And that is why it's so important as we work together to address the budget challenges that face us this year, we never lose sight of the fact that we must address the bigger challenges that await us.
True leadership means not just looking for one-time easy solutions, but rather addressing the fundamental challenges that confront us. It's not enough to kick this challenge down the road to await us next year or the year after that. I know that you want to do better than that, and we want to do better than that. There are no easy fixes. We can't tax, borrow, spend our way out of this. We're going to have to work hard together to do more with less. Towards that we've proposed five budget reforms. And I won't go through each of them in detail, they'll be time to debate them in committee and hear them on the floors, but I will just briefly tell you why we think these are important.
Working with many of you, who've introduced, co-authored these pieces of legislation, first we've asked for your help in streamlining civil service. We want to make sure we're rewarding employees based on performance, not just length of service. We want to do away with bumping, give our managers more flexibility when we ask them to do more with less.
Secondly, we've asked you for help in changing the higher education formula. Obviously, we've got to work with the Board of Regents to do that, to make sure we're rewarding excellence and not encouraging duplicate programs. We can't be all things to all people.
Third, we've asked for your help to reform the MFP formula as well. Every year you appropriate billions of dollars towards pre-k through twelve education, one of the most important investments we can make in the future of Louisiana, but every year you allocate extra dollars based on at-risk children, students taking technical courses without a guarantee those dollars are actually going towards their intended purposes. We want to work with you to bring more transparency to that formula, make sure those dollars actually go to help the intended students, go to help the intended classrooms deliver an excellent education for every student in Louisiana.
Fourth, we also have asked you to help setup a commission on streamlining government. We've had agencies that may have been created decades ago. We need to examine whether they continue to serve an important purpose or whether there's a more efficient way to deliver those services, whether it's consolidation, out-sourcing, maybe even the elimination of duplicate programs.
And then fifth and finally, and very importantly. Like you, certainly we are very concerned that year after year, budget cuts fall disproportionately on higher education and healthcare. And so we're asking absolutely, we're asking for your help to reform the budget process. We're asking for your help, we know that there are literally billions of dollars that are protected either by statute or constitution.
We're saying that every program should have to compete for taxpayer dollars. Programs should, dedications should be sunset so you have a chance to review their intended purpose and decide whether you want to renew those dedications. Every year they should have to report performance indicators so you can see the dollars are achieving their intended purpose and importantly during times of shortfalls.
You should have greater flexibility to work with the administration to achieve savings, every agency, every program across the board should have to compete for those resources so we don't continue to have to go to higher education and healthcare -- two areas we need to be investing in to continue to move our state forward. Now there are going to be other initiatives, and other matters will be debated, in this chamber and the senate as well. I look forward to a good session, a productive session.
The challenge in front of us is this, for the last year we've outperformed the national economy, for the last year we've done better than the southern economy.
It is important even as we do more with less, even as we reduce spending coming out of Baton Rouge, we continue to move our state forward. For that reason we've asked for your support on a number of initiatives we're supporting many pieces of legislation co-authored by many members of these two bodies.
For example, we want to make our streets safer for our children by cracking down on drunk drivers. Increasing the penalties for those who refuse to take the breathalyzer, those that are repeat offenders.
We're asking for your help to continue to make it even safer for our children in this state by closing the loopholes on the background checks for those employees that work at DSS. Closing some of the loopholes when it comes to our daycare facilities.
We're asking for your help as well to reduce the recidivism rates in our prisons. Every year we arrest 15,000 people in this state. Every year we release 15,000 people back in our society. About 11,000 of those prisoners are coming from parish prisons and it is so important that we give those prisoners the education, the training, the treatments they need to become productive citizens, to become tax-paying citizens of this great state. Our re-arrest rate is fifty percent within the first five years after their release. We have the second highest per capita incarceration rate in the country. We have proposed pilot programs in Shreveport, in Southeast Louisiana, to help reduce those recidivism rates by providing the education, the training, the services, before prisoners are released back in our general population.
We also need your help to reduce the dropout rate in our high-schools. 13,600 students dropped out of Louisiana's high schools last year. Another 3,000 students dropped out of our middle schools. That is simply unacceptable. Our state cannot realize its full potential until our people realize their full potential. Every student must be encouraged to complete their high school education and continue their studies.
Here in Louisiana two-thirds of our high-school students graduate on-time and only six percent of our at-risk students complete a GED when put in that track. Yet we know there are programs that work. Jobs for America's Graduates, over ninety percent of their high school students graduate on time, over half of their at-risk students complete their GED. What that tells us, is that we can take proven models, we've started in 14 school districts. We need your help to expand these programs. And the bottom line is to provide work-ready certificates, training, internships to link our students to the education of their career futures.
We're supporting several other bills as well to reform education and healthcare and to continue to move our state forward. Yes, this will be a session dominated by debates about the budget and how to do more with less, but at the same time, we must continue to move our state forward.
We don't have a moment to spare. We don't have a citizen to spare when it comes to moving our state to its full potential. Remember what we said just 15 months ago. We are committed to creating a new Louisiana. A new Louisiana where our children and grandchildren pursue their dreams here. Now the skeptics may wonder whether we can do this -- we know we can do this. You have shown by working with us over the last 15 months we can prove the skeptics and the cynics wrong.
You know, I'll close with a refrain that we championed during the campaign. And it's pretty simple. People ask us, can we really create this new Louisiana? Can we really maintain this progress? Can we really bring our children back home? And I tell them absolutely, because I know this. We can change, we must change, and we will change.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the great state of Louisiana.