I want to thank the Greater Houston Partnership for inviting me here to discuss the state of the state. In a word the state of Texas is strong.
Economically, Texas has weathered the recent global recession better than any other state.
Our economic climate has kept Texas at the top of CEOs' wish lists for relocation and expansion and provides a fertile environment to grow our native small businesses into bigger ones.
This environment has made Texas into a haven for job creation.
In fact, after leading the nation in job creation during the last decade Texas employers have added more jobs than any other state since the start of this year.
That is a very big deal, especially to those folks who started the year unemployed and are now drawing a paycheck.
If anyone is intimidated by the negative effects of the global economic crisis and what they mean for the upcoming budgeting process they need to know that our leaders are equal to the task with experience in making tough choices.
As you know, "strength" does not simply mean an absence of challenges or success in days of plenty.
Instead, strength is the ability and a willingness to meet the challenges we face head-on and overcome them with clear priorities, fiscal discipline and hard work.
Strength is the willingness to stick to proven principles like those that have made Texas a national economic force.
They're not complicated, but they sure do work.
Number one, we don't spend all the money so there are funds available for a rainy day.
Next, we keep regulations predictable, so employers know what to expect from one day one quarter one year to the next.
Third, we reformed our legal system to cut down on junk lawsuits so that employers can spend time creating jobs and doctors can focus on caring for their patients instead of defending themselves against frivolous claims in court.
Fourth, we're making our schools more accountable, so the workforce of tomorrow is better educated.
Those simple principles have imparted stability to our economy and encouraged entrepreneurs to create jobs that have helped keep our unemployment rate about a full point lower than the national average.
We have also made strategic investments in programs that rev the economic engine of our state.
I'm talking about programs like the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund.
These programs send a clear message to employers that your biggest challenge in Texas will be outdoing your marketplace competitors not fending off a government that wants to take you out at the knees.Washington pretty much has that last part covered anyways.
Since the Enterprise Fund was created in 2003, it has helped secure more than 53,600 new Texas jobs and $14.4 billion in capital investment that could have gone elsewhere.
The Emerging Technology Fund was created to strengthen our state's high-tech economy by supporting promising initiatives during the critical phase between earliest innovation and market viability.
In the not too distant past, great ideas born in the labs at Texas universities either collected dust on a shelf or went to other states where they became profitable products.
Thanks to the ETF and our state's stronger than average economy these great ideas are being nurtured in Texas adding to our momentum and, ultimately, creating jobs.
Since its creation in 2005, the ETF has invested more than $173 million in 120 early-stage companies along with $161 million in research grants to Texas universities.
Our ETF investments are not just making companies, however we're commercializing cures for heart disease and cancer and making energy more renewable, reliable, and cheaper.
At the same time, we're stoking the furnace of our state's innovative economic engine creating new materials for semiconductor manufacturing and pioneering products that will keep our military and law enforcement safer.
These two funds have helped keep Texas on the right track reaping the benefits of years of policy decisions that are job-friendly and fiscally disciplined. Now, the coming legislative session isn't going to be easy but the legislators joining us here today would probably agree hat they never really are. You all might remember the $10 billion deficit our state faced at the start of the legislative session back in 2003.
Rather than jack up taxes, we took the same approach smart business leaders take when their businesses have a shortfall or families do when spending exceeds income we drew a line between wants and needs then cut spending. We won't hesitate to take that approach again.
However, we will continue to prioritize education as a way to maximize opportunity for our citizens and strengthen our workforce.
To that end, we've made our schools more accountable and rigorous helping high schoolers graduate ready for college or a career prepared to compete in the global marketplace. To prepare for the high-tech economy in particular, we have placed a stronger emphasis on the STEM subjects science, technology, engineering and mathematics that are the building blocks of hightech success.
The 51 STEM academies we've funded throughout the state catering largely to students considered "at risk" have been remarkably successful. So I've proposed doubling the number of STEM academies and increasing our emphasis on the U-Teach program so we have the brightest minds teaching young Texans.
As we ramp up our high tech education, we must also maintain our focus on those students who, for whatever reason, give up on high school and drop out. To begin with, I propose toughening laws to make it necessary for any student under 18 to stay in school or show work toward a GED if they want to keep their Texas drivers license.
We need to make it harder for students to quit and easier for them to go back.
That's why I have proposed an expansion of virtual high schools enabling students to complete their official coursework online on a timeline that works with lives that likely include jobs and family obligations.
I've also proposed offering employers a $1,500 sales tax credit for every dropped-out employee that earns their degree or GED with the support of that employer.
Keeping students in school or bringing them back to finish is particularly vital in the years to come because we'll need all hands on deck for our continued economic success.
Of course, our economic strength is only part of the story. Keeping Texas strong also means keeping Texans safe despite Washington's ongoing failure to secure our international border to the south.
Historically, Texas and Mexico have been intertwined with many shared cultural and family connections and essential trade relationships. As a result, it is especially difficult to watch our neighbor to the south being ripped apart by drug-related violence that has taken the lives of more than 28,000 in Mexico since 2006.
As the death toll continues to mount and bullets from drug cartel shootouts hit the El Paso city hall and the campus of UT-Brownsville the need to secure our border is stronger than ever.
In the absence of adequate assistance from Washington Texas continues to stand in that gap. With the help of the Legislature, Texas has invested more than $230 million in border security efforts over the last several years.
We've expanded patrol capacity on the ground in the air and on the water including sheriffs, local police, game wardens and DPS troopers. When criminals responded by changing their tactics and their routes we adapted again, creating our Ranger Recon teams which enable us to quickly put boots on the ground in hot spots.
However, without more resources from our federal government there's only so much we can do.Until Washington fully engages, Texas will keep pressing the issue taking the fight to the criminal element that continually attempts to exploit our porous border while committing crimes against our citizens
like the one we heard about just last week on Falcon Lake.
The death of an American citizen at the hands of armed thugs in close proximity to our border has put a Texas family into a tailspin
and provided a counterpoint to those who would deny the crisis of spillover violence from Mexico.
Texas will continue to do what it can and I will keep pressing Washington to secure our southern border as a way to protect citizens across our state and beyond.
As we gather here today, united in our shared pride in this state we understand that the months and years to come will demand the most of us and our leaders.
Fortunately, here in Texas, we have something that no other state can bring to bear on its problems and that is Texans.
In my view, there is no other state with the cultural resilience work ethic or history of rugged independence.
The strength and discipline that have helped us weather these tough times will keep our state moving forward while setting an example for the nation to follow.
With leaders like those represented in this room, both in government and in the private sector our state's prospects for future success are bright and the state of our state will remain strong.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great State of Texas.