Thank you Bill Hammond, and thanks to everyone at the Texas Association of Business.
TAB has played an important role in enhancing and sustaining our state's successful business climate and we'll need your help in the weeks and months ahead as we work to keep Texas on the right track.
As we go, don't forget that sage advice, "don't believe everything you read in the paper" because the chattering classes are doing their best to paint a picture of impending budgetary disaster.
I'm not trying to minimize the very real challenges facing our legislators, but I do want to emphasize one clear advantage they have in this process, clear direction from their bosses, the people of this great state.
Clear direction is what we all got on election night last November.
The voters told us to balance the budget without raising taxes and make government even leaner and more efficient.
In short, they told us they want more of what we've done here in Texas over the past decade.
Back in 2003, we faced another challenging session, and the "sky is falling" crowd was singing the same song we've heard over the past couple of months.
We came out of 2003 in good shape because we resisted their pleas to raise taxes and remained true to our time tested fiscal disciplines.
That yielded an environment built for employers like you to thrive.
As a result, Texas has generated more jobs than any other state in the union over the past ten years, has led the nation in exports for eight years running, and is home to more Fortune 1000 firms than any other state.
As you've led your own companies, you've seen the ripple effects of the global and national recession up close, and you know that times have been tough, but our sound policies have Texas rebounding quicker than other states.
You might've heard what's happening in places like Illinois, where state leaders just boosted income taxes to make the short term a little less painful, at least less painful for government.
If you're one of those competitive Texans like I am, I hope you're fired up about businesses that might trade the Land of Lincoln for this land of opportunity called the Lone Star State.
Here they'll not only find freedom from high taxes, more predictable regulations, fair laws and an accountable education system, they'll also discover companies like yours ready to compete, which makes everyone better.
I want employers in Illinois and elsewhere in our nation and world to know that we remain committed to the principles that have energized our economy.
During this session, we need to keep taxes low so Texas families can keep more of their hard earned money and employers like you can channel resources into hiring more people and buying new equipment.
We need to maintain our predictable regulatory structure and fend off intrusive federal agencies, like the EPA, as they threaten Texas jobs and our successful air quality programs.
We need to continue the fight against lawsuit abuse because employers aren't doing anybody any good when they're tied up in court.
I hope the 82nd Legislature will consider improving our important tort protections during this session with even greater accountability, transparency and efficiency.
Whether they're doctors, employers or private citizens, victims of frivolous lawsuits shouldn't have to bear the financial burden of defending themselves.
Instead, that responsibility should fall to the individual who brought the suit in the first place.
Texas is one of a very few states who do not currently have an "early dismissal" option for obviously frivolous lawsuits, but we should.
If we give judges that option, we should balance that new power by limiting new causes of action to those created by the Legislature in a transparent and deliberative manner.
We need to make our system more accessible to the little guy by setting up expedited trials and limited discovery for lawsuits with claims between $10,000 and $100,000 dollars.
These reforms would further improve the legal climate in our state, impart even more energy to our economy, and ratchet up the fairness of our system.
Now, Bill, you know that we share something in common beyond our love of Texas and that's our belief in the importance of education, especially as it applies to our workforce.
As our economy continues to reflect advances in technology, our educational approaches must do the same with an increased emphasis on the science, technology, engineering and math skills that Texans need to compete for future jobs.
These are the basic building blocks of an economy that has drawn new employers to our state and our calling is to fortify them.
When times get tight, voices will always call for higher taxes, but that is exactly the wrong approach to take given the burden it places on Texas families and their employers.
Do we really need to tell struggling families that they haven't given enough to the government?
Do we really want to derail the job friendly climate that drives our economy?
Nothing kills creativity, nothing stifles innovation, nothing halts progress more quickly than raising taxes.
As the national and global economies struggle to recover, that approach looks even more misguided.
Instead, we need to balance this budget with existing revenue, evaluating every state program to determine wants vs. needs, then resisting the calls to raise taxes.
By following those guidelines, no matter the situation, we can get the job done.
Of course, budgeting is only part of the job at hand.
Texans are eager to see action on a host of issues, many of which I've designated as emergency items so the legislature can hit the ground running on them.
To name a few, it's time to finally get our eminent domain laws right to further defend our cherished right to private property.
We must also abolish sanctuary city rules so that professional law enforcement personnel have the discretion to do their jobs, keeping our families and neighborhoods safe.
The Senate has already begun action on passing legislation requiring a person to present proof of identity before casting a vote, which last session started a big ruckus over what seems to be a small step to protect the integrity of our elections.
I also empowered our legislature to quickly join the growing chorus of Americans calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution so we can work toward demanding the kind of fiscal discipline in Washington that we exercise here on the state level.
The Legislative session is about more than just seeing our state through another budgeting cycle.
We're still dealing with the whims of a group of people, thousands of miles away in our nation's capitol, whose decisions are proving costly to our state.
While we hope the November elections have at least slowed Washington's intrusion into our affairs, there are still plenty of big government advocates calling the shots in our nation's capitol.
We need to keep pushing back against federal encroachment in areas ranging from health care delivery, to the way we educate our children.
Time and again, Texas has demonstrated the ability to solve these types of challenges through innovation and a dedication to solid conservative principles.
With your continued input, those very principles will continue to guide us through the end of the session, as we set our state's direction for years to come.
With your informed, enthusiastic support and continued focus on keeping your businesses strong, I'm very encouraged at our prospects for success.
May God bless you, and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas.