Thank you Gov. Dewhurst for that introduction, and for all you've done for Texans over the past eight years as Lt. Governor.
It's an honor to be with you today and a pleasure to speak to such a dedicated organization like the National Conference of State Legislatures, as you work together to share ideas with your colleagues from across the country and help shape public policy in the United States.
I know the conventional wisdom lately has been that change happens from the top down, and while that may be conventional, it's not wise.
As I think everyone here can attest, the bulk of the real work gets done on the state level, or at least it should be.
I can understand why anyone could be confused about that fact with an activist federal government intruding on environmental policy, dictating education policy, taking over healthcare and even interfering with the right of a private company to locate a plant in a right-to-work state, as is the case with Boeing in South Carolina.
One of the points I've made consistently over the years is that states are best positioned to deal with the challenges they face, and that local governments are, by definition, more responsive to the needs and directions of their citizens than some officials thousands of miles away.
No one wants a Washington bureaucrat to answer your 9-1-1 call in the midst of a hurricane; they want local officials, who understand local issues, to be on the other end of that line.
This wisdom is written into the United States Constitution, crafted by our founding fathers to ensure that each state has the right to govern its affairs in its own, unique fashion.
Not only does this approach do a better job of protecting individual freedoms, it also sets states free to explore their own solutions.
That's what we mean when we talk about states as "individual laboratories of innovation", where new approaches to common problems are field tested and refined...and eventually shared.
Maybe what's proven to work in Virginia may work in Florida, and what works in Florida may work in Texas.
Of course, you knew you wouldn't leave here today without hearing about what is working in Texas.
For starters, you're gathered in a state that has been selected the top state for job growth and development for seven years in a row in a survey conducted by CEO Magazine.
A state that's led the nation in exporting for nine years running, accounting for $206.6 billion in foreign trade in 2010, up 27 percent over 2009.
A state that won the 2010 Governor's Cup, which is awarded annually by Site Selection Magazine to the state with the most new and expanded corporate facilities in the country.
A state that's growing by leaps and bounds, adding 4.29 million people between 2000 and 2010, and has been the nation's top moving destination for six years straight.
Most importantly, you're gathered here in the state that is the epicenter of job growth in the United States of America.
Over the last two years, 40 percent of the net new jobs created in the United States were created in Texas.
We are home to fewer than one in ten Americans...but four in ten new American jobs are in our state.
Those numbers represent so much more than just statistics because jobs are not about statistics; they're about a way of life.
Jobs are, and always have been, the fundamental building blocks of any healthy community.
Jobs bring security, pride and further opportunity.
How many times have we heard about a minimum-wage worker making his way into upper management? The mailroom employee who eventually runs the company?
For any individual, and the family they support, the right job can change their world entirely.
The right job opens doors they never imagined for them, for their spouses, and for their children.
Every job has that potential; every job has that value; and every job has that power.
Our task, as creators of laws, is to keep our eyes on that one fundamental fact, to make decisions that ensure the most people have the greatest opportunity to improve their lives and make the most of themselves and their communities.
The effects of job loss are not felt by individuals alone, or even their families.
As we've seen time and time again across our country, major job losses, the collapse of entire industries, can have devastating consequences for entire communities large and small.
A community suffering such job losses might face urban blight, fractured families, higher crime rates, and, perhaps most tragic of all, entire generations losing faith in the American Dream, the belief that a better life is out there for them.
And no government program, no matter how well-intentioned, can fix that.
To pay for additional programs, governments tend to raise taxes, borrow heavily, or both, and those actions only serve to further depress job creation.
It's a vicious cycle that states like Michigan, Illinois and California are struggling to deal with as we speak, and the challenges they face are only going to become more difficult in the midst of continuing national economic turmoil.
The fact is government doesn't create jobs, otherwise the last two and a half years of stimulus would have worked.
Government can only create the environment that allows the private sector to create jobs.
The single most important contributor to our jobs-friendly climate here in Texas is our low tax burden because we know dollars do far more to create jobs and prosperity in the people's hands, than they do in the government's.
We've kept our regulatory structure predictable, limiting the red tape that can often trip a business up.
We maintain a fair court system that we just improved by adding a "loser pays" component, so employers spend less time in court and more time growing their businesses and creating jobs.
We've also developed a world-class workforce of skilled individuals who are ready to compete with their global counterparts for the jobs of the future.
These measures have helped make Texas a beacon for employers fleeing the sort of over-taxing, over-regulating and over-litigating atmosphere that has taken hold in so many other states.
Now, even in Texas, there is no shortage of naysayers who insist we have to follow the lead of some other states, who frequently dig into the pockets of their citizens in an effort to avoid tough, but necessary, decisions about their own budgets.
At no point have those voices been louder than in the months leading up to our recent legislative session.
In the end, though, our legislature emerged with a balanced budget that spent $15 billion less than the previous budget, while maintaining essential services, keeping taxes low, and preserving more than $6 billion in our "rainy day fund" in case of further national economic struggles or devastating natural disaster.
We made the tough choices, and we tightened our belts because we know you can't tax and spend your way to prosperity.
We also know you can't place too heavy a burden on employers and families and then not expect them to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
The economic turbulence of the past few weeks is weighing hard on everyone, but regardless of which way the economic tides may turn, I believe our philosophy here in Texas will keep us in a much better position than most other states.
That's because Texas practices the fiscal discipline that Washington can't even bring itself to preach.
Current events are indicating which approach is the better one.
To hear S&P tell it, our nation's credit rating wasn't downgraded for the first time in history on a whim.
It was the culmination of a reckless culture that has refused to confront spending in Washington.
It took massive debt piled on the next generation's credit card.
Also, notice what was said, and not said, when S&P lowered our rating.
They didn't complain of spending cuts that were too heavy, as the Keynsians would have us believe, they talked about a refusal to address debt in a significant way, and the concern that our debt-to-GDP ratio is unsustainable.
Simply put, our country is in trouble.
Our fiscal house is built on a foundation of shifting sand.
The federal government has tried to spend our way out of this economic spiral, which has only deepened the crisis...while it deepens our debt.
Until Washington figures out the only true stimulus is more money in the hands of employers across all economic sectors, as well as a restrained bureaucracy that no longer over-reaches into the workplace, our national nightmare will continue.
I stand ready to work with my fellow governors to return power to the states, where it belongs, regaining control over environmental and educational policy at the state level and stopping the runaway entitlement train that explodes state budgets without giving states any local say in programs like Medicaid.
Some may say we're seeing evidence that America is in decline, but I don't believe that.
When I see the nobility and sacrifice of our soldiers and SEALS in Afghanistan, when I see Americans going to work every day to make a better life for their children, I know our country's best days are ahead of us.
I believe in this country because I believe in Her people.
And, even in our darkest hours, the West Texas optimist in me tells me our brightest hour is just around the corner.
But we're going to have to work for it, and organizations like the NCSL are playing a vital role in our efforts to achieve a better future for all of us.
I thank you again for having me and for everything you're doing to spread good works across all states.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless this country we love so much.