Lt. Governor Ivey, Speaker Hubbard, President Marsh, members of the Alabama Legislature, Chief Justice Moore, justices of the Alabama Supreme Court --and my fellow Alabamians:
Fifty years ago, our great state of Alabama stood poised on center stage as a series of historical events unfolded around us. This city, this very building, and many in this room would bear witness to events that changed history.
By year's end, Alabama would see many peaceful protestors jailed for daring to advocate equal treatment for all people. The University of Alabama would enroll its first African-American students. Four little girls killed inside their place of worship during Sunday School. The rising up of thousands who marched to this building knowing they were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. That was fifty years ago.
Today, we are ever-mindful of our turbulent past while we eagerly look forward to a new chapter in our state's history. Alabama IS our Sweet Home. And we want it to be a place where economic opportunity abounds and there are good-paying jobs, where children can get a good education, where counties and cities can build roads to compete for businesses and industries and where millions of taxpayer dollars are not being spent... they are being saved.
Our state is making great progress. Jobs are coming. We are cutting costs and living within our means -- all without raising taxes. Unemployment in Alabama is down to the lowest level in four years. Over 26-thousand, new, future jobs have been recruited to Alabama in the last two years. Industries from all over the world are choosing to make their home in our state and have invested more than 6-billion dollars in Alabama in 2012.
One of those industries is forever changing our economic landscape. In July of last year, I was so proud of our state as I announced the news that we would begin to assemble commercial aircraft in Alabama. Airbus, headquartered in France, will build airplanes in Mobile with the skill and expertise of Alabama workers. From the time we break ground on the construction of the assembly plant this spring, to the first delivery of the Airbus A320, over 3-thousand Alabama workers will have had a good, well-paying job that they and their families need.
Just two months ago, we announced the first Airbus supplier located in Alabama bringing 50 highly-skilled engineering support jobs. This is only the beginning as we expect additional suppliers to make their way to Alabama.
From the state's largest cities to the smallest towns, nothing is more important to me than putting people back to work. Like the people of Hackleburg. This spring I will be privileged to help open the doors of the Wrangler plant in that town. The plant was such a symbol of heartbreak and devastation nearly two years ago. But as the statewide rebuilding continues, the Wrangler plant now serves as a symbol of hope and economic opportunity for families in Marion County.
Because of my steadfast commitment to recruiting jobs for the people of this state, I have had the privilege to attend dozens of jobs announcements during my time in office. Whether it is 50 jobs in a small town or 1000 jobs in a large city, every job matters to me and especially to that person who will go back to work.
They are the men and women who make up Alabama's greatest economic asset -- and that's our workers. Because of their hard work and dedication to their jobs, Alabama workers are highly respected among the world's leading manufacturers. I've seen it myself as I've visited our plants and factories. I've watched how products are made, vehicles are assembled and services rendered with great pride and terrific skill. I'm proud of our workers, and we should all take pride that the products rolling off the assembly line are stamped "Made In Alabama."
Last year, cities and counties across this state were finally able to begin much-needed improvements to their roads and bridges. We launched the largest road and bridge improvement program in Alabama's history. ATRIP -- the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program -- allows counties to make much-needed repairs to roads and bridges. As of this week, 439 road and bridge projects have been approved. 61 of Alabama's 67 counties are seeing their roads repaired and bridges fixed. 614 million dollars in projects have been approved.
Everyone benefits from ATRIP. When companies build new factories, they look for areas with good roads and bridges. ATRIP is giving them what they need.
Now, for those remaining six counties which have not participated in ATRIP, help is on the way. We will soon announce details that will help those counties to participate in ATRIP. Every single county in Alabama will be given the opportunity to participate.
Last month, we launched a statewide effort to bring education and business together so our workforce will not only be well-trained, but also highly skilled. I created the College and Career Ready Task Force, and I want to commend Dr. Tommy Bice, our State Superintendent of Education, and Dr. Mark Heinrich, Chancellor of Alabama's Postsecondary College System, members of the State Board of Education and University leaders.
Together, we are all working to make sure students are offered the tools they need to compete for the highly-skilled jobs we are recruiting. Business, Industry and Agriculture will advise us concerning skills they seek in a workforce. Educators will be able to tailor their courses to meet that demand. The results will be a constant supply of high school and college graduates who have the skills industries want. I believe this effort will not only produce skilled workers, but will also decrease the high school dropout rate.
Alabama's workers already have the right attitude and a strong work ethic. Now, by providing even greater skills training, our state will be able to offer any industry a workforce second to none.
In November, Alabamians gave us the ability to be even more competitive by voting to approve Amendment 2. This amendment allows us to compete with other states in recruiting major industries. I want to thank the people of Alabama for approving the amendment and giving us the ability to bring more jobs.
Our entire state works as a team to recruit industries. That is why Alabama is consistently ranked in the Top Ten nationally for our business-friendly environment and our team approach to creating jobs.
Alabama's economy saw some of the most dramatic improvements of any state over the last three months of 2012. When factors such as total jobs, unemployment, total wages and hours worked in manufacturing are combined, only four other states saw stronger growth than Alabama.
But in Alabama, we aren't satisfied with just being in the Top Ten. In Alabama, we like to be Number One.
There are many things that allow us to recruit and retain businesses in this state. One of those is our low cost of energy. And we are able to maintain that because of the natural resources that we have in Alabama. This includes coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydro-electric energy. And I will not allow anyone, not the federal government nor any other agency, to stand in the way of the use of those natural resources.
Thanks to the efforts of our legislative leadership, members of this Legislature and Lieutenant Governor Ivey, we are holding true to our commitment to right-size government. If Washington wants to know how to fix the nation's budget crisis, they need to look no further than the example set by the states -- and especially the state of Alabama. While the federal government is in debt over 16 trillion dollars, we have identified over 750 million dollars in savings for taxpayers in just two years.
My office, working with this Legislature, has brought about real reform within state government. We are well on our way to identifying one billion dollars in annual savings by the end of next year.
We made a promise to the people of this state to right-size government, and we are living up to that promise. It has not been easy. We've asked a lot of state employees and teachers who have shared in the sacrifice to keep our budgets balanced and provide necessary services for our people. Mostly through retirement, State government now operates with nearly 4-thousand fewer state employees than we had two years ago.
Our promise to the people of Alabama is to run this state as efficiently as possible.
Without raising taxes.
Today, I can tell you, our two state budgets are slightly better than last year.
And everyone in this room deserves credit for a job well done. But we have a promise to keep.
On September 18, we asked the people of this state to allow the transfer of 437-million dollars from the Alabama Trust Fund so we can keep Alabamians working and provide essential government services. And they did. The Yes vote by the people allowed us to create a bridge to prop up the lack of funds in the General Fund while we continue to cut costs. We must honor the trust of the people who supported the September 18th Amendment. I said when we passed the amendment that we would pay it back. That's exactly what we are going to do. The first bill delivered to my desk must be one that requires re-payment to Alabama Trust Fund. Send me that bill, and I will sign it. We must keep our word to the people of this state, and we must pay our debts.
When I took the Oath of Office, I swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alabama. I am, and have always been, a strong supporter of the Constitution on which our nation and our states were founded. I believe we are endowed with certain Freedoms by our Creator, and that the Constitution serves to Protect those Freedoms. Freedoms such as those guaranteed in the Second Amendment, which protects the right of the people to keep and bear Arms. The 10th Amendment, which guarantees those powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, or to the people. It is the people who give power to the States. And let us be reminded that as our country was being established, the States created the Federal Government, not the other way around.
I will always firmly uphold these Truths which are self-evident, that all men are created equal. That all are given, by their Creator, the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The most vulnerable, the most helpless, the most abused and the most oppressed. The elderly, the ill -- and especially the unborn -- everyone has been endowed with the Right to a Life. I will do everything as Governor to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and protect our Freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
Never before have Alabama's students had greater access to a quality education from Kindergarten through the 12th grade than they do today. We will continue to fund the Reading Initiative, AMSTI, Distant Learning and Advanced Placement. Each program has shown positive results. But we must give children a chance at success even before they reach Kindergarten. Alabama's Voluntary Pre-K program once again is ranked Number One in the nation by the National Institute for Early Education Research. But Alabama ranks a disappointing 33rd in the nation for Pre-K access. Just 6% of four-year-olds in Alabama are enrolled in First Class Pre-K.
That is why I am asking for increased funding and expansion of voluntary Pre-K programs. Administered by the Office of School Readiness, local, voluntary Pre-K programs may apply for grants but will be required to meet certain criteria. They will also be required to produce real results. We must close the achievement gap. Children and schools must be given every chance to succeed. I truly believe by allowing greater access to a voluntary Pre-K education, we will change the lives of children in Alabama. There are schools in Alabama which are chronically failing, and we must address and turn them around.
If local school boards are not serving the academic needs of our students or being good stewards of tax dollars, the State Department of Education must have the authority to step in and manage the day-to-day operations of that school district. We will take action to change schools that continue to fail because our children deserve better. Principals, teachers, local school boards and the community -- those closest to the students -- ought to be empowered to make decisions that affect students. We will give school districts flexibility without infringing on the rights and responsibilities of our classroom teachers.
No one knows better how to best serve students than the ones who see them and educate them everyday. Next to their family, the most important person in a child's life is their teacher. Last year, I formed a Teacher Cabinet, and I've benefited from spending hours listening to their concerns. Most of the education agenda I've laid out came as a result of their suggestions. Our teachers truly feel called to their profession. They are dedicated to our children. They work hard. And we should thank them everyday for what they do.
I want our teachers and support personnel to know how much we appreciate how hard they work. That is why I am recommending a two-and-a-half percent pay raise for our teachers and for our support personnel. As our economy improves, I expect this increase to be the start of what we hope will be greater and more frequent raises for our teachers.
We also will make sure our teachers -- and students -- are safe and protected. The events in Connecticut of last December, and the events in Alabama just this week, are a grave reminder that protecting our schools, and ensuring the safety of our students, our teachers and our bus drivers should always be a top priority.
I've asked the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to develop a strategic plan for preventing and responding to incidents of active shooters. Through use of training, technology through Virtual Alabama and public engagement, we hope to prevent tragedies from happening. A Homeland Security hotline is now posted on the Governor's Office website. Anyone can call that number and report suspicious activity. Calls are anonymous and are connected to the state's intelligence and information sharing operation.
Our state has made great progress in the last two years. There is so much for which Alabamians can be proud. And many of these milestones would not have been possible without the hard work of the men and women who serve in my Cabinet. They are the ones on the front lines facing the challenges of a difficult budget. They are the ones who must deal with federal mandates. They are the ones providing essential services with fewer resources.
Let me tell you just a few things they've done to save money: By reducing energy costs in all state departments, last year, Alabama taxpayers saved over $4-million dollars. Alabama became the first state to implement an online license and tag verification system. That's expected to save hundreds of thousand of dollars and decrease the number of uninsured motor vehicles on the road. State agencies are switching to paperless methods, saving millions of dollars. Taxpayers saved over $4-million dollars when Alabama became one of the first states to run a successful E-verify System as a governmental agency.
Members of my Cabinet are working to increase Economic Development: Alabama's tourism industry grew last year to a record $10.5 billion dollars. Pent up demand and record sales for Alabama-built vehicles has caused our automobile manufacturers to increase production at Mercedes, Hyundai and Honda.
And here's what they've done to serve our fellow Alabamians and improve our quality of life: We continue the long recovery from the 2011 massive tornadoes. Over 4-thousand Individual Safe Rooms have been approved, and over 200 community safe rooms are being installed. Through the state's first Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, long term health care services are available for the elderly; many are able to receive care at home. Alabama saw its lowest infant mortality rate in history, and the teen birth rate has gone down. We're developing programs in which students with disabilities are able to gain valuable hands-on workplace training, so they can have a good job. A record number of children in foster homes have been adopted into loving, permanent homes.
Since 2011, The Alabama National Guard conducted approximately 55 separate mobilizations for 24-hundred Soldiers and Airmen supporting the war effort. Members also served in the Northeastern US in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And last year, the first female was promoted to Major General in the Alabama National Guard.
These are just some of the many significant accomplishments we've seen in the last two years, thanks to the cooperation and the dedication of the public servants gathered here tonight. I want to ask members of my Cabinet to stand so we can thank you for the job you are doing.
So what is the State of our State? It is good. Good -- because our people are good. Like the people of Dale County who wrapped their loving arms around the family of Charles Poland -- a bus driver who gave his life to save the children. "For greater love has no one than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends."
And like the people of our state and nation who anxiously waited and prayed for the safe return of Ethan to his family. And like our law enforcement men and women who were patient and persistent with their planning for the right outcome. Please join me in thanking them for a job well done.
In Alabama, we are people who work hard; we help our neighbors in time of need and gladly serve our fellow citizens. We also proudly defend our Nation and its Freedoms as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. I want to do everything I can to make the lives of our citizens better, our communities stronger and our children safer.
Fifty years ago, the eyes of the world were on Alabama. Today, let's invite the world to look to Alabama again. And let's show them a state that works together, one that innovates and creates economic opportunity for all its citizens, regardless of color, regardless of gender, and regardless of politics. A place we can all call Sweet Home Alabama.
God Bless you all. And God Bless The Great State of Alabama.