Madam Speaker, Mr. Senate President, Madam Chief Justice, honorable members of the House, Senate and Executive Council, my fellow citizens:
A little more than one year ago, I was honored to assume the privilege and responsibility of serving as Governor of the State of New Hampshire.
Today, I am proud to report that the state of our state is confident, as we address our challenges with cooperation and common sense.
The state of our state is determined, as we focus relentlessly on strengthening and growing New Hampshire's economy and middle class.
And because of the combined efforts of us all - citizens from the North Country to the Seacoast to the Monadnock Region to the Upper Valley -- businesses, non-profits, and community leaders - Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike - the state of our state is strong and growing even stronger.
In contrast to the dysfunction in our nation's capital, in New Hampshire, we have worked together to support middle class families, to help innovative businesses thrive and to grow our economy.
We have demonstrated that the traditions of hard work, collaboration, and bipartisan problem-solving have returned to Concord.
To continue our progress and lay the foundation for a bright future with even stronger economic growth, we must keep working together in the way that the people of New Hampshire expect and demand.
I continue to be inspired by the "all-hands-on-deck" spirit of our people. I see it in Granite Staters who finish a hard day of work and then go help a nonprofit, or coach a youth team, or engage in their school boards and town meetings.
My husband Tom has seen the same spirit at the Tillotson Center in Colebrook, at the Claremont Soup Kitchen, at the New Hampshire Veterans Home, and in every county in the state through his "Help Out New Hampshire" volunteerism tour.
Tom, you are an exceptional First Gentleman and husband.
Your support and the support of our children Ben and Meg, as well as my mother Peggy, means more to me than you will ever know. Thank you for being by my side.
We must also thank the brave men and women of the New Hampshire National Guard, who exemplify the spirit of our people, defending our nation, at home and abroad, and responding to emergencies and disasters. Granite Staters want you to know how grateful we are for your service.
And we know that your service is only possible with the support of others, including your employers but most importantly your families. Thank you as well.
The spirit of our people is also exemplified by the ongoing service and sacrifice of all of our active duty servicemen and women, and our veterans who have made our nation strong. Thank you, and your families, for your unyielding dedication to our freedom.
And let us thank our dedicated state employees, who work day in and day out to serve the people of New Hampshire, solve problems and respond to emergencies. Thank you, to all of our public servants, for all that you to do strengthen our state.
Time and again, the people of New Hampshire have proven their deep commitment to our communities, and over the past year, we worked together to live up to their expectations and values.
With nearly unanimous support from those in this historic chamber, we enacted the most bipartisan budget in more than a decade.
While ensuring fiscal responsibility, we made real progress in building a stronger, more innovative New Hampshire, where our businesses are creating more good jobs that can support a thriving middle class.
New Hampshire remains one of the safest, healthiest and most livable states in the nation - and the best place to raise a family.
Our private sector is creating jobs and our housing market is steadily improving with foreclosures at the lowest rates since 2007 and home prices rising.
And state revenues have outpaced projections, indicating a recovering economy.
Our state is well positioned to lead the country in innovative economic growth that will lift all of our people, families and businesses.
Capturing that bright tomorrow, however, requires hard work from all of us today.
We face long-standing challenges - from education to infrastructure to energy to health care.
How we come together to address these challenges and position our state for long-lasting prosperity will determine whether we will continue to lead the nation.
We have shown in the last year that we can work across party lines to make progress, just as the people of New Hampshire work through problems every day.
The great Robert Frost once wrote "the best way out is always through."
We are out from under the greatest burdens of the recession. Now, we must keep our state and our economy moving forward, and for New Hampshire, the best way forward is always through.
There is bipartisan understanding of what our most pressing challenges are. And with that as a foundation, we can work our way through, together, to reach solutions.
It won't be without disagreement and debate - those are essential ingredients of a democracy.
But with open minds, open hearts and common purpose, we can work our way through to compromise, and through compromise to progress for our economy and our people.
That starts with advancing the priorities that support innovative economic growth and help businesses create good jobs, the kind of jobs that will strengthen and grow our middle class.
New Hampshire is home to many, many companies doing innovative work and creating jobs. Next Step Bionics and Prosthetics in Manchester has turned a former textile mill into a state-of-the-art facility developing new technologies for people who have lost limbs.
Next Step is creating jobs, developing cutting-edge technology - and changing lives. More than anything else, what business leaders like Matt Albuquerque at Next Step tell me they need is a workforce with the skills and critical thinking needed for success in 21st century jobs.
To build an even stronger workforce, we must keep more of our young people here in New Hampshire.
We took an important step in that effort working together through the budget. We restored higher education funding and made it possible for our universities and community colleges to freeze in-state tuition.
New Hampshire's public schools are often ranked among the nation's best in graduation rates, in reading proficiency and in math proficiency.
And many of our schools are innovating and working to find better ways to educate our students. Pittsfield Middle High School, for example, has brought businesses, parents and the entire community together to develop a student-centered learning program.
Educators are working collaboratively with students to identify what they need to learn and what they are having trouble learning. Then together they build plans, including opportunities outside the classroom, that help each student thrive.
Pittsfield students are seeing the results in their test scores, with the number of 11th-graders testing proficient in math nearly doubling since the program began. Pittsfield is seeing improvements because they were willing to look at education differently.
And that is what we need to do across our state. We may be doing better than most states, but we have heard from our businesses that we still have work to do to ensure that we have a workforce that can compete in the future.
That is why, across New Hampshire, local school districts are pursuing college- and career-readiness standards that include the Common Core, an effort that has the support of educators and businesses, of Republicans and Democrats.
States came together to develop these robust standards in order to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so that they can develop the skills they need and the ability to think critically - helping our young people succeed in their careers, in higher education and in life.
Local school districts continue to have the flexibility to determine whether and how to implement these standards -- and they should be implemented.
For our students to succeed, we must work together to ensure that communities are able to implement college- and career-readiness standards effectively, through collaboration with parents, students and educators.
These standards are an important step forward, but we must build upon them and make sure that students have access to a strong curriculum in a full range of subjects, from English - to math - to the arts.
And to help young people fill the jobs that growing businesses are creating here in New Hampshire, we need to come together as a state to ask tough questions about how we can best educate our young people, especially in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Is it acceptable in today's economy to only require two years of math from our high school students? Should we be requiring computer science as well as biology? How can we better integrate engineering and technology into our classrooms?
For New Hampshire to lead the way in building a workforce that is prepared for the high-tech jobs of today and tomorrow, our schools need to provide an even more rigorous STEM education that our businesses believe in, our educators believe in, and our students and families believe in.
That is why I will be creating a STEM Education Task Force made up of diverse stakeholders who will make recommendations for modernizing STEM education in our schools.
Strengthening education in the STEM fields is just one part of the equation. New Hampshire's high-tech and advanced manufacturing companies are struggling to fill job openings, even for jobs with wages over 25 percent higher than average.
We need to reach our students at a young age and help them understand that they can stay in New Hampshire, find jobs here that are interesting and exciting, and build careers that will allow them to support their families and climb the ladder of opportunity.
Building on the work being done by our Advanced Manufacturing Education Advisory Council and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, I have asked Commissioner Jeff Rose and the Department of Resources and Economic Development to lead a new effort this year to partner manufacturing companies directly with classes at local schools, building relationships that can lead to a stronger workforce pipeline.
In addition to a strong workforce, job-creating businesses need to know that New Hampshire's small, accessible and nimble government will continue to be responsive to their needs.
With bipartisan support, we increased funding for travel and tourism promotion, we put in place our first permanent director of economic development since 2008, we modernized our corporations act, and we doubled and made permanent our research and development tax credit.
We also increased international trade assistance to help businesses market and sell their products around the globe. Through November, our business exports rose 22 percent in 2013, making New Hampshire the fastest-growing state in the nation for exports.
For New Hampshire's economy to keep moving forward, we need to continue supporting common-sense measures that will help our businesses compete and thrive.
Employers and workers have done their part to increase workplace safety, but medical costs are sending workers compensation payments soaring higher than what they would be through the health insurance system. It is an issue that I have heard raised by employers across the state.
The House just passed legislation creating a commission to recommend changes in this system. We must come together to reform workers compensation so that our businesses can re-invest these dollars in growing their companies and creating new jobs.
A growing economy also depends on growing small businesses, the engines of job creation in communities across New Hampshire. To expand and hire, our small businesses need access to capital investment and support from financial partners.
And so this year, we will hold a finance summit to help introduce lending organizations and financing partners to businesses, large and small, who are striving to expand.
We also must continue efforts to strengthen fiscal responsibility by innovating in the way state government provides services in order to improve efficiency and protect taxpayer dollars.
We're bringing best practices from across the state to the table through our Innovation, Efficiency and Transparency Commission. And through the continued dedication and creativity of our department heads and state employees, we're working to prioritize and improve the state's focus on customer service.
That includes building on efforts like our Business One Stop, which makes it possible for businesses to more easily learn what they need to do to start or expand in New Hampshire.
We are investing in the technology to launch the next phase of this project, and I will soon be issuing an Executive Order directing state agencies to move all possible business-related forms online by the end of the biennium.
As we enhance efficiency and innovation in state government, we also should recognize the contributions of our most upstanding corporate citizens, who year after year meet regulations and follow the law.
To support these companies, I have directed state agencies to explore the creation of a new Gold Standard program that will ease regulatory hurdles and highlight businesses with exemplary track records. That will help these companies focus even more intently on the growth and job creation our economy needs.
Taking action to grow our economy also requires that we acknowledge what is happening around us. Soon, our state will begin to lose 75 million dollars per year to new casinos right across our border in Massachusetts.
Developing New Hampshire's own plan for one high-end destination casino will create jobs, boost our economy, and generate revenue to invest in critical priorities.
I know that during this debate last year, some members of the House expressed concerns about the state's ability to effectively regulate a casino.
Responding to these concerns, Representative Ames and the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority brought in experts from across the country.
For months, they worked hard to develop thoughtful recommendations for how to best oversee and move forward with one highly regulated destination casino in New Hampshire.
I encourage all legislators to fully consider the Authority's carefully developed, bipartisan recommendations, recognize that we can do this in a way that works for our state, and vote in favor of authorizing a casino.
Instead of funding Massachusetts' needs, let's take this opportunity to invest in New Hampshire's priorities and help grow New Hampshire's economy.
Truly accelerating our economic growth will only be possible when working families and individuals are confident in their own financial circumstances and able to purchase more goods and services.
We must restore and increase New Hampshire's minimum wage.
I thank Representative Sally Kelly for taking on this issue, and I encourage the business community to work closely with the Legislature to identify the most appropriate level for our state's minimum wage.
Because restoring and increasing this important protection will help our economy by putting more money in the pockets of hard-working people of all ages.
We must also renew our commitment to a fundamental principle: an equal day's work deserves an equal day's pay.
Well over half of the women working in today's economy are either the primary or co-breadwinners in their families. And yet, women in New Hampshire, who are working full-time jobs, earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Nationally, studies have found that a pay gap exists between men and women in nearly every occupation.
Senator Larsen has introduced legislation that will improve the financial security of working families by helping all of our workers access appropriate resources to help them earn a fair and equal paycheck, without fear of retaliation.
I ask the legislature to strengthen our economy and our middle class by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Keeping New Hampshire's economy moving forward will also require us to work through a pressing challenge that has been neglected for far too long: our aging transportation infrastructure.
In the last year, we have been able to make progress to improve the roads and bridges that our people and businesses rely on, opening the new Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, continuing the widening of I-93 and adding open-road tolling in Hooksett that is making for swifter travel for commuters, tourists and businesses.
However, every year an additional 50 miles of state-maintained roads are slipping from "Fair" to "Poor" condition. The number of "Red List" bridges -- already at 145 -- continues to grow.
When the project to widen I-93 was first proposed, it was projected to cost about 40 million dollars. Nearly 30 years later, the construction costs are 585 million dollars, and we need 250 million to complete the expansion.
We know that a solid, modern transportation infrastructure is the foundation for long-term economic growth, and I appreciate that there is broad agreement in the legislature about the need to strengthen investment in our roads and bridges.
Thank you to Senator Rausch for leading efforts to take an important step toward addressing our transportation needs. I know that we can come together and work through this challenge. We can reach a consensus solution to renew our investment in safe and modern roads and bridges.
A modern economy's infrastructure must also include broadband, especially if our rural communities are to compete.
Through Network New Hampshire Now, public agencies, private groups and the telecommunications industry came together and helped expand critical broadband access to unserved and underserved areas of our state, reaching into every county. We must keep working together and support ongoing efforts to extend broadband down the last miles to every business, home and community.
Businesses, families and seniors also need reliable - and affordable - energy to continue to grow and prosper. We must increase the focus on conservation and energy efficiency to protect our natural resources and lower costs. And we must work to diversify our energy sources so we are not disproportionally reliant on any one source.
Over the course of this year, stakeholders throughout the state will be working to develop a long-term energy strategy for New Hampshire that will help reduce energy costs, create jobs and improve reliability and diversity.
I encourage businesses, workers, communities and individuals from across the state to fully participate in this process.
As we develop our long-term plan, though, we must take additional steps to reduce energy costs. While a domestic energy boom is making fuels like natural gas as plentiful as ever, New England still suffers from being at the end of the pipeline. Expanding natural gas pipeline capacity for our region is one way to reduce energy costs in New Hampshire.
That is why I have joined with my fellow New England governors in an energy infrastructure collaboration that prioritizes natural gas capacity and ensures that we are able to protect New Hampshire's interests as both transmission and pipeline projects are pursued throughout the region.
This effort has already made progress, and the regional grid operator, along with our utilities and pipeline owners, are working on how to put additional natural gas in our region as quickly as possible.
By working together, we can take steps to build a stronger, more affordable energy future, and we can do it without sacrificing the scenic views and beautiful natural resources that drive our economy and define us as a place and as a people.
Our pressing challenges go beyond energy costs, and right now, we have an opportunity to work through another long-standing issue - healthcare costs and access.
New Hampshire has already demonstrated that we can improve health care programs in a cost-effective way through the successful launch of our bipartisan Medicaid managed care program.
Thanks to the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services, our Managed Care Commission, members of the legislature, and partners in our communities, the program is now up and running and is saving taxpayer dollars.
And, just a short while ago, Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate announced that they have agreed to the framework of a workable, realistic plan to extend health care coverage to more than 50,000 hard-working Granite Staters.
These are real people and families who we all agree deserve the security of health insurance.
They are our restaurant employees, healthcare workers, construction workers, retail clerks.
They work in our schools and local grocery stores. People who struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table while earning less than $16,000 a year.
And because their jobs don't provide insurance, when they need health care, they are forced to go to the emergency room, and those costs are shifted to all of our people and businesses.
Moving forward with health care expansion is supported by hospitals, providers, businesses, and the people of New Hampshire.
With today's positive step forward, it's clear that we can work through this together and help working people access critical health coverage. I thank members of both parties, from both the House and the Senate, for their steadfast commitment to reaching a compromise. Now, let's get this done.
Capturing these federal funds will also advance our ongoing efforts to support those with mental illness by providing mental health coverage to tens of thousands.
We recognized over the last year that we needed to act quickly to improve our mental health system. We have added beds in our state hospital - and we may need to add additional short-term capacity.
However, people with mental illness are our friends, our family members, our neighbors who are simply in need of appropriate care, and they must be able to access that care before they reach the point of crisis.
This is a challenge facing our health care providers, police officers, and communities across the state, and the solutions must be pursued at the community level. That is the work we began with our bipartisan budget, as we came together to strengthen community-based mental health services.
That commitment, in turn, brought parties to the table and led to a landmark mental health settlement between the state, the federal government, and New Hampshire residents with mental illness. The settlement agreement further enhances community-based mental health services and increases crisis-support services, helping to address the trend of acute mental health cases at our hospitals' emergency rooms.
It also ensures that we can continue addressing our mental health challenges in a fiscally responsible way that protects the state's budget and ensures that New Hampshire citizens are driving improvements in our mental health system - not federal judges.
The House will introduce legislation that reflects the settlement agreement, and I encourage the full legislature to pass this bill and reinforce our commitment to a revitalized community-based mental health system.
But we must also work to fully integrate these community-based services into our larger health care system, and we need our communities, our hospitals and our health care providers to remain full partners in this effort.
We should take care not to build a separate but equal system. We need to work toward a system where all providers have the training, capacity and expertise to effectively treat those with mental illness, just as they treat others with chronic conditions. For those with mental health needs and for all patients, providers need to offer the right care, at the right time, in the right place.
Just as expanding Medicaid will strengthen mental health care, it will bring another important benefit by providing critical coverage for treatment for substance and alcohol abuse.
Rising rates of substance abuse are straining our families, hurting the productivity of our workers and undermining the safety of our communities.
New Hampshire has among the highest rates in the country of drug and alcohol abuse and dependence, but ranks at the bottom in accessing treatment. Heroin use is on the rise statewide, as the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in 2012, and prescription drug abuse remains high.
We have received an important federal grant that will help us take a critical step in reducing prescription drug abuse by finally funding our prescription drug monitoring program.
But we must focus on improving access to treatment for all substances, especially among our young people.
Legalizing marijuana won't help us address our substance use challenge. Experience and data suggests it will do just the opposite.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Our state already has one of the highest rates of marijuana use by young people in the country, and marijuana has real, negative health effects, especially on adolescents.
The evidence suggests that legalizing marijuana will increase the number of minors who use this drug, will make our workforce less productive and our roads less safe, and will undermine public health.
However, we do need to thoughtfully consider our current policies toward substance abuse to refocus on treatment. I do not believe that a young person with a substance problem should end up in jail, prison or with a criminal record on their first offense. That is why I would support a comprehensive review of our criminal code and our sentences to consider alternative options that will focus on treatment first.
Expanding Medicaid will support this treatment-first approach by providing thousands of people with substance and alcohol treatment coverage for the first time, improving lives while strengthening our economy and public safety.
And maintaining New Hampshire's distinction as one of the safest states in the nation is our most important responsibility. Together, we recognized this responsibility in our bipartisan budget, which put more State Troopers on the roads, maintained drug task force teams, and invested in school safety.
We've also launched an innovative partnership with the Media Power Youth program to help reduce and prevent youth violence. This evidence-based approach helps parents, educators and young people understand media's role in influencing behavior - and the initiative has already received tremendous response in communities throughout the state. And together, we recognized the need to help our most at-risk young people by restoring the Children In Need of Services program.
But we know that our work is never complete, that we can always make our communities safer and stronger.
One pressing public safety issue is the fact that New Hampshire does not provide the current background check system with information about individuals who should not be sold a firearm due to serious mental illness - even though that information is supposed to be included under federal law.
I understand that some oppose changes to this system because they have concerns about the impact on 2nd amendment rights, and some because they fear such changes would stigmatize those with mental illness.
Senator Watters has led efforts to address this challenge in a thoughtful way, leading toward a measure to study the issue and make recommendations for further legislation. I encourage both the Senate and House to pass this bill, and I encourage those who have initially opposed the measure to be willing to re-evaluate their positions and to help find a way through this issue, together.
Senator Soucy has also introduced a measure that would strengthen the safety of our families and communities by establishing a crime of domestic violence. This common-sense measure will help law enforcement and prosecutors better identify and stop repeat abusers.
This effort is spurred in part by the tragic murder of 9-year-old Joshua Savyon at the Manchester YWCA. Joshua's mother Becky Ranes is here with us today.
Becky, none of us can grasp the pain you bear every day, but we are all inspired by your courage in sharing your story and advocating for this bill that will help countless families and communities. Your strength gives us all strength, and your efforts will make us all safer.
I ask the legislature to heed Becky's call and pass this bill, pass "Joshua's Law," in memory of her beautiful son.
Each step we take together to improve our communities and allow all of our people to succeed helps set the foundation for a stronger economic future.
Many of our challenges will require tough choices and even tougher votes. There will be times when reaching consensus seems impossible, when debates and arguments may get heated.
But what matters - to our economy, to our businesses, to the people of our state - is what we do after we argue. Building on our progress and accelerating our economic recovery will require us to set aside preconceived notions. We will need to be rigorous in examining our own long-held positions. We will have to work to identify our common ground - and then seize upon it.
I like to say that, in New Hampshire, we do democracy better than anyplace else. In the past year, we have proven this to be true despite our status as one of the few states with a legislature split between the parties.
Unlike Washington, we have shown time and again that we are capable of engaging with each other, putting arguments aside and coming together to solve problems, leading to progress for our businesses and families.
We must continue to prove the strength of our democracy by working through our challenges together. With vigor, but with constant attention to our shared purpose and vision.
Because, for the State of New Hampshire, the best way forward is always through.