Thank you for the warm welcome. Thank you all. I want to acknowledge the many, many partners who are here today who have worked with us on issues of early education and on issues of making the Commonwealth better. I particularly want to acknowledge Commissioner Weber, who is here. Commissioner, thank you for your service. (Applause) I'm glad there's passion in this room; we're going to need it.
As you all know, in January, I proposed a budget that was about improving the future of the Commonwealth by investing in strategies that worked. Right? That worked. Things we know make a difference. It was about growing jobs and opportunity in every corner of the Commonwealth and about meeting our generational responsibility. It was a data-driven plan based on studies, based on experience, based on what you and many, many others have told us actually works in classrooms. Imagine that. (Laughter) Imagine that.
My plan fully funds early education in this state. Why? Because you said it was important. As I said, we know from academic research, from years of public policy and from our own experience as parents that investing in our children at a young age pays huge dividends for them and for our communities as a whole. To those who say we can't afford them, I keep asking, show me the 3- or 4-year old we are saying, "wait until we get around to you."
The fact is we've been working on education reform in Massachusetts for a very, very long time. The ideas, in many respects, are not new. As I said, we know what works. And now is the time to move forward on a path, to do far more of what has worked so well for so many students and to fulfill the promise of a great education for every child in the Commonwealth, not just most children in the Commonwealth.
Business leaders, teachers and academic leaders, parents and many of you have called for just such investments for many decades.
Eighty-five members of the House signed a letter supporting more funding for early education. Business leaders from across industries have written to make the economic and the moral case for new funding for early education.
But I have to acknowledge, even some of you in this room have not been supportive of the budget proposal that we have made. Some of you have come to conferences like this and then worked other channels in the legislature. Yes, it happens. And I think we're going to have to start facing that fact. Investing is a choice. Growing our future is a choice. And we can leave that future to chance -- that's a choice, too -- or we can decide, in fact, affirmatively and intentionally to build it. I've been at this job for six years; I'm not naïve anymore. (Laughter) I value -- indeed, treasure -- the working relationship I have with the Speaker and the Senate President and many, many members. I appreciate that all of you and others come and present to me what I describe as your standard list of non-negotiable demands. I enjoy the back and forth and give and take.
And I am proud of the problem-solving that we and the Legislature and you and many others have done together through the worst economy in living memory. The fact that we are number one in student achievement, number one in health care coverage, number one in veterans' services, number one in energy efficiency, number one in the country in economic competitiveness and in entrepreneurialism, the fact that we have come out of recession faster than most other states, that in January the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that we had gained back all of the jobs we had lost during the recession, the fact that our unemployment rate is coming down, the fact that people are investing again and hopeful again about our future, these things didn't happen by accident. They happened because we turned to each other instead of on each other.
And we decided that we were going to shape our own future, which is exactly what Americans and the people of Massachusetts historically have done. When we said education was important in this country, we invented public schools, and land-grant colleges. When we decided that selling the West was important, we built the transcontinental railroad. When we decided freedom was important -- really important, not a rhetorical point -- we freed the slaves. We gave women the right to vote. We started down and have continued down a path around lifting people up and acknowledging human dignity . We shape our own future.
I have come to conference after conference after conference about the importance of early education. Conference after conference. And then we do what we always do, which is try to figure out how to get more blood from that stone. Six thousand positions have been eliminated from state government. We have closed some $22 billion of budget gaps, most of that in cuts to services. And we have done our very, very best to do right by our children, even during the worst of a downturn.
And now I have done what I thought was demanded of leadership, which is to look out beyond the horizon and try to make a decision which is about the next generation and not just the next election cycle. (Cheers and applause) And if your applause means you agree with that kind of leadership, then you have to speak up.
These are hard decisions. Hard decisions. There's nothing simple or easy about them from either a policy or a political point of view. I completely get that. But if our legislators, on the House and the Senate side, and the legislative leadership are to feel that it is now to take those hard decisions, you have to speak up. You have to speak up.
The legislative leadership has made a proposal. We saw all of us just this Tuesday, which is focused on transportation. But please be clear: that is a one-time tax vote. And after that vote, there will be no other occasion -- in this budget cycle, and I suspect for a long time -- when a tax vote will be before the Legislature for the things you and I care about and are talking about today.
These things are connected. They're connected. And so when you see some energy around -- from me -- around the legislative leadership's proposal around transportation, please my just being disappointed that we don't have a billion dollars for trains and planes and automobiles versus the $500 million that they're proposing. My issue is that we are going to have a vote next week about the resources that matter to you, too. And more to the point are we going to be about real, long-term fixes, and improvements, and strengthening for our Commonwealth, or are we going to be, once again, about gestures, that actually don't fix any of our needs.
You know, I had a different kind of speech when I came in. (Laughter) But I kind of feel like we ought to be real with each other. We ought to talk, really, about what's at stake. And more to the point, you have to engage. Do it respectfully. No need to get in people's faces, like you do with me. (Laughter) But this is serious. This isn't the chess game of politics. This isn't the he-said, she-said, this one's going to win. This isn't about me. This isn't about any of us, personally. It's about whether we really mean to have a better, stronger commonwealth for a generation to come. Now is the time. Step up. Thank you.