STATE OF THE STATE
Thank you Mr. Lieutenant Governor. As always I appreciate your introduction, but more importantly, I am thankful for your support and friendship over these last seven years. Governor, you and Speaker Gunn have and continue to be exceptional leaders. I can only hope history will properly record your collective achievements for the people of Mississippi. I expect the members of each chamber will join me tonight in thanking you for your dedication and service.
For the past seven years, another leader has sat upon this stage and endured one grand speech after another—a leader who exemplifies what it means to work not in ambition or conceit, but in humility and service. In the many days between each of these annual addresses, she has gone about her remarkable work being Mississippi’s First Lady: visiting the children of Blair Batson and working to build the most frail among them a forever home; reading to students in each and every county in the state and embracing them all.
She has welcomed countless visitors to Mississippi’s historic Governor’s Mansion while directing its renovation and recovery from decades of erosion and decay. She has comforted storm survivors and has helped rebuild their homes. Many responsibilities fell upon her heart seven years ago. She has accepted them all with grace and the loving spirit of one who knows her Christian duty, to treat each person she meets with the dignity endowed upon them by their Creator. Her acts have not been completed for compensation, but rather given with a heart of love. She has been a caring mother and now a joyous grandmother, and for 42 years I have had the honor and privilege of having her as my First Lady. I am so very thankful for all she has done for Mississippi. Ladies and gentlemen, the First Lady of Mississippi, Deborah Bryant.
Seven years ago, I stood before this joint session in unrestrained optimism for our state. I proposed that night we set aside our petty political differences and work for the good of all Mississippians. In doing so I believed we could then dedicate ourselves to the proposition that we fail separately, but collectively we can accomplish great things. I proposed that night we all Rise Together.
Tonight, we can reflect on that theme as more than just a hopeful phrase or a wishful possibility. I assure you it was not used simply for effect but for purpose. I purposely called on each of you, and indeed all Mississippians, to join this administration not for merely another term of office, but an amazing journey. One that would see dramatic improvements in the lives of Mississippians and the national status of our beloved state among those of this united Republic.
The question of the ages for Mississippi has been and must continue to be ever simple but profound—can we here, in this our Beulah Land, possibly Rise Together? Can a land woven within the depths of tremendous suffering and sorrow be propelled to soaring heights by the world’s great writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs and indeed chart a path to a new tomorrow? A tomorrow that forever casts aside our past of failure and self-doubt to instead accept the crown of achievement? A tomorrow where the world understands a place like Mississippi is a land of promise and possibility for all its people?
My fellow Mississippians, I am pleased to say we have disappointed the doubters. Together, we have proven that Mississippi can harness our inherent goodness to achieve greatness. Tonight, allow me to show you how we are truly becoming the Great State of Mississippi.
First, we have embraced the idea that effective public education is the most certain way to see a collective and universal improvement in the lives of all Mississippians. For every single year before our work began in 2012, the children of this state had suffered from an all-too-often failing educational system. Now let me be clear, our schools did not falter or fail from lack of teacher dedication. No one throughout our state’s history has sacrificed more to better the lives of Mississippi children than our teachers. That includes, I would suggest, all of the officials who have served in either the House, Senate, or Governor’s Office. Of all the educational reforms proposed by politicians and all the public posturing by those wanting to be the education champion, none has done more than the teachers. They alone have been there in the classroom, often challenged and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond their control, teaching still, inspiring still, and leading children to rise together.
Our gratitude to these classroom heroes and the essential value of public education are why we passed a $100 million teacher pay raise in 2014 and why I now call on the members of this body to join me in giving teachers their second pay raise in five years. Send me a bill to authorize a pay raise for these most critical guardians of Mississippi’s future, and I will sign it.
At the beginning of this administration, we knew equipping teachers with outstanding training would create historic results for students. That is why we have supported teachers to achieve National Board Certification. We now have nearly 4,200 National Board Certified Teachers, who earn an additional $6,000 per year as a result of this certification. Our support has placed Mississippi fourth in the nation for the number of National Board Certified Teachers.
I am prouder still of the exceptional work of Mississippi’s students. For too long, too many people assumed our students were just not destined for success – that they could not or would not achieve. But we knew better. We understood the innate ability of all children to learn and grow and unlock their own potential if only given the opportunity.
We also knew literacy to be the foundation of success. That is why we worked so hard together to pass the Literacy Based Promotion Act in 2013. The concept of the bill was basic but revolutionary. It required reading proficiency by the third grade in order to ensure the opportunity for continued learning and achievement both in the classroom and in life beyond the schoolhouse door. My fellow Mississippians, the numbers show us the policy is working—and to great effect. In 2011, only 54 percent of Mississippi third graders were reading with proficiency. With the implementation of the third grade literacy policy, we have dramatically improved student opportunity and thus the future of our state. In the last testing cycle, 93 percent of Mississippi’s third graders were reading proficiently. I believe that time and results will record your passage of this act as the single most successful reform to public education in Mississippi history.
Further testament to the effectiveness of this policy is displayed by Mississippi’s third and fourth grade students who are performing so well we are now second in the nation for reading improvement.
Older students are also improving their performance and are becoming better prepared to enter the workforce or further their education. As National Chairman of Jobs for America’s Graduates, I saw not just Mississippi but an entire nation struggling with high school dropout rates. When we first met here in 2012, our graduation rate was 75 percent. Today, 83 percent of our high school students are graduating–the highest percentage in Mississippi history.
Moreover, our work in education hasn’t been limited to K-12 classrooms. Early childhood learning in Mississippi is becoming a national model. The majority of children across this state are in childcare, and for far too long there was little improvement in educating our youngest children. Each year, Mississippi spends $98 million on federally funded daycare to, all too often, simply house these children. The absence of any learning component in most of these childcare centers, especially in low-income communities, was unacceptable. Following the passage of the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, we put the State Early Childhood Advisory Council to work. We implemented high quality standards for early education. We expanded on the good work of Mississippi Building Blocks and began to instruct childcare workers on a basic curriculum that was compatible with early childhood learning programs across the state.
Today, community colleges throughout Mississippi are teaching child care workers, at no cost to the centers, a curriculum that was designed to support the skills young children need when entering kindergarten. This concept will ensure children begin to learn very early in life when their capacity to process information is at its greatest. We all realize that children learn early and retain those lessons and skills throughout their lives. Now Mississippi’s youngest students will be better prepared for school and successful careers by learning the soft skills necessary for any vocation. Mississippi’s workforce of tomorrow is in daycare today. Together, we can help them become the best in America.
By 2015, Mississippi was going a step further in helping to restore and support the entire family. Implementing a holistic system to provide more than just early learning, we began to interview parents of children in publicly-funded day care programs in order to match families with other needed services like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. We also began to offer additional education and workforce training opportunities for parents. This Families First platform has become a model of success for thousands of Mississippians and one that is being emulated all across America.
There is little doubt that our education system is far better than it has ever been and headed in the right direction. We now have a more robust system of education opportunities for all Mississippi children including: public charter schools, dyslexia management programs, advanced distance learning, and now even a special needs scholarship program serving the most vulnerable of our children. I thank you for making that possible and challenge each member of this body to continue to support policies that will help us keep all our children rising together.
Unfortunately, a problem exists in our schools today that threatens children of all ages. It has become commonly known as the active shooter. Our schools, which once were a haven of security, have become a place of potential violence. To help protect our students and those who teach them, I will ask you to pass a comprehensive plan to keep our school children safe. The recommendations come from a year-long study for effective results. If you will pass and fund the Mississippi Safe School Act, our parents, teachers and administrators will be allowed to care for our children in a safe and protected environment.
Since 2012 when this administration began, thousands of Mississippi’s high school graduates had begun college and left without completing their degrees. The challenges of life caused these students to leave higher education before receiving their diploma. In 2017, with the help of our community colleges and universities, we launched Complete to Compete. This innovative program encourages students to return to higher education and complete their college degrees. Thus far, more than 13,000 former students have responded, and almost 1,600 have returned to college to complete what they started.
With us in the gallery tonight is one of many completers. A husband and a father of three who took up the call and has earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Mississippi State University. He is the Director of Transportation for the Starkville Oktibbeha School District. Please help me welcome Mr. Kelvin Gibson.
Of course, the ultimate goal of these education reforms is to nurture prosperity in generations of young Mississippians. A wise man once said that, “the best social program is a job.” The simple dignity of work is transformational, and I have long proposed that a good job for all Mississippians would become a signpost to success. For that reason, we have assisted the private sector in creating more jobs in a shorter period of time than any in our state’s history.
In January of 2012, our state’s unemployment rate was 9.4 percent. In 2017, we broke a record by dropping below 5 percent to the lowest unemployment number ever recorded. Today, it is 4.7 percent.
The better news is the unemployment rate has been at or below 4.8 percent for 12 months in a row, and real median household income has risen by 8.4 percent since 2011. And just in case you’re not tired of winning yet, we have 80,000 more Mississippians working today than the day I took office.
Our success in growing the economy is demanding that our focus on workforce be sharpened like never before. Workforce development must be and has now become our highest priority. Dr. Laurie Smith, who has spearheaded most of the early learning innovations in our state, has now, along with Dr. Andrea Mayfield, Executive Director of our Community College Board, begun to transform our workforce development efforts. Under their leadership, Mississippi was first in the nation to have a Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Our plan utilizes every community college as a Workforce Center of Excellence. Apprenticeship programs couple students with private companies to help them launch careers in targeted industries in their communities. These partnerships are keeping Mississippi industries like auto, aerospace, the furniture industry, medicine, and shipbuilding strong. Younger workers are growing where they are planted and living the American Dream right here in their own back yards. These young workers have more opportunity than ever before now. Today, in Mississippi we have over 44,000 job openings just waiting to be filled.
The opportunities created by our economic developers in Mississippi are impossible to describe in the limited time I have with you tonight. The work of the Mississippi Development Authority, with your help and support, has been nothing short of unprecedented. In the past seven years, your MDA team has competed with the nation and the world, and more often than not we have won.
Your support in job creation and business expansion has been fruitful and has a clear and definable return on investment. In the past seven years, MDA has helped create 35,000 new jobs and attracted more than $7 billion of private investment to Mississippi. Ladies and gentlemen, help me thank the architect of Mississippi’s marketing and recruitment success, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority, Mr. Glenn McCullough.
Once again, the constraint of time will not allow me to provide the extensive list of companies and corporations that have chosen Mississippi as their home or the number of local companies that have expanded. However, please allow me to remind you of some of the most recent.
As we gather here tonight, Continental Tire Corporation continues to construct the largest plant in their universe right here in Hinds County. At its completion, this plant will employ twenty-five hundred Mississippians, with a corporate investment of $1.45 billion dollars.
And, as you also know by now, Amazon will open its new goods fulfillment center in Marshall County and employ 850 Mississippians. This innovative company has changed the way the world shops, and its fulfillment center could have gone anywhere in America. I am proud to say Amazon chose Mississippi. Tonight we have with us in the gallery, Amazon’s Manager of Economic Development, Mr. Will Cowsert.
I have assured presidents and prime ministers and chief executive officers that Mississippi works and they have listened. From Tel Aviv to Tokyo, we have traveled the globe seeking investment in Mississippi, and our efforts are paying dividends. More than 155 international corporations now have a presence in our state.
Our exports have increased by more than 259 percent in the last decade, and over the last several years we have shown world leaders that Mississippi is more than just a river. The results of these missions produce foreign direct investment and build international business relationships, allowing Mississippi to be a part of the global market. With your support we have shown the entire world that Mississippi works.
From the outset, this administration identified the value of healthcare for the wellbeing of Mississippians as well as our economy, and our effort to identify healthcare as an economic driver continues. Understanding that access to care must be the beginning of any good healthcare plan. Embracing the fact that a doctor generates a $2 million economic impact to the community, we endeavored to increase the number of physicians in our state. That is why we have put $12 million into badly needed primary care in the most medically underserved areas in our state with Rural Physician Scholarships. This has placed 33 practicing physicians in rural Mississippi, and that number will nearly double by 2020.
By 2013, the need for an updated, expanded medical school was obvious. With your help, the University of Mississippi Medical Center opened a new state-of-the art medical school, increasing each graduating class to 165 physicians. This expanded campus anchors a growing medical corridor that stretches from the Jackson Medical Mall to Rankin County, and it is my hope that medical innovation within the corridor will continue to flourish now and for generations to come.
In the piney woods of Harrison County, another medical community is emerging. It now includes a new William Carey University pharmacy school and a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College nursing and simulation center. The presence of a National Obesity and Diabetes Research Center in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic is also a testament to our collective determination in making Mississippi’s own medical city.
The visionary who has invested much of his personal and corporate achievement into this growing medical city at Tradition is with us tonight. His father was a Biloxi physician, and he has returned to help build this medical miracle in Harrison County. Please welcome with me one of America’s great entrepreneurs, Mr. Joe Canizaro.
As I reflect on where we have dedicated our time and resources, I am happy to remind Mississippians the state of our state is financially sound and better than we could have ever imagined. State revenues are reflective of an economy that is gaining and expanding. Adhering to conservative budgeting principles, we have reserved nearly $350 million in rainy day savings. Revenue collections have already exceeded estimates by $90 million and corporate income tax is out-performing year-to-date estimates by nearly 16 percent.
You will also be encouraged to know we have dramatically cut the cost of government by reducing the number of state employees in the last seven years by nearly 5,000. This effort has resulted in a savings of more than $64 million for the taxpayers of Mississippi.
The 2018 special legislative session was the most successful in modern history. A state investment of more than $1 billion over the next five years will fund infrastructure improvements around the state, and a $38 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help complete previously unfunded projects in Desoto and Neshoba counties. Thanks to your actions, $50 million appropriated for local bridge repair is available to counties across the state. This Legislature has given them what they need to replace and repair bridges today and has established a funding mechanism to do so into tomorrow.
I am proud to announce tonight that, along with our other 14 ports, the Mississippi State Port at Gulfport is finally complete. This $570 million recovery project was the largest and most complex recovery challenge remaining from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and it is now open for business.
Last year marked Mississippi’s 200th year of statehood in this great Nation. We celebrated with vibrant local festivities and hundreds of events but also with the profoundly important opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History. Within these buildings lies the story of our state’s rich, and at times dark history, there for us all to examine with clear eyes and hearts turned, full of hope, towards our future. Already more than 250,000 visitors have come to see and learn the true story of Mississippi. Our creativity and our strength; our sorrows and our joys; our richness and our perseverance are there for the world to see. But on this occasion, Mississippi would tell our own story.
The young lady who has been the driving force behind these outstanding achievements is with us tonight. She has been a tireless advocate of the two museums and of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Her passion for preservation and for Mississippi set her apart, and we are so very grateful for her efforts. Ladies and gentlemen, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mrs. Katie Blount.
Mississippi is recognized the world-over as the birth place of America’s Music, from the Grammy Museum to the MAX in Meridian, we continue to showcase the rich history of the Arts in Mississippi. In 2014, we celebrated a year-long recognition of our artists by declaring it as The Year of the Creative Economy. From the birthplace of the King of Rock-n-Roll in Tupelo to the final resting place of the King of the Blues in Indianola, we placed our marker at the center point of America’s music. Your dedication to the arts and entertainment in Mississippi helped draw more than 24 million visitors and brought in more than $6.5 billion in the last year alone.
Seven years of work and dedication, and the resulting successes, are behind us, but our work is far from finished. One of our most pressing tasks is caring for Mississippi children in the foster care system. We can and must do more to support the foster children of this state by providing the necessary funding to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and ending the Olivia Y legal action against the State of Mississippi once and for all.
Three years ago, you joined me in seeing the need to establish Child Protection Services as its own agency, accountable directly to the governor. This move has allowed CPS to focus on a single mission: providing foster children with safe, nurturing care while either working to reunite them with their families or placing them with a loving forever family through adoption.
I can report to you tonight that CPS is making great progress. When Justice Jess Dickinson courageously agreed to lead Child Protection Services 6,100 Mississippi children were in the foster system. Today, that number is fewer than 4,900 all thanks to improved efficiencies in the adoption process and tireless work in healing and uniting families. We have much more work to do, but what a difference for these 1,200 children to be safe at home, whether with their parents, relatives, or with their adopted families. For those families who are reunited, CPS is working in proactive ways to better assist them, such as developing new methods to help parents released from incarceration better support their children. Perhaps the most incredible success has occurred with adopted families. The number of adoptions has more than doubled in just one year.
CPS also works closely with the Mississippi Department of Human Services. This year, child support collections are higher than they have ever been—more than $370 million, an $11 million increase over last year. By privatizing this critical service in 2016, we have assured those who owe child support in this state pay it.
If we continue to show our collective support for the neglected and abused children of our state, I believe the federal courts will find favor with our actions. More importantly, so will God Almighty.
Imagine, I asked in 2016, if we all worked together to better public education, from childcare to college. Imagine what we could do together if we took the economy to record highs and unemployment to record lows. Imagine if we had a new medical school, a medical city for research and healing and led the nation in telemedicine. Imagine if we could fund more infrastructure improvements and have another world-class port to ship our products around the globe. Imagine if we could help lead the nation in criminal justice reform, while reducing our prison population and saving more than $40 million for Mississippi taxpayers.
Much work remains in this critical area, and this session I will ask you to take the next step in criminal justice reform. As a former law enforcement officer, I realize some believe our innovations will somehow be soft on crime. Nothing could be further from reality. If we hope to ever lower our crime rate, we must start with the 33 percent that leave our correctional system only to return within three years. If President Donald J. Trump can pass nationwide criminal justice reform through a gridlocked and hyper-partisan congress, surely we can do so right here in Mississippi.
Working together we have accomplished these things and so much more. We have enhanced our beautiful state seal with America’s national motto. For this time and all time the world will know in no uncertain terms that in Mississippi, “In God We Trust.” Thanks to the leadership of the Speaker and Lieutenant Governor and many of you in this chamber, we have protected Mississippi’s religious freedom while not harming one individual or community.
Our right to keep and bear arms, as assured by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, remains firm and steadfastly defended here in the State of Mississippi. And with your unwavering support, we will continue to make Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child.
I can assure you all, this administration will not cease its efforts to rise to new levels of greatness, and before 2020 sees its beginning, we will have more accomplishments and more transformative change. We will go into a new decade filled with even brighter tomorrows. Tonight’s address is not meant to be a point of victory or final accomplishment, but another step, together, toward triumph. As President Ronald Reagan said, “the goal for all of us should be that one day, things will be done neither because of, nor in spite of, any of the differences between us.” Therefore I say to each of you, continue to work together to do the things that are best for Mississippi.
As you know, this will be my last time to address this joint session. This is a special place to me. I began my life in public service in this House chamber in 1992.
I started as a young man, and I will finish as a grandfather. Over these many years I have seen Mississippi make incredible progress. It may not have always been perfect, but the march of improvement and advancement in our people’s lives over the last 30 years is undeniable. None of us can accept credit for all of it, but we can all claim the honor of toiling and striving to make our home a better place.
Each of us gets only a finite amount of time to lead – a time determined by our conscience or by our constituents. My time in leadership will be ending this year, but for many of you your journey has just begun. Let us join hands and finish this year, and this decade, with a spirit of action and an eye toward the future.
Tonight, I reflect on the wisdom of St. Paul. I can only hope that, like him, “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, and always keeping my eyes on the prize, I will press on towards the mark.”
God bless each of you; God bless the people of Mississippi, and God bless the United States of America.