Thank you Mr. President and Mr. Speaker. Thank you members of the General Assembly, members of my Cabinet, the people of Medina and, of course, my wife Karen Kasich and my daughters, Emma and Reese. Thank you for being here tonight.
Medina is the hometown of Speaker Batchelder. This is his final year in the Legislature and Keith and I are going to miss working with him. And Keith, thank you for your leadership and everything you've done in the last year.
There will be a lot of time in the coming year to celebrate Speaker Batchelder's career, and let me kick that off tonight. The Speaker has been a strong and constant booster of the Ohio Highway Patrol, and in honor of that support I'm proud to announce that we are renaming the Medina Highway Patrol Post for him. Speaker Batchelder, congratulations and thank you for your service.
Medina is one of Ohio's great communities, and like all great places, the reason is its people. One of Medina's most famous citizens was H.G. Blake. Mr. Blake was an orphan who was raised by his neighbors. He tried his hand at medicine and shop-keeping and the law, and eventually became Speaker of the Ohio House, was elected to Congress and became a friend of the great Abraham Lincoln.
It was in 1860, as a freshman member of the U.S. House, at a time when the debate over slavery was at its most heated and our country was about to tear itself in two, that Congressman Blake introduced a brave resolution that had really never been introduced before-a resolution to simply abolish slavery. It was one of his first official acts. There had been other similar efforts, but up to this point abolitionists in Congress had been less direct, fearing the backlash of going too far too fast. Congressman Blake didn't really have that concern. He was impatient and probably a bit of a pot-stirrer-I imagine we would have gotten along just fine.
Needless to say, Congressman Blake's resolution was soundly defeated. He didn't win on that day, but he set an example of courage for others to follow. Congressman Blake has an elementary school named for him here in Medina and we're remembering him still tonight, 138 years after he died. Why? Because he stood up and made a difference. What difference will you and I make?
Some of the best times I've had in my life have been hiking in the mountains with my family.
When you start out on a hike you're moving through the trees and the brush and you help clear the way for each other, then you scramble over the scree and the loose rocks and help each other to keep from falling. After you've struggled through the early obstacles you get out on more solid ground, and you get the first glimpse of your goal-the summit-and you come together and it lifts your spirits, and you get an extra boost to keep going.
That's kind of where we are now in Ohio. Together we've come through a very difficult patch.
We had an $8 billion budget deficit.
We lost 350,000 private sector jobs.
We had just 89 cents in our rainy day fund.
We had lost our hope and feared that our best days were behind us.
That's not the Ohio we wanted. We knew we had to change things, so we took up the hard work and we moved ahead without fear of failing, and with urgency and resolve.
We set priorities, we didn't play favorites, we made tough choices and we got our budget back in shape. We turned around that historic $8 billion shortfall and now have a $1.5 billion surplus and positive credit outlooks.
We didn't raise taxes but instead we cut them-we cut them by $3 billion.
We did it by eliminating the death tax so that if you have a family farm or a family small business, you can pass it on to your kids.
We cut small business taxes by 50 percent so the people who provide jobs to half of our private sector workforce can hire more people.
And we cut income taxes by 10 percent so every Ohioan can take home to their family more of what they earn.
Ohio's economy grows strongest when it grows from the bottom up, not from the top down. When Ohioans have more money in their pockets, we're being true to the fundamental idea that made our nation great-government works for the people, not the other way around.
Under the leadership of Lt. Governor Mary Taylor we've created a permanent system to streamline regulations-and keep them streamlined-so Ohioans benefit from the commonsense protections they deserve and job creators don't drown in red tape.
All of this is helping to unleash Ohioans' natural energy, creativity and hard work, and they've created more than 170,000 private sector jobs in three years-that's 155 new jobs each day for the past three years-155 families every day getting stronger, more hopeful and more secure.
We made long overdue investments in education so students everywhere have the resources to achieve, and we did it by putting students first, not buildings or equipment or adults.
I'm especially proud of our work to start turning around Cleveland's schools and I applaud Mayor Frank Jackson for bringing together the community and educators to forge a plan that is working so Cleveland's kids have the chance they deserve;
I'm also proud of the work we're doing with Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman to reform the city's schools, and I invite every other city in Ohio that wants to put children first to come forward with their plan.
We got our colleges and universities to work together and write a single, unified plan for new buildings and construction, and create a new funding system so they're focused on helping students graduate, not just competing against each other to sign up as many as possible.
We're making breast and cervical cancer screenings available for more low-income women so we can start saving more lives;
We're rebuilding our highways without a gas tax increase, and helping our cities and towns rebuild their roads and bridges. We're also using the untapped potential of our turnpike to make these efforts as strong as possible.
In the process we didn't ignore those in need.
We're doing a better job of making sure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to work and live independently;
We're doing a better job of helping those with addiction;
We're doing a better job of caring for the mentally ill and their families.
We're taking on Ohio's historically abysmal record on infant mortality and I'm proud of my wife for her work on this effort in Columbus, together with City Council President Andy Ginther.
We're taking on the evil of human trafficking by going after traffickers and treating the victims not as criminals but as children of God who need our help.
Every Ohioan deserves a chance and an equal opportunity to achieve their God-given potential, and that's the Ohio we're rebuilding for everyone.
All of these things have helped Ohio move up to higher, more solid ground, and, if you look, the clouds are moving apart and the sun is beginning to shine, and we can get a glimpse of the summit ahead. We've got much further to go, but the success we've had gives us the confidence to climb higher. We're not hopeless, we're hopeful. We're not wandering, we have direction. Let's keep going.
Going forward we must keep Ohio's budget strong and balanced. We worked hard to restore our financial health and we must zealously protect it-the reason is jobs.
When job creators see that Ohio's budget is in good shape, they're frankly shocked. They look at Washington, with all of the gridlock and debt and deficits and I'm sure they think that's how government works everywhere. Washington is broken. Sometimes I wonder if it's even on the same planet as the rest of us.
Ohio's different. In fact, we've got a balanced budget and a $1.5 billion surplus. Here we don't let state government try to paper over problems with higher taxes, but instead solve them so Ohioans can keep more of their own money and businesses have certainty so they can create more jobs.
If we keep our fiscal house in order it will help us hold onto the jobs we have and grow new ones as well. It will also help us attract jobs from around the country and around the world. To do that, we've also got to keep working with job creators the right way-and that's JobsOhio.
The nation's business leaders are realizing that our new approach to economic development is something that sets us apart. We treat job creators with respect by giving them peers, business experts and specialists in their fields to work with-and we work at their speed, the speed of business, not at the speed of government. We believe in an open economy and a free market, not a closed economy controlled by bureaucrats.
We can't overestimate just how important it is to connect with businesses on their level. This was made clear again in our recent work with Nestle.
I called their senior leaders several times to build a relationship and encourage them to grow in Ohio. And our work paid off when the CEO of Nestle USA called and told me they were moving their pizza business from Chicago to Solon, and creating 250 jobs in the process.
That's the kind of call you love to get, but then he said something that was especially gratifying, he praised the JobsOhio team for helping Nestle collect the data it needed to make its decision. When a company of that caliber compliments JobsOhio for its ability to add value in a core way, it's further proof that JobsOhio is working.
We saw that proof again last year when Chief Executive magazine said Ohio has the most-improved business climate in the nation.
The reason that JobsOhio exists is in its name-it's all about jobs. We all want Ohioans to have good job opportunities, because good jobs provide the paychecks that strengthen families and communities. And those paychecks belong to the people who earned them, not to government.
There are two ways to try and grow an economy: the old way, where government takes your money and tries to pretend it's smarter than you and it spends your money for you-we've seen that way fail time and again. And there's the natural way to grow an economy, when you get to keep more of your own money and you can use it to control your own future.
Out of respect for the Ohioans who get up every day and go to the mill, the office, the factory or the farm, out of respect for the small businesses that are the engines of job creation, we've got to keep cutting taxes.
That's why I'm proposing another round of tax cuts that will finally succeed in getting Ohio's tax rate below 5 percent.
Since 1995, more than $12 billion in income has left Ohio for states with lower income taxes. We've got to keep our best and brightest in Ohio to keep fueling our recovery and cutting our taxes helps do it.
Join me in cutting Ohioans' income taxes once again, in cutting our small business taxes once again-and let's get Ohio's tax rate under 5 percent.
And if the reason we're cutting taxes is to make Ohioans more prosperous, let's do our part to make sure that no one is left behind, especially our minority communities. One way we can do this is by making sure the state keeps its commitments to minority business enterprises. Too often we've seen the state simply ignore its obligations to treat our neighbors as ourselves. That's not acceptable. Our Administration is working hard so that we can give people the solid chance they deserve. It's not easy and it won't happen overnight, but it's the right thing to do.
We've made great strides in education to address some of our most pressing needs, with the largest increase in state aid in a decade, and now we can build on that foundation to start taking on other challenges, including one of Ohio's-and the nation's-toughest: the issue of dropouts.
There's a 17-year-old girl somewhere, right now, thinking about not going back to school tomorrow, or ever. She's sick of it. She couldn't care less about algebra, she struggles to read because she was shuffled through elementary school and no one bothered to help, and don't even talk to her about learning Spanish.
Tell me, how do we get her excited about learning? We need an answer for her and the 24,000 other Ohio kids who face this same decision and drop out every year. They join the 1 million adults in our state who do not have a high school diploma. Dropping out is simply a dead end and can lead to a life of unrealized dreams. Let's help get these kids back on track.
My Administration will be sending ideas to the Legislature soon to help us do a better job of identifying and reaching out to the most at-risk kids so we can keep them from dropping out.
Then we'll ask local school districts to craft unique plans for these students that chart an alternative path to their high school diploma. And if that path takes some of them out of the traditional classroom and into real-life job training, so be it. We've got to have the courage to think outside of the box because we've got to try to reach every student.
And for the adults in Ohio without diplomas, we are starting to build an innovative system to let them work with our two-year colleges to get high school diplomas, get valuable job credentials and stand up straight again.
Never before has Ohio reached out in such a focused way to help dropouts. It won't be easy and it's going to force all of us to think creatively. It might take some time to figure it out, so we're going to start carefully. Then, when we know we're on the right path, we will expand our efforts to benefit more people.
Something I hear a lot from teachers is that parents need to be more involved in their children's education and that communities should do more to support their schools. I agree, so let's do it.
We're launching Community Connectors, an initiative to support the best ideas for bringing together schools, parents, communities, faith-based groups, businesses and students in mentoring efforts based on proven practices. We're going to ask the Legislature to provide $10 million from casino licensing fees to support the effort and to show that we're serious, the state will give communities $3 for every $1 they put in.
All of us in Ohio see needs every day and we hunger to help, but we don't know how. Community Connectors will give you a chance to listen to that better angel inside all of us and make a difference in somebody's life.
If we do this right and do a better job of connecting our communities with our schools, not only does it lift up our educators, but more important it lifts up our kids. We can show them why learning matters, we can teach them about workplace culture and professional etiquette. We can help them appreciate how important values are to success in life, values like hard work, discipline and personal responsibility-all of which can help motivate and inspire them to find their purpose and to reach for the stars.
We know that the goal of increasing mentoring is the right one and the research shows it can make a difference. It's happening in many places across Ohio and there are successful examples to guides us, including the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative-where 80 percent of the students go on to college, the military or a job; Toledo's Schools as Community Hubs program and the United Way's new efforts in 17 schools as part of the Cleveland Plan.
What these all have in common is energy-truly fired up volunteers who are committed to helping kids succeed. They also share an unshakeable belief in the exponential power of communities that come together-schools, parents, business, community and faith-based groups-everyone who cares about their kids' futures and their communities' futures.
With good examples like these and others, we can find the right formula.
Providing this same kind of direction is also what's behind our new online career roadmaps, coming later this spring. Young Ohioans will soon be able to learn about the most in-demand careers right from their phones-and not only young people, but also the adults in their lives who are guiding them. They can learn about the training they'll need, how much they can earn and where they can study. This is just one more way that we're doing everything we can to get Ohio students excited about their futures.
As I've traveled the state and visited our schools, some of the most advanced training I've seen anywhere has been in our career centers. Why is it that some people have come to dismiss the value of vocational education?
I recently met with a group of vocational students in my office and I was so impressed with them. They were motivated, smart, excited about what they were studying and had a sense of direction. One was preparing to be an accountant, one was preparing to be a teacher, another was preparing to be a veterinarian and another wanted to own his own construction company.
All of us would have been proud to call them our own kids, and that's why I want to see these kinds of high-quality experiences in both jobs and learning expanded down to the 7th grade. Not only will they be better prepared for high school and college, but they'll know more about the career options that are available to them, so they get excited about school and stay excited.
Just as vocational education prepares our kids for careers and college, I believe every Ohio student should have the chance to prepare for their college degree by earning credit while they're still in high school.
Not only does this help reduce costs for parents and students, but it helps them get motivated and stay focused on a set of goals-good grades in high school, good grades in college, a good job and a good career.
This is something that we've tried in Ohio for a long time but too often our students are not encouraged to do it. We're going to fix that, make it work and do it now.
All of these ideas will be coming out soon as part of a package of proposals to better connect kids with career opportunities in a meaningful way.
Even as we work to help better prepare students for college and their careers, we can't forget their early years. To make sure Ohio is doing everything it can to help our youngest learners, we're raising the standards for publicly funded early childhood education so that more children enter school ready to succeed. At the same time, we're going to make sure we're spending these important dollars in ways that are making a difference.
It bears repeating that my hat goes off to our college and university presidents. Ohio challenged them to come together and embrace changes that put Ohio first and their own needs second and they rose to that challenge.
Not only have we refocused our higher education building and construction dollars on a singular statewide vision-no more parochial fighting-but we've also refocused state funding on graduation instead of enrollment.
This means that Ohio will now be doing something that no other state in the nation has had the courage to do. Today I'm proud to announce that 100 percent of state funding for undergraduate students will be based on how well our colleges and universities do in guiding them to complete their courses and get their degrees. This puts the right incentives in place to cement the partnership between students and institutions in pursuit of the same goals-success in college and in getting a job.
This is a big step forward, and legislation I'm proposing soon will lock the last pieces in place.
We think of education as something for children and young people, but it's more than that. The fast-changing opportunities of a global marketplace mean that our skills can fall behind if we're not careful. In Ohio we're building an education system that helps Ohioans succeed throughout their lives-to get that first job as well as to keep their skills sharp for whatever comes their way.
One of the best kept secrets in our state is our veterans. Not only do they deserve our thanks for the sacrifices they've made for our freedom, they deserve our help to transition back into civilian life.
That's why we're starting a new effort to give them college and academic credits for the training and experiences they've received in the Armed Forces, and I want to give them these credits for free.
Whether it's engineering, heavy machinery, construction, auto and truck repair, or advanced technology, the U.S Armed Forces trains more people, in more sophisticated ways, than probably any other organization in the world. That training has prepared veterans for many of Ohio's most in-demand jobs, and letting them more easily put it to work helps ease their transition to the home front. It also helps make Ohio stronger.
If you've driven a truck from Kabul to Kandahar I think you've earned the right to drive a truck from Cleveland to Columbus.
There are still too many Ohioans without a job-you are not forgotten. Every day our Administration gets up focused on creating the jobs-friendly climate that is essential to helping get our people back to work, because jobs are still Ohio's greatest moral issue. But we also can't forget those Ohioans who can only dream of being able to hold a job, people who struggle with mental illness and addiction. They are part of our mission also.
We've taken a new approach to mental health, so that families and communities simply have more resources, doctors and clinics are available in more places, and communities can offer more care to those in need, including many who may not be poor.
We should be proud that we're making a difference. We are building on this work by creating more safe places where people in crisis can get the care they need, so they can stabilize, regain control and be at home with their families.
All too often we've seen what happens if severe problems are ignored-people can sometimes hurt themselves or someone else. By making it easier to get in front of problems before they boil over, it can mean the difference between despair and hope. We'll never solve all the problems associated with mental illness, we just can't, but we never give up.
Drug addiction and abuse is another one of our most intractable problems, and we're fighting it head-on.
For those of us who aren't addicts it's hard to imagine their struggle. It's a lifetime journey through the valley, but hopefully we can prevent as many Ohioans as possible from facing it at all.
We started off three years ago working with the Attorney General and you, the Legislature, to shutdown pill mills, and working with the highway patrol, sheriffs and local law enforcement to crack down on traffickers.
We've worked hand in hand with the medical community to make sure people in pain get the right dosage without also starting down the path toward addiction. By tightening up supplies, we can also help keep prescription drugs off the street.
We've launched a new effort in our schools called Start Talking, to give parents, teachers and others that kids look up to, the tools to give them the straight facts about drugs. Research shows that by just talking to our kids about drugs they are 50 percent less likely to start using them at all.
The momentum is already building. We've spread the message to more than 8,600 students, and engaged 186 student ambassadors to stand up and be leaders in their schools.
We want every single legislator to talk to their principals and superintendents to help get this new effort into every school in Ohio. And to give you the support you need, we're going to dedicate a staff member to working with you to make the process simple and effective. Frankly, it's not enough just to get this started in our schools, it simply has to become part of the fabric of our culture.
Together we can warn our kids and fellow citizens about the dangers of addiction and abuse, help them build the self-confidence and strength to say no, and we can work to get those who are addicted the treatment and support they need to begin to recover.
An addiction that hides in plain sight is tobacco. Ohio once was a national leader in smoking cessation efforts and we need to take up this cause once again. That's why today I'm announcing that we're dedicating new tobacco settlement funds to the fight against this addiction, a fight that will help drive down our medical costs and improve Ohioans' health.
Can our work against addiction improve the lives of Ohioans? Yes, of course it can. Is it easy? No, but it's worth it. It is a fight for the future of our children and our state.
I know this is a lot of work, and, frankly, I've only talked about a portion of what we're proposing. Not all of this will get done this spring or this summer. Some of it might not get done this year. It's ok to take our time to get things right, but we can't drag our feet. If we're not moving forward, we're moving backward.
We've got to let Ohioans keep more of their hard-earned money, we've got to keep more kids in school, mentor more kids, we've got to keep improving our colleges and universities, giving veterans a hand back into the civilian workforce, and keep improving mental health and fighting addiction.
As you know, we've been talking more and more about poverty-how to help people get out of it and how to prevent people from slipping into it to begin with. We took some big steps last year, especially in health care, and the reason for much of what we're proposing this year is so we can continue to do more. But let's be clear-it's going to take all of us, not just the government, to make progress, and we'll have much more to say on this in the coming months.
But remember, our greatest moral purpose will continue to be helping every Ohioan have a chance to find a job that lets them fulfill their purpose and share in our state's growing prosperity.
Yes, we have much more to do, but because of what we have already accomplished, today I can say that the State of the State is stronger, more hopeful, more optimistic, more excited and more confident.
Just as important, remember how we made that progress: we came together as a state and we came together as leaders. We know none of us have a monopoly on good ideas. We also know that we can accomplish greater things when we pull together instead of pushing against one another. In our unity is our strength.
It's unavoidable that some people want to focus on what divides us, but we should never let politics or the fact that it's an election year get in the way of our duty to Ohioans.
Here's how I see it: if you voted for me or if you didn't, I'm your governor; if you're a CEO or if you're unemployed, I'm you're governor. If you're living in your own house or if you're living under a bridge, if you're an honor student or if you're an inmate, I'm your governor.
I'm the governor of all of Ohio and it's my duty to serve everyone. This is my life, this is my mission. None of us know how long we have on this earth, but for as long as I'm here I'm going to do everything I can to bring people together, to lift up this state and to lift up Ohioans.
Sometimes I just stand in awe of the human spirit. I see the things that some people are able to do and I'm just amazed. Whether it's the Ukrainians standing up to take back their country, a scientist toiling away for years in a lab to cure a terrible disease or a soldier fearlessly charging into combat to fight-and possibly die-for freedom, I look at the great feats that some people achieve and it's truly inspiring.
We wonder sometimes where they find the ability to do these great things. My belief is it comes from a higher power. Regardless of where you believe it comes from, we can all agree that learning their stories lifts us up and helps us go higher ourselves.
Last year the world heard a story that words can barely describe. It is a story of hurt beyond what we can imagine, but it doesn't end there. It is also a story of three women who found an inner strength and a courage that brought them through and sustained them. No one rescued them, they rescued themselves-first by staying strong and sticking together, and then by literally breaking out into freedom.
It's because of that Courage that I'm humbled to present the 2014 Ohio Courage medals to Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus and Michelle Knight-three extraordinary women who, despite having the worst in this world thrown at them-rose above it and emerged not as victims, but as victors. They are an inspiration to us all.
On Saturday, Ohio will be 211 years old. Our state has seen so much change in that time, and change is certainly difficult, but once you get it done and move forward, there's a newness and a freshness to everything you do and touch. Together, we've breathed new life into Ohio in just three short years, but we're not at the summit yet. Think about what Ohio will be like when we get there.
Ohio will be a place where people can attain their dreams because they're prepared for the jobs of the 21st century and rugged individuals can start and grow their own businesses, regardless of their background or social status, and they will succeed because we won't let government stomp them out with mindless rules and high taxes.
Ohio will be a place where everyone takes responsibility for themselves and where children have the encouragement and support they need to navigate the currents of life and enjoy the same success our parents helped provide for us.
Ohio's communities will be built on a foundation of the values that made America great: values like personal responsibility, self-reliance, compassion, teamwork and faith in our creator. And our communities will care for one another and come together to lift those up who are hurting.
This is the Ohio we are becoming, and the more we make these goals a reality, the more that Ohio will be recognized as one of the best places in the world to live, work and raise a family. We are making Ohio a place where anything is possible.
Government certainly has a role in all of this, but we've all experienced the limits of government effectiveness when it comes to solving tough problems. It's going to take you and me and our neighbors and our neighbors' neighbors all deciding to pitch in if we are going to take our state further up the mountain toward that summit.
The nation and the world have their eyes on Ohio. They see we're coming back and they want to know how we're doing it. We're not done, but we've made good progress. We're getting there, and it's great to see it happen and to be a part of it.
I hope you'll stay with me on the path as we go higher. I hope you'll keep up the teamwork, keep taking on the impossible tasks, keep tossing aside the status quo and keep shaking things up. If we do, we'll create the stronger, better Ohio that we all want.
God bless America, God bless Ohio and God bless our future together.