Friday, February 23, 2007

Governor Easley's "State of the State" Address

During his fourth State of the State address on Monday night, Gov. Mike Easley praised the General Assembly for working with him since he took office in 2001, especially during the state’s recession and billion dollar plus budget shortfalls. He focused largely on ways to improve the education of every child in North Carolina.

The governor called on the General Assembly to launch the nation’s most ambitious education initiative that would allow students to earn a four-year degree at a state university debt free. First, he called for a major expansion of the state’s Learn and Earn program, which allows students to stay in high school for an extra year, and earn enough community college or university credits to get an associate’s degree and a high school diploma at the same time. The program now reaches 33 high schools and will expand to 75 high schools by the 2008-09 school year. In two years it would be available to every student, Easley said.

Along with the Learn and Earn expansion, Gov. Easley proposed a new initiative that would allow more students to attend and graduate from college. For low- and moderate-income students, he called for the creation of a major new financial aid program that combines a two-year state grant with current federal assistance that will replace the need for loans if students work 10 hours a week to help pay for their education. Therefore, students who complete the Learn and Earn program with two years of college credit will be able to finish their four-year degree at a state university debt-free.

In discussing our state’s economy, Gov. Easley said, “our state is much stronger. We have taken the toughest blows that a national recession and federal trade policies could deliver, and we are not only surviving in this new world economy, we are thriving in it.” But despite the improving economic situation, Gov. Easley declared that North Carolina has an obligation to continue to help its most vulnerable and hardworking citizens.

I was encouraged that he also mentioned the need for energy independence, especially the development of alternative energy sources. He pledged to push for more efficiency in government buildings as well as other conservation measures.

Governor Easley also called on legislators to:

  • Add 10,000 additional 4-year-olds to the state's "More at Four" pre-kindergarten program, which currently serves nearly 20,000 at-risk children.
  • Continue raising teacher pay, which will be up 18 percent since 2005 and on the way to reaching the national average by 2008.
  • Eliminate the state income tax for 600,000 low-income taxpayers and cut it in half for another 600,000.
  • Provide health insurance to foster children attending college until they turn 22 and to approximately 12,000 children in families who earn $40,000 to $60,000 a year, or 300 percent of the poverty level for a family of four.
  • Expand the North Carolina Rx prescription drug program to reach 45,000 more seniors.
  • Strengthen and expand campaign and lobbying reforms.

Governor’s 2007-08 Budget

Gov. Mike Easley released his state budget proposal for the next two years on Thursday morning during a press conference. My colleagues and I at the General Assembly will receive an extensive briefing on it next week. The governor’s budget is expected to provide greater details regarding the new initiatives he unveiled during Monday night’s State of the State address. The announcement of the governor’s budget officially kicks off the budget process in Raleigh. Over the next several months, the House and Senate will pass their own budget proposals, in hopes of passing a final budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

I will provide more details on the governor’s budget in next week’s update, or you can review the entire budget online at

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