Discovering Montana

Gov. MARC RACICOT's State of the State Address to the People of Montana

Helena, January 11, 1995. ( to download text )

Mr. President. Mr. Speaker. Fellow Montanans.

Thank you. And good evening.

First tonight, I want to thank some people. I want to thank, above all, the people of Montana for affording me the honor and the opportunity of serving in this high office. I remind myself daily of the responsibilities that come with this brief chance to help shape and protect our special corner of God's good earth.

I want to thank, of course, the House of Representatives and Speaker Mercer, and the Senate and President Brown, for the privilege of meeting with you this evening. I need to thank Kryss Kuntz, who is with us here tonight as the first signer of a State of the State message in Montana history.....I just hope I can keep up with her.......

I want also to thank my family down here, all of whom have been willing to sacrifice their well-being as I perform my duties. And especially I want to thank my partner of 24 years, Theresa, for her support and understanding.

I must admit to all of you that it does not seem like 727 days since I stood before you on this same spot for our first State of the State address. Much of importance has transpired since then, perhaps more change--and promise--compacted into a short period of time than ever before in our history.

It is, I fear, much too easy for any of us to forget how far Montanans have come together, both in these two short years and throughout our history. Few places have come so far or accomplished so much, while preserving such a unique character.

Our early days were characterized by violence and lawlessness and no schools. Only the strongest could survive back then. The nearest court was in North Dakota. And the only recognized authority came from a holster.

Today, we may enjoy the safest, sanest and most civil state society in the entire nation. In these past 727 days we have traveled thousands and thousands of miles across this state. From Eureka to Ekalaka, we have listened to, talked with, and learned from a multitude of Montanans.

I don't leave our state often. But when I do, it doesn't take the sound or sight of many siren-filled city streets and apartments with bars on the windows to protect the law-abiding, to rekindle a special appreciation within my heart for our Big Sky way of life.

I realize then that in the minds of millions of people around the world, Montana is not just a beautiful place....It is also a coveted way of life. We need to remind ourselves more often that Montana truly is...what America used to be. It was Montana that saved grizzly bears from extinction. Let us do the same for a sane, safe and civil American society.

I was reading some past State of the State messages. If we do not constantly recall where we have been, then we cannot possibly know where we are going--or who we are. And history reminds us how far we've come. On January 4, 1897, exactly 5,097 weeks ago, Governor Robert Smith informed the Legislature that Montana's total budget was $667,747.03, and $436,978.12 of that belonged to the General Fund....I trust no one disputes those budget figures.....

We are now and always have been, let's be frank, a very candid people; we can, clearly, agree on that. But while we may sometimes disagree, we are rarely disagreeable. As simple as that sounds, it makes Montana virtually unique in American society.

Montana was born from diversity and forged by adversity. Diversity in geography--from the dry, high plains of the east to the towering green pines of the west. And diversity in population--from the earliest arrival of our native American neighbors to the coming of an ethnic rainbow of nationalities and personalities, each of whom added their unique character, their traits, their hues, their pasties, their bagels and their lefsa.

Without any one of them, our Montana would not be as gloriously diverse as it is today. And we have worked very hard in this Administration to reflect this diversity in nearly 900 appointments to boards and commissions from every county. We have worked hard too to add more gender balance; from the 20 percent level of recent years, we've increased the proportion of women appointed to 41 percent..

Despite the many differences of each of us and each of our ancestors, two things united these diverse peoples--their desire to build a better life here and their toughness. That's an unusual combination--tough dreamers. But I truly believe Montana was made for dreaming. And I know Montanans are a tough breed.

Captain James Williams and all the other Vigilantes had a dream of a safe place to raise a family, to build a future of work worth doing and living a peaceable life free from midnight fears. They started, uncertainly. But they persevered. And now look what we have: one of the lowest crime rates in the nation for the law-abiding to enjoy; and, for those who do not abide by our laws, the nation's longest average stay in prison.

Like many other Montanans, my ancestors came to the Montana Territory in the mid-1800's. My grandfather arrived in Libby in 1917 with a dream. He dreamed of becoming a logging camp cook. Like many other Montanans before and since, he succeeded--until the technology of new roads and larger trucks made isolated logging camps obsolete. Then, like many other Montanans, my grandfather lost his job helping to extract our natural resources.

That was, clearly, not the first nor the last time that technology and decisions made outside Montana's borders left victims within its boundaries. But I am here tonight to tell these assembled bodies of the people's representatives and the people assembled with their families in homes across this vast, wonderful state that we--each one of us working together--have already begun the promising process of rebuilding Montana and reclaiming its rightful independence.

This is not July Fourth. But I am here tonight to suggest that we, all of us gathered here together tonight in person and electronically, proclaim a new Day of Independence for Montana. A Day of Independence from old ways, a Day of Independence from old habits, from old limits, from old antagonisms, a Day of Independence from old problems and from old feuds.

Let us each vow tonight quietly in our hearts to shun the tired old games and the worn old labels. Let us stress too, in our hearts and our words, not the small differences that might divide us at times. Instead, let us treasure the immense similarities that unite us. No football team ever gained one yard by stressing the differences of its 11 players. And neither will our state.

Let us harness our unique Montana social spirit, our current economic prosperity and our frustrations with stubborn problems and old ways into a whole long series of exciting, tolerant New Partnerships designed to produce substantive solutions, not political placebos.

Montana and Montanans need no longer be the perennial victims of forces that seem larger than we are. Look what we've done already: The United States Congress is talking about balancing the Federal budget early in the next milennium....We've been doing that for years--without any Federal mandate, just a good strong dose of Montana common sense....Too bad common sense isn't as contagious as the flu that invaded our house recently.

We Montanans have in the past two years overcome fiscal adversities of historic proportions. We were not crippled by them. We were, I believe, actually energized by them and lead to unleash countless new creativities. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it involved tough decisions and value judgments. But here we are today, 727 days after facing a staggering deficit in excess of $200 million, and through the application of those tough decisions, some imagination and creative collaborations, some plain old hard work, tough management--and, yes, a bit of dreaming, too--here we are today together again doing more with less in state government and confronting a budget surplus of $25-30 million.

We agreed, the Legislature and Executive branch, to run this government for a set period of time for a set amount of money. Now, more money has come in than expected. I don't believe this is the government's money....I believe this money belongs to the people who earned it, the people of Montana....

So we will ask this Legislature this very week, through Speaker Mercer, who will introduce the measure, to return that money to its rightful owners....I don't care if it's $10 per taxpayer or $100.....

It's common sense....It's the right thing to do.....

Nobody produced this prosperity by themselves. We all did it, Montanans together. Yes, we trimmed state government by several hundred jobs, including the Governor's Office. And I salute the efforts of the House and Senate that look to reduce their employee and legislative overhead, not to mention their paper production. All state government must live within its means, just like Montana's families.

But the private sector in Montana is creating one new job every 45 minutes. That's one more of our daughters and sons who can stay in our special state, if they choose, and work and raise a family to live out their own dreams and to help their children learn to dream, too, as large or as small a dream as their supple young minds can envision.

One day last summer when I was on C-SPAN, a woman called in from Elko, Nevada. She and her husband left Montana years ago to find work. She wanted to know if there was any way, any possibility they could come home soon.....

The answer: "Absolutely!" You come home as soon as possible, I said. Montana now has the second fastest-growing state economy in the nation. More Montanans had jobs last year than ever before. The construction industry is strong. So is the service sector and tourism. Even some resource areas have regained strength. A steady stream of new companies contact us about starting or relocating here, including this promising Micron possibility, which the Legislature is addressing with our enthusiastic support. And we are working hard too, to help keep our existing companies here and expanding. To that end, we have developed a new proposal to reform our overloaded personal property tax system for presentation to this Legislature.

Our Administration knows full well that government does not create new jobs; government helps create the economic, social and political climate for people to create jobs. As they say, business needs more orders from customers and fewer from government....

To that end, we--and by that I mean the Legislature as well as our office--dedicated much time these past two years to addressing the myriad emergency needs of a state that had procrastinated in addressing some problems. Two years ago our state was in the fiscal emergency room, bleeding badly.

Here's an example: the State Fund, Worker's Compensation. Two years ago today the Workers Compensation program was in deep trouble. Workers Compensation premiums spiraled upward every 90 days. Unfunded liabilities had mushroomed past $400 million in the Old Fund and past $44 million in the New Fund, more than one thousand times larger than Governor Smith's entire General Fund a century ago. The State Fund's outlook was bleak in 1993.

Thanks to bipartisan legislative and executive efforts--one could call it a New Partnership--several reforms were enacted. As one result of that teamwork, Montana now has a pioneering system of managed care in place, improving injured workers' health care while holding down costs. Under its new management a businesslike State Fund has worked with employer groups to improve worker safety and reduce costs.

The new Anti-Fraud unit has produced $2.1 million in direct savings in its first year. Let me pause here to warn any out there who may be contemplating future fraud: We'll get you, too.....

The unfunded liabilities are down--by more than $53 million in the old fund and $62 million in the New Fund. That's a total turnaround of $115 million in these past 727 days.....

We are now in the seventh consecutive quarter without a Workers Compensation premium increase. And for the first time the real possibility of a premium reduction is on the horizon....

That's how goodness flows from a New Partnership where no one seeks credit or imposes fear but joins together with good sense and honest purpose to do the right thing.

There is, of course, more to be done. Senate Majority Leader Harp and Senator Benedict will be carrying legislation to further streamline the process and lower costs. The goal of this legislative package is to make our rates and benefits consistent with neighboring states. I believe such reforms and the teamwork that creates them play a direct role in creating a positive economic climate for all of us to benefit.

So does the positive social atmosphere that springs from innovative new programs enacted by the last legislature, programs like the Office of Community Services, coordinating thousands of volunteers, and the Montana Consensus Council, working effectively to intervene in serious confrontations with many negotiations over land use planning, land access and instream flows.

I would include under the heading of innovation the successful completion at the University of Montana of the nation's first collaborative university negotiations. That was definitely a New Partnership involving dedicated representatives from all sides, who--without confrontation and concern for credit--produced a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement benefitting faculty and students by linking salary improvements with teaching, counseling and graduation improvements. It's called performance pay in the private sector.

We have a package of other proposals, some of the most far-reaching proposals I believe in state history. We've spent many months designing these proposals. They are the carefully thought-out products of literally thousands of ideas--and dreams--by hardworking, conscientious Montanans who simply want to make this state a better place.

Yet, like the state employee salary agreement, all of these programs are financed through savings and existing revenues. There are no new taxes in our budget......In fact, the pre-session state employee salary agreement, the first of its kind in our history, utilizes presently allocated personnel resources to pay salaries to a smaller state workforce. Not one additional penny of personnel benefits will be used to pay state employees closer to what they would earn in the private marketplace--Another New Partnership.

Our budget is an austere document that recognizes a budget is like the clothes you find in the back of your closet from last winter. When you put them on, there's usually not enough room in them for everything.....There are some spending increases--due to statutory requirements and formulas. No discretion there.

The inevitable by-products of prosperity are more pupils, patients and prisoners. We have more children in our schools, for instance. State law requires state support for each of them. There's no discretion there either.

We are confining prisoners at a record pace in Montana. We now have close to 1,300 prisoners in a prison built for 850. Montana's aggressive criminal justice system and law enforcement community have produced one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.

But there are costs associated with that assurance of safety. I would suggest that Montanans expect and demand that level of security be maintained and enhanced.

I am anxious for you to carefully and thoughtfully examine our budget. It is built upon what the law presently requires to be provided. If the law is changed to eliminate programs, the budget can be reduced and our Administration stands ready to assist in making those decisions, if necessary.

To all who review our performance and analyze our ideas, let me confirm our desire to be scrutinized. The vitality of our democracy depends upon informed debate.

Now, an update on welfare reform: You may recall we submitted to the Federal government 11 months ago requests for 72 waivers to implement our unique welfare reform plan, one of the nation's most far-reaching welfare reform plans.

The mail--or something--seems to take an inordinately long time in Washington...But we now have preliminary approval on more than 60 of our waiver requests and with your approval we anticipate beginning formal implementation of this most comprehensive reform plan next winter. We firmly believe that our approach, designed at the grassroots level, is the best. It offers hope, help, work and dignity, rather than a check, dependence and despair.

As you know, we've had our differences with the Federal government and how it treats the states--over water, welfare reform, and bison, to name a few. We have held and will continue to hold that Montana claims sovereignity under the Tenth Amendment over all powers not specifically granted to the federal government.

Whether the failure of the federal government to respect states' rights takes the form of unfunded mandates or usurping control over other matters within the discretion of local governments, we have been and will remain constantly and aggressively involved in trying to constrain the inappropriate reach of the Congress into Montana and the lives of Montanans.

With those continuing struggles fresh in mind and in the firm belief that the best government is local government, we want to announce here tonight that we will be seeking legislative approval of an amendment to the Montana Constitution prohibiting state government from imposing unfunded mandates on local governments across our state.

If we won't tolerate unfunded orders being handed down from Washington, I reckon out in Broadus, Scobey, Troy and Wisdom, they don't much like them coming out of Helena either. Fair is fair. Let's clean that up, too...

One year ago we appointed the Governor's Task Force to Renew Montana Government. Its assignment was to intrusively examine all levels of government, recommending what to change and what to keep. After many thousands of hours of dedicated--and unpaid--work, this panel and its subcommittees produced a series of recommendations, most of which our Administration has endorsed.

These recommendations include merging departments, clarifying functions, eliminating others and generally streamlining administrative structures to produce more and better services to the customers of government.

The changes we recommend in the education governance structure are perhaps the most sweeping in our history--perhaps they seem too sweeping in some quarters. Montana already spends more per pupil than eight of the 12 Western states. And it is our resolute belief that we must provide a seamless system of education services at the state level that are responsive and efficient, while allowing control of our schools to reside with parents and communities.

I expect these proposals to ignite spirited discussion. That's as it should be. That's the way good ideas become better ones.

But let no one dispute that the goal of these recommendations--indeed, the goal of our entire Administration--is to produce a government of minimum size and maximum efficiency. We want to deliver the most efficient government services to our customers for the least cost to government's owners.

We claim no patent on perfect proposals. We vow here tonight to remain open to improvements, to listen, to explain, and to work with anyone to make the programs the best they can be, as we have for these 727 days. Montana deserves no less. By combining our good faith, and maybe even our dreams, I believe we can make extraordinary progress solving our problems and finally seizing control of our own destiny, instead of accepting our fate.

To that end, we will be making an interesting suggestion in the near future for the state to encourage the development in Montana of endowed philanthropies. This stems from November conversations with a few dozen people at our house and from the belief that while we cannot now know what the future will deliver to and demand from our children and communities, we can start now to endow community funds to help ensure a more secure future. More on that subject in coming days.

Two main themes run throughout our proposals: work and family. John Muir, an early and perceptive observer of American wildlife, once said, "When you try to pick anything out of the universe, you find it hitched to everything else." That's the way it is in our legislative package with work and family.

Our philosophy stems from one very simple belief: Functioning families are essential to a decent life and a decent society....

That's it. Real simple. Families are the most important unit in our society. Families are the most efficient form of government in our society. Families can be the strongest unit in our society.

Maybe families are not the most democratic institutions. At least they weren't in my mother's and father's household.....I and my six brothers and sister did not get to vote on anything of significance......But those two parents--and my mother is here this evening--were the most efficient, inspiring and creative set of teachers I ever encountered. They taught a life routine, yes, but also a network of values from tolerance and openness to the responsibilities each of us had, including cleaning the bathroom.

Many of you were raised in similar surroundings. Sadly, in recent times many of our nation's families have not functioned well--or at all. And we can see on the nightly news the awful price this land pays for that in terms of social decay. I think that is in part because some sectors of our society have forgotten that, given food and water, anything can grow up. But it takes a functioning family to raise children. There is a big difference.

As a result, many of our programs this session have the goal of helping malfunctioning families in our midst, and of staying out of the way of the others.

As the temporary steward of this office, I talk with and hear from many Montanans. I got a letter the other day from Judy McFarlane in Willow Creek. "I am discouraged," she wrote. She and her husband shared their hard-pressed family budget with me. They, like many others, are feeling the pressures of rising costs and burdensome taxes. "We cannot survive under the present tax system," she said. Government must respond.

That's one reason our Administration has worked so hard to produce significant tax reform for our state. So far, the voters and members of this Legislature have not seen fit to endorse our tax reform proposals. But I can assure Mrs. McFarlane, and all of you, that we will continue searching with the members of these bodies for the correct combination to produce the necessary relief for these families. We'll present these new proposals to you soon.

Our budget also addresses the needs of some unfortunate Montanans without functioning families. The foster care caseload of the Department of Family Services has exploded in recent years. As one result, far too many children remain in foster care far too long. We want to restore them to their birth families when appropriate or move them efficiently into adoption by loving families who will provide the nurturing of a permanent home. So we seek additional caseworkers, again from within existing revenues.

Families cannot survive financially without jobs and we cannot have jobs without economic development. That's one reason we're working so hard to improve our Workers Compensation program. That's also why we will be proposing a series of economic development proposals that not only fuel growth today but also spawn the products and companies--and the jobs--for tomorrow.

There are, in my mind, no greater challenges than those associated with environmental regulation. We are all a part of this creation and we must be able to live, to grow and to prosper. But we are also stewards who share a longing to care for our land, our air and our water. Working to achieve that equilibrium will never stop. We learn new lessons every day through constantly emerging technologies and understandings of the past's mistakes. This Administration is committed to preserving that balance, learning from our errors and living up to the expectations of those we serve.

Strong economic development is impossible without an equally strong infrastructure. Maintaining our state's physical infrastructure is one of those areas we have let slide in recent years. Time and Montana's natural elements are not kind to poorly-maintained structures, especially after more than a century of statehood. That's why we will be proposing the Renew Montana Program, the largest state repair project in our history.

This program, however, is not--I repeat, NOT--a building program....It is a RE-building program that would invest $132 million, with another $61 million coming from Federal sources. Repairing now is actually cheaper than continually patching. And repairs of this venerable old Capitol Building can wait no longer, as the peeling paint, crumbling facing and exposed wiring reveal not far from this podium. The same is true for several high-hazard state-owned dams, as well as the veteran's home's decaying roof.

Along these lines, our Department of Transportation continues aggressive improvements on high-priority roads like US 93, US 2 and Montana 200. Thanks to more efficient collection of revenues owed, the wholly state-funded program envisions $30 million in construction in the biennium's first year and $35 million in the second as investments in Montana's economic future.

Now, in our social infrastructure there remain and always have been those of all ages who violate our laws. Despite frustrations, we can no longer deal with criminals quite the same as the Vigilantes dealt with Henry Plummer and the Innocents. Although the ultimate sanction of capital punishment remains an integral part of our criminal justice system, today corrections policies require more than a length of rope. They involve an array of strategies for dealing with anti-social behavior.

Montana enjoys one of the nation's lowest crime rates. But we must never become complacent. Our array of services works well; in its first 18 months, for instance, the Swan River Correctional Boot Camp has seen return to the state prison only four out of 74 graduates. Still, we need some corrections adjustments.

A key proposal will be a Truth-In-Sentencing bill. Currently, our state courts, like those in many states, employ a most Byzantine system of calculating prison sentences, good time and parole. This confusing system can be baffling to professionals, let alone citizens and unfortunate victims who, in my opinion, have an absolute right to know exactly how long convicted criminals will serve for their anti-social behaviors.

For a criminal justice system to work there must be comprehensive accountability: the criminals must know that anti-social behavior is going to have punishment consequences. And the law-abiding must also have the confidence that offenders will pay for their crimes, as surely as their victims have suffered....

So, our proposal will essentially junk the bewildering old system that let some convicts out again, having served little more than 10 percent of their sentence. And our proposal will include creation of a Sentencing Commission that will--for the first time--allow for public participation in designing voluntary sentencing guidelines for our judges to use....

The Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge is over-crowded. If we are going to lock up more criminals, we're going to need more space. We are developing another cooperative New Partnership, this one among counties and the state. The state will help underwrite the building of regional prisons by the counties. The state will pay a fee to use one wing. This saves operating and construction monies while not creating more massive penitentiaries. They are not only expensive to build and run but present greater management and handling problems for corrections officials.

Such a New Partnership is in place with Cascade County. And we are discussing others in Glendive, Billings and Missoula.

We will also be introducing legislation to allow for the summary expulsion of any student who brings a firearm to school. Weapons have no place in places of learning. We need no more schoolyard tragedies......

Clearly, we have an ambitious agenda for your consideration. One problem confronting Montanans--and Americans--is health care reform. We want solutions tailored by and for Montanans. At your direction our health care system has been thoroughly and thoughtfully examined since 1993.

That inquiry produced invaluable information that has refined our collective judgments and provided incisive direction for reforms. You will receive several pieces of legislation designed to rely upon market forces and incremental steps to drive down, and hold down, our health care costs.

This will not be the last time we confront this issue. It is very complex, a serious challenge that must be carefully and sequentially addressed to ensure that change does not diminish quality.....

Finally, a few words--in all Montana candor--about partisanship. Unfortunately, some observers have come to associate the biennial gathering of government in this building with political posturing, empty rhetoric and blind partisanship.

I believe this impression detracts from and overlooks the countless good works of the dedicated women and men in these two bodies. Let us each vow now not to feed that inaccurate impression. Let us vow now to act as if everyone in this special state, our friends and our neighbors, are watching....Because they are.

Many of you are Republicans, because your parents were Republicans. Many of you are Democrats...because your parents were Republicans....

But more important than our political affiliations, my father and mother and family, and all of you and your families are, first and foremost, Montanans. Let's build on that, together. Let us bring a surplus of good will to this building in coming weeks...Let us judge each other not by what others say...but by what we each do. Let there be no winners and losers, just fellow Montanans working to produce a better Montana for the next millenium.

In short, let the common thread of Montana citizenship serve to bind us together in productive partnership, not political partisanship. If we rely upon yesterday's approach, we will never seize tomorrow's promise.

I am excited by the possibilities ahead in these next three months of opportunity, and the ones to follow. There is much of importance to accomplish. May God bless us all in these endeavors for the future of our children...and for our Montana.

Thank you. And good night. ###

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