Last week, my administration announced the formation of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, comprised of experts in mental health, education, law enforcement, and first response.
We may never know what motivated the events at Sandy Hook Elementary, but that won't stop us from working to prevent future tragedy. Over the coming months, the commission will come together to make specific, actionable recommendations in the areas of school safety, mental health services, and gun violence prevention.
This session, I know there will be others that take action on these issues, and I applaud those efforts. The more resources we can bring to bear on this issue, the better. Working together we can and will affect real change.
There are some things we know already.
We know that we must find ways to better respond to those with mental health needs. As a society, we have an obligation to take action in a meaningful way when a person seeks our help or demonstrates a need for it. We must balance our respect for individual rights with our obligation to provide for the greater public safety.
And when it comes to preventing future acts of violence in our schools, let me say this: more guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom.
That is not who we are in Connecticut, and it is not who we will allow ourselves to become.
We also know that this conversation must take place nationally. As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut.
There will be more to say in the weeks ahead, but let me be clear today: our focus will be first and foremost on protecting Connecticut's families.
THOSE CONVERSATIONS WON'T always be easy, but as your Governor I've learned there is no challenge we will face that can't be overcome with the power of our community.
We have come together time and time again. We've done it with purpose - because we know there is something bigger and more important than who we are as individuals.
My friends, as we begin this legislative session let us be guided by devotion to the common good, by faith in one another, and by a determination to work together to make our community as strong as it can be in every way.
Looking back over these past twenty-four months, we've faced many challenges together: the largest per-capita budget deficit in the nation; a struggling economy; a fractured public school system; untenable energy costs; and natural disasters the likes of which our generation had never seen.
And then, in December, just when we thought the worst had happened... it actually did.
The people of Connecticut, the communities you represent, and all of us in this chamber - when tested, we met those challenges head on.
We did as our forefathers did, as our grandparents and parents taught us. We dug in. We banded together.
We decided to focus not on what makes us different, but on what makes us the same - our common humanity.
It is this core strength and spirit of community that brought us together to accomplish so much on behalf of the people of Connecticut.
TWO YEARS AGO, we faced the single largest per-capita deficit in the nation. It was a problem decades in the making. We knew that getting our fiscal house in order was critical to creating jobs. Connecticut employers needed a responsible and predictable partner in state government.
We came together and passed a balanced budget. We cut more than we added in new revenue.
And even after revenues came in short - as they did in 31 other states - we know today that our budget as-enacted fixed more than 90 percent of the problem. Last month, Democrats and Republicans came together to make sure we closed that final gap without raising taxes.
Anyone who tells you that the budget we passed two years ago didn't do its job, that it didn't make real change in how we approach our finances, is simply not telling the truth.
I know that many of you cast hard votes to fix those problems. That's the kind of resolve and leadership that we're bringing back to Connecticut.
We've made other tough decisions along the way.
After years of underfunding our pensions, a 4.5 billion dollar payment would have been required in the year 2032 - more than four times what we'll pay this year. It would not have been possible.
That's why last year we restructured our payments to reverse years of chronic underfunding. We're avoiding our own fiscal cliff and saving Connecticut taxpayers 6 billion dollars over the next 20 years.
We didn't kick the can down the road - we picked it up.
Through a restructured benefits and pension agreement with our public employees, we're saving the state approximately 20 billion dollars.
And we made sure that state government tightened its own belt in other ways. We shrunk the number of state agencies by more than 25 percent.
We trimmed executive branch employees by more than twelve hundred over the past two years, including more than a ten percent reduction in the number of state managers.
As we've done more with less, so have our hard-working state employees. They've adapted and found new ways to continue providing critical services to state residents.
We've all had to buckle down and make tough choices. We're going to make more of them in the weeks and months ahead.
RECENTLY, THERE'S BEEN a national conversation about economic development, about whether it makes any sense to have states competing against one another for jobs.
It's a good conversation to have, and it's the right time to have it. But a dialogue on the best way forward can't be an excuse for standing still. We see that too often in Washington.
I believe that each one of us in this chamber must approach this session with a core guiding principle: until every person in our state who wants a job can find one, we have more work to do.
We can't stick our heads in the sand or simply hope for the best. Not when other states are actively recruiting jobs from every corner of the globe - jobs that can and should come to Connecticut.
We must compete for every single job. With that mindset, we've begun to tackle the challenge of economic development in a holistic way.
Our First Five program, along with the addition of Jackson Laboratories, has leveraged 180 million dollars in public funding to drive more than two billion dollars in private investment.
That same program made it possible for Connecticut to bring two Fortune 500 headquarters to our state. The last time Connecticut was talking about two Fortune 500 companies was in 2006, and it was because they were leaving.
On Main Streets across Connecticut, the Small Business Express program is giving local employers the chance to expand and create jobs.
It was because of this program that Bevin Brothers Manufacturing in East Hampton was able to rebuild after a fire ravaged their historic bell factory. They purchased new equipment and got their employees back to work.
Just a few months ago, I announced the third plank of our economic development strategy - the Innovation Ecosystem. The program has one goal - connecting people that have good ideas with capital investors. It will create new, high-skill jobs - jobs with good wages, jobs with good benefits.
We're off to a good start, but it's only a start. The key is making government an active partner rather than a bystander who watches markets develop elsewhere.
By investing in growth industries like bioscience and digital media, by recruiting companies like Jackson Laboratory and NBC Sports, and by standing with our small businesses and start-ups, we're taking steps to make sure that Connecticut leads the way.
WHEN IT CAME to education, the stakes were clear: take action together or risk losing an entire generation of young people to failing schools and a widening achievement gap.
I am proud that after a long and hard debate, we were able to say with one voice that the status quo is no longer acceptable; that when it comes to public education we can't keep doing what we've always done and hope for better results; that our kids can't afford it, and neither can our state.
We worked with an eye toward the future and made an historic investment of nearly 100 million dollars, from pre-K through high school, focusing on districts that we know are most in need.
Reaching kids early is critical to success, and early childhood education had to be a central part of reform. We created 1,000 new school readiness openings statewide for our youngsters at a time when no one thought that was possible. That's 1,000 more children that will show up to kindergarten on day-one ready to learn.
We did that together, and we'll do more.
To combat an unacceptable achievement gap, we've begun transforming our underperforming schools through the newly created Commissioner's Network. Four schools have already volunteered and are benefiting from intensive intervention, increased instruction time, and improved collaboration among teachers and administrators.
I've visited these four schools in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Norwich, and each exhibits a new energy and renewed sense of purpose. More schools are lining up to be transformed in the years ahead.
Of course, reform could not be complete without supporting our teachers. They have dedicated their lives to our children, and for the first time in a very long time, we're dedicating new resources for them.
We know success is possible. We've seen it. With a cooperative effort where every voice is heard, we're going to replicate it in classrooms around our state.
The bottom line is that students are going to be better prepared for school today, and for the job market tomorrow.
WHEN IT CAME to energy, our state had been a national leader for years, in the worst possible way. We had the highest electric rates in the continental United States - rates that were squeezing the budgets of families and businesses.
We came together. We decided we needed a plan to take these problems head-on. We realized that our environmental, energy, and economic needs were all related, and that the path we chose would impact our economy for years to come.
We consolidated state agencies to better coordinate our energy functions.
We strengthened programs promoting renewable power and energy efficiency - leveraging private capital to deliver renewable energy at a price lower than almost anywhere else in the United States.
Today, we've seen electric rates drop in Connecticut by 12 percent across the board. We can't stop now.
The comprehensive energy strategy that my administration announced this past October shows us the path forward. Together, we will expand cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable energy choices for consumers, enhancing efficiency programs for all communities, at the same time helping to create thousands of new jobs.
Putting Connecticut businesses and consumers in control of their energy future will have a real and immediate impact.
Look no further than Modern Woodcrafts, a locally-owned company in Plainville. They invested in the kind of energy efficiency initiatives that our state plan will promote. They've seen more than $35,000 dollars per year in savings on energy costs.
Or in Woodbridge, where Amity High School will have an annual budget savings of $120,000 after the town made a conversion to natural gas.
Across Connecticut, we are taking control of our energy future.
HIGH ENERGY PRICES, struggling schools, a broken budget, a sluggish economy. All problems that every person in this room knew we were facing two years ago, and we have faced them - together.
Other challenges we didn't see coming.
In 2011, Connecticut was rocked by the worst winter in our history, two storms packing a one- two punch the likes of which we hadn't seen in more than 25 years. Tropical Storm Irene and the October Nor'easter revealed holes in our emergency response system that should have been addressed years, if not decades ago.
It was a wake-up call... and we woke up.
We put in place new procedures to better coordinate our emergency response infrastructure.
We commissioned a "Two Storm Panel" to investigate exactly what went wrong and to determine what needed to be done to prevent unacceptable power and communication disruptions. That panel led directly to the passage of tough new laws; laws that hold Connecticut utility companies accountable for how they respond to emergencies.
And we created a new energy micro-grid program to increase energy reliability in critical areas.
These weren't quick fixes or window dressing. They were the result of saying we'd had enough - it was time to do more.
What does it all mean for Connecticut residents? We know we will again feel the brunt of powerful weather. But we can tell our citizens that their state is more prepared for future challenges, that their families will be safer when disaster strikes, and that the odds of anyone having to needlessly suffer through prolonged power outages have been greatly diminished.
When Hurricane Sandy struck, we saw results from the work we'd done together. While we can never entirely prevent damage or power outages, the response was better and faster.
Once again, we saw a problem and, together, we worked to address it.
IF THESE PAST two years have proven anything, it's that we have the ability to rally around a common good and a common goal. We've done it in a way that just doesn't seem possible these days in some places - certainly not in Washington D.C.
In December, at the same time leadership from each of your caucuses were meeting with my staff for long hours night-after-night to negotiate a mitigation plan, our national budget was being driven toward, and then off, a fiscal cliff.
While we've worked to manage our state's finances, national inaction hangs like a dark cloud over our budget. For the many Connecticut families with someone working in our defense industry, Washington's inability to address problems on a reasonable deadline is causing sleepless nights.
And earlier this month, while many families and small businesses were still working to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Sandy, the gears once again ground to a halt, slowing the process of getting aid to those who need it most.
I say this not to demean any of our colleagues in Washington but in the hope that we will better appreciate what we've accomplished here in Connecticut.
TWO YEARS AGO, you first welcomed me into this chamber. I spoke then about the challenges we faced, and about the opportunities that we knew were within our grasp.
I spoke about who we are as a community. About the ingenuity, the resolve and the resilience that has defined Connecticut over centuries. About Eli Whitney, Prudence Crandall, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. About a history of overcoming challenges - together.
My friends, that is still who we are today.
We've come a long way in two years, and we've done it together - as a government, as a
community, as a state.
In 2013, let us honor one another, let us honor our renewed community, and let us honor those we've lost.
We have a great deal of work to do. But if history is any judge, we will rise to the occasion.
When called upon, we will answer - as we've done time and time again - as one people, one community, one Connecticut.
May God bless you, may God bless the great State of Connecticut, and may God bless the United States of America.