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Well once again everybody else is on the left here.
I got an interesting piece of news today--I don't want the press to have a heart attack because this is not really what my announcement is about--but as I was coming to work today I got a call from Kathy Hoyt, Secretary of Administration, who told me that as a result of our financial policies we have fallen this year from ninth in the country in per capita debt to fifteenth; we're no longer in the top 10. And it made me, it was an ironic call, it was a wonderful call, it was wonderful news, because I've often said tht the last piece of financial stability that I want to leave with the state is to reduce our debt. That we've done everything, we've had the best bond rating in New England; we've got big reserves; we've never had a budget that's larger than the rate of growth in the GNP, but our debt is still too high and this was a great piece of news.
I have accomplished many things that I wanted to accomplish in this job. I have a group of fantastic people here, most of whom seem to be assembled on very short notice, who really get most of the credit for that, but the process of democracy is such that the institution is much more important than any one person.
I have been in this job for over 10 years. By the time I leave this job I will have been in state service for 20 years. I came into the Legislature on January 1st of 1983. I will leave this building in January of 2003. I will not be a candidate for governor in the year 2002.
I feel that of course this is a day of nostalgia, but it's also a day of continued focus on the issues that we need to focus on, an opportunity to look back in the record. The record is extraordinary, and I don't take credit for it. I think that the people of Vermont have supported me throughout my tenure which started on a very difficult note over 10 years ago, right up in that corner office. But what we have done is extraordinary.
Virtually every child in Vermont has health insurance. Our child abuse rates have dropped dramatically because of Success by Six. But that's not the real message. The real message about children has been that children have become a priority in a country where children can't vote. So we have now imbued in the fabric of this state the notion that children matter and an investment in kids matter and that putting the money in makes a difference, and I don't think that this program is going to be undone no matter who sits in the front office because the public will not permit it.
We have accomplished-- I've often said that the largest piece of my legacy and the legacy of all of us here will be conservation. Next August I hope to sign the last big conservation deal that I told the folks in the environmental community about a year ago, that the last thing I needed to do in the environment was to lock up 33 miles of Connecticut River shoreline with a New England power deal. Those easements will be signed next August. But we have done much more on environmental issues.
I can remember the very first big issue that was not controversial in the Statehouse but was incredibly controversial locally, which I think has happened so long ago that most people have forgotten about it, was to close down 76 unlined landfills. That legislation was passed under Governor Kunin but was left to me and this administration to implement it. I think that was an extraordinary thing to do, again one in the distant past but an important one.
The progress we've made in areas such as mercury, a reduction of mercury pollution with the support of the attorney general; the reduction in air pollution with lawsuits--these things are important.
Some of the other things that are important are quality of life issues. As many of you know I got my start--Peter Freyne knows because he's habout the only person who's been around here long enough covering Burlington--that I got my start in Vermont politics with something called the Citizens Waterfront Group, co-chaired by Rick Sharp and Tom Hudspeth, with the starting of the Burlington bike path. Today because of what we've been able to do many communities around Vermont have bike paths and if you don't think that that makes a difference, 100 years from now when nobody remembers how those got there, people will be enjoying that as a quality of life and it's important to do those things now.
So an administration's legacy is not just the big things like the conservation or the issues such as children's health care. It's a lot of small things.
The Newport office building is a very small thing. It's not going to mean anything to anyone in Rutland or Brattleboro but it eventually will create opportunities for Newport that never would have existed and totally reoriented that town so that it faces the lake instead of itself and someday, sooner rather than later, that's going to pay tremendous dividends.
I think one thing we don't pay a lot of attention to is the issue of crime. Vermont has a very low crime rate but it was a big issue when I came into office and because I've appointed over two-thirds of the judiciary I've been able to have an influence on what happens. The length of sentence for a violent criminal has doubled from 29 months to 58 months since I've been governor and I think that's an important thing. I think we have to have a balance between the cutting edge stuff that's going on in corrections now in terms of involving community in punishment but also in protecting people. And I felt that when I first came into office we weren't protecting people well enough. I think we are doing a better job and we still have more challenges to come.
There are many, many other things; I'm not going to go through the whole legacy, but I am going to just say a couple of things more.
We still have challenges in front of us. Although I'm announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election, we have a year and a half to go. I chose to make this announcement now because I've been governor for a long time. I guess when I finish my term it will be the longest serving governor in the state's history as a state and second only to Thomas Chittenden, whose half of his term was for the Republic and half was for the state.
I think the people of the state need a long time and deserve a long time to evaluate the candidates for those who will succeed me.
I also want to be very blunt. I do not intend to be a lame duck. I intend to use all the powers of the office, and they are considerable, and the powers of personality, and they may or may not be considerable, you'll have to judge that on your own. But there is work to be done.
I do intend to take another pass at universal health care. I know it won't be the deluxe model given that we have division in the House and Senate but I do think that needs to be on the table as well as cost control.
And I will do everything in my power to make sure that the next budget is balanced as the last few have been. And when I turn my keys over to the corner office to my successor in January of 2003 that the state will be in extraordinarily good financial shape as it is today. We have the highest bond rating in New England up from the lowest bond rating. We have $100 million in the bank up from a $60 million deficit. Those are not things I intend in any way to let go by in the last year and a half of my term.
I do intend to work with the Legislature in a constructive way but this will be a difficult budget. Revenues are deteriorating. We will have to make some very tough choices, but I can tell you that most people in the Legislature have never been through a recession. I have. This recession that we're going through will not be anything, I don't believe, like the 1990 to 1991 recession where we had to cut $50 million and for the first time in 25 years actually had a budget that in actual dollars was lower than the previous year's budget.
It will be a tough couple of years, but unless there's a worldwide recession I anticipate that the economy will be in reasonably good enough shape so we ought to be able to get through it and still have money in the bank so that when I leave the corner office the person who takes those keys will have inherited a state in very sound fiscal condition with a much lower debt per capita than it was when I came, with much more money in the bank, with a stable tax rate and tax system which is conducive to better jobs.
Let me conclude by saying one other thing. I want to thank all the fantastic staff and cabinet people that I have had working with me over the years. There is no such thing as a governor whose legacy is this and whose legacy is that. It's the administration whose legacy is this and whose legacy is that. One person accomplishes nothing by themselves, and I've had extraordinary people working with me from day one, some of whom never came into the government.
I remember the transition team--I see Bob Sherman here, and others, Paul Poirer and Kathy Hoyt, and many others, Julie Peterson, who on that very first day that we were all shocked by Governor Snelling's passing, put themselves together, advised me on how to run the government and we've been running it that way ever since and I think it's worked out very well. So many of you, Kate O'Connor is another, I mentioned Kathy--have been with me for so very long and my deepest thanks to all of you have been so extraordinary and brought many many good things to Vermont.
Is there more to be done? There's a great deal more to be done. But the genius of our political system is that the institutions survive the individuals who occupy the positions. And I've often said in interviews that you all have asked me about over the last 10 years, that my heroes, political heroes, among my political heroes are George Washington and Mikhail Gorbachev, both of whom left their position willingly and did things that they knew were going to reduce their own power because the power of the institutions and the future of the state and country were more important than their own role.
I think anybody that occupies this position has always got to keep this in mind. It is impossible to be a good governor if you think that you're the only one who can do this job correctly.
I do intend to be as helpful as I can to whoever the incoming governor might be and if they're interested in advice I'll give it and if they're not I'll keep my mouth as quiet as I possibly can, unless they try to cut children off the health care rolls.
Thank you very much.
...Gov. Dean then took questions.