Governor Chris Sununu
2020 State of the State
February 13, 2020
Good Afternoon – Mr. Speaker, Madame Senate President, honorable members of the House, the Senate, the Executive Council, Commissioners, and of course, members of the Supreme Court — and our fellow citizens joining us today, WELCOME!
Today, I stand before you to deliver the State of the State. To update you on where we are, and where we will go.
You've heard me say it before. New Hampshire does things differently. We challenge ourselves to find innovative solutions. We don't subscribe to a one-size fits all approach and that has allowed our State to be stronger and better than ever before.
When New Hampshire's people do it New Hampshire's way, we set the course and provide a great model for the entire nation. We don't get bogged down like the dysfunction in Washington. We work together — whenever possible — to make sure our state is the best it can possibly be.
And this past week, the Granite State took that responsibility once more as the eyes of the world were upon us.
In a year with high stakes, we saw record turnout in our First in the Nation Primary.
It isn't the Governor, Legislature, or political parties that deliver a successful primary – but our city and town officials, moderators, clerks supervisors of the checklist, and the hundreds of Granite Staters who help out on Primary Day
AND ESPECIALLY: Bill Gardner, Dave Scanlon, and the great team at the Secretary of States office – WE SAY: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
NH isn't one to follow the whims of other states – other states follow us. When times are good, we do not raise taxes and create bureaucracy – we create opportunity. Doors of opportunity that solve problems. We problem solve, innovate, and get the job done.
In just the last year we:
- Stopped unnecessary new taxes
- Eliminated the Merrimack tolls once and for all
- Legalized sports betting
- Took historic action to protect our environment
- Prevented business tax increases
- Made record investments into our education system, child protection programs, and the mental health
- Fully funded the Developmental Disability waitlist,
- Ended the order of selection in our Vocational Rehabilitation Program,
- Lowered health insurance costs
- and Ensured health insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
2019 was a banner year for the New Hampshire economy.
Over the last year, New Hampshire families have benefited greatly from record levels of economic growth. Our focus on our workforce, while making high-paying, quality jobs available has paid enormous dividends.
Business taxes are at their lowest this century, and more people are working than ever before. The model works — and it's proven.
In just the last year and in study after study, New Hampshire has been recognized on a national level for our unparalleled quality of life.
- We are the number one state for economic freedom.
- We have the lowest poverty rate in the nation.
- The number one state for taxpayer return on investment
- And the number one state for opportunity.
We must increase opportunity for all, and build a workforce for everyone, at every stage of life.
My administration has taken on the task of ensuring we are leaders in developing a 21st century workforce.
As part of a strong economy and workforce, we must ensure that everyone is treated with fairness and respect. As part of that effort, I have asked Senator Jeb Bradley to sponsor the New Hampshire Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which will ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job and are provided with reasonable workplace accommodations. No woman should be forced out of a job or denied employment opportunities simply because she is pregnant.
And at the same time, we must provide greater flexibility in our workforce. That's why we established our Infants in the Workplace Initiative, one of the first in the country – which will allow state employees to bring their infants to work in the early stages of life, which will keep our state competitive and provide immense benefits to family.
Another area where we have great opportunity is Paid Family Leave. Senator Jeb Bradley's bill – which I wholeheartedly SUPPORT – has been vetted by insurance officials and is the only shot at delivering a viable voluntary paid family leave program that does not contain an income tax. Let's not miss this opportunity & get it done for our citizens.
Just last year, while states like Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts saw decreases in population, New Hampshire saw an increase.
These workforce initiatives are more critical than ever because we are now ranked as the most popular destination in the Northeast for millennials and if we want to keep up that momentum it is these game-changing initiatives that will be critical.
Our record of success is no accident – it has happened as a result of our deliberate pro-jobs, pro-growth agenda.
From your prices at the gas pump to taxes and energy costs, I fought against raising costs on our citizens. It wasn't always easy, but it was the right thing to do. I strongly urge you, my friends in the legislature, to continue with me down this path.
As you know, much of the 2019 Legislative Session was consumed with our state's budget negotiations. Both sides worked over the summer in good faith to secure a budget that works for New Hampshire. Members from both parties came together and worked out a compromise that everyone could be proud of.
The budget was a big win for New Hampshire families – we held the line on taxes, returned cash to cities and towns for property tax relief, and provided historic investments into our education system.
The budget did not make financial promises that could not be kept, and that is something the people of New Hampshire can be proud of.
Budgets serve as roadmaps for the future – which is why we made historic investments into our education system.
In 2019 – even before this new budget – New Hampshire invested more money per pupil on public education than at any time in history.& And with our strong economy, our new budget does even more.
- We sent $62 million back to local school districts for school infrastructure projects
- We restored stabilization grants to school districts across the state
- We increased funding for full-day kindergarten
- Fully funded special education aid.
- We froze the tuition at the University and Community College Systems
- Doubled our nursing programs at UNH and restarted the long absent LPN nursing program at our Community Colleges
Despite these amazing education investments, an individual's educational path does not always fit in the traditional four walls of a classroom.
We have to be bold and allow our system to be flexible around the needs of the student.
Last year we announced the creation of the New Hampshire Career Academy – an innovative program that allows for students in New Hampshire schools to receive a high school diploma, associate's degree, and a guaranteed job interview – All at no extra cost to the student or taxpayer.
And just last week, we officially opened enrollment in the program at our community colleges. Students can start signing up now. This initiative is a win for students, families, and the businesses that power our economy.
We also continue to push the limits on early childhood education. If you want to build the best workforce, it starts with providing the best education at the earliest stages of life.
My approach since day one has been to increase family engagement in every setting.
So last year, I proposed a $6 million one-time cash infusion into UNH to rebuild the Early Childhood Center of Excellence to serve as a model for the rest of the country and ensure that New Hampshire never again falls behind the curve for our kids.
Unfortunately, this investment was removed from the budget by the Legislature. But undeterred, the state worked with UNH and The NH Charitable Foundation to secure a $26 million federal grant for Preschool Development, the biggest of it's kind which will build capacities for learning and wellbeing at home, in child care, and community based settings.
This investment is unprecedented and will help the UNH Early Childhood Center of Excellence become that gold standard of innovation we envisioned.
It's a win we can all be proud of.
And when it comes to education we know we have to work at both ends of the spectrum. Last year, I budgeted for a $160 million, ten year investment in student debt relief that would have cost the taxpayers nothing. Unfortunately the legislature killed that proposal, but I am hopeful we can find compromise and finally deliver this opportunity to provide student debt-relief and direct scholarships — again, at NO expense to the taxpayer.
This opportunity for graduating students, along with our workforce housing legislation which are moving through the House now can help ensure when retain our students to be the workforce of tomorrow. I am thankful to have bipartisan support for these efforts, and I am confident we will get this done.
There are many things that the people of New Hampshire take pride in. Our high quality of life, our low cost of living and our Live-Free-Or-Die spirit. But another area in which we all have a stake in, and all have a deep appreciation for, is our environment. Here in New Hampshire, we take the obligation of environmental stewardship very seriously. That stewardship does not just take the form of more spending on yesterday's ideas. We have the responsibility to be smarter and more innovative in our approach. Weighing the impacts, large and small, and not just committing to what is politically convenient.
My administration began an aggressive approach to environmental responsibility first by taking on the issue of clean drinking water. Ensuring that a problem did not become a crisis, and with the leadership of Senator Chuck Morse the Clean Drinking Water Fund was established and to date the state has awarded over $100 million of clean drinking water infrastructure projects to cities and towns around the state.
We then set out giving our best and brightest to the task of creating the most accurate, science-based drinking water standards in the country. Standards based on the best available data and standards that are allowing Gordon McDonald and his team at the Attorney General's office to lead the nation in holding these polluting companies accountable. They are fighting for NH families and we are going to win this battle.
Then you add in all of the common sense environmental measures we have taken:
- Banning oil drilling off our pristine Seacoast - we got it done
- Using the strongest offshore winds in the country for clean renewable energy - we're moving forward.
- Dozens of new electric charging stations around the state coming on-line
- And when other states tried to shake down our residents for hundreds of millions of dollars in a gas tax – known as TCI – a scheme to pay off their failing public transportation systems, New Hampshire was the first to stand up and say ABSOLUTELY NOT!
I'd like to take a moment and take a step back to some core issues that we've been discussing since day one, have made great strides in, but we know there is still so much to do with issues of Addiction and drug use.
It continues to afflict our communities – no one is left untouched by this crisis. In 2017, we knew that we had to take bold and innovative steps to make a difference. The federal government provided New Hampshire with the opportunity to take a whole-new approach to fighting addiction when it awarded New Hampshire an unprecedented $55 million grant to create a new system.
One year after getting it up and running, the Doorway is a success. Addiction treatment providers – the spokes in the hub-and-spoke delivery system – They agree the Doorway is working. It has ensured that we have statewide distribution of Narcan and access to Medication-Assisted Treatment not just in the southern tier, but throughout New Hampshire. People are entering treatment, services are better coordinated and lives are being saved. Those communities that have embraced and worked collaboratively with The Doorway have seen incredible results. This new system has served over 7,000 individuals in just the first year with the number of overdose deaths continue to fall.
But the only way to truly solve this crisis, is with Prevention. I want to take a moment to thank Patrick Tuffs of Granite Untied Way, who leads the Governor's Commission On Alcohol and Other Drugs, and the entire Commission itself who this year made the largest investments into prevention programs New Hampshire has ever seen. Millions of dollars into school programs, workforce initiatives and community centers.
We owe you a big Thank You!
We all know that a critical issue facing our citizens, especially our senior citizens, is the cost of prescription drugs. We know must lower our prescription drug prices, and it starts with allowing the importation of drugs from Canada, greater transparency in pricing and preventing price gouging of low-income families. I want to thank everyone in the legislature involved with those efforts for helping move the bipartisan bills along. Please get them to my desk so we can get these initiatives moving forward and provide some relief to our citizens.
I also believe there is another big challenge that our state faces. It is rarely discussed but has great impact on the care of our seniors. Specifically those who are waiting for placement in assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
It is a fact that NH is a state with an older population which has given us the advantage of constantly being ranked as having one of the most educated and experienced workforces in the country.
But with that comes the challenge of long term care services for seniors. No one would deny that they deserve the highest quality care in the least restrictive environment, within a system that supports their needs. Unfortunately, too often their only choice is to live in a hospital bed for an extended period of time because there are no other options available while they wait for appropriate long term care.
I always say that governments biggest responsibility is create doors of opportunity for our citizens. ALL of our citizens. We cannot wait for the current challenges surrounding senior health care turn into a crisis.
I believe government – local, county and state - should be removing barriers to access and opening up those doors of opportunity, especially for senior citizens. So today, I am announcing the formation of a working group, led by our new Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Lori Shibinette. Their charge will be to immediately begin to work with stakeholders and within 90 days provide the ideas and solutions to get long term care back on track in New Hampshire. Thank you Commissioner Shibinette for taking this on.
When I took office, I called the state of mental health in New Hampshire our unspoken crisis. We have taken mental health out of the shadows, and brought it to the forefront. So many people deserve credit for that undertaking, tackling the core issues and making meaningful strides.
Rebuilding our mental health system has been a priority since day one and I still believe we can become the best state in the country for community based mental health services. We've made investments and I am pleased to have data showing that our efforts are paying off.
We brought in a first-class team and they are delivering results. It has taken a lot of hard work and cooperation to get to the point that we finally have a significantly declining waitlist at New Hampshire Hospital.
- Since taking office the average length of time an individual patient waits for an admission has been nearly cut in half.
- In the last two years, the number of days that patients spent waiting in hospital emergency departments decreased by 60%.
- We've added dozens of new Designated Receiving Facility beds across NH.
- We've ensured suicide prevention training in our schools
- Mental health services for kids are being provided in appropriate facilities
- And after 20 years of talking about it we are finally moving forward with building a state Secure Psychiatric Unit to give those patients the dignity they deserve.
Another area we are making strides in is suicide prevention for our veterans. It's on us to make sure that we stand for those who stood tall for us defending the freedoms we enjoy every day.
Today, I am proud to announce that the state of New Hampshire is partnering with the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs to combine, and streamline all of our resources, to put suicide prevention for our veterans at the forefront.
This new effort will allow us to share best practices and join forces. As part of this effort, the first order of business is reaching out to every single New Hampshire veteran, to let them know every federal and state resource available to them and ensure there is no wrong door to getting mental health services.
They are not alone!
As we come into this next year I ask you to be very reflective of what New Hampshire is all about. While the rest of the country is drowning in national negative political rhetoric, let's reflect on how we here in NH do it a little different and a lot better.
Let's remember what brings us together and brings out the best in one another.
There are a few people who I invited to join us today that I really think exemplify that strength.
We all remember the horrific crash in Randolph back on June 21st, that took the lives of seven motorcycle riders, the Jarheads – A motorcycle club of Marines.
And with us today are Manny Riberio and Dawn Brindley, survivors of that tragedy. Manny and Dawn – Thank you so much for being here today with your strength and spirit.
Following that crash there was a small group of individuals that decided to do a memorial ride in the honor of the victims. And I've asked the organizers of the Ride for The Fallen Seven to join us today as well:
- Brian DeSimone
- Steve Allison
- And Bob Wagner
The amazing story is this. The organizers were hoping a couple hundred riders might come out to join them. The ride quickly became so popular and met with such overwhelming response. Soon, thousands of riders were looking to come to the Granite State.
And our teams got together and some said it was going to be too much, not enough time to plan, great idea but it would be too overwhelming to manage.
But that's not who we are, and that's not what we did.
We all knew how important this was for not just the riders but for the entire state. This was a moment to drop everything, come together and get it right. The organizers, our state police, emergency management, DOT, and local police and fire departments.
And when the time came it worked. Roads were shut down. American Flags were flying from overpasses above the highways. Granite Staters were lined up along the roads saluting the thousands of memorial riders. It was awe-insipiring.
And that's the spirit I want us to remember. Everyone coming together and appreciating that the job is bigger than ourselves.
It's not about us, it about those we serve.
And those who served before us.
I believe we all share the same pride in New Hampshire.
And when come together as a state, we do it better than anyone. Washington could learn a thing or two from us up here. We don't spend countless days locked in gridlock, we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
There is so much more we still have to accomplish. Let's Get It Done.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the great State of New Hampshire.