Governor Abbott Delivers State Of The State Address
**Governor Abbott often deviates from prepared remarks
Thank you Lt. Governor Patrick.
I am honored to work with you and Speaker Bonnen as we embark on this new session.
A session, by the way, that will etch landmark achievements into this already historic chamber.
I also want to thank the Deans of the two chambers for their leadership —Representative Craddick and Senator Whitmire.
And thanks to the members of the House and Senate, the Judiciary, statewide officials, and our fellow Texans.
I’m especially proud to have by my side, my wife Cecilia — the fabulous First Lady of the greatest state in America.
On this very day, about 1,000 new residents will call Texas home. That happens almost every day.
Whether you like that or not, we can never lose sight of the reason so many people make life altering decisions to uproot their families and businesses and chart new paths – paths that guided them to Texas.
They were fed up with big government policies increasingly running their lives and imposing burdensome regulations.
They were taxed out of their states that some of their families had lived in for generations.
The cost of doing business imposed by heavy-handed special interest groups simply became too oppressive.
They needed an escape. They longed for freedom. They wanted hope.
They found it in Texas.
We may not be perfect, but to all the newcomers I talk to, they think Texas is a governmental Holy Grail.
The newcomers have joined with long-time Texans, and together we have forged what has become the most powerful state in America.
Texas leads the nation in new job creation. And we have the fastest growing economy in America.
A by-product of this success is a prosperity that touches all corners of our state. Texas recorded its lowest unemployment rate ever. And wages are rising.
Digging deeper, you’ll see that we lead the nation in jobs created by African-American business owners and Hispanic women business owners. And get this – Texas is now number one for Women Entrepreneurs.
Women like Tamala Austin, a Houston entrepreneur who founded J.I.V.E Juice out of her home nearly 7 years ago. She worked tirelessly to grow her business across the Houston area, all while working another job full-time and raising a teenage daughter.
Inspiration, hard work, and drive – they pay off in Texas. They paid off for Tamala.
J.I.V.E Juice recently became the first African-American-owned juice company to be carried by Whole Foods. I’ve seen for myself – when women succeed, Texas succeeds.
And we all know about another number one ranking – Texas is number one in oil and gas production.
In fact, America will be energy independent by next year.
And as Brooks Landgraf knows, one word makes our energy independence possible – Texas.
And Todd Hunter, with our new LNG export facilities, Texas is helping emerging economies across the globe wean themselves off of coal and instead use clean burning natural gas produced right here in Texas.
And even with increased oil and gas production, we have lowered nitrogen oxide levels by 45%.
This reduction in pollutants is equal to removing more than 85 million passenger cars off of Texas roads.
As meaningful as the oil and gas industry is to our economy, the fact is the Texas economy is more diversified today than ever before.
From aerospace to cybersecurity, financial services to manufacturing, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses and startups.
Texas is the premier economic destination in the United States. And Texas has led the nation in exports for 16 years straight.
And for the past 5 years we’ve led the nation in tech exports.
Now more than ever, the most powerful label is: “Made in Texas.”
Importantly, our economic might is not limited to our cities.
It touches smaller communities across the state.
Job creating projects have broken ground in places ranging from Amarillo to Brownsville, Lufkin and Mt. Pleasant, Temple and Paris, Texas.
These business expansions are a result of the Texas Enterprise Fund, which promotes economic diversification.
Our collective work has led to record acclaim — and some impressive hardware.
The Governor’s Cup is given to the state that leads the nation for the most new and expanded business facilities. For the past 4 years, Texas has been ranked number one.
We are joined today by representatives of the Metro 8 Chambers of Commerce.
These chambers and their peers across the state work with us to keep Texas #1 for business.
They are holding the four Governor’s Cups that you helped Texas earn the past four years.
These trophies are a tangible reminder of the excellence that we achieve when we work together.
Texas remains America’s prime destination for businesses and job-seekers — in part because of actions of Senators and Representatives in this Capitol that helped foster opportunities for Texas’ economic prowess.
You spurred more investment and business start-ups by slashing regulations and by cutting the business margins tax.
You funded a road building strategy that provides than more than $7.5 billion for road construction each year.
And you helped make our schools better. More students are graduating from high school and college than ever before.
We have more public high schools ranked in the Top 100 and more Blue Ribbon public schools than any state in America.
Higher education is also better. In the past four years we exceeded our goal of doubling the number of tier one universities.
Today, Texas is home to nine tier one universities. We are on the path to becoming America’s epicenter for research and innovation.
Take just one example. Dr. Jim Allison of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
J. M. Lozano, get this. Last year, Dr. Allison, a native of Alice, Texas won the Nobel Prize in medicine for developing a revolutionary way to treat cancer.
Proving once again that the minds of Texas are changing the world.
Not only is Texas smarter than ever, we’re also safer.
Last session, you acted in bipartisan fashion to protect the most vulnerable children by reforming a broken foster care and child protective system.
And thanks to the leadership of Senator Royce West and Representative Phil King, we are keeping our law enforcement officers safer by providing them rifle-resistant vests.
You passed laws that crack down on dangerous gangs and human traffickers who threaten our citizens.
When you combine our legislative achievements with our ground-breaking prosperity, we have elevated Texas to rarefied status.
And I’m proud to tell you the state of Texas has never been better.
We have accomplished so much. But you know as well as I do, more must be done to fulfill the promise of Texas.
This session, for just the next few months, we have a unique window of opportunity to tackle some challenges that have plagued Texas for more than a generation.
Our mission begins with our students.
We are graduating more students from high school than ever before.
But we have more students graduating who are not ready for college or a career.
Here’s the problem — only about 40% of 3rd graders are reading at grade level by the time they finish the 3rd grade.
Not surprisingly, less than 40% of students who took the SAT or ACT were prepared for college.
To improve this, we must target education funding to help our students achieve in school. That starts with teachers in the classroom.
Other than parents, no one is more vital to our students’ education than teachers.
Texas must recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers to educate our students. This session, we must pay our teachers more.
We must provide incentives to put effective teachers in the schools and classrooms where they are needed the most.
And we must create a pathway for the best teachers to earn a six-figure salary.
The teacher pay system used by Dallas ISD shows this strategy works.
When I visited Blanton Elementary in Dallas, I met an outstanding teacher who was only in his third year and already making more than $90,000.
Teachers across Texas should have that opportunity.
With Senator Taylor and Representative Huberty leading the reform effort, I know we can get this done.
Working together, we will create a Texas where every student is reading at grade level by the time they finish the third grade.
Where every child, regardless of their zip code, receives a quality education.
And where every student graduates with more than just a diploma.
They will graduate with the tools they need to excel in college or a career.
That’s precisely what is being done in districts like Dallas, San Antonio, Longview, Pharr-San Juan, and Premont.
I want to thank the superintendents with us here today, including Superintendents Hinojosa, Martinez, Wilcox, King, and VanMatre, for implementing these transformative strategies.
Rarely has Texas witnessed such bi-partisan, bi-cameral support for an issue this substantial this early in a session.
I credit the leadership of the Speaker and Lt. Governor. I also credit all members of the House and Senate for listening to your constituents.
And I especially appreciate those who worked this past year on the School Finance Reform Commission.
Thank you Senators Bettencourt, Taylor, and West, and Representatives Bernal, Huberty, and Ken King for your leadership.
To keep this momentum going, I am declaring school finance reform and increasing teacher pay emergency items.
As we improve our schools, it’s not enough to give our students a quality education.
We must create a learning environment that is safe.
No student should be afraid to go to school. No parent should be fearful when dropping their child off at school.
Texas must act now to make our schools safer, so I am making school safety an emergency item.
After the horrific shooting at Santa Fe High School, I held roundtables with parents, students, educators, law enforcement, and mental health experts.
We developed innovative solutions to better protect our children and teachers.
It’s time to turn ideas into action.
We must do all we can to make our schools safer.
Working together, we will deliver on this promise to our parents, to our students, and to our teachers.
When it comes to improving school safety, one solution everyone agreed on was the need to address mental health in our schools.
I commend Senator Nelson, who wasted no time crafting a strategy that does exactly that.
As she has pointed out, many of our universities already have innovative mental health programs.
Programs like the telemedicine wellness project at Texas Tech.
It partners with school districts in West Texas to identify and remove students who pose a potential threat. And it provides students the help they need.
School districts across Texas deserve access to these services.
And as we all know, mental health issues are not confined to our schools. They touch our entire society.
To better address these needs, Senator Nelson provides a broad-based plan.
A plan that creates the Texas Mental Health Care Consortium to collaborate on statewide mental health needs.
In typical Texas fashion, her idea is big and bold.
To ensure it has enough time to become law this session, I’m declaring it an emergency item.
Speaking of emergencies, I think we can all agree another emergency is property tax reform.
If we are going to keep Texas the economic engine of America, we must rein in a property tax system that punishes families and businesses and prevents younger Texans from achieving their dream of homeownership.
We can no longer sit idly by while property owners are reduced to tenants of their own property with taxing authorities playing the role of landlord.
Our constituents are counting on us.
I applaud leaders of the Senate and House for working together in historic fashion on identical bills that limit the ability of taxing authorities to raise your taxes.
At the same time, the state will be making new investments in education and reducing Robin Hood.
This isn’t just about restraining the growth of property taxes, it’s about restoring power to the people of Texas.
That’s why I propose giving taxpayers the ability to fire their property tax appraiser and elect a better one.
By taking these actions, we’ll do more than just reform our property tax system.
We will ensure seniors who have worked their entire lives can afford to retire in a home they’ve already paid off.
We will give hope to the next generation of Texans, that they too can realize their dream of owning a home.
And we will ensure that middle and low-income Texans can remain in the neighborhoods they cherish.
It is for those Texans that I am making property tax reform an emergency item this session.
You can’t talk about homes in this State without talking about all the homes devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
When I look back on this past year, I remember the more than 75 trips I took to regions hit by Hurricane Harvey — from Rock Port to Orange County.
Every trip I made, legislators were by my side.
I applaud you for your tireless efforts to serve your constituents.
As you saw, in the face of the greatest natural disaster, our state has ever seen our fellow Texans show the world that no earthly force is more powerful than Texan spirit.
From our first responders and emergency workers to community leaders and faith-based groups.
From our partners at the federal government, to the citizens who gave their time and resources — Texans stepped up to help those in need.
Texans like Morgan McCullough and Casey Aslan. They are nurses at Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston.
Morgan and Casey were unable to drive to work because the flooded streets of Houston had turned into rivers.
So they packed up their gear in an inflatable kayak and they paddled for two hours to get to the hospital so they could care for their patients.
Morgan and Casey embody what it means to be a Texan.
To help communities and residents harmed by Hurricane Harvey, Texas has already committed more than a billion dollars.
Additionally, the federal government has appropriated more than $30 billion in aid.
But we all know, more resources are needed to help Texans rebuild.
So I commend the House and Senate, which have both proposed using Rainy Day Funds to help rebuild Texas stronger and more resilient than before disaster struck.
And we all agree that we must apply the lessons of Harvey to improve the way Texas responds to natural disasters.
For example, I support ideas proposed by Senator Perry and Representative Phelan.
They extend disaster solutions beyond just funding and beyond just the coastal region.
And, we must create a system that cuts through all the red tape.
To give the legislature time this session to make Texas more resilient to future disasters, I am making disaster response an emergency item.
In addition to rebuilding our communities from disasters, we must also do more to keep them safe from crime.
We must do more to crack down on the treacherous gangs that bring drugs, weapons, and violence into our communities.
Fortunately, Texas has developed a winning strategy with our six Texas Anti-Gang Centers.
These TAG Centers are hubs where law enforcement agencies work together to crack down on gang activity and put these criminals behind bars.
We know these centers work.
For example, in Houston, more than 1,400 gang-related arrests were made in 2017 alone.
Nearly 250 of those arrests involved violent or high threat offenders.
And last year, 57 members of a white supremacist gang in Dallas were charged for drug trafficking and conspiracy to kidnap.
This was the result of a DPS-led investigation aided by the TAG Center in Dallas.
More communities need these tools.
I’m calling for two new anti-gang centers in Waco and Tyler to rid those regions of dangerous gangs.
Together we will put more gang members behind bars.
We will dismantle their criminal enterprises.
And we will make our neighborhoods safer for Texas families.
And I’ll add this, I know we’ve long waited for the day when Texas would not have to provide funding to secure our border.
And yet, the Federal Government still has not fulfilled its responsibility.
As a result, I am once again asking that Texas step up and fully fund our border security program.
We must also work together to crack down on human trafficking and to protect the victims of this heinous crime.
I ask the legislature to increase funding to create six regional human trafficking squads. These squads will investigate and shut down human trafficking operations across Texas.
And absolutely every trafficker should get mandatory jail time.
These predators should be locked up, not freely roaming our streets looking for victims.
We must also do more to ensure justice for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
One of the most important tools we have is forensic testing of rape kits.
But thousands of these kits have languished untested for years.
This session we must right this wrong.
Together we must provide more funding to eliminate the backlog and deliver justice that has been denied for too long.
Whether it’s cracking down on human trafficking or eliminating the backlog of rape kits, I know we can get the job done.
I know because of leaders like Senators Huffman and Hinojosa, and Representatives Thompson and Neave. They are working on legislation to get this fixed.
Let me mention one more thing we must do.
We must not turn our backs on the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have worn the uniform of the mightiest military in the history of the world.
Some serve with us today as legislators in this majestic capitol.
We are honored to serve by your side.
But as we know some return broken from battle with injuries both seen and unseen.
Some cannot find a job. Others don’t know how to find a job.
Still others are homeless, possessing only a glimmer of the glory they once fought for.
They fought for our freedom. Now we must fight for their future.
Texas is home to more than 1.6 million veterans.
And we’ve already made tremendous strides to better support our veterans thanks to leaders like Senator Donna Campbell and Representative Dan Flynn.
But this session we have an opportunity to do even more.
That includes fully funding the mental health program for veterans at HHSC.
We must also fund the Texas Veterans Commission to help veterans receive the VA healthcare benefits they have earned.
This session we will ensure that veterans get the best services Texas can provide so that the men and women who fought on the front lines go to the front of the line.
No doubt, what I have outlined today is a transformative agenda.
We have an opportunity to make Texas a far better state.
I can assure you, people inside and outside the Capitol can see we are on the threshold of something extraordinary.
But of course, whenever you try to do something extraordinary, it’s never easy.
There will be naysayers. Those who cling to the status quo. It will be hard.
But I believe you were made for this moment. We were made for this moment.
We serve at a unique time in Texas history.
A time that we can seize to cement a legacy for Texas.
We have the power to ensure Texas is a state where our citizens can realize their dream of owning a home or starting a business.
Where we prioritize student achievement and create safer schools.
A state that puts public safety first, whether it’s in the face of natural disasters or dangerous gangs.
A Texas where we expand economic opportunity and freedom to every corner of our state and where we provide our veterans with the support they deserve.
I am inspired by the comradery and collaboration that have infused this session.
I feel it myself.
For example, I’m willing to step up and work with Lyle Larson to reinstate the rivalry game.
What we must accomplish will require all of us working together on bold ideas.
But Texas was built on bold ideas.
It was built by the men and women who came before us who worked together to make Texas the most exceptional state in the nation.
Now it is our time to chart a course that will make Texas even better — not just for the next four years, but for the next forty years.
We have an opportunity to turn bold ideas into reality.
We have the opportunity to grasp the brass ring that belongs to Texas.
When we do that, we will keep Texas the greatest state in America.
Thank you. God bless you all. And God bless the great State of Texas.