The following remarks are excerpts from Governor Fallin’s acceptance speech for the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award during the 40th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The remarks are as prepared for delivery.
The Thomas Jefferson Freedom award is ALEC’s highest honor, given annually to a current or former public official who has established an exemplary record of advancing the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty as a nationally recognized leader.
Governor Fallin joins other past recipients including: President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
Oklahoma Governor Fallin Remarks:
Today I had the honor of receiving the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award.
I am afraid that Jefferson, like many of our Founders, would be unimpressed with the current state of affairs in Washington.
It was Thomas Jefferson who once said: “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
He also once wrote “A wise and frugal Government shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”
Unfortunately, leaders in Washington have strayed from Jefferson’s vision.
Today, we have too much government.
We have too much regulation.
We have too many taxes.
We are not frugal.
Our health care system, for instance, is changing into an unrecognizable maze of bureaucracy outlined in a 2,700 page law.
Our national debt meanwhile is now approximately 16 trillion dollars. The results are a stagnant economy, 7.4 percent unemployment and only 1.7 percent economic growth, the worst result in four months.
That may sound like a depressing outlook on the nation, but the good news is it’s not the end of the story. Yes, Washington has lead us astray, but many states have found their footing and are thriving, by adopting principles promoted by ALEC: the Jeffersonian principles of free trade, smaller government, federalism, and freedom.
And while it is not always easy or politically convenient to be frugal or to pursue smaller government, we have found that in the long run, it works.
When I took office in 2011, it was a difficult time for Oklahoma, as it was for many states.
We were on the back-end of a recession. The state was facing a $500 million budget shortfall. Our Rainy Day Savings Account looked more like a little kid’s piggy bank: it had $2.02 in it. And our unemployment rate was 7 percent.
We know what Washington does in this situation: it prints money; or borrows money from China; and then spends it … to little affect. That’s not the Oklahoma Way … and I know it isn’t the ALEC way either. What we did was prioritize our spending.
We cut spending to non-essential areas, sometimes upwards of ten percent.
But we worked to soften the blow to core government services like education, public safety and transportation … holding them harmless in some cases or keeping cuts to 3 percent or less. And in the midst of all this … we actually CUT taxes.
Since then we’ve kept the momentum going, continuing to pursue pro-growth, conservative policies that work.
Some of those lawsuit reforms, such as the elimination of joint and several liability, were crafted with the help of model legislation coming from ALEC.
We’ve continued to reduce red tape and bureaucracy. We believe, like Jefferson, that bad government often results from too much government. So in 2013 we consolidated or eliminating over 70 boards, commissions and taskforces.
We have passed and signed into law an additional tax cut this past legislative session… with the help of some of the folks in this room … thank you, Legislators!
Oklahomans will now see over $227 million returned each year to the private sector, as we lower our state income tax rate to 5 percent in 2015 and to 4.85 percent in 2016.
And where we have spent money we’ve spent it wisely, on real priorities, like our initiative to repair ALL of Oklahoma’s structurally deficient highway bridges.
Here are the results of the policies we’ve pursued:
• While the national economy stagnates, Oklahoma has created over 57,900 new jobs since Jan 2011
• Because of that job growth, unemployment in Oklahoma stands at only 5.2 %, one of top ten lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
• And we’ve gone from having just $2 in our emergency Rainy Day Fund to having record highs of over $570 million … a number that’s only recently decreased (to $530 million) in order to respond to the Moore tornado and other May storms
Those are the kind of real results Americans are looking for, and they come from the policies of Jefferson, not the policies of today’s Washington. Oklahoma, and states like it, are helping to offer a successful alternative to big government and big spending.
Now before I go, I just want to briefly address the question, “where do we go from here?”
I think the next frontier and the next important task for all of us is education and workforce development. Without a highly skilled workforce, America’s economy and its prospects for the future will fall behind those of other nations.
Already, studies show that we are falling behind, with American high school students ranking 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading in a comparison with 34 other industrialized nations. We are starting to correct that course.
As chairman of the National Governors Association, I am also working to lead a national dialogue about closing our education and skills gap.
On Sunday, I introduced my chair’s initiative, called America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s jobs.
My initiative recognizes that the “new minimum” for achieving the middle class is some kind of post-secondary education – either a college degree, a career tech certificate or some form of vocational training.
Nearly 50 years ago, 75 percent jobs only required a high school diploma or less, and most paid a good wage. That number today has dropped to 40 percent. And while that still represents a significant percentage of the job market, less than a third of the jobs available to high school graduates and dropouts pay more than $25,000 a year. In other words, it is clear that a high school diploma is no longer adequate to guarantee a good job and a middle class life.
Studies show that trend continuing. In Oklahoma, we expect only 23 percent of the jobs created between 2010 and 2020 to be available to those with a high school degree or less. The rest will require vocational or associates degrees, college degrees, or some additional education or formal training beyond high school.
The problem is that Oklahoma, like the rest of the country, doesn’t yet have the workforce it needs to keep up with the demands for higher levels of education.
While 77 percent of jobs created by 2020 in Oklahoma will require education beyond high school, only 54 percent of our workforce fits those criteria. If that gap is not closed, those jobs will go elsewhere.
States across the country are facing similar problems: a skills gap that needs closing if they are to be able to create and retain the high paying, high skill, jobs of the future.
The America Works initiative aims to help close that gap by engaging education, business and government leaders in a dialogue about what governors can do to more closely align K-12 education, universities, community and technical colleges and workforce training providers with future labor demands.
It will also marshal the resources of the NGA in supporting governors and their staffs in using data and information to identify states’ future labor demands, prioritize changes in state education and workforce training systems, and take action to boost their workforces.
We hope to provide a working roadmap for every state to align their educational outcomes with workforce needs. It will be a federalist, state based project that will help us tackle this problem without intrusive mandates from Washington. If we apply the energy and enthusiasm I’ve seen at this conference to fixing education in the United States, I know this is a problem we can solve.
Again, thank you again for honoring me with this award and for allowing me to join you for this important annual meeting.
Your efforts are helping to redirect America to the principles our Founders laid out, and with that, provide for a better and brighter future for us all.
Enjoy hearing from your other great speakers, national leaders like Jeb Bush and Art Laffer. This is a great opportunity for all of us! Thank you!