Over the last three years we have gone from a billion dollar budget shortfall to a $600 million surplus. There have been over 90,000 new jobs created since January 2005. Our funding for elementary and secondary education has increased by $452 million through a new equitable school funding formula and in that same time higher education funding has increased $74 million with $45 million in scholarships assisting more than 37,000 students attend college.
We have taken our major roads from the 47th worst in the Nation to the 9th best in the Nation. These improvements, made possible with voter approval of Amendment 3, have given Missouri drivers the Smooth Roads Initiative and the Safe and Sound bridge program. This commitment to road and bridge improvements has reduced highway fatalities by 161 in 2006 from 2005.
In addition, 300,000 Missouri seniors have had their tax burden lessened by the Senior Tax Justice Act passed just last year. Missourians also saw a new tax deduction for health insurance premiums and improved access to the Missouri Health Insurance Pool for those with chronic conditions.
Progress indeed, but challenges remain. Over the same time period of the advances noted above, and many others too numerous to account for here, illegal immigration has captured the attention of state legislatures across the country, including Missouri. Property taxes have continued to burden families throughout the state with suburban counties and seniors feeling it the most and health care continues to be on the minds of Missourians.
Each of these issues will be debated in the General Assembly this session. Each of these issues will have their proponents and opponents. Each of these issues impacts the lives each of us. I look forward to the debate and working through “the noise” to bring about meaningful change for Missouri.
It is clear that our efforts are making a difference and bringing real change to our state government. We have a budget that lives within our means and is truly balanced. We are now reaping the rewards of disciplined determination and fiscal restraint while keeping our promise of no new taxes.
Now with the new year underway we must continue to build upon the successes of yesterday to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.