Governor Pushes Reform

Gov. Mike Johanns touted an agenda of less government, protecting children and sweeping reform in his annual State of the State address.

Speaking Thursday before the Legislature, Johanns outlined his proposal to balance the state budget with no new taxes and an aggressive agenda that includes a plan to overhaul the state's mental health system and review a ban on corporate farming.

"I ask you in this legislative session to first recognize and applaud the reform initiatives undertaken by your fellow senators as I have laid out," Johanns said. "I ask you to help this process of reform continue; there are more issues that need your help. I need your help. We have a historic opportunity to effect substantial and necessary change."

Johanns said the sluggish economy, made worse by a continuing drought and the terrorist attacks in 2001, was the economic equivalent of the "perfect storm."

"The recession was not only as bad as we've seen since World War II, it was stubborn, and month after month it would not loosen its grip," he said.

Johanns said the budget he presented to deal with a $211 million budget shortfall provides "balance with no tax increases."

"It includes funding for several priorities that demand our attention and resources," he said. "We have a historical opportunity to set the stage for our future, to do what's right for our entire state."

The governor also defended his proposal to close state mental hospitals in Hastings and Norfolk and move toward more community-based services for those with mental illness.

The state spends $63 million a year to run its three mental hospitals. He said the hospitals in Hastings and Norfolk are outdated and that many people are committed to the hospitals needlessly.

If the state moved to more community-based programs, the federal government will pay up to 60 percent of the cost, Johanns said.

"I implore you to reform our mental health system," he said. "It is time to open the doors and shine light on the dramatic advances in treatment.

"I fear if we lose this opportunity to reform mental health services, it will be lost for years to come. I ask for your help," he said.

Johanns also addressed the issue of a task force that has made recommendations on ways to protect children in the state.

"After hours of sad and painstaking work, the task force members have laid their recommendations in our hands. They ask us to adopt recommendations that I believe constitute the most comprehensive effort to reform the way we protect children in our state's history."

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