Permit me also to present my wife, Frances Anne, Maryland's First Lady. While holding down a full-time job and being an excellent wife and mother, she has done a tremendous job promoting the arts throughout Maryland and working so aggressively for our children.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to continue something truly remarkable.
This is the 412th session of the Maryland General Assembly. Since the Assembly first began in 1634, Maryland's core values of liberty and opportunity have remained fixed. We still are guided by the same priorities and purpose that drew Maryland's first lawmakers to St. Mary's City and then to Annapolis.
More than three centuries ago, 140 men and women braved stormy seas on two small ships, the Ark and the Dove, to escape religious persecution - to find a place where they could pray to their own God, a land of liberty where they could create and pursue their own opportunities.
They found what they were looking for on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Over the centuries, we have continued our commitment to liberty and opportunity. It is this recognition and faith in the possibility and potential of each person that really unites us. It defines our character. And it determines our Maryland Agenda: that unique set of values, that great sense of purpose we inherited and we will leave as our legacy.
We continue to work together to promote and protect liberty and opportunity for everyone by improving education, protecting the health and safety of our people, increasing economic prosperity, and preserving our environment. This is the historic Maryland Agenda, and it forms the foundation of what we do here today.
The new year of 1998 finds us blessed. The state of the state is good. The state of the state is very good. We are enjoying the best economy in more than a decade. Our citizens enjoy enhanced security, and feel a renewed sense of optimism.
Thank you Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and each member of this General Assembly for your hard work. Thank you also for your dedication to the citizens of Maryland.
You can be rightfully proud of your efforts, and our efforts together, over the past three years. While focusing on our historic agenda, we have made choices. Our decisions yielded positive results.
Today, the State of Maryland enjoys a $283 million surplus over and above our financially prudent reserves. We have employed sound financial management. We have lived within our means and we must continue to do so.
That is why I am recommending that $100 million of this surplus be used to pay for the significant tax reductions which went into effect this month. This $100 million will go back into Maryland's economy ... back into the taxpayer's pockets. In fact, this cut in the personal income tax - the first in three decades - returns more than $1 billion to the people of Maryland over the next five years.
With the tax cuts in place and funded, a window of opportunity has opened. We may now do the one thing that will make the most difference in our children's lives: to make one-time investments in education - specifically, school construction.
You know my background. I was the first person in my family to go to college. My family was financially very poor. Education took me out of poverty. As a result, education has been the passion of my life. It has been and continues to be my top priority.
As a teacher, as a father, I have seen learning light up the face of a child. There is nothing more exciting. Over the past three years, we have improved the quality of our children's education. Statewide, we increased education spending for every child in Maryland. We provided funding to build, update or modernize more than 4,000 classrooms. And test scores are on the rise.
Now we have a tremendous opportunity to allocate an additional $222 million to build and to modernize even more classrooms, to reduce class size and to greatly improve the quality of education for every student in this state. We must continue to invest in our children and their future. It is what the people of Maryland want of us and what they expect of us.