July 20, 2001

Alleviating child poverty is Governor Ruth Ann Minner's next top priority, she told members of the Rotary Club of Wilmington. She said Delaware's rate is among the highest in the nation and is increasing while the national rate is declining.

"That is intolerable," she declared during a speech at the service club's luncheon on July 19.

"We don't have a plan yet; but we're working on one," she added, while requesting help from business and professional people in the audience and the general public.

She said the problem is statewide but particularly acute in Sussex County among an immigrant population employed at minimum wages by the poultry processing industry. Bilingual education and training of adults to qualify for higher-paying jobs are among the things which have to be done.

She added that she also is concerned about discovering reasons for and reducing the state's high cancer rate. A taskforce has been empanelled to look into that and make recommendations by next January, she said.

The governor's talk was devoted mainly to a recounting of legislative achievements during the first 197 days of her administration.

Referring to an joint appearance before the club with John Burris, her Republican opponent, during the election campaign last autumn, Minner declared, "I did all that I promised you I would do."

She said she was particularly pleased during the just-ended session of the General Assembly to have secured passage of a 'patient's bill of rights', all but the farmland-preservation component of her 'livable Delaware' initiative, and an 'environmental right-to-know' law.

The latter has already proven itself, she said, with 90% of residents in the area having been notified of the recent explosion of a sulfur dioxide tank at the Motiva oil refinery near Delaware City within an hour and a half of it happening.

She was able to effect her legislative goals because of a combination of traditional bipartisanship on state issues and her long experience in state government as both an employee and an elected official. "I think it was an outstanding year with the General Assembly. I was able to accomplish my agenda because members of the General Assembly and its leadership were able to accomplish their agenda as well," she said.

Having reduced budgeted expenditures in the fiscal year ended June 30 by $32 million and cut the original fiscal year 2002 budget by $100 million has kept state spending in line with economic conditions, Minner said. But she added that she considers growth of the state budget to be "much too big."

"It has been averaging 6.7%. We got that down to 5.4% for this [fiscal] year but we have to bring it down further next year," she said. "We need to make sure we continue the stability we have now."

Having enacted legislation to protect teachers and school officials from "frivolous lawsuits" for disciplining disruptive students, she said more has to be done to assure that children understand and take responsibility for their conduct. "They have to know that disciplinary action will follow if they disrupt the classroom," she said. "When they find out they can get away with things at that young age, they keep it up."

Also required is greater emphasis on after-school programs and other steps to improve student performance during the academic year. "School starts in September. Why wait until next July to give them help [in summer school] when they need it now?" she said. "Doing that when they need it will improve their self-esteem and that is as important as the education they are receiving."

2001. All rights reserved.

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