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Joint Session of the Arizona Legislature

March 22, 2001
Remarks delivered by
HUD Secretary Mel Martinez

Thank you Mr. Speaker for that kind introduction. It is truly an honor to be here. Senate President Gnant, thank you also for inviting your colleagues from the other chamber to be with us today. And finally, thank you to my wonderful host, Governor Jane Hull for having me in the state and also for her leadership on so many vital issues both here in Arizona and nationally. Let me just say this trip is quite special to me because of your state's rich Hispanic heritage. The multicultural mosaic of Arizona's people mirrors the natural beauty of the state and I'm so very pleased to be here.

When I spoke to President Bush yesterday - as we were flying back aboard Air Force One from Florida - I told him I was coming to Arizona today. He asked me to convey his best wishes and deep respect for Governor Hull.

Before I begin my remarks, I must say that since no Florida teams survived March Madness, for today I am an Arizona Wildcats fan. But only for today´┐Ż..

On a more serious note, I'm excited to be here today and have this opportunity to talk to you about important issues in the housing arena and where the President and I would like to take the country over the next few years.

Specifically I would like to talk to you about my vision for HUD and housing issues. In addition I will discuss growth management, an issue that I know is very important to you and your constituents. And finally I'd like to talk to you briefly about the President's budget and where he intends to lead America.

As I have traveled the country, I have met with developers who have worked closely with our department, families who benefit from our programs and from government officials who administer our programs. And while I have only been in office sixty days, there are several recurring themes in the conversations I've had.

First and foremost HUD must get its own house in order. Candidly, HUD is a department that has suffered from mismanagement, mission creep, and unresponsiveness. Secretaries Kemp, Cisneros and Cuomo have made significant strides toward strengthening management of the department. But be assured, there is much work to be done and I intend to dedicate my first year of service to righting the ship.

Our mission is people not programs. And people will best be served by a well-run agency that knows its core mission and sticks to it. Over the last several years, the programs at HUD have dramatically increased from 50 to the current level of 352! We have experienced massive mission creep. A case in point. Over the past 10 years, HUD has expended 10 billion dollars on homeless programs. Yet in the same 10 years, the rate of homelessness has remained constant - despite the amazing prosperity our country has seen over the same period.

The reality is that homelessness is not necessarily about whether people have a roof over their heads, but rather is often due to problems like drug addiction, mental illness, alcohol abuse, or other social ills.

HUD is simply not equipped to deal with the root problems of homelessness. Therefore I intend to work closely with Secretary Thompson at the Department of Health and Human Services to explore those areas where HUD and HHS and other agencies duplicate programs but with no extra benefit.

There must be a more effective way to deliver services to those who find themselves homeless due to no fault of their own. Our goal should be to end chronic homelessness by getting people the help they need.

Simply providing them duplicative services does nothing more than add one layer of bureaucracy over another while doing very little to solve their problem, to say nothing of wasting taxpayer dollars, time, and energy that could better utilized to meet their true needs.

On a related but separate topic, I have heard from the business community that doing business with HUD is not only slow and cumbersome but costly. Specifically I've been told by developers that because of the centralized nature of the management structure of HUD it is virtually impossible to get decisions from local HUD offices in a timely manner. And as we all know, time is money.

I intend to restore decision-making ability and streamline processes to empower local HUD offices and my regional representatives across the country. During a recent trip to Kansas City, I had a senior level HUD employee tell me that when he first began his career with HUD, he operated in much the same way as a branch manager of a bank. He had real responsibility, made decisions, and reported back to headquarters about those decisions. The centralization of HUD through the years and the "Washington knows best" mentality has served to paralyze our representatives across the country. That same representative in Kansas City told me that instead of serving as a branch manager with real authority, he has now been reduced to nothing more than an ATM machine.

No successful business in America operates on that model. Let me assure you that under my leadership local decision making will be restored.

Next I would like to talk to you about what I believe is the core mission of Housing and Urban Development. The great American Dream is to own a home. President Bush and I are committed to making that dream a reality for all Americans.

Clearly the news is good in non-minority households where home-ownership rates are in excess of 70%. However, for African Americans and Hispanics, home-ownership is just 46%.

This is not acceptable. We can do better, and we must do better.

To that end President Bush has proposed as part of his budget, the "American Dream Down Payment Fund" which will assist 130,000 families clear the initial hurdle of pulling together a down-payment, the most significant barrier to home-ownership.

Many politicians talk about making home-ownership a reality, but make no mistake, President Bush is doing something about it.

On a related topic, many of you know that the first step to home-ownership is participating in the rental market. With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that President Bush has included in his budget a 25% increase in FHA's loan limit for multi-family programs. Not since 1992 has there been an increase in loan limits. This is significant because when combined with several other of President Bush's initiatives as well as state and local programs, this will spur development in affordable multi-family housing throughout America. We have heard eight years of rhetoric with no results, but in 60 days President Bush has proposed real solutions to jump start the rental housing market across America.

President Bush has also proposed a "single family tax credit" - an investor-based tax credit - that will provide strong encouragement to developers and non-profit organizations to build new single-family affordable houses or rehabilitate already existing ones - and increase the availability of affordable housing.

It will help bridge the gap between development costs and market prices and expand opportunities for low-income home-buyers. We estimate that within 5 years, 100,000 homes will be built or rehabilitated under this plan.

Next I want to talk to you about an issue that I know is important to you and your constituents. As the former county executive of Orange County, Florida, on a daily basis I dealt with the problem of exploding growth. Arizona, like Florida, is blessed with a booming economy, warm weather, and a few golf courses here and there.

That inviting combination has encouraged an explosion in growth unparalleled in many areas of the country. As we all know, such growth is both a blessing and a burden.

As the chief executive of Orange County, I was often faced with tough decisions about how our community should grow. Before a roof-top could be added, the laws of the state of Florida required that the necessary infrastructure be in place; water, sewers, lighting, and roads. You will note that school capacity was not a consideration.

The effect of such laws made sewers more important than schoolchildren. That is not only wrong but it also created overcrowded classrooms, overworked teachers, and under-served children.

I chose to take this problem head-on despite the fact that every political guru, pundit, and even some of my friends in the press told me we couldn't win that fight. Under the leadership of Governor Jeb Bush, a group of representatives just like you joined together, ignored the so-called experts, and took the first steps toward easing the school overcrowding problem. And I am proud to say the Florida legislature is expected to act on our recommendations. Let me assure you, as the Secretary of HUD, I do not intend to become the "zoning czar" of the United States. But I do intend to use the office the President has entrusted to me to lead a national discussion on how we grow and where we grow.

HUD was created in the Sixties to deal with hard-core urban problems. I believe that our mission must include solutions for suburban America as well as urban America. . . .

Now let me take a minute to talk about where President Bush wants to lead America. Specifically I'd like to talk to you about his budget, his priorities, and tax relief for all Americans.

Earlier I spoke about my priorities in making the American Dream accessible to every American and I believe that access begins with putting more money into the pockets of Americans. Americans want tax relief. Americans need tax relief and the citizens of Arizona deserve tax relief!! The President's tax plan would mean $1,896 dollars for the average family of four living in Arizona - a 52.5% tax cut.

Tax relief will benefit cities like Phoenix by allowing working families to keep more of their money to meet their priorities - whether it is saving for a child's college tuition or helping with a down-payment on a new home. It's real money for real life.

It's their money, not the government's money, and they deserve a refund!

The President's budget is a compassionate budget. It is a responsible budget. His approach keeps spending in line with inflation while meeting the nation's most important priorities.

As the President has said, there is no greater priority than education. Our children are our greatest investment. They are our legacy. Education is the first step out of poverty and into a world of opportunity.

That is why President Bush has made his greatest investment in the Department of Education with a nearly 12 percent increase in its budget.

The President's budget also makes sure that Social Security and Medicare are strengthened and preserved. The President's plan takes care of the working uninsured with refundable tax credits. We double the Medicare budget over a 10 year period of time. Another priority is to make sure that the Social Security system is safe and secure. And it starts with spending the Social Security money on only one thing: Social Security.

A prescription drug benefit for low-income seniors is created so that no one will have to choose between buying food and buying medicine. Our national defense is strengthened and the quality of life for military personnel will be improved.

After meeting the nation's priorities and putting money back into the pockets of taxpayers, the President uses the remaining surplus to pay down all the possible debt that can be paid. That comes to 2 trillion dollars over 10 years.

I understand the struggles that many of you here today encounter in dealing with the problems of Arizona's communities and I am pleased to report that President Bush has made a strong commitment to meeting our nation's priorities with a responsible budget, keeping our debt down, and refunding Americans' money when they were overcharged by the government. . . .

In conclusion, let me say this: It is a deep honor and privilege to serve in the cabinet of the President of the United States.

As I sit in my chair in the cabinet room I look across the table and see a great leader in President Bush. I look to the left and see Secretary of State Colin Powell the son of Jamaican immigrants. Further down to the table sits the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, herself an immigrant from Taiwan, and myself a refugee from Communist Cuba, all living the American Dream.

And every day as I have the privilege of serving this President and the American people, I thank God that we live in a country where an Elaine Chao, a Colin Powell, and a Mel Martinez, all from humble beginnings, can ascend to the highest levels of public service.

For I am a firm believer in the promise of America. The promise that regardless of where you are from, what language you speak, or the color of your skin, if you share the American Dream of a brighter tomorrow, if you pursue it with respect for the law and for others, and with an abiding faith in God, all things are possible.

Thank you and God bless.

Content Archived: March 11, 2010

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