I agree with Adela. That is why our budget increases education aid $242 million -- including $148 million under the Thornton formula. She and I both support the establishment of another commission -- Thornton II -- devoted to an examination of education policy in Maryland. Lieutenant Governor Steele will lead this important effort.

Finally, she supports a real charter school bill that will encourage competition in our public school system. Passing charter school legislation is one of my top priorities for this session. It is time for this Assembly to enact a charter schools bill with teeth -- one that will give disadvantaged students the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I ask you to do so this year.

Now, let me introduce you to Keith Day. Keith is a 45-year-old family man. He and his wife Devorah live in Baltimore. They’ve been married 14 years and have three children. Keith works as Assistant Manager at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, where he was named Employee of the Year back in 2001. He is a member of the New Shiloh Baptist Church.

Keith’s story is similar to those of tens of thousands of hard-working Marylanders. But things haven’t always gone easily for Keith. For 25 years, Keith battled an addiction to heroin. His addiction was so powerful and destructive that he spent three years living on the streets of Baltimore.

His life changed when he connected with the Helping Up Mission, a faith-based organization based in Baltimore. Each year, the mission serves 150,000 meals and provides 55,000 beds to poor citizens. However, the mission provides much more than a warm meal and a bed. It serves hope as well.

The mission’s innovative spiritual recovery program enables addicts to find the path towards recovery, employment, and better life skills. The results speak for themselves: program graduates have an 80 percent chance of being employed and sober a year later.

Now, Keith is clean, sober, and helping people battle their own addictions by volunteering at in the mission. Congratulations, Keith

Gun violence, domestic abuse, sexually transmitted disease, lack of educational opportunity, overcrowding in our criminal justice system, over-representation of minority youth in prison -- all are directly related to our drug culture. It cuts through every line in our society. It does not care about who you are, or what you do, the color of your skin, or the size of your bank account. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or color. It makes us bleed. It destroys families -- and futures. It strikes fear in the heart of every parent. I am the parent of a 3-year-old -- I am scared.

Our budget spends nearly $136 million on alcohol and drug treatment programs -- a 4.2 percent increase over last year in FY 04. This is a good start, but we can -- and must -- do better. We must work together to get non-violent drug offenders out of jail and into treatment programs, where they belong. We must stress early diversion initiatives. We need to stop routinely condemning so many young offenders to the adult criminal justice system through incarceration and neglect.

We will encourage faith organizations of every denomination to offer treatment programs. Faith-based initiatives can achieve on a tiny budget results that the federal government and state of Maryland have been unable to duplicate despite spending billions of dollars. Lieutenant Governor Steele will lead this effort. It will involve every subdivision in our state -- it is a priority for our administration. It’s time to facilitate success, and to empower the problem solvers in our society.

Now, let’s meet Michael Taylor. Michael was born in Baltimore in 1958, and attended Hillendale Elementary School. When he was 12 years old, he was placed in the Rosewood Center. Michael spent the next three decades of his life locked away in institutions.

“While I was in Rosewood, I didn’t have my freedom,” Michael later said. “I couldn’t decorate my room the way I wanted. I couldn’t call people on the phone without permission. I was not happy there.”

The cost of being institutionalized in Maryland for 30 years is conservatively estimated at $1.6 million. But we can’t calculate the cost it exacted on Michael’s quality of life. Michael was released from Rosewood just four years ago. He began working for the “Living Free Campaign” and “Stand Up and Speak Out” -- two groups that promote freedom and empowerment for the institutionalized. On April 16, 2002, Michael did something he had been waiting to do his entire life. He moved into his very own apartment.

He calls his new apartment, located in Towson, his “Freedom Pad,” because nobody else lives there. As Michael gained his freedom, his life started to flourish. He secured a new job with “Best Buddies of Maryland.” His activism has earned him awards from the State Independent Living Council, Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities, and ARC of Maryland. He also lobbies on behalf of the disabled, so many of you may know him already.

Michael Taylor is an American success story. He is a Maryland success story. And he is a success story for any individual who faces obstacles and challenges in his life. He embodies the success and wisdom of our investment in community-based services. My 2004 budget includes important programs that will help people in similar circumstances live with independence, dignity, and self-sufficiency. These include:

  • $5.2 million for the Transitioning Youth Program to help youth with disabilities graduate from school into productive living and working environments.

  • $6.9 million to fund the Developmental Disabilities Waiting List to get people the services they need now.

  • $3.1 million to respond to emergencies faced by families in crisis, such as when an older parent caring for their adult child can no longer provide that care.

  • $16 million to increase the wages that personal care workers receive to assist those with disabilities to ensure a high quality of care.

    In total, funding for community services for individuals with developmental disabilities increases by $38.3 million for FY 2004. Other important funding initiatives I have proposed assist Marylanders with community-based initiatives, including: