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Rowland unbowed in annual address

Vows Conn. is'getting better'

HARTFORD -- Making no mention of his political troubles and possible impeachment, Governor John G. Rowland told lawmakers yesterday that Connecticut is strong and becoming stronger every day.

The embattled three-term Republican tried to paint a picture of business as usual during his annual State of the State address, giving a 34-minute speech that touched on everything from honoring soldiers to spending more money on local schools.

The speech highlighted Rowland's revised $14.2 billion budget plan, which he said is conservative, although it includes additional funding for programs many Democrats have sought for years.

"Together, we have guided this state through difficult times. We have turned the corner," Rowland said. "The state of our state is getting better each and every day."

Reaction to the speech was muted, especially for this veteran politician, who has typically received hearty welcomes from the Legislature. Most lawmakers applauded politely when the governor entered the room, while others sat quietly.

Some said they were skeptical of the governor's speech and planned to wait for the details of his budget.

"He was trying to hit all the hot buttons that would appeal to legislators, especially Democrats," said Representative Steven Mikutel, a Griswold Democrat. "I'm not going to question his motives, publicly."

Rowland is under fire for accepting gifts from state contractors, employees, and friends for his Litchfield cottage and then lying about it. He has said the gift-givers were friends and said he provided nothing in return.

The US attorney's office, the state attorney general, and the House Select Committee of Inquiry are investigating.

Rowland made only a veiled reference to the scandal, talking of challenges he and the Legislature will face over the coming months.

"Adversity can beat you down or it can make you stronger," the governor said.

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