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March 12, 2004

Message from the Governor
The 2004 legislative session concluded last night. I want to compliment the Legislature for finishing its difficult work on time. This year we were able to make good progress on many of my top priorities.

I'm pleased that the Legislature agreed to increase enrollments at our colleges and universities by up to 3,000 students. About a third of these slots are in high-demand fields such as information technology, engineering and nursing.

Increasing enrollment slots helps ensure that our complex economy will have skilled workers from right here in Washington. Our daughters and sons must have good opportunities to fill the new jobs we are creating. There is still much more to do, but the Legislature's action is a good start.

I'm also pleased that the Legislature strengthened my Promise Scholarship program. This will give more high-achieving Washington students the opportunity to realize the dream of a college education.

The Legislature also followed my lead and focused $111 million of the capital construction budget on new and expanded facilities for our colleges and universities.

Despite a short session and tough budget year, the Legislature stepped up to pass four measures to make our public schools better.

These include:
  • Reforms to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to make sure every student has a fair chance to pass this test
  • A stronger Learning Assistance Program to help struggling students meet state standards
  • Permission for local school districts to collect the full amount of voter-approved levies
  • Authorization for the creation of 45 charter schools in the next six years.
Every year, we make our K-12 education system stronger. We continued making progress again this year.

The Legislature passed a responsible supplemental operating budget, leaving they left $304 million in reserve-very close to the level I proposed. After paying for rising student enrollments, increasing prison populations and other “must-do” services, there wasn't much money left. But the Legislature focused on my priorities and made the best use of available dollars. Lawmakers passed improvements in education, economic development and health care for our most vulnerable citizens.

I commend the Legislature for providing $68 million worth of business tax incentives. These incentives will help Washington keep its competitive edge in technology research and development, and attract more manufacturing jobs to rural areas.

The Legislature also accepted my proposal to reduce the impact of pending health care premiums for parents of children receiving optional Medicaid health coverage. Low-and middle-income families struggling to keep their health insurance deserve our efforts to reduce their premiums.

We also met our responsibility to voters and approved a negotiated $24 million contract between home health care workers and the state.

We addressed double-digit inflation in health insurance policies for small groups. New legislation allows the marketing of an “economy plan,” designed to provide limited benefits at a more affordable price. This legislation also gives consumers guaranteed options when carriers withdraw a product from the market. And it ensures that insurance ratings are done fairly.

I am also pleased that we held down state employee's share of health insurance costs.

Lawmakers made some progress in continuing our effort to better manage our vital water resources-although not as much as I would have liked. The budget provides more than $12 million in state operating and capital funds to set in stream-flows, increase stream gauging, and take other actions to improve water efficiency and reclamation. There is also grant money to work toward improving water quality in Hood Canal.

I am pleased that other parts of my environmental agenda were adopted. Legislation on carbon dioxide emissions offsets will apply to both large and small energy plants. The new requirements agreed to by the business and environment communities are some of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the nation.

The Legislature also adopted new stormwater management standards, which will solve one of the most significant contributors to water pollution in our state.

We secured funding for the Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins program, including funding for the creation of a chemical action plan for PBDE, a chemical used in flame-retardants that has been found in breast milk, and for implementation of the Mercury Chemical Action Plan.

Transportation improvement will continue smoothly, thanks to the supplemental transportation budget that was approved. This ensures that all the traffic-relief projects we funded with last year's package remain intact and moving forward. This budget also makes sure that our state ferries meet Coast Guard standards for security.

Quote of the Week
“This session we were able to capitalize on our momentum in key areas, make strong progress in those areas, and continue to position our state for a brighter future.”
-Governor Locke, March 11, 2004
We continue to make government more accessible and convenient for citizens. The Legislature provided the help we need to start allowing motorists to renew their driver's licenses through the Internet or by mail or telephone.

Finally, the Legislature passed needed legislation creating a replacement primary system. We will now take a hard look at the bill before deciding on a course of action.

I commend the Legislature for its hard work the last 60 days. This was a productive session, and I look forward to reviewing the bills that will arrive at my desk soon.

Gary Locke
Gary Locke

News Highlights
Governor's Priorities
State Employees Among Nation's Leaders in Generosity
State employees and public agency retirees reaffirmed their commitment to giving, not only through their usual outstanding work effort, but also by giving back to their communities and the causes they believe in. Employees and public agency retirees demonstrated their greatest level of generosity yet by contributing in excess of $5.1 million to non-profit agencies locally and around the world through the Combined Fund Drive, Washington state employees' charitable giving program. Washington state employees became only the fifth state program in the nation to surpass $5 million in donations. Washington employees also ranked first among states of a similar size. “Reaching this milestone is a testament to the generosity of state employees and retirees in Washington,” the Governor said.

Department of Health Goes Red for Women's Heart Health
Health Systems Quality Assurance staff at Point Plaza East in Tumwater Women are 10 times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. That is why State Health Officer Dr. Maxine Hayes and Secretary of Health Mary Selecky recently invited Department of Health employees to “Go Red for Women.” The campaign reminds Washingtonians that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Hundreds of employees participated in the agency's “Go Red Day” last month. Employees wore red to draw attention to this preventable killer of women and sported “Go Red for Women” lapel pins to send a message about heart health. Employees from another state agency learned about the internal campaign and went to the Department of Health wearing red and asking for pins. One of these employees had experienced chest pains the week before and sought medical treatment because of the agency's message.

Success Story: Fighting Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Costs
A recent issue of Governing Magazine cited Washington state's cost-containment efforts in the field of prescription drugs as a model for other states. The report notes that three Northwestern states - Washington, Oregon and Idaho - have joined in a prescription drug partnership to control what they spend on drugs. The three states are listed among “States that Stand Out.” The partnership uses solid research to make sure that short-term price advantages don't eliminate drugs that may be more beneficial and cost-effective over time. Washington has had point-of-sale information for decades, but outdated state technology precluded it from using the data to help manage its prescription drug costs. The solution was to hire a firm to load information into a data warehouse that can analyze the information.

Success Story: Taxing Efforts Make Department of Revenue Number One
The state Department of Revenue has won two national awards recognizing its achievements in improving taxpayer compliance and innovatively managing this state's tax system. The Federation of Tax Administrators (FTA) announced the awards in Washington, D.C., today. Executive director Harley Duncan said it is a rare honor to win both awards in a single year. The FTA named Washington winner of its 2004 Award for Outstanding Management and Organization Initiative and named it co-winner with Pennsylvania of its 2004 Award for Outstanding Compliance Program. “I congratulate Director Will Rice and his staff for receiving this impressive recognition,” the Governor said. “These awards reinforce the excellent work that is being done in the department to improve the way it does business on behalf of the citizens of Washington.”

Upcoming Events
3/12: All-Washington Academic Team Ceremony, Olympia
3/12: Rededication of Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Ilwaco
3/15: Public Safety Bill Action, Tacoma
3/16: Dave Ross Show, Seattle
3/16: Tour of Biotech Companies, Seattle
3/17: Weekly News Conference, Olympia
3/17: State Trooper Graduation, Olympia

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