Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Association of Washington Cities
January 31, 2002

Thank you for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here.

The historian, Richard White, a former University of Washington professor, observed that the American West is the most urbanized region of the country. We sometimes forget that. We sometimes lose sight of our urban character -- concentrating instead on the vast open spaces of the West, the desolate vistas, the notion of rugged individualists living in rugged isolation.

Well, we may be rugged individualists, but we’re living and working with thousands of other folks in our urban centers. We are a state of cities, and those cities breathe energy and life into our culture.

But these are difficult and challenging times for our cities. In addition to weathering a national economic recession, cities are now battered by the fallout of terrorism and the aftermath of Initiatives 695 and 747. Services are being slashed and real people are being impacted.

Last week, several of your colleagues visited my office in Olympia to express your concern about the elimination of the 695 backfill in our proposed 2003 budget. The Association of Washington Cities Executive Director Stan Finkelstein was joined by Lake Forest Park Mayor Dave Hutchinson, Mayor Mary Place of Yakima, Mayor Ron Lucas of Steilacoom and Mayor Steven Jenkins of Bridgeport. They emphasized to me the severity of the impacts of I-695 and the elimination of the backfill. They expressed their concerns and their worries about the well being of their residents. They’ve echoed what all of you in this room already know: That this is a painful and troublesome time for city leaders.

The backfill funds provided in the fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 budgets helped maintain vital municipal programs. That, coupled with fee increases by city governments, eased the pain a bit. But no more: The full impacts of 695 will roll over us like a wave -- and real people will feel the consequences.

Before I-695, the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) provided 30 percent of municipal funding for approximately one-fifth of our state’s cities. While the average contribution was 5 percent, for some communities, like Bridgeport or Endicott or Edgewood, 695 chopped away 50 percent or more of their operating budget. These dollars paid for many of the basic services citizens expect from their government.

Today our state faces a more than $1.2 billion budget gap, and we are compelled by law to balance the books. Our reductions will cause trouble for you, and I’m painfully aware of that.

I know legislators are considering alternative ways of generating revenue or cutting programs to avoid complete elimination of the more than $72 million in backfill provided to cities and counties. We welcome those efforts. But, realistically, we’ll need to gird ourselves for significant reductions. When we had the resources in previous budgets, we targeted it to good programs and other priorities such as backfill. Now we will face the full brunt of 695 and 747. The people have spoken and all levels of government will feel the consequences.

World events, far beyond our control, have played a hand in where we find ourselves today.

Our responsibility is to address the problems we do have some control over and to try and fix them. We had trouble doing that when we were flush with money. And the big question is, can we do it now? Addressing our problems will be difficult enough if we are united. But, we are doomed if we continue to let partisan politics divide us.

I use the term “partisan politics” because it is a relatively easy way to explain what so often goes on in Olympia and, in fact, throughout our state. You benefit from non-partisan races. But I know the problem runs deeper than whether an elected official has an “R” or “D” next to their name.

In recent years we have experienced a polarization of our politics. Staking their positions on either end of the political spectrum, interest groups have been less willing to compromise and find creative solutions. As a consequence, we have been unable to move forward. But our population continues to move forward and we simply must work together to provide the necessary infrastructure for this inevitable growth.

By linking infrastructure needs, land-use planning and equitable infrastructure financing, we can accommodate growth and provide jobs. But doing this will require all of us to move away from entrenched positions and work together in a bipartisan spirit -- a “Spirit of Washington.”

We are in gridlock in this state and not just on our freeways. A 60-day legislative session is not a lot of time to tackle so many complex and critical issues. In the midst of a recession may seem like a bad time to launch a massive transportation improvement effort.

To some, there is never a good time to invest in the future. But now is that time. Record low interest rates give us tremendous buying power. And transportation projects will create more than 20,000 new private-sector jobs.

One of our past failings is that oftentimes it was government trying to make the case for an improved transportation system. I sense now that that has changed. Your support for a 10-year transportation plan is greatly appreciated.

There is no fairer way to rebuild this region’s roads than to finance those improvements with an increase in the gas tax. My plan is straightforward. It builds on last year’s recommendations. It was a good plan then. It is a good plan now. We will rebuild the roads and bridges in every region of our state. In this plan, we also authorize regions to raise additional funds to speed up construction of their big projects, partnering with the state and federal government.

And let me make one thing clear. The money collected from any gas tax increase will be used only for the highway system. That’s the law of our state. Not a single penny can be used for buses or for rail.

Demands on our transportation system have never been greater and our ability to meet those demands hasn’t kept pace. Adjusted for inflation, today we spend fewer state dollars on transportation than we did 10 years ago even though our population is a million higher, and in the next 10 years we can expect another million.

Recently we were reminded of our habitual failure to address that problem when a time capsule from 1962 was unearthed at the Seattle Opera House. In it was a letter from leaders back then, reminding us that 40 years ago, they had transportation problems, too. Let us hope that 40 years from now, this state’s civic and political leaders aren’t shaking their heads at the mess we left them.

I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about transportation. It’s because it is so central to our economic wellbeing. The futures of our cities, our communities and our children rest with the transportation decisions we make during this session. We must work together in common cause and for a common purpose -- to enhance the lives of all the people of the state of Washington.

Thank you.
Related Links:
- Association of Washington Cities
- Washington State Legislature

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