Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Tri-Cities Chambers of Commerce luncheon
February 9, 1999
Thank you for that introduction, Sen. Loveland.
It’s always a pleasure to visit Eastern Washington. After weeks of wind and rain and gray skies, we look for reasons to come over the mountains where the sun still shines…at least some of the time.
What a great crowd you have here today. I hear this turnout is the result of some very hard work by a few key people: Chamber President Julie Killian, Executive Director Dorothy Schoeppach and her staff, Donna Hopkins and Diana Chavez. Let’s give them a round of applause for their hard work in getting this together on such short notice.
This morning I was in Dayton to see for myself what can happen when people work together. In 1993, the state helped the Port of Columbia secure $200,000 in a grant/loan combination through the Community Economic Revitalization Board. That money was used to build a multi-tenant light industrial building that houses several small businesses. The City of Dayton and the Port of Columbia put in all the supporting infrastructure: roads, water, sewer lines, and utility lines. At this site, we visited several small businesses that might not be there today if not for this successful CERB project. One business has grown so fast that last yea it moved into a new and larger facility.
We have some new data that shows the disparity in economic opportunity in rural Washington exists along many dimensions. In rural Washington, computer users don’t have a lot of options in the way of choices. If they do have a service provider, reliability is often a problem.
We have creative Washingtonians who are working had to adapt to, and take advantage of, changing economic conditions and new technology. Being able to use the Internet for international commerce is one way we can harness technology to work for us. Checking prices on the commodity exchanges is another way. But we have to be able to rely on the utilities to provide uninterrupted service. Otherwise, the technology is useless. We can use these changing technologies and new market forces to our advantage with the right type of public and private assistance.
In my proposed state budget this year, I have proposed a comprehensive rural development package that reflects the work of the two Rural Development Summits and the Joint Task Force on Rural Land Use and Economic Development. The needs of our rural communities are not partisan. My rural economic development package recognizes the number-one need of rural Washington: infrastructure. My package makes $73 million available to fill this gap. In particular, it makes use of the very successful Community Economic Revitalization Board and broadens the types of infrastructure it can fund.
It provides greater flexibility in permit assistance and technical assistance work. Our package also makes strategic investments in work force training, particularly in setting certified skill standards and developing the Job Skills Program to provide company-specific training. It recognizes that education is the great equalizer for both rural and urban Washington.
Finally, our package emphasizes economic diversification and building local capacity. We want rural communities to have the capability to attract new types of industries to their communities or enhance those that are already present. This includes tax credits to encourage software firms to locate in rural Washington. We also recognize tourism is a highly complementary function for certain rural communities. In addition, we want those industries that have been the traditional backbone of rural Washington – agriculture and natural resources – to get help in staying competitive. The Washington State University Safe-Food Initiative will provide targeted research that will show benefits in two years in the areas of safer food, higher value products, and best farm practices.
Today, I have seen how all this can work. It requires local community vision and strategic state tools. Working together, we can have one Washington. This will require a sustained effort, but we can get there.
With Sen. Loveland here with me today, I wanted to take a few moments to give you a progress report on my administration’s efforts during the last two years, what we still have to do, and, finally, some observations about the legislative session so far.
First, the report card. Our welfare reform, which we call WorkFirst, has reduced the number of families on public assistance from 95,000 to 66,000. And we have invested some of that savings in education. We believe that if we make sure our children are well educated, then they will never need welfare.
In our public schools, test scores are going up in response to a relentless focus on higher academic standards and accountability for results.
Our Savings Incentive Program has ended the spend-it-or-lose-it mentality in state agencies. The agencies now get to keep half of their savings to spend on training and improved customer service, and the other half of those savings – over $90 million so far – is deposited in a fund for school construction and technology.
We’ve eliminated nearly 1,000 pages of rules and regulations. And we’ve re-written another 1,000 pages.
Your taxes are down. The B & O tax is at pre-1993 levels, and we’ve made additional business tax cuts in both the ’97 and ’98 legislative sessions.
This year, many businesses are receiving tax refunds from workers’ compensation. Washington now has one of the lowest rates in the nation.
Washington has been the winner of the Digital State Award two years in a row for the best use of information technology in government and education.
And just this month, our state was rated one of the four best in the nation for overall financial management, covering administration of state construction programs, personnel, performance objectives, and information technology.
The culture of state government really is changing. We’re working hard to become more nimble, more innovative and more responsive.
But there’s so much more to do. First, we must create a state of learning because we know that knowledge is the price of admission to the 21st century.
In our public schools, that means we must persuade the legislature to pass our proposals to change the way we finance education so that we create the right incentives and rewards. It also means we must deregulate our schools by creating Opportunity School Districts – districts where money flows directly to schools, and where decision-making authority is vested in parents, teachers and principals. And it means we must raise the standards of the teaching profession by requiring new teachers to pass a competency test, and by giving significant pay increases to teachers who meet the rigorous standards of state or national certification.
We also need to start reducing class size. That is why I am proposing to hire more than 1,000 new teachers over the next two years in our elementary schools. We must expand our higher education system to accommodate the baby boom echo and a record number of older adults. That’s why I’m proposing 10,000 new enrollments in this biennium’s budget.
We need to help middle-income families achieve the American dream of a college education and give parents, teachers and students a reason to do well in our schools. We must also increase the number of students in programs to prepare for high-tech careers so that we have Washington jobs for Washingtonians.
Second, we simply must find a way to save our wild salmon. This is not just about fish. It’s about saving the quality of life that makes the Northwest unique. It’s about clean water for humans. It’s also about maintaining local control. To avoid federal intervention or court-ordered plans, we must step up to the tough choices we face about land use, water use, and timber and agricultural practices.
Our choice under the Endangered Species Act is very clear. If we do not have a state plan to save salmon in place this year, the federal government or federal courts will come in and start dictating how and where we can build and develop, how and where we can use water and drill wells.
At this point, I want to say one thing about an issue that I know is on the minds of so many in the Tri-Cities. And that is the Snake River Dams. I have said consistently that I cannot imagine an argument leading me to support those dams coming down.
And third, the focus of today’s visits, we must promote economic vitality in every part of our state. That means improving the telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas. That means convincing the legislature to grant B & O tax credits to high-tech businesses that locate in rural communities. And the House of Representatives must pass the supplemental operating budget NOW to ensure full funding of the county fairs and to allow school districts across the state to begin building as soon as possible. The bipartisan Senate plan is sitting in the House and can’t even get a hearing, while 4-H kids and school kids worry about their fairs and their school buildings!
On another issue, we are meeting with a representative from the U. S. Department of Energy this week, who I understand is leading a review of issues surrounding FFTF. I am hopeful we may get some sense from him about the future of FFTF. I need to add, however, that I have been very clear on one central point. Any FFTF mission must not detract from our number-one priority of Hanford cleanup.
Let me just close with the mindset of my agenda. Instead of standing at the bottom of the cliff with an ambulance and a stretcher, we want state government to be at the top of the cliff, building fences. We want our children to get the education they need to succeed in the 21st century so they won’t ever need to apply for welfare.
We want to help people get jobs and move up a career ladder, rather than just paying them to be poor.
We want to help people stay healthy, rather than just paying the bills when they get preventable illnesses.
We want to preserve and protect our natural resources, rather than waiting until the last wild salmon disappears.
And we want to prevent the crime, the child neglect and the anguish caused by drug abuse, rather than picking up the pieces of broken lives and families.
We can only do this in partnership with people like you. The era of big government is over. The era of nimble, collaborative and responsive government, working in partnerships with local communities, has begun. And I welcome you help in making it succeed for all of us.
Thank you very much.