Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
State of the State Address - AWB 1999 Policy Summit
September 23, 1999
MAKING WASHINGTON STATE A STATE OF LEARNING
It’s really great to be here. I see the weather has turned a little bad. I know that will not deter you in your golfing. It’s really a pleasure to be among you. AWB members keep 600,000 of our citizens gainfully employed, and many of your businesses are participating in our efforts to train and re-train our work force and to educate our children.
Our state’s economy is strong. Our unemployment is at the lowest in 33 years.
Overall personal income growth in the last 3 years is the highest in decades. And despite the downturn and reduction of employment at Boeing, our state’s economy is robust because it is more diversified. And our administration has worked hard to improve the climate for businesses in our state.
Shortly after I took office, I fulfilled my campaign pledge to support the roll back of Business and Occupation tax to pre-1993 levels. That was one of the first acts I signed as governor. The following year we consolidated and reduced the B&O tax for service industries.
We have created tax exemptions for investments in pollution control equipment, and we provided tax credits and exemptions to rural counties committed to building sewer and water and road systems to encourage business growth in their areas.
We now provide tax incentives for software companies and call centers that have called rural communities their homes.
In 1998 we cut taxes by $50 million. And in 1999, we refunded some $219 million to businesses from our worker’s compensation fund, or 32% of whatever businesses paid into that fund the previous year. And we have reformed our welfare system and reduced the number of families on public assistance by nearly 40% since the day I took office, and we’ve put tens of thousands of welfare recipients to work.
So we’ve got a lot to be proud of. But let’s make that pat on our back brief. Let’s step back up to the plate and face the challenges that look us in the eye. It won’t be long before the radio starts informing us of how many shopping days are left before Christmas. Well, we have exactly 100 days before we start the year 2000, the new millennium.
And while our overall state economy is strong, many sectors like agriculture are in trouble. And while we are prosperous today, what must we do now to ensure continued prosperity five, ten, fifteen years from now?
If we are going to compete in the global economy of the 21st century, we need a strong pool of educated workers. Owners of businesses big and small complain every day: they need highly trained workers. You have to go to other states—even other countries—to recruit qualified people to fill your positions. And at the same time your fellow Washingtonians are out of work and seeking family-wage jobs.
Your need for highly skilled, educated workers is increasing. And the availability of jobs in traditional industries is decreasing. We have a surplus of workers needing jobs. You have a high demand for highly skilled workers. So it’s a win-win situation if only we can re-train the workers to fill those positions.
When I was in college, I had scholarships, bank loans, school loans, and all kinds of part time jobs. I addressed envelopes. I set up banquet halls. I worked for a commercial painting company. You name it, I did it. And in the past that was enough. You could work a part time job, get your foot in a company’s door, and work your way up the ladder.
It’s not like that anymore. Those part time jobs are no longer preparing our students for the workforce.
Right up the street from our office in Olympia there’s a beautiful old building. In 1919 it was an Elk’s Lodge but it’s been converted into apartments. Those apartments are full of twenty-something kids who keep getting evicted because they can’t pay their rent. They know how to read. They know how to think critically. They discuss literature and politics passionately amongst themselves. But there’s no place for them in our work force because they don’t have the necessary technical skills. There’s anxiety in their eyes—anxiety over their own futures.
Mona and I like to take Emily and Dylan out for drives. We like to explore. Every time we stop for gas or snacks—or for diaper changes and now potty breaks—we meet the friendliest people. They want to look at Emily and Dylan and touch their fingers. And through those conversations, their stories come out. Many of them have lost their jobs. Loggers, mill workers, fishers, defense workers, aerospace workers, machinists. They want to work—in fact, they don’t know what to do with themselves when they aren’t working. But their skills don’t match the skills listed on job descriptions and in ads. People in Washington love hard work. We thrive on it. So let’s make sure every citizen has the opportunity to work a family-wage job.
Just a few miles south of here, Comptec Industries in Custer is about to close its doors and lay off 105 workers. Those folks may be able to find jobs in the Bellingham area, but they won’t be able to support their families without job training and re-training.
We can only succeed in re-training workers like those in Custer if we are able to build a work force training system that responds quickly to the needs of businesses. The key to success is the business community itself. Namely, the AWB. You are the people who create and fill the jobs. You know what skills are needed. So your input is absolutely imperative.
We are re-vamping our state’s work force training system and programs. Don Brunnel’s willingness to become a member of our Workforce Board is absolutely wonderful. Don joins two other AWB activists—Joe Pinzone and Gerry Coleman. Don’s presence on the board is a godsend, and I’m here to encourage ALL of you to get involved in work force training.
Be part of the solution.
Take Joe, for example. Joe Pinzone and the Vancouver Chamber looked around their county and simply asked: what do we have and what do we need? They determined what skills their high tech industries need and then they worked with Clark College and area high schools to create skill-based education programs to train the students to master the specific, necessary skills required by their industries.
I urge you to follow Joe and the Vancouver Chamber’s example. It’s time we teach our students the skills industries say are necessary and critical. And with input from businesses like yours, the state community college system has created skills standards for 47 specific occupations spanning 18 industries—from software to food-processing. Businesses told the state community college system exactly what they want their workers to know. The system set corresponding standards and community colleges designed programs to teach students those exact skills. But more industries and occupations need skill standards established.
This is a fascinating time, folks. Imagine honing the skills of your future workers while they’re still in high school and college—before they even apply for jobs. Why stop at writing a job description and hoping someone will come along to fit the bill when you could have a hand in developing the course curriculum? That way, when applicants apply for jobs, they’ll have certificates as good as gold in their hands. The certificates prove that these workers are trained to perform the precise tasks you said they needed to know.
Training our current work force is important, but we must also prepare for the future. Our children are like high yield bonds. They take a long time to mature, but they will eventually pay off. Hopefully, they’ll make us rich. But we can’t rely on market forces to produce a well-educated citizenry. So we’ve got to invest in education now.
I’ve always said education is society’s great equalizer. Well education is also the economy’s great energizer.
We’ve strengthened all levels of the educational pyramid.
We created the Commission on Early Learning to spread awareness about the importance of a child’s intellectual growth from birth to three. Don Brunnel’s a key member of that commission. Don, is there a commission or task force you’re not on?
We’re finding out now that if you really work with a child—give them the emotional and intellectual stimulation between birth and three—it creates the best foundation for that child—the best foundation for all other academic success as well as emotional stability. We’re trying to impart information on what parents and grandparents and caretakers should do with their infants from birth to three.
We also developed the Washington Reading Corps. Last year more than 11,000 volunteers provided intensive instruction and tutoring to help more than 22,000 struggling readers in our schools. And the test results of those 22,000 students show incredible advancements in their reading scores. And the schools that are Reading Corps schools did better, in terms of the recent fourth grade tests, than non-Reading Corps schools.
Our state has made remarkable education reform. We’ve set some very high standards for our kids. Two years ago when the test scores were announced less than half of our fourth graders met the new standards in reading. And it’s not that our kids are any less bright than the kids from years before, but we’ve imposed higher standards. And we have moved heaven and earth to make sure all of our students meet these standards. And Washington State parents, Washington State educators, and members of the business community like you established these standards. Standards that reflect what we all know our kids must master if they are to be successful in this new global economy.
But it’s not enough to say that with educational reform in a few years our kids will be reading to the proper grade level—that with new curriculum and new training of our teachers, our first and second graders will be reading at grade level. Because the kids that took that fourth grade test two years ago are now in sixth grade. Five or six years from now they will be graduating from high school. We need to make sure they are not left behind. Our schools can’t do it themselves. Our teachers can’t do it themselves. We need to involve the community. And that’s why we created the Washington Reading Corps.
The reason I’m late today is because I was in Yakima kicking of a new Public Service Announcement recruiting more volunteers and more business partnerships for the Washington Reading Corps. Because we’re starting all over again with another round of struggling students and more schools. We need more volunteers and more business partners. And after this, I’m going over to Spokane to recruit more people for the Reading Corps.
Your businesses can help. Many of you give your employees time-off with pay to be tutors. Or you provide incentives and prizes for the tutors and the students involved in the Reading Corps. We have some information and brochures on the table outside. After lunch, if you’re interested, please pick up some brochures and get involved.
We’ve also raised teacher salaries, to ensure that we attract and retain the brightest teachers in our nation.
We instigated salary bonuses for teachers who go the extra mile and obtain national board certification.
We improved access to college education. An additional 9,000 students per year have been able to attend our colleges and universities in Washington State since I took office. That’ll grow an additional 5,000 students, thanks to bipartisan support our Legislature has always given to higher education.
And next week we’ll be awarding Washington’s Promise Scholarships to some 2,300 high-achieving Washington college freshman. We are finally rewarding excellence and providing real incentives for students to achieve, instead of relying primarily on financial need to determine awards for college education.
We’re also pushing our colleges and universities to offer more courses in high-demand areas such as technology.
As we barrel into the 21st century, we can’t leave anyone behind. We have to be impatient, not complacent! We can’t lull ourselves into believing that just because we’ve put higher academic standards in place that we can just sit back and wait for the harvest.
We need to continue improving our public school system, so that our work force pool remains stocked with highly educated workers. And we need to reduce class sizes to increase student-teacher contact and improve academic performance. We need to impose teacher testing to ensure competence among our educators. And we need to pull educators and citizens together on a professional standards board to make sure that high teaching standards are maintained. And we need to reward student achievement by providing performance awards to schools that improve.
Education is my number one priority and we’re not going to slow down until every child has a safe and stimulating place to learn; until every high-achieving high school graduate has the opportunity to pursue a college or vocational education; and until every adult has opportunities to continue learning.
I want to thank the AWB for all of your help. You have been instrumental in maintaining the health of our state’s present and future economy. I can’t thank you enough for your support in my quest to make Washington a State of Learning.
Every night, Mona and I read two books to Emily before she goes to sleep. She’s actually asking us for three or four and sometimes five, because she doesn’t want to go to sleep. But she reaches out and turns the pages for us, always pushing forward towards the future. I want all parents in Washington to read to their children every day. I want Emily and Dylan to receive emotional support and intellectual stimulation as their brains develop in these early years. I want that for every child in Washington. I want Emily and Dylan to learn from teachers who have proven their mastery. I want that for every child in Washington. And I want Emily and Dylan to graduate from college and get good paying jobs to support their families. I want that for every citizen in our state of Washington. In short, I want to make Washington a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family.
I urge you one more time—don’t let our present prosperity lull you. We must be impatient, not complacent. HG Wells professed that history is a race between education and catastrophe. Well, the race is on, and the future is here.
In closing, we must concentrate on teaching our children and training our workforce until every child learns how to read and every adult is capable of pulling their own weight on this super train that will carry us through the 21st century. Education is freedom and it is our responsibility as the leaders of society to sustain the land of the free—to make Washington State a State of Learning. Thank you very much.