Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Joint Leadership Conference
October 8, 1999
PROSPERITY FROM THE PUGET SOUND TO THE PALOUSE
Thank you. It’s great to be here at this Joint Leadership Conference bringing together the civic leaders of Washington from the Puget Sound to the Palouse.
First I need to congratulate all of you. The Washington economy is booming, especially in the Puget Sound and Spokane areas. We’re in a period of unprecedented prosperity. The streets in downtown Seattle are teeming with people. There’s vibrancy in the air during business hours and in the evenings and on weekends. And the World Trade Organization’s upcoming ministerial meeting will showcase Seattle and our state in spite of the professionally organized protests! And this meeting will address an issue crucial to Eastern Washington—opening up more markets for our agricultural products.
Here in Spokane, BF Goodrich just moved in. And Spokane is being lauded as one of the top cities for businesses to relocate because of its productive workforce.
All across the state we’ve moved mountains in our welfare reform, reducing the amount of families on public assistance by roughly 40% since I took office. And because of our success in welfare reform, HUD just awarded us 23 million dollars worth of housing vouchers—the second highest award in the nation—to provide housing to current and past welfare recipients to help them on the road to self-sufficiency.
Headlines are reporting that Washington State’s personal income growth has soared more than any other state in the union. We are prosperous and you should all be proud.
But prosperity can be tricky. It’s human nature to sit back and want to rest on our laurels when things start to go so well. But now isn’t the time for complacency. We aren’t on solid ground yet. If we stop to rest now, we could easily lose all of the ground we have gained.
The year 2000 is less than 90 days away, and we must prepare to be competitive in the global economy of the 21st century.
That’s why I’ve appointed Martha Choe as the new director of trade and economic development.
Martha will be establishing a statewide Advisory Committee. We’ll need your ideas and help to create a strategic plan to ensure our economic prosperity into the 21st century. We need to have that plan in place by the end of the year. Let’s get it done and get to work.
But there are three issues that we must face head on if we are to sustain prosperity from Puget Sound to the Palouse: transportation, workforce training, and the education of our children.
First of all, we cannot lose sight of our vision for solving ourtransportation problems. We must have safe and efficient roads and transportation systems for our commuters and the movement of freight & goods.
Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the country. We can’t allow gridlock to halt the movement of our products. Period. What good is our 1-day shipping advantage to the Pacific Rim if we can’t move our product to and from the docks, distribution centers, and agricultural storage centers?
The second thing we simply can’t lose sight of as we approach the new millennium is the continuing effort to train our workforce. What good is it to attract companies to move to Washington, if our workers don’t have the appropriate skills to perform the tasks anyway?
Owners of small business and large corporations every day say that what they need most are highly trained workers. You have to go to other states—even other countries—to recruit qualified people to fill your positions. Yet in 1999, 53,000 Washingtonians lost their jobs because they worked for declining industries. Why are we importing workers, when Washingtonians are looking for and wanting work?
Aerospace machinists, aerospace engineers, brewery workers, defense workers and mill workers. These are smart people. But we live in a world of specialization. Their specific skills don’t match those on your job descriptions. So they need to be retrained. It makes no sense, in this time of prosperity, to turn our backs on dislocated workers when many high-wage jobs are going unfilled.
Especially since we already have a workforce-training program in place.
With input from businesses like yours, the state community college system has created skill standards for 47 specific occupations in 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.
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 and fit the bill, when you could have a hand in developing the course curriculum? That way, when applicants apply for jobs, they will have certificates as good as gold in their hands—proof that they know what they need to know to get the job done.
If each and every one of you contacts your industry association and explains what skills you need your workers to have, we will be a veritable force in the new millennium.
We’ll have the highest-skilled, smartest, most adaptable workers you can find, and we won’t be importing them from all over the country, because our higher education system will graduate enough high-skilled, innovative workers to fill our jobs.
Remember: there are 53,000 dislocated workers in Washington. 30% more than 2 years ago. They need to be retrained to keep their families afloat. And I am proposing that we extend unemployment insurance benefits to support those workers who are brave enough to take the risk to retrain for the jobs of the future.
Our unemployment insurance fund is in good shape. But there is a quirk in the system. Remember that report I mentioned earlier about how Washington’s personal income growth is outstripping all other states?
Well, we all know that growth hasn’t been distributed evenly across all industries. The average wage in Washington has gone up as a result of skyrocketing high-tech wages.
The 1984 law that created our unemployment insurance tax system works like this: if the average wages go up, insurance taxes are automatically adjusted up, because there are more wages, or a higher value, to insure. Because of the salary growth in the high-tech industries, an automatic insurance tax adjustment is about to hit all other unsuspecting companies. I’m here to say no to that tax hike. It’s the result of a quirk in the system and isn’t needed.
Your businesses need to keep that money to invest in workforce training and new jobs and facility improvements and wages.
When I first took office I promised to roll back the B&O tax to the pre-1993 level. With your help I did. Now I need your help again to stop this unnecessary, automatic tax hike, and to invest current funds to support workers brave enough to retrain. In fact, my administration has proposed and supported a legislative overhaul of our Unemployment Insurance tax system to provide for greater equity. Many companies are unduly subsidizing others.
Transportation and workforce training are the two things that we need to concentrate on to ensure continued prosperity during the next few years, but we also cannot back off pursuing our “Excellence In Education” agenda. A flawless transportation system will get us nowhere, and it won’t matter that we have highly-trained workers in high-wage positions if our children aren’t smart enough to fill the next round of job openings!
Our children are our future. We’ve got to insist on excellence in education NOW. When it comes to education, it’s pay now or pay an awfully lot more later. Or worse, crash later.
I’ve always said education is society’s great equalizer. Well, education is also the economy’s great energizer.
And 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’ve done great work by putting the standards in place, but frankly, folks, the hard work has just begun. We need to be able to reward those students who meet the standards, and intervene when schools aren’t performing well.
This last two weeks I’ve been around our state hand-delivering some of the 2,300 Washington Promise Scholarships to the top high school graduates of 1999. They are in their first weeks of classes as college freshman. These scholarships are available for low-income and middle-income students. 80% of these recipients did not financially qualify for any other state financial aid. We are trying to make the American dream of a college education affordable and obtainable for working, middle-class families.
It was great to see the parents, the grandparents, entire families attending these ceremonies to honor their kids who represented the first in their families ever to attend college.
These students earned scholarships by scoring in the top ten percent of their senior classes. But that’s just the top ten-percent. We want every child who achieves in high school to have the opportunity to pursue a college education. Because if we don’t reward our children for excelling, they will have no incentive to do so. Let’s toss out the bell curve and install a truly performance-based system.
I don’t mean to imply that we haven’t already moved heaven and earth to reform our education system. Because we have. But we can’t stop NOW. If we stop now, we’ll lose our momentum and roll back down the hill to where we were two years ago when only 47% of our fourth graders met the tough new standards in reading. We’re up to 60% now, but what incentive do our children have to meet those standards if they can’t afford to go to college if they pass the test? And what incentive do teachers have to get our children there?
We’ve raised teachers’ salaries to ensure that we attract and retain the brightest teachers in America. And that’s great. And we’ve instigated salary bonuses for teachers who go the extra mile and obtain national board certification. And that’s great, too, but we also need to impose standards and tests for teachers to ensure competence. And we need to reward the teachers and schools that improve student achievement and intervene if they don’t.
We also need to reduce our class sizes to increase the amount of individualized contact between students and their teachers. We’ve learned a lot from our Washington Reading Corps program. When those initial test stores came back a couple of years ago and only 47% of our fourth graders were reading at the standards, we knew we had to do something. So we created the Reading Corps, which is a one-on-one tutoring program. Last year more than 11,000 volunteers stepped up to the plate so that teachers and volunteers were able to reach more than 22,000 struggling readers in our schools with one-on-one reading instruction. And guess what? The reading ability of those 22,000 students jumped dramatically. Reading Corps schools’ test scores improved at almost twice the rate of schools that didn’t have Reading Corps Programs.
So imagine the benefits we could reap from reducing class sizes to allow more individualized instruction?
This is a crucial time. If we don’t continue to push forward with education reform, all of the work we have done so far will be pointless. At the 1999 National Education Summit in New York last week, IBM chief Lou Gerstner said, “We’ve got to have the guts and the political will to press forward with the commitments we’ve made to one another, to our nation, and most importantly to our kids and their future.”
All of us in this room have got to make that commitment.
I promise I will remain committed to creating the strongest education system in the nation. I will not slow down until every child meets our tough, new education standards and is rewarded for doing so. I will not slow down until every teacher is testing for competence and is rewarded for excellence. I will not slow down until the bridge between the economy and education is so strong that no blast will shake it.
Join me in this commitment. The great German philosopher, Goethe, said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the choice to draw back, always ineffectiveness.”
Well, I urge you today to commit to the education of our children. I urge you to give your employees one hour a week of paid-time so that they can teach kids the magic of reading in our Washington Reading Corps. Call 1-800-323-2550 and get involved. I urge you to join me in my commitment to institute teacher testing, to reduce class size, and to keep the Promise Scholarship program going strong. Let’s not leave a single child behind as we enter an exciting new high-tech, global century.
Only if we all commit will we be able to have the promise of prosperity from the Puget Sound to the Palouse. Not just today, but well into the 21st century.
In closing, I urge you one more time—don’t let our present prosperity lull you. We must be impatient, not complacent. H.G. Wells said that history is a race between education and catastrophe. Well, the race is on and the future is here. 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.
I know I can count on your help to make Washington a great place to live, work and raise a family. Thank you very much.