Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Woodinville-North Shore Chambers of Commerce
August 8, 2000
Thank you Lucy Linn McKie, and thanks to the Woodinville and North Shore chambers of commerce for giving me the opportunity to visit with you.
Today, as we drove into this area, I was struck again with a sense of excitement. I was struck, as I often am these days, with a sense of possibility and future. What a time to be in the state of Washington - a time of change and prosperity not seen since the Gold Rush!
And you're right smack in the middle of it! Smack in the middle of a brand new economy, in an brand new century. And with visionary long-term planning, vibrant areas such as this one will remain strong.
We're all in the midst of tumultuous change right now. Change in our work, our ideas, our lives. We owe much of that freshness to the spirit of entrepreneurs. The economic growth you've experienced in Woodinville and North Shore is an exciting and wonderful example of that spirit.
You have large businesses, but you also have a vibrant small business community. These small, innovative businesses contribute character, vitality and energy to your community and our state. But this area, brimming with talent and prosperity, also has problems. You're having a hard time recruiting employees, especially those in entry level and mid-wage jobs.
These workers can't live near their workplaces because housing has become so expensive. But moving further out means a tough commute because traffic has rapidly become so bad.
Affordable housing is the key. Affordable housing close to work, combined with reliable transit service, will help ease traffic congestion and increase transportation mobility in the area.
Speaking of which, let's talk about transportation for a minute. With the current problem on the 520 bridge, we're reminded once again of how stretched and vulnerable we are to disruption.
This state in the last decade has suffered far too many "fits and starts" in transportation priorities and funding. If one thing is very clear to me, it is that we absolutely must and will have a long-term and lasting consensus on how to meet our state's transportation needs.
We cannot allow our bright economic future to be hamstrung by gridlock. We simply cannot allow short-term politics and partisan bickering to get in the way of our economic growth, environment and quality of life. We and our children and grandchildren have too much at stake.
As you know, we've brought together some of the brightest minds in the state on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation. Over the past two years, members have been assessing our transportation system. They're developing options that will lead to new accountability and responsibility in spending, more unified governance, better system efficiencies and local money going to local projects.
The Commission's recommendations are due in December of this year, and I intend to act quickly on them. I agree with what the Blue Ribbon Commission itself has already said. That is: "for the good of Washington, we must take action." We will take that action.
There are a couple of key principles that should guide our transportation decision-making:
And, incidentally, these principles are central to the Blue Ribbon Commission's focus.
We must identify and implement long term solutions efficiently. And we must provide streamlined, understandable systems of operation, making the state accountable for where and how our dollars are spent.
I believe the Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation is our best hope in years, maybe decades, to secure the long-term solutions we seek. As we move to the final stage, from options to recommendations, public input is crucial. I urge every one of you to read the Blue Ribbon Commission's list of options and give them your feedback.
The solution package must include reforming the transportation system, finding efficiencies and eliminating waste.
I support establishing performance measures for transportation. The idea is to squeeze additional capacity out of the existing system through efficiencies, reform and smart technologies (such as Intelligent Transportation Systems). The idea is to address transportation funding inequity and regional empowerment and to tie new revenues to new projects.
Solutions for Puget Sound's major corridors must be comprehensive including both transit and road elements.
I am a very strong proponent of the state's multi-modal transportation system: highways, transit, ferries, freight mobility and passenger rail. The need for which is well demonstrated this very day in a drive across Lake Washington.
In transportation, there are no quick fixes or one-mode-fits-all solutions. We meet our transportation needs best by providing an integrated, multi-modal system that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here's a case in point. We often overlook the fact that transit is an effective means of reducing highway traffic congestion. But, according to the Washington Transportation Alliance, if all Puget Sound area transit riders got back in their own cars, the resulting bumper-to-bumper traffic jam would stretch from Seattle to Montana (that's over 325 miles). And that's for every morning and evening commute!
Success in transportation will only occur in Olympia in 2001 if there is a bi-partisan approach to the issue.
That is why, with the Legislature, we established the Blue Ribbon Commission. With this bipartisan spirit, we will quickly and aggressively act on the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations. For the good of Washington, we must take action.
There is another issue that hits close to home for many of you. I know that those of you with smaller businesses are very concerned right now about access to affordable health care insurance for yourselves and your employees. I know that without this benefit, you find it even harder to attract and keep good workers.
I have some encouraging words for you.
This year, I and some of my legislative allies from both parties finally persuaded the Legislature to reform the health insurance market for individual and small group subscribers.
As a result of those reforms, we expect to see insurers return to the market by late this fall. It has taken awhile to get the structure in place to get these insurers back. But I have been assured by the industry that the market is about to get a much-needed boost with our repeal of many unworkable, counter-productive regulations. Many other insurance companies are considering selling policies in Washington. With more carriers in the market, competition increases, and that means lower costs for individuals and employers. I am confident the market is about to become far more accessible and more small businesses will be able to secure affordable insurance for their workers.
One area of concern that is absolutely essential to the economic well-being of this and every area of Washington State is our public education system. We have stayed the course on education reform, and I want to assure you that we will continue our work. Education has, and will continue to be, my top priority. Here's what we've done so far:
Washington State has set tougher, higher standards and test scores are rising for three years in a row.
We've got 12,000 volunteers flocking into our schools to help struggling readers develop sound reading skills. And where you find those volunteers, you also find reading scores going up.
We're reducing class sizes across the state in the early grades. If a child is excelling, we can reward her. If he needs extra help, we can get it to him.
We're sending even more of our brightest high school students to college on Promise Scholarships.
We've wired every single school district with telecommunications infrastructure so our kids can learn the technology they'll need to participate in this vibrant new economy of the 21st century and use it to receive better and more customized education. And we're on our way to wiring the whole state. Every single community will someday have easy access to distance learning.
This past session, the Legislature said yes to my proposal for teacher testing. Teachers must pass a test demonstrating their mastery before entering the classroom as certified teachers.
A few weeks ago, I announced board members to our brand new Professional Educator Standards Board. This board will develop and administer the new teacher test. This board will also advise the state board of education, the superintendent of public instruction, the Legislature and myself on the full range of issues affecting teacher quality and certification, including alternative certification.
We will continue to move toward the best education system in the nation. We won't stop until every child has every opportunity to become the best they can be.
Whatever our challenges in education, transportation or economic development, let's not forget that this is a great time in our state's history to be taking them on.
Things have never been better in our great state. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in 33 years. There are 250,000 net new jobs in Washington State. We've returned almost a $1.5 billion tax dollars to businesses so they can reinvest, grow and create the jobs that provide our families with a good future.
Washington is number one in moving people from welfare to work. And Business Week magazine is calling Washington one of the most imaginative states, because of the way we reformed welfare. I'm proud of that. We got 80,000 families off of welfare and into career-track jobs. At the same time, we have cut welfare costs by $250 million a year.
As I mentioned, we are reviving a dying health insurance market. But we also passed a Patients' Bill of Rights so medical decisions can be made by doctors and patients, not numbers crunchers.
I've worked hard to streamline government. Washington is winning national awards for our on-line governing. We've eliminated more than 1,300 pages from the bureaucratic process and moved $143 million out of government process and into school construction.
I've worked hard to build partnerships with the business community, to make sure state government is helping businesses thrive. Because our businesses are the backbone of our society. When our businesses thrive, our communities thrive and when our communities thrive, our families thrive.
And I want to thank you -- every business person here today -- for the jobs you provide for our citizens, for the quality of life you allow our citizens and for the partnerships you've formed with our administration over the years.
Whether you're in business, non-profit or government, we've got the same goal: making Washington a better place to live, work and raise a family.