Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Public Ports Association
December 12, 2001

Many thanks for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here today.

This afternoon I’d like to highlight four priorities of critical concern to all of us. They are:

  • Investing in our transportation future
  • Economic development
  • Permitting reform
  • Water-law reform.

All of these issues -- collectively and individually -- will shape our future and the economic and social landscape of Washington state.

First, the state budget...

Now is the time to make certain that our state’s infrastructure is in top shape -- and by that I mean a sensible transportation system! Transportation is the centerpiece of our state’s Competitiveness Council report -- a report that was unveiled yesterday afternoon.

Now is the time to ensure that our business climate is healthy for all Washington businesses and that we are vigorously competitive in a world that will increasingly look to strong regions to establish commerce.

We know that demand has outstripped improvements in transportation --so now we have a real crisis.

Since 1980, statewide vehicle registrations are up 65 percent and the miles we drive are up even more -- 82 percent. That’s prosperity and a growing population at work! But we haven’t matched growth in use with new investments and improvements in roads and transit. Population has grown by 20 percent in just the last 10 years -- 1 million people. Yet, our state is spending less on transportation now than it was 10 years ago after adjusted for inflation.

Traffic congestion is worse than just a headache. It burdens not just commuters, but shippers, merchants and manufacturers. Our state must compete every day to keep jobs here and attract new jobs and keep trade -- one of the largest components of our economy -- flowing smoothly.

Washington moves $86 billion in foreign and domestic exports per year. Truck freight moves about $150 billion worth of goods per year. We must start now to show businesses that we "mean business" in dealing with our transportation problems.

Other states are investing in transportation. Illinois has a five-year, $8 billion package. Virginia has a six-year, $10 billion program. We need to step up to the plate! And, while new transportation revenues are critical, we’ve also got to speed up the process for building transportation projects, too. Last spring, I signed into law two bills that will expedite projects and cut costs -- design build contracting and environmental permit streamlining. These are tremendous reforms that will help greatly.

Transportation improvement projects will put people to work and keep our economy moving. Washington now has the highest unemployment rate in the country. In the short-term, new projects will put more than 20,000 people to work per year, pumping money into our local economies. In the long-term, it means moving people, freight and goods -- moving our state forward -- having a working transportation system so that companies will grow and expand here and provide jobs for our children.

Therefore, I put on the table yesterday my proposal for a 9-cent increase in the gas tax -- phased in over three years --– to support a 10-year, $8.5 billion construction program. It is very close to the bipartisan plan submitted last summer. Good plan then. Good plan now.

I know everyone in this room is a strong supporter of freight-mobility projects -- including me. This transportation proposal continues our steadfast commitment to invest in freight-mobility projects across our state. FAST Corridor projects are funded, along with other top freight-mobility priorities that will enable our state to keep and sharpen its competitive edge in international trade. My transportation plan would fully fund the Freight Mobility Board’s funding request in ’01-’03 and carry forward predictable, reliable funding commitments for freight mobility over the next 10 years.

My proposal empowers regions, like Central Puget Sound, to approve local funding to accelerate major corridor improvements like 405 or the North Spokane Corridor, a new SR 520 bridge, replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct or a new I-5 bridge across the Columbia River.

Without these improvements, our state’s prospects for economic recovery and continued vitality are at much greater risk.

Just recently, Moody’s, a major investment service and bond rating firm, noted that any further delay on transportation projects threatens Washington’s long-term economic growth and puts our advantageous bond rating at risk.

We need action now!

Economic Development and CERB
Speaking of action -- spurring economic development is also a major priority. I'm a big supporter of the CERB program and want to provide it with permanent funding.

Since 1982, our Community Economic Revitalization Board has awarded $80 million in grants and loans for publicly owned economic development projects to encourage new industrial development and expansion of existing businesses in economically distressed areas across the state.

These projects have leveraged $1.6 billion in private sector investment and led to the creation or retention of 18,000 jobs.

CERB is the only state program that is specifically designed to:

  • Respond rapidly to immediate business siting and expansion needs
  • Build feasible industrial sites for future business development
  • Target expansions in key industrial sectors
  • Spur the creation and retention of family-wage jobs.

With additional funding, the CERB program can stimulate economic development in the areas that need it most. Communities across the state are searching for some $13 million in funding for economic development infrastructure projects that are ready to go right now.

If funded, these projects will create construction jobs immediately and support permanent jobs once projects are completed. Based on the history of the CERB program, we expect these $13 million in funds to support about 2,700 permanent jobs.

Despite the program’s effectiveness, CERB has never had a permanent funding source. So, in 1999, I proposed -- and the Legislature passed -- a funding mechanism for CERB that would ensure its long-term stability. Unfortunately, the passage of I-695 eliminated that funding. So we must identify another source of stable, long-term funding for this essential program.

This year, I will propose to:

  • Add approximately $3 million per year to CERB’s funding by allowing it to retain interest earnings from its own account and other infrastructure-funding accounts.
  • Allow the CERB fund to keep and re-loan repayments from other rural economic development loan projects and provide additional CERB funding of $5 million per year through our transportation improvement proposal.

Simply put, we must provide long-term stable funding for the CERB program.

Why? Because the long-term prosperity of rural Washington depends on the infrastructure -- water, sewer, gas, power, telecommunications -- necessary to support new businesses and the expansion of existing businesses and growing communities.

Regulations and Permitting
The Competitiveness Council yesterday issued its recommendations on fostering a more competitive climate for businesses.

Their recommendations cover transportation, infrastructure, taxation, regulations, human capital and benchmarking.

The Competitiveness Council report calls for reducing the bureaucratic red tape surrounding land-use regulation and permitting.

I intend to change the regulatory culture of state agencies involved in permitting.

I remain firmly committed to environmental protection, but I am just as certain we can achieve better balance between preservation of our natural resources and economic development.

Businesses should be provided greater certainty. When businesses come to us needing permits for new development, they are going to know what it will take -- what they must do -- to get their project approved.

This does not mean, however, that we will throw the standards out the door. But we must establish clearer standards and guidelines so there won't be any unseen hurdles that stall the process.

I am going to reduce the time and money it takes to get permits by creating a coordinated system that speeds up permitting.

I am going to expand the state’s Master Business Licensing program to local governments, which also will save time.

And I am going to establish clear, focused leadership that brings major reform and accountability to our state’s regulatory system.

The days of endless process for permitting projects -- projects we need to create jobs in our communities -- must end.

Water Law and Water Storage
A related topic I've long worked on from my days as King County Executive is water.

We need more water for a growing population, for business and agriculture economies, and for fish.

Last session, I signed a bill making water-rights processing more flexible so that water is available where it is needed most. We created two lines for water right applications -- one for new rights and one for changing or transferring existing water rights. This allows faster action on change or transfer requests that have been long stuck in line behind requests for new water rights. Indeed, the bottleneck is being broken. In years past, there were 100 to 200 water-transfer approvals per year. Ecology has now handled more than that in just three months.

I'm working with legislative leaders -- leaders from both parties in both houses -- to take further action on water reform.

We are working on:

  • Setting and achieving in-stream flows for fish
  • Finding water for growing communities
  • Fixing use it or lose it policies
  • Identifying funding for water infrastructure.

All of these priorities must be tackled. We can, we must act -- there’s no time to waste!

All of the things I have discussed --

  • Transportation
  • Rural economic development
  • Permitting reform
  • Water-law reform

-- are all parts of one goal: To make certain that when the economic recovery occurs, our state remains ahead of the curve as we have in the past.

You know, it’s during these dark times in our history that we understand the promise of our communities and our state. Our port and business leaders gathered in this room today labor on, investing in their communities and raising their children.

In the throes of this current downturn, we have confidence in the essentials:

  • That we live and work in a strong and vital state -- a state that is a bellwether for trade, entrepreneurship and high-tech innovation
  • That we live and work in a state where the business community, in partnership with state government, is looking beyond the short-term hurdles, with an eye to the future

I believe in a better future for our nation and our state. But it will not happen by itself; we must be proactive.

Thank you, and happy holidays.
Related Links:
- Washington Public Ports Association
- Washington Competitiveness Council
- Water 2002
- Community Economic Revitalization Board

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