Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Association of Washington Business / Washington Chamber of Commerce Executives
January 23, 2002
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for inviting me here to speak with you today. And, thank you for that kind introduction.
I don’t know how many of you had the opportunity to hear Alan Mulally’s comments last week before the House Commerce and Labor Committee, but if you didn’t I’m sure you’ve all had a chance to read what he said. It’s been widely publicized.
His eloquent remarks about this state’s competitiveness and transportation system carry the weight of 70,000 Boeing employees who live in our region, our neighbors and our family members. And while we may quake in our shoes at the implications behind his remarks, we cannot let our fears prevent us from doing what needs to be done. We owe it to Boeing and its employees, to commuters stuck in traffic and to business owners in Seattle, Spokane and Bellevue, who see this transportation mess as a barrier separating them and their customers.
Two billion dollars a year is the cost of the time we waste stuck in traffic.
As we focus on the challenges we now face, I was struck by something I found in the October 2000 report that the AWB sponsored.
KEEPING WASHINGTON COMPETITIVE –
The Need for a Healthy Business Climate
Let me read to you a few paragraphs from the opening: “Washington’s economy is changing overnight, almost at the click of a button. In many areas of the state, unemployment levels are at record lows, and hardly a day goes by without the announcement of a new company starting up in the virtual realm of e-commerce. At first glance, our state’s economy would seem to be the envy of the nation, or even the world.”
Those words were published just 15 months ago and I think we’re all struck by how much has changed since then.
But then I read on.
“How do we develop the infrastructure we need to move people, goods, services and information from point to point?
“How do we ensure that our education system produces the creative, motivated, highly skilled, well-rounded individuals needed in the 21st century workplace?
“How do we align our tax and regulatory structures, given the changing nature of the economy?”
In the 15 months since that report was written, so much about our bustling economy has changed for the worst. But the problems, the challenges we faced back then, remain exactly the same.
In truth, after years of riding high, the Puget Sound region is getting a taste of what much of the rest of the state experienced throughout the economic boom:
- High unemployment.
- Too much inventory.
- Withering competition from a world market that drives down the price of goods.
Those are problems now faced, equally, by retailers in downtown Seattle, Bellevue and Spokane, and by growers in Central Washington’s apple industry.
Government cannot, and the businesses represented in this room cannot, fix all of those problems alone. World events, far beyond our control, have played a hand in where we find ourselves today.
Our responsibility is to address the problems we do have some control over, and to try and fix them. We had trouble doing that when we were flush with money. And the big question is, can we do it now? Addressing our problems will be difficult enough if we are united. But, we are doomed if we continue to let partisan politics divide us.
I use the term partisan politics because it is a relatively easy way to explain what so often goes on in Olympia and, in fact, throughout our state. But I know the problem runs deeper than whether an elected official has an R or D next to their name.
In recent years we have experienced a polarization of our politics. Staking their positions on either end of the political spectrum, interest groups have been less willing to compromise and find creative solutions. As a consequence, we have been unable to move forward. But our population continues to move forward, and we simply must work together to provide the necessary infrastructure for this inevitable growth.
We have the tools that can build the framework for new business opportunities if only we work together to use them. By linking infrastructure needs, land-use planning and equitable infrastructure financing, we can accommodate growth and provide jobs. But doing this will require all of us to move away from entrenched positions and work together in a bipartisan spirit – a “spirit of Washington.”
We are in gridlock in this state, and not just on our freeways. A 60-day legislative session is not a lot of time to break that jam, but we simply must try! In the midst of a recession may seem like a bad time to launch a massive transportation improvement effort. But when in recent memory have we been willing to dig deep to address our broad infrastructure and transportation needs?
The fact is, to some, there is never a good time to invest in the future. But, I say, now is that time. Record low interest rates give us tremendous buying power. Transportation projects will create more than 20,000 new private-sector jobs. And comments like Mr. Mulally’s should certainly provide the motivation. Anxiety, which he says is good, is a powerful force.
One of our past failings is that oftentimes it was government trying to make the case for an improved transportation system. I sense now that that has changed. Your support for a 10-year transportation plan is greatly appreciated.
There is no fairer way to rebuild this region’s roads than to finance those improvements with an increase in the gas tax. My plan is straightforward. It builds on last year’s recommendations. It was a good plan then. It is a good plan now. The 9-cent increase, spread over three years, will rebuild the roads and bridges in every region of our state. In this plan, we also authorize regions to raise additional funds to speed up construction of their big projects, partnering with the state and federal government.
And let me make one thing clear. The money collected from any gas tax increase will be used only for the highway system. That’s the law of our state. Not a single penny can be used for buses or for rail.
Demands on our transportation system have never been greater, and our ability to meet those demands haven’t kept pace. Adjusted for inflation, today we spend fewer state dollars on transportation than we did 10 years ago, even though our population is a million higher and in the next 10 years, we can expect another million.
Recently we were reminded of our habitual failure to address that problem when a time capsule from 1962 was unearthed at the Opera House. In it was a letter from leaders back then, reminding us that 40 years ago, they had transportation problems, too. Let us hope that 40 years from now, this state’s civic and political leaders aren’t shaking their heads at the mess we left them with.
While I have been spending a lot of time focusing on transportation, I know that you also have other priorities.
Education, for one. Your support for our K-12 initiatives and education reform has been greatly appreciated, and every day the schools in this state are working to get better. Good things are happening in our schools. Test scores are rising. Two years ago, the Legislature passed my proposal to test all new teachers for competence, and in the last year passed alternative teacher certification.
A week ago today I was in Ferndale, at Central Elementary School, recognizing that school for its excellence in reading and innovation. And what has made that school so successful – the community’s commitment to education, parental involvement, a dedicated faculty and district leadership – are the keys to making all of our schools great.
And at the heart of it all is reading. I have a passion for improving the literacy skills of our youth. No matter what a person’s interest, reading prepares our youth for the day when they graduate from high school and take the next step towards their future.
I know, too, you have other concerns. Last year, I convened the Washington Competitiveness Council, and in December it issued a 72-page blueprint for how this state can position itself to compete in the 21st century. That report called for an improved educational system, better roads and transportation, and streamlined environmental permit processing.
I applaud the Council for clearly stating that none of their recommendations are intended to weaken our environmental safeguards. And I agree with their goal of making the regulatory system more efficient and effective. For the past 30 years various laws and regulations have been put in place, each with the aim of improving our quality of life – a quality that is second to none in the nation and a competitive advantage over other states. But we can and must improve this patchwork of protections by eliminating redundancies, streamlining processes, and making our expectations more objective and more clear for businesses and the public.
By establishing clear standards and guidelines we can provide greater predictability and certainty – for the businesses that work with agencies, and certainty for our citizens who want clean air, clean water and open spaces.
Even before the report was released, I appointed my then chief of staff, Paul Isaki, to be my liaison to business and to oversee implementation of the recommendations by the Competitiveness Council.
We are committed to making those changes. Already I have asked the Department of Ecology to re-examine the way it does business; to develop benchmarks for permit timelines, to set more objective criteria and to identify bottlenecks that unnecessarily delay the issuance of permits.
The Department of Licensing is expanding the Master Business License program to include local businesses.
With your help, we can accomplish all of the key provisions outlined in the Competitiveness Council’s report. Failing to do so only means that sooner or later, someone else is going to have to address the challenges we face here today. On a larger note, we’re facing a lot of challenges, and there’s a short period of time for the Legislature to accomplish what must be accomplished. But we must work together so that when economic recovery does occur – and it will – we will be ready.
Thank you for doing your part to make Washington a great place to live, work and raise a family.
- Washington Chamber of Commerce Executives
- Washington Competitiveness Council
- Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation
- Association of Washington Business
- Locke urges support for investments in transportation, education