Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Senior Citizens' Foundation 14th Annual Conference
October 24, 2002
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor to be here.
Albert Einstein once said, “I don’t worry about the future. The future comes soon enough.”
What may have worked in Einstein’s day doesn’t work very well for us today. Looking at the challenges we face, I think most of us would agree that the future is already here!
Not only do we need to worry about it, we need to do something about it! We must translate our concerns about tomorrow into constructive action today.
The future seems especially immediate to me when I think about my kids. Just last month, Mona and I took our daughter Emily to kindergarten for the first time. Our son Dylan is only two years behind her.
They are growing up fast. We wonder—we ask—we agonize over—what our state will offer to them as adults. Will Washington be the kind of place where they want to work, live, raise their families and retire?
And the future seems even more immediate to me when I think about my parents. They are determined to remain active, healthy and independent.
Our family will always do our best to honor and support their wishes. We will do out best to help them live their lives in the way they prefer.
Not all seniors have the resources or support they need to make lifestyle preferences and health demands work together. That’s why I remain committed to protecting core services for our most vulnerable citizens, including those seniors who need state help.
Honoring this commitment is a bigger challenge than ever before. Americans are living longer.
The ranks of senior citizens are growing. And as baby boomers begin to reach retirement age a decade from now, the numbers will expand dramatically. We have more seniors, and they’re living longer with more complicated health needs.
Today’s elders also have higher expectations than previous generations. Rightfully higher expectations about their quality of life. Rightfully higher expectations about their ability to control and direct their own care.
This combination of larger numbers and higher expectations will test our ability to ensure that vulnerable seniors have safe and healthy places to live. The tremendous strain on our resources will continue to increase.
At the same time, we all know we face some grim economic realities. Our Chief Economist, Dr. Chang Mook Sohn, recently revised state revenues downward over the next two years.
We face a potential shortfall of $2 billion for the next two years. And that’s just to maintain existing programs.
But the situation is not unprecedented. We’ve been here before.
Our unemployment rate has been fluctuating a little above 7 percent. But during the 1971 recession, it rose to 10.4 percent. During the recession of the early ‘80s, it was 12 percent.
I served on a panel recently with former Governors Evans, Spellman and Gardner. We talked about how our state has weathered tough times before and emerged stronger.
We will this time too. But we’re in for a long struggle. Our immediate priority must be to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community still receive the help they need. And to plan a future that gives Washington citizens the services that matter most.
With this in mind, we are approaching the 2003-2005 budget differently than previous budgets.
We are not just assuming historical funding levels for existing programs, based on legislative tradition. Instead, our premise is that our budget must be based on desired outcomes.
For example, instead of asking how much must be spent to keep health care programs running, we’re asking how can we improve the health of Washington citizens. Desired outcomes. Not just continued spending.
We’re mapping out multi-year blueprints and strategies for accomplishing these outcomes.
As we focus on outcomes, we’re focusing on the best ways to achieve those outcomes.
State government will change because of this approach. This is a dramatically different way of doing things. We’re just not going to be satisfied with trying to do the “same old things” with less money.
Yes, we must always seek greater efficiencies. But we must also ask whether we should even be doing all of those “same old things.”
The state budget I’ll unveil in December will have deep cuts—tough choices must be made. They will not be palatable to everyone. So citizens must be engaged in what they want of government and—just as important—how to pay for it.
What will this new approach mean in health and human services?
We know there will be some reductions to services. But we also know we can achieve savings through more efficient service delivery. We can and must do a better job of integrating services.
The state’s human services system is large and complex. At least one out of five Washington citizens receives state funded human services every year. These services cover a broad spectrum. They come from many different service providers.
During the last two decades, human services have become increasingly specialized. There are separate programs for specialized services like mental health, substance abuse treatment, long-term care, and health.
This specialization has benefits—it has led to more knowledgeable providers, for instance. But it has drawbacks, too.
Today, more than half of the people receiving DSHS-funded services are receiving services from more than one DSHS program. Service specialization has meant less coordination and greater costs.
We’re exploring how to better integrate the delivery of state-funded services. We’re looking both within and beyond departmental lines. We can achieve better outcomes. We can make state resources go further. We must work to integrate services.
We will integrate, and we will innovate. In fact, we’re already implementing an innovative approach in the area of long-term care. In this state, unpaid family members provide 80% of long-term care for seniors.
But an increasing number of seniors are receiving care from paid providers. And families are concerned about the quality and the cost of available long-term care for their loved ones.
That’s why our state moved ahead with the new state Home Care Quality Authority. The voters approved Initiative 775 last November. Last spring I appointed the nine-member board. The new Authority began operations this summer.
The Authority is tasked with improving the quality of home care. This will include establishing standards and stabilizing the home care workforce.
The Authority will develop recruitment and training programs for home care workers. It will develop a state-maintained registry of qualified providers who have passed criminal background checks.
The Authority is right now negotiating with the newly elected home care workers’ union. Their goal is to have a tentative agreement in place for the Legislature to consider in January.
We must continue our efforts to make prescription drugs available and affordable for our seniors. I signed Executive Order 00-04 two years ago this month to work prescription drug price discounts through the Health Care Authority of Washington—the AWARDS program.
This group supported me in that effort. The AWARDS program was a good idea and a good start. Unfortunately, it was challenged in the courts and overturned.
We will keep trying. We are exploring new approaches and examining the successful experiences of other states. More affordable prescription drugs for seniors must be addressed – if not at the federal level, then by the states.
I want to acknowledge Senator Patty Murray, who will be here this afternoon. We all support and appreciate Senator Murray’s efforts on the federal front on behalf of our seniors, including her sponsorship of a “Medi-Fair” bill.
Senior citizens are an integral, vitally important part of our communities. Senior concerns are community concerns. Our elders have been through tough times like these before. They fought to preserve our freedoms.
They have also played a significant role in our progress. They have invested many years into our communities and into this country.
We are grateful for their service and sacrifice for our country. We value our senior citizens just as we value all members of our communities. We respect and need their counsel, experience and values as we address our challenges.
We value the counsel and expertise of senior citizen advocate groups as well. The dialogue we will have in the coming months will help chart our state’s course in the years ahead.
I believe that together, we can and will resolve our present problems. We will emerge a stronger, better state—a state with strong communities that continue to value every citizen, and a state with a very bright future.