Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Budget Proposal News Conference
December 17, 2002

Good morning. Thank you for being here today.

The state budget I’m proposing today shows the citizens of this state what their tax money can buy, and it shows what we can’t afford. Times are tough and I’m presenting a budget that lives within our means.

The full list of what my budget proposal will do, and what it doesn’t do, is in your press folders. It’s on my website. And I invite everyone to look at what we propose to do, and what we’ve chosen not to do.

While there is a lot I like about the budget I’m proposing today, there’s a lot I don’t like. We are not able to move forward the way I wish we could because we simply don’t have the money to do so. But with our identified priorities and results-oriented funding, this proposal provides a vision for the future of our state.

And here’s why:

We’ve looked closely and critically at everything we do. This budget focuses on the priorities of government. And we’re funding what matters most in getting the results people want from their state. It reflects a return to the fundamentals of what a state government can and must do.

The priorities of our citizens are reflected in this budget. Education, jobs, healthy families, safe communities, protection of vulnerable children and adults, and common sense.

This budget also makes it clear that we can’t keep doing things the way we have in the past. This is a dramatically different budget and a dramatically different approach for a dramatically different time. It reflects the realities of our post 9/11 economy.

Hard decisions were made that will be painful for many. Important programs are being cut because we can no longer afford them in this difficult economy. To maintain current services would require $2.4 billion more than what we have.

To make sure our highest priorities are met, this balanced budget cuts General Fund spending by $2.1 billion in the next biennium. It cuts $275 million in spending on the Health Services Account, which funds part of Medicaid and the Basic Health Plan for low-income families.

You know education is my highest priority. Nonetheless, my budget proposal suspends Initiative 728’s next class size reduction, scheduled for the 2004-05 school year. Voters approved this initiative, which I supported. In fact, I helped lead the campaign. But that was at a time when our economy was doing great. Unfortunately, this initiative came with no funding source to sustain it in hard times like these. During the past two years, Initiative 728 raised our level of funding for public schools by $440 million. My proposal keeps that higher funding level in place. But it suspends further increases until we can afford it.

My budget proposal suspends Initiative 732’s automatic, annual cost-of-living increases for teachers. This initiative also passed two years ago when our economy was doing well. It also came with no funding source to sustain it in a tough economy. As governor, I supported this initiative. Unfortunately, we cannot afford pay raises for state-funded employees. Not when our state has lost tens of thousands of jobs across all sectors of the economy, and pay raises are on hold everywhere.

Let me make one thing very clear. These decisions affecting teachers and classrooms have been agonizing for me. As a father of two young children, I truly value the contributions of public school teachers. They work hard, and we simply do not pay teachers enough. I'd like to do more, but we do not have the money at this time.

My budget proposal redirects Initiative 773’s new tax on cigarettes to fund enhancements in Basic Health. We don’t have the money to maintain the program. This new revenue is needed to help prevent further reductions. Despite large, continuing increases in health care costs, my budget continues to fund all existing health care programs for children. But rapidly rising costs mean the number of adults served by the Basic Health Plan is reduced and some optional adult-care programs are eliminated. In fact, we had to end Basic Health Plan coverage for 59,800 childless adults and optional medical care programs for adult Medicaid patients. We should be proud of the fact that we were able to provide these services, but today we simply cannot afford to continue them. We need a national solution.

My budget proposal slows the rising cost of our corrections system. By implementing a new sentencing law – already passed by the Legislature – one year early, it will release from our state prisons about 1,200 low-risk, non-violent offenders.
State workers will feel the pain of this budget. Again, there will be no cost-of-living increases. And again, state-funded employees, including teachers and college and university employees, will pay a larger share of the cost of their health insurance.

We’re going to have to cut jobs. The state workforce will continue to shrink. A total of 2,500 full-time jobs will be eliminated, virtually all within the next 12 months.

These employment reductions are necessary, but not easy. I deeply appreciate all of the hard work of state employees. I ask for their continued dedication as we tackle this challenging budget. At a time when more people need state services, we've had to make deep cuts to balance our budget. State workers are the face of our government. They provide the direct interaction with our citizens. We value our state employees, but like many other employers right now, we’re having to adapt to the tough economic times.

This budget makes the most of what we’ve got. It makes the most of the hard-earned tax dollars from people all across this state. I don’t take lightly where our state’s funds come from. I want our tax dollars to work as hard as the people who earned them.

Because of the drastic $2.4 billion shortfall, this year’s budget process was dramatically different. We didn’t focus on changes to the existing budget. We didn’t just cut every program by a certain percentage. Instead, we started by setting goals we want this government to attain. Then we looked at each activity of government. We decided which ones most contribute to the results we want. That’s what we call the “Priorities of Government.”

Here’s where most of the money in this budget goes:

Education remains my highest priority. That’s why 56% of this budget is allocated to education. This includes:

· $10.6 billion to educate 1 million kids in our public schools

· ($2.7 billion) to help put 215,000 people through college at our state’s colleges and universities, and to expand enrollments in high-demand fields.

We’re going to strengthen our public health system:

· We’ll provide medical care for more than 900,000 vulnerable children and adults, and pay for health insurance for 70,000 low-income people.

We’re also going to maintain a safety net for our most vulnerable children and adults:

· ($3.8 billion) That means providing protection against abuse and neglect. It means providing emergency food and housing, mental health care, foster care, and nursing homes. It means programs for the disabled and temporary assistance to families struggling to get back on their feet.

And I want people to feel safe in their homes and safe on our streets:

· ($1.4 billion) That means keeping 15,500 dangerous offenders in our prisons and making space for future offenders. We will continue supervising 16,800 higher-risk offenders who have been released from prison. We will keep dangerous sex offenders in secure facilities, and ensure that the State Patrol is able to continue keeping us safe on our highways.

Transportation also remains a critical priority for our state. I intend to work with the Legislature on a package that meets the needs of our state and the expectations of the electorate. In the meantime, the transportation budget devotes our current gas tax to preserving and maintaining the state transportation system. That’s our highest priority. That’s all we can do.

And in spite of substantial budget cuts, we must continue to support jobs growth—we must continue to create new jobs. We must continue to stimulate investment and economic development.

· A $2.5 billion state construction budget, which will support more than 13,000 private sector jobs. It includes new infrastructure that will attract new businesses to our communities and builds more classroom space at our state colleges and universities. We’re also training our citizens in the high-demand fields our industries of the future need.

· Incentives for local economic development that will attract at least $400 million in private investment

· $20 million for 1,550 higher education enrollment slots in high-demand fields

This budget proposal is a careful response to our budget crisis. This budget plainly states what I believe are the priorities in state government.

It’s that simple. I realize this is only the beginning of what will be a long and laborious budget process.

I look forward to working with the legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, and the people of our state to pass a responsible, yet compassionate budget that protects the core of education while still providing a safety net for the most vulnerable children and adults.

Thank you.

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