Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Remarks before the Olympia Rotary
April 29, 2002

Thank you for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to speak before the Olympia Rotary—this is my adopted hometown after all—and I appreciate the opportunity to review the 2002 legislative session.

I’m always impressed when I travel throughout our state to visit Rotaries—the extraordinary service ethic, the vigor of community volunteers, and the variety of philanthropic projects. The Olympia Rotary is a stellar example of what I mean: Your work to raise funds for a rotary in Malawi as well as support for the non-profit “Water for People” Foundation—a project that I understand Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald helped advance—are making a meaningful difference in the lives of men and women a half a world away.

Congratulations and thank you for your service.

Many of you are state employees or have wives and husbands who are state employees. Unfortunately, during cynical or trying times, our culture seems to encourage public-service bashing—it becomes vogue to bad-mouth the public sector.

At the height of the Great Depression, the great “philosopher” Groucho Marx noted that, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”

But Sept. 11th and our earthquake last year proved the value of public servants and the role of government from firefighters, Emergency Management, Department of Health and, of course, our military.

Today, my Administration and our state employees are proving Groucho wrong. Our welfare-reform initiative is leading the nation—renewing lives and drawing thousands of folks back into the workforce. We’ve received widespread national recognition and a number of prestigious awards, including a top honor from the National Council of State Legislators for innovative programs.

We’ve also excelled in our efforts to harness the benefits of technology to make government more efficient, cost-effective, bring government services to one’s home. Our state received the nation’s Digital State Award three years running—as we’ve ranked “number one” in providing digital-government services.

We’ve made innovations and reforms in our educational system—reducing class size, boosting academic standards, and encouraging parental and family involvement. Thousands of middle-class high school graduates each year now attend college thanks our Promises Scholarship program. We must stay the course with these reforms and higher standards—because we must prepare our kids for the high-tech, 21st century global economy.

As I’m sure Secretary Doug MacDonald has pointed out to you, we are also creating a far more efficient Department of Transportation.
Today we have new ways to measure the performance of the Department of Transportation to make sure the department is accountable for its decisions and actions.
Legislators passed a whole host of reforms and efficiencies for the Department of Transportation including design build, contracting out work, performance measures and reforming previous agreements.

The future of our children and our grandchildren rests on the progress we make in solving our transportation mess.

Now, that linkage might sound exaggerated -- tackling traffic gridlock translating into a brighter future for our children. But we all bear witness to a transportation “ripple effect:” Poor roads mean a poor quality of life. Period. A poor quality of life repels business, which takes away opportunities for our children to thrive and prosper.

Indeed, as I’m sure you’ve already heard --our Competitiveness Council says, without mincing words, that our terrible transportation system is the biggest single threat to the state’s healthy business climate.

Two billion dollars a year is the cost of the time we waste stuck in traffic!

The $7.7 billion transportation plan the Legislature passed is critical to our state’s future. It is a win/win for the people of Washington. Should you support it at the polls, and I will do everything in my power to convince you to, it will provide funding for projects statewide. Here in Thurston County it will widen I-5 from just south of the airport to almost Centralia and provide freight improvement projects. It will enhance road safety. It will slash congestion. It will improve freight mobility. It will stimulate our state’s economy.

U.S. Senator Slate Gordon and I are working vigorously to promote this transportation package. In fact, I’m figuring that you’ll see so much of me in the coming months that you’ll be wondering if I moved in next door! That’s because transportation is so critical to our entire state. It’s not a partisan issue. And I’m optimistic that legislators from both sides of the aisle, who supported sending this package to the voters, will stand with me in support of the package.

This is the most important ballot issue for decades to come!

This was a grueling legislative session—a time that tried our souls, tested our patience, and elevated our blood pressures! We faced a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, magnified by a national economic recession and the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

We were also struck with the unfinished business of fixing our transportation mess to ensure our state’s economic future.

All of these responsibilities were telescoped into a 60-day session that tested the nerves of everybody involved.

But when the dust settled (and it has) even the skeptics agreed that we did what needed to be done—to balance the books, to tackle our transportation mess, and to wrap up the session on time.

In my January State of the State Address, I said that this was no ordinary session and no ordinary time. That might have been an understatement! We had to make some very tough choices and shoulder budget cuts that nobody wanted. But the Legislature hammered out a budget that plugs the deficit and prepares for our state’s economic future without a general tax increase.

Human Services took a hit—more than $200 million—while still protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Higher Education took a hit—more than $90 million—while safeguarding the basics and quality of our post-secondary institutions.

State Employees took a hit—with a COLA freeze and requirements that they pay a larger share of their health insurance costs.

In brief, the budget cuts left very few unscathed—and we all regret that. Many of the program cuts affected services that I fought for as a legislator! But we have a mandate—a charge—to balance our books. We accomplished that without a general tax increase, and by meeting our core responsibilities to the people of the state of Washington.

I’m pleased to report that we were successful in winning passage of many recommendations from my Competitiveness Council – which I convened last year to find the best ways to keep our state thriving with new and expanded businesses.

We won legislation to improve equity and fairness in our unemployment insurance system. Business should pay into it what they get out of it.

We also were able to clarify the taxation of investment income…and to create a permit assistance center in the Governor’s office.

My Administration had other priorities, of course, and I’m very grateful to the Legislature for their follow-through:

On School Bullying—I’m grateful that we worked together and now have the means to tackle this public safety issue, a serious problem that affects hundreds of children across our state.

On Civil Service Reform—we worked together to make government leaner and more mobile.

On Worker Retraining—we’re making certain we adapt our workforce to changing circumstances and the shifts in our regional economy.

That’s a slew of facts and programs to digest, I know. But the Legislature and my office want to make a positive and meaningful difference in the lives of Washington citizens. We do want to serve a greater good, just as your volunteering and service to community advances the greater good of Olympia and Thurston County.

I thank all of you here for your leadership, and I thank you for having me.

Access Washington