Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Priorities of Government News Conference
November 14, 2002
Good afternoon, and thank you for coming today. This afternoon I’d like to talk about the budget. I’ll outline the approach we are taking. Then I’ll take your questions.
As you know, we’re forecasting a $2 billion deficit for the next biennium in the General Fund and a half billion in the Health Services account. These are tough economic times for all states, and Washington’s problems are severe.
We face a dilemma with our budget. We don’t want government to be any more expensive. That means an increased drag on our struggling economy. But we don’t want to compromise the quality of the vital services we provide to citizens either. State services and programs support the health of communities and the economy. One way or another, something has to give.
Past deficits have been addressed mainly by looking at the existing budget. Taxes can be raised to just keep doing what we’re doing. We know that isn’t a preferred option. Or costs are shaved until the spending plan fits the available revenue. Usually, an across-the-board reduction in costs is used to reach the goal.
Such an approach fails to take into account many factors. It doesn’t consider relative priorities of programs and services. It fails to allow for varying levels of cost effectiveness and overlap in different areas. Reductions in costs—and the programs and services they support—happen agency by agency without regard to the rest of the enterprise.
We are convinced there is a better way. This year, we decided not to start with current spending to try to meet the forecasted revenue. Instead, we decided to look at how we should be spending our state’s money in the first place. We decided to look at our Priorities of Government.
We are looking at what matters most to Washington citizens. We are focusing on results that people want and need, prioritizing those results, and funding those results with the money we have.
As we do this, we are taking an enterprise-wide approach. We are thinking of our state government and all its agencies as a whole. We’re figuring out how our enterprise, working as one entity, can achieve the results that matter most to our state’s citizens.
With our Priorities of Government effort, we are asking four questions:
1. How much money will we have to work with for 2003-2005?
2. What results do our citizens want most from state government?
3. How much money can we allocate to each result?
4. How best can we spend allocated funds to achieve the results?
Then we took a look at all activities in state government today. We asked every agency to prioritize all activities into three categories, highest to lowest. We required that they place at least one-third of their activities in the lowest priority category.
The ten most important results emerged from this exhaustive look at what we do. These ten results form the core of what state government must do, and must do well. The 10 results are listed here (point to poster):
Our spending will be focused on those programs and services that:
· Improve student achievement in elementary, middle and high schools
· Improve the quality and productivity of our workforce
· Improve the value of a state college or university education
· Improve the health of Washington citizens
· Improve the security of Washington’s vulnerable children and adults
· Improve economic vitality of businesses and individuals
· Improve statewide mobility of people, goods, information and energy
· Improve the safety of people and property
· Improve the quality of Washington’s natural resources
· Improve cultural and recreational opportunities throughout the state
We assembled 10 multi-agency teams, one team for each result. We’ve asked the teams to tell us how best to attain the desired result. What programs and services make the most difference? What can we consolidate? What programs and services aren’t making as much of a difference? What criteria can guide us in assessing value and deciding what should be funded? What key indicators will tell us when we’ve achieved the result and given people what matters most?
The teams have had free reign. No rules, no politics, no agenda imposed from above. One limit: they have to rely on existing financial resources in achieving the desired result. And this will result in some very, very difficult decisions because we cannot simply fund everything we have in the past.
We started the Priorities of Government process last August. We’ve included representatives from the private sector, including Phil Bussey of the Washington Roundtable, Phyllis Campbell of U.S. Bank, Dick Swanson of HomeStreet Bank, and Richard Davis of the Washington Research Council. We’re still reaching those difficult final decisions about how to invest our revenue among the 10 results. And how best to spend what we have in each area. We are reaching final answers. We will write the new budget based on those answers.
We have assembled the best and brightest minds to reform our approach to the budget. We will present a budget that reflects the state’s top priorities on Dec. 17.
We have the right questions. The questions take a complex process and distill it right down to its basics. When we are finished, we will have thoughtful, disciplined and creative answers to these questions. Our Priorities of Government will be identified and funded. Perhaps not at the level we would like, but we will invest in identified priorities.
I expect that there will be some debate about the answers. The budget I propose will reflect our best effort given limited resources. But we are flexible and the dialogue is open. And disputing the answers fairly carries with it a responsibility to come up with alternatives or solutions. The budget will be unpalatable to many, but it sets important priorities for our budget deliberations with the Legislature. We will welcome input on ways we can improve.
I am confident of one thing. The budget I propose and the budget we eventually adopt will represent our best collective thinking in meeting our challenges and moving ahead.