Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
2003 State of the State Address
January 14, 2003
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Chief Justice, distinguished Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the Consular Association, statewide elected officials, members of the Washington State Legislature, people of Washington:
It’s great to welcome many friends back to Olympia. I’d also like to especially welcome the new members of this 58th Legislature. I share your pride in the opportunity to serve the people of Washington. And I look forward to a productive session in which we work together across party lines to meet our state’s pressing challenges, advance our vision of Washington’s future, and leave at the end of the session with the people’s business completed.
We will be tested by difficult decisions. And I believe we have uniquely promising opportunities to advance our agenda for a better Washington.
Today we face tough economic times. A national recession, the nation’s third highest unemployment rate, and the largest deficit in the history of our state—$2.4 billion.
Washington families are struggling, and uncertain about their future.
We can and will direct our own destiny. We can and will continue to be trailblazers as we have in the past. We can and will lead the way by showing discipline, creativity, and common sense in tackling today’s challenges.
Tough Choices—The Budget
We will make tough choices in the days ahead. But tough choices today mean a better tomorrow.
We must restore public trust in government by making the hard choices—and the right choices. Choices that protect our state’s most vital interests. Choices that strongly position our state for a sustainable future. A future of stronger communities, a more vibrant economy, a healthier environment, and a continued high quality of life.
I think of our state as a family, struggling through difficult economic times right now. And like every family, we will continue to take care of one another. We will continue to plan for the future and better times for our children.
We will build such a future by focusing on what matters most. The way to get back on our feet economically is to live within our means. By sticking together and sacrificing together, we will get through these tough times.
The results-oriented budget I have proposed is a bold response to our deficit. Nearly every state in America faces serious economic challenges. But we are the first state in the nation to tackle our problems head-on by re-examining how we govern—and fundamentally changing how we govern. Our Priorities of Government approach is becoming a model for other states to follow.
We exhaustively studied all that we do—examining some 1,400 state government activities. Then, like a family on a very tight budget, we sat down and looked at how we’ve typically spent our money. We decided how we now need to spend it to get the results we want.
My budget proposal clearly states what we believe are the priorities of state government: education, jobs, healthy families, safe communities, and protection of vulnerable children and adults.
We must all be disciplined in our approach. In preparing this proposal, I made decisions that were personally difficult. There are programs and services we will each be reluctant to see reduced or eliminated. But we must focus on our core priorities.
The budget I’ve proposed will let us do what matters most without a general tax increase. A general tax increase in these tough economic times will hurt, not help, our economic recovery.
The $2.4 billion dollar deficit would require a sales tax increase of more than 1 percent. That will not help struggling families. That will not help struggling businesses.
The tough choices we make today will lead us to a better, more secure tomorrow.
Even as we make necessary reductions, we must still aggressively pursue our highest priorities—and we will.
Education remains my highest priority. We are committed to building a world-class education system. Education is the key to a vital economy and a prosperous future for our children. We must continue to invest in the future—in their future.
It is vitally important that we protect the core of education even as we make deep and painful budget cuts in other areas. That’s why 56% of the proposed budget is allocated to education. K-12 education is one of the very few areas in which we will be spending more in the upcoming biennium than in the current one.
There has been some confusion about my intentions regarding Initiative 728 and 732. I want to emphasize that my budget proposal delays—not cancels—both voter-approved initiatives.
During the past two years, Initiative 728 provided $400 million to reduce class size in public schools. Under my proposal, schools will continue to receive that money during the next two years. Further enhancements will resume in the 2005-2006 school year.
And the automatic cost-of-living adjustments for teachers would also resume in 2005.
I acknowledge the many teachers and supporters who are in Olympia today, rallying in support of education. I appreciate the dedication and hard work of our educators. We ask you to do so much. You are not paid enough. I wish we could do more.
I remain committed to high standards, goals and expectations for achievement for every student in every school.
We must continue the gains we have made. The test scores of our students have consistently improved. We’ve seen great progress at schools like Garfield Elementary in Spokane, where the percentage of 4th graders meeting the math standards has gone from only 14% to 81% in just a few years. Schools like Union Gap Elementary, where the percentage of 4th graders meeting the reading standards has gone from only 21% to 74%.
We’ve seen reading scores climb for all grades in our state, thanks to programs like the Washington Reading Corps, which has helped 22,000 struggling readers advance in their reading skills by more than one full grade level.
While test scores are on the rise, there’s a widening disparity between minority and white students. That growing achievement gap is unacceptable. A good education is a universal right and must never depend on circumstances of social or economic standing.
We’ll close the gaps by reforming the Learning Assistance Program to ensure that the schools with at risk kids receive and keep the money they need.
As I announced yesterday, we must also simplify and reform the WASL high school graduation requirements.
I support a constitutional amendment to allow the passage of school levies by a simple majority of the voters. If we can build police stations, symphony halls, low-income housing and professional sports stadiums with a simple majority, then it should also be sufficient for our schools.
It’s time to remove artificial distinctions between neighboring school districts. Currently, some school districts right next door to one another have vastly different levy limits. That’s not fair, and that’s why I’m proposing legislation that would allow all school districts the opportunity to ask their local voters for levies up to 36% of their levy base.
That will also help those districts with high costs of living meet the needs of their teachers.
We are honoring our commitment to education. As I said, K-12 education is one of the very few areas in which we will be spending more in the upcoming biennium than in the current one.
But we can and must do more.
Building an education system where every child achieves his or her potential requires new approaches and new commitments. The structure and funding of our education system has not changed even as we have learned more about what’s needed and even as we have demanded more of our students and teachers.
We must recognize that the lines we have traditionally drawn between pre-school and K-12, and between K-12 and college, are artificial. Our education system must be seamless, with all components—from early learning to graduate school—working together as one.
That system needs stable and dedicated funding.
I intend to work with education and legislative leaders in establishing an Education Trust Fund to address urgent needs and reforms not covered in the education budget.
We may be facing tough economic times, but education, and especially higher education, is a key part of our economic engine.
I will not propose a general tax increase to fund this Trust, but will consider other funding sources such as “sin taxes.”
Jobs are the Key
A strong education system prepares our workforce for good, family-wage jobs. And jobs are the key to economic recovery. We must do all we can this session to create and support jobs in our state.
That’s why I have a five-point plan for jobs and economic recovery.
First, we will create new jobs by building a better Washington. Approving my state construction budget will mean more than 13,000 new private sector construction and other family-wage jobs during the next two years - jobs building and renovating buildings on the campuses of our colleges and universities, public schools and our prisons.
Let’s approve the state construction budget as early as possible and get those family-wage jobs to the workers who need them. Let’s build a better Washington.
Second, we must intensify our focus on trade and the jobs that trade creates. Last year, our trade missions to Japan, Korea, China and Singapore were successful in advancing trade partnerships with some of the world’s most promising markets. We returned from Japan and Korea with immediate new sales for Washington businesses. Last month we promoted Boeing airplane sales in China and promoted biotechnology in Singapore. China is already our 3rd largest export trade partner. It is a huge market with great potential for the sale of Washington products and services. And Singapore is now interested in funding biotech companies in our state. We must continue to pursue these golden opportunities to create jobs in our state.
Third, we must continue to improve our business climate to keep our state competitive in attracting and keeping businesses.
We are making exceptional progress. Over the years, we’ve reduced the B&O tax on businesses, cut red tape, and streamlined regulatory processes.
The Department of Ecology has set a goal to act on 90% of water quality permits within 90 days. We’re on target to meet this goal. We approved a Safeway distribution center—the largest construction project in Safeway’s history—in less than 60 days. Indeed, in the last 12 months, three national companies chose Washington over other Northwest states for major facilities and hundreds of jobs: Safeway in Auburn, WalMart in Grandview, and Ferguson Enterprises in Tri-Cities.
I am directing that these successful practices be implemented all across our state government. These successes can and will increase.
The fourth point in my jobs and economic recovery plan is new economic development tools. Our Constitution prohibits many incentives that other states use to attract businesses. I am proposing to add a new funding tool that will allow local governments to finance the critical infrastructure that businesses are looking for in making location and expansion decisions. Our proposal will help attract at least $400 million in private sector investment.
The Community Economic Revitalization Board program has attracted a British Columbia manufacturing company to Blaine, a grass seed cleaning operation to Odessa, and a technology center to the Port of Chelan County. This program has created thousands of jobs for rural areas, but has lost its funding source. So I’m submitting legislation to provide permanent funding to keep this program going. It’s a strong source of good jobs for rural families and I hope you'll support it.
Fifth and finally, we must continue to create jobs with investments in education, especially by supporting industries of the future like biotechnology and software.
I’m proposing $20 million in higher education funding to expand enrollments at our colleges and universities by more than 1,500 students, dedicated exclusively to such high-demand fields as engineering, computer science and health care. Our state’s businesses continue to need these critical skills.
I don’t want Washington companies to have to hire people from out-of-state to meet their needs. I want Washington citizens to have the first chance at filling these good paying jobs.
We’re also providing funding to retrain more than 7,200 unemployed workers.
Following this five-point plan and working together will lead us to more jobs and accelerate our economic recovery.
Transportation Solutions Now
Of course, we need an efficient transportation system to attract and retain businesses. The transportation crisis is too important to ignore. We still need to fix our deadliest roads and highways. And making improvements to Washington’s roads, public transit, and ferries will also bring more family-wage jobs—thousands of them.
For too many legislative sessions, we have deferred, delayed and postponed. Our state’s transportation problems must be solved here in Olympia. We will do it by working together—Democrats and Republicans. The longer we wait, the more it will cost. So let’s get started.
As the Competitiveness Council emphasized, a strong business climate does not mean lowering environmental standards. Just last month, businesses, environmentalists and local government announced an historic agreement to protect our shorelines. I want to thank our Attorney General Christine Gregoire for helping mediate that agreement.
I’m proposing funding to implement that agreement. We can be proud that we have a rescue tug to protect our coastline and the Strait of Juan de Fuca from oil spills. Funding for that rescue tug must continue.
Over the years, my administration has worked hard on other environmental issues critical to our state, such as salmon restoration and modernizing our water laws. I congratulate the Legislature for the great strides we’ve made, but there’s more to do. We need to help more communities fix unfit drinking water systems, and move forward on water storage projects.
Keeping the Safety Net Intact
The soaring costs of medical care have exacerbated our state’s fiscal condition.
We can’t handle these skyrocketing costs alone and forever at the state level. We must continue to push Congress and the Administration to provide a national solution to the nation’s health care woes.
The good news is that even in these tough economic times, my budget proposal continues to fund all existing health care programs for children. We will still be among the top three or five in the nation in providing health care for our kids.
But let’s recognize that the cost of prescription drugs is a key driver of our escalating health care costs. As a purchaser of prescription drugs, the state must implement a preferred drug list of safe, effective and affordable drugs to reduce the costs to state government. And let’s work together to extend the state’s buying power to benefit seniors and others without prescription drug coverage.
I’m also proposing that we establish a new Senior Prescription Drug Information Clearinghouse. This program will help low-income seniors obtain drugs that are available free, or at low cost, from pharmaceutical companies. It will also provide information on generic drugs and discount purchasing clubs.
As we strive to do more with less, we will continue to work hard to make state government more efficient, more effective and less costly. We’ll continue to find ways to better serve the people of our state through technology.
Many of our agencies and their services have been rated the best in the nation, thanks to the work of state employees. Unfortunately, state government employees will feel the pain of cutbacks. The state workforce will continue to shrink—a total of 2,500 full-time jobs will be eliminated in the next 12 months. These employment reductions are necessary, but not easy.
I deeply appreciate the hard work of our state employees. Their dedication to their jobs and to our state is remarkable. And I ask for their continued dedication. State workers are the face of our government, and directly interact with our citizens. We count on state employees every day to make government work—and work well. So, on behalf of the people of Washington, I thank our state employees.
Difficult times remind us that we cannot do everything. But we can do the things that matter most by being disciplined, creative and determined.
And like any family, we can do our best to learn from hard times and plan for the future. I am proposing a constitutional amendment for a constitutionally-protected “rainy day fund.”
As our economy recovers, we must make every effort to protect ourselves and set aside resources to help our state the next time we experience hard times.
I am confident that we will overcome our challenges. Tough decisions today will bring us a better tomorrow.
I want a Washington known across America as “The Education State.”
I want a Washington where every person has ample opportunity to earn a good living and hold a family-wage job.
I want a Washington that protects and takes care of its most vulnerable children and adults, a state where people feel safe and secure and part of a caring community.
I want a Washington that attracts new businesses and is confidently geared toward the prosperous industries of the future.
And I want a Washington with an unrivaled quality of life, and a sustainable future of exceptional education, economic vitality and a healthy environment. A state where our children and grandchildren will want to live, work, and raise their families.
Join me in making this happen. If we work hard, if we work together, if we make the tough choices, we will accomplish great things.
Thank you and God bless you all.