Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Remarks to WA Association of Realtors
January 15, 2003
Thank you, Van, for that kind introduction.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you today.
Depending on how the budget talks go, we may need to enlist some of you to market the Governor’s Mansion and the State Capitol Building to raise some money!
Of course, most of you are probably too busy to take on such a task.
The housing sector has been one of the few positives in the economy recently.
You have all been a part of an industry critical to our state’s well-being.
I also appreciate the other positive contributions made by our state’s realtors.
You are involved in our communities.
You help provide housing opportunities for families and encourage home ownership.
As a group, you've been effective in developing information for policy makers to ensure that we are taking steps that will strengthen our communities and the housing sector.
I also greatly appreciated your support on R-51.
While voters didn’t like R-51, we know we still must do something about transportation.
We know traffic congestion and deficient infrastructure stand between us and a healthy economic future.
These problems will continue to worsen, and become more expensive to fix.
I will keep working with the Legislature to secure the essential improvements to our state transportation system.
I know that one of your legislative priorities for the coming session is to improve economic vitality in Washington communities.
It is also one of my priorities.
We must lay the foundation for our state’s economic future.
But before talking about my economic vitality agenda for the coming year, I’d like to review some of our accomplishments from 2002.
First, we were successful, with your help, in making economic development planning an important part of communities’ comprehensive plans.
This is an important step.
It acknowledges that part of building a healthy community is creating jobs for the people that live there.
Second, we clarified and expanded the use of Tax Increment Financing at the local level.
This important economic development tool, used in virtually all other states, is now being used successfully in Washington with local revenue.
But we must do more to make this tool a more powerful economic stimulant.
That’s why I’m going to propose a state partnership with local governments on the use of this tool.
But more on that later.
Third, we’ve made progress toward our goals related to permit streamlining and coordination.
Tom Fitzsimmons, Director of the Department of Ecology, has led this effort.
We have improved the transparency of permitting processes by developing guidance material for all major environmental permits and posting it on the agency website.
We have increased timeliness and predictability of permit decisions while maintaining high environmental standards.
As one example, for the 401 water quality certifications, we aim to provide decisions on 90% of the permits within the first 90 days.
We have also developed a more helpful culture within the agency.
Ecology has established a Code of Conduct and incorporated this Code into employee performance reviews.
Though Ecology may not be Nordstrom just yet, Director Fitzsimmons has made great strides toward improving customer service.
Last year, we also continued making progress in reform of water law.
Finally, we passed a bill providing additional funding for the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) program.
CERB, the only infrastructure program that specifically targeted toward economic development infrastructure, has provided over $80 million across the state and created or retained thousands of jobs.
But the funding for CERB has never been secure.
We must develop a permanent funding source.
Plans for the future
Although we made great progress last year, we must build on these accomplishments.
First, we must create additional jobs right away to speed the economic recovery.
The fastest way to do that is to borrow at historically low interest rates to create construction jobs.
My $2.5 billion public works budget provides an annual average of over 13,000 private sector construction and related jobs over the next two fiscal years, and 11,000 jobs in the following two fiscal years.
Second, we need to encourage private sector investment in our communities by partnering with local governments in an expanded tax increment financing program.
Our proposal is called Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE. It allows local governments to use expected state and local revenue generated by economic development projects to finance bonds.
These bonds can be used to pay for the publicly-owned infrastructure needed to attract private sector investment.
And we cannot back down on our commitment to improve permitting processes.
We have seen incredible progress.
Recently, I attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a Safeway Distribution Center in Kent.
One of the reasons we were successful in landing this center was the expedited permitting process of the Department of Ecology.
But we must continue to make progress.
There is no reason that our environmental laws cannot be enforced while providing greater predictability to business.
We must also continue to make progress on improving Washington’s water law.
This Session, I will ask the Legislature to pass a package of water bills that will balance our increasing demand for water with the needs of the environment.
We must provide certainty for municipal water rights in conjunction with improved water conservation.
Finally, we must find a more permanent funding source for CERB.
This year, I am asking the legislature to provide the final piece that I requested last year — $900,000 in new funds each year.
This will ensure that CERB continues to provide jobs in rural and distressed communities.
And the most important thing we can do to ensure our economic vitality is to pass a responsible budget that reflects our top priorities.
In order to craft such a budget, we adopted an innovative approach to determine our Priorities of Government.
We looked at what matters most to Washington citizens.
We focused on results that people want and need, prioritized those results, and funded those results with the money we have.
I have been inspired by this approach.
We assembled the best and brightest minds to reform our approach to the budget.
And on December 17th, we presented a budget that reflects the state’s top priorities.
Our Priorities of Government were identified and funded.
Perhaps not at the level we would like, but we will invest in identified priorities.
The budget I proposed reflects our best effort given existing 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.
These are our primary goals.
And with your help, we will be able to achieve these goals.
The Legislature and I appreciate your input on housing and business policy.
I applaud you for all of you important efforts.
And I look forward to working with you and your colleagues for a better Washington.
Thank you again for having me here today.