Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Weekly News Conference—Legislative Update
April 16, 2003

Good morning, and thank you for coming.

Today I’d like to review my key Legislative priorities. Let’s begin with the budget.

A few minutes ago, the House Democrats unveiled their General Fund budget proposal. I have not yet seen any details. But I am pleased that we now have a budget proposal from the House.

I am encouraged that the proposal focuses on the needs of our public schools, colleges and universities, and our most vulnerable citizens, especially our children.

The proposal also includes funding to launch the Washington Education Trust Fund. With this initial down payment, the Trust Fund will help us stabilize and improve our education system – both our public K-12 schools and higher education – even in an economic downturn.

As we negotiate the budget, I continue to support sin taxes, closing tax loopholes, and expanding the state lottery as potential sources of revenue. While I appreciate that the House proposed a very modest sales tax increase, a sales tax increase is not my preference.

I will be working closely with the Legislature to agree on a budget—a budget that best serves Washington families, creates jobs, protects our environment and ensures the safety of our citizens.

I would now like to focus on other top legislative priorities this session: education, transportation, prescription drugs, and water.

First, education. I’ve already mentioned the Washington Education Trust Fund, which we also discussed last week.

Last fall, I called for streamlining our Certificate of Mastery graduation requirements. This is House Bill 2124. This legislation identifies which content areas and examinations on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning—the WASL—will be used for the Certificate of Mastery.

We have set high expectations for our students. We must define meaningful and predictable graduation requirements. This proposed legislation would help us focus on the basics—reading, writing and mathematics and later science. I urge the Legislature to give our state the focus we need to continue to improve educational performance.

I also urge the Legislature to pass proposed revisions to our Learning Assistance Program. This is House Bill 1989. Currently, the LAP funding system is a roller coaster in funding, targeting low achieving students.

My proposal would stabilize allocations to struggling students who need the most help. It will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the program to better support students who do not meet the state standards in reading, writing and mathematics. We need to address the achievement gap in our state, and this proposed legislation does that.

House Bill 1437 gives state colleges and universities the authority to increase tuition, especially for out-of-state students and graduate and professorship programs. I ask the Legislature to approve this legislation as well.

Transportation is another critical priority. Let’s get a transportation package finalized this session. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort on this issue. Over a month ago, I proposed a transportation-improvement package. We’ve been meeting—sometimes all night—to try to hammer out the details. We’ve made progress, but we need success. We need a workable transportation solution before session ends. The issue will not go away. The sooner we start working on improving transportation, the sooner we’ll have safer roads, thousands of new family-wage jobs this summer, and a brighter economic future.

Next I’d like to talk about prescription drugs. Too many of our seniors can’t afford prescription drugs and can’t stay healthy without them—that’s a terrible dilemma. The soaring costs of medical care continue to burden our health care system and make our state’s fiscal condition worse. An estimated 50,000 older people of modest income in our state get no help at all—they don’t have any prescription drug coverage. Astronomical prescription drug costs hurt those who can’t afford the medicines they need, and they hurt the rest of us who struggle to bear the financial burden.

I submitted a proposal early in the session to do something about this issue. The House and Senate leadership have been working to reach agreement on our proposals. The prescription drug bill—House Bill 1214—would extend the state’s purchasing power and pass on the low prices to seniors and uninsured individuals.

And the proposed senior prescription drug clearinghouse would assist seniors and others navigate through the complex of free, charitable and low-cost drugs assistance programs through a statewide toll-free number. We need agreement as soon as possible to start fighting back against skyrocketing health care costs.

Finally, I’d like to mention water. I am pleased that all key water bills continue to move through the legislative process. The water reform measures I requested this session, and other important water bills, are still alive. We are continuing to work with the Legislature to secure passage of these bills. It is critical that we address these important water reform measures this session too.

There is great potential for the Legislature to do great things between now and the end of session. I urge the Legislature to live up to this great potential. Let’s give the people of Washington these key improvements in education, transportation, prescription drugs and water reform.

Thank you—now I’ll open it up for questions.

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