Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
News Conference on the Primary and Budget
February 25, 2004
Good morning. Thank you all for coming. Today I want to update you on two issues: the primary, and the budget.
For almost 70 years, Washington state voters enjoyed a unique system for conducting primary elections - the blanket primary. Under this system, voters were able to protect their privacy, maintain their independence, and exercise greater choice. But last year the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Washington’s blanket primary is unconstitutional. We asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case. I was disappointed to learn Monday that the Supreme Court declined to hear our appeal. We must now take steps to enact a new primary election system that complies with the federal courts. I am committed to working with legislative leaders and others to implement such a system.
When I met with House and Senate leaders before session, we agreed we would not take action on specific primary bills until the state had exhausted its remedies in court. That time has come. My staff and I have already been sitting down with legislative leaders, party officials, the Grange, and other stakeholders to look at the options. We need to compare their strengths and weaknesses - both constitutionally and practically. We must now come up with an appropriate solution.
The replacement primary we develop must meet four tests:
· First, we must make sure that the replacement we choose avoids legal and constitutional uncertainty. The court has stated that political parties have certain First Amendment rights. We must respect that. We do not want to enact a new system, only to find it runs afoul of the law, results in endless litigation, or puts our election results in question.
· Second, we need to choose a replacement that best protects voters’ independence.
One that gives them the flexibility to choose the best candidates from among the parties.
· Third, we need a primary system that best protects voters’ privacy. No voter should be forced to declare a party affiliation or disclose private information as the price of admission to our democratic process.
· And finally, we need to find a replacement that county auditors can easily understand and administer.
This is a challenging task, but we will get there. I look forward to working with the Legislature to reach a satisfactory solution before the end of the regular session.
This week the House and Senate released their budget proposals.
I am pleased that the budget proposed by the House Democrats funds our state’s most important priorities. However, I am very disappointed that some of the our state’s key priorities are missing from the Senate Republicans’ plan.
One of the most important priorities neglected by the Senate Republicans is increasing access to higher education. The Senate Republican budget proposes more business tax cuts. Yet it disregards the clear need to make room for more students in our state colleges and universities for the largest graduating classes in our state’s history. If we don’t provide more college opportunities for our students, emerging businesses will look outside the state of Washington to fill the good jobs they will create.
How can anyone consider giving tax breaks to businesses to create more jobs without also giving our students, our sons and daughters, a chance to land those jobs?
The House Democrats are close to my plan to spend $30 million to expand college enrollments by as many as 5,200 fulltime students -- more than half of them in high-demand fields such as nursing, computer science and engineering.
I call on the Senate Republicans to do the same.
The Senate Republicans believe we can't afford to create more opportunities for college-bound students.
My budget leaves $287 million in reserve. The Senate Republicans leave $398 million. And the House maintains about $200 million. My budget falls squarely in the middle with a prudent reserve in a recovering economy.
We can afford to do more for higher education. Indeed, we can't afford not to.
Other key areas of concern I’d like to mention:
· First, the Senate Republicans propose to gut the General Assistance Unemployable program by imposing harsh limits on eligibility. Not only does this cut access to a minimum amount of cash for these very poor Washington citizens, but it also blocks their access to medical care. This is unacceptable.
· Second, I urge Senate Republicans to accept the reality that we must increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors who deliver babies or work in emergency rooms.
· And third, I applaud House Democrats for recognizing the need to soften the blow of new premiums that will be charged to parents of children receiving state-subsidized health care. I urge the Senate Republicans to do the same.
These priorities must be addressed in the budget we pass this session. I hope the House and Senate will quickly bridge the differences in their proposals.
I will now take your questions.