Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Sine Die News Conference
March 12, 2004
Thank you for coming this morning. I commend the Legislature for finishing their very difficult work on time. I compliment Legislators on their progress. And I want to highlight the progress made in fulfilling my top priorities.
When I took office in 1997, I told the Legislature to make education the first priority in every budget we write. This year was no exception.
I’m pleased that the Legislature met me more than halfway and agreed to increase enrollments at our colleges and universities by up to 3,000 students. About a third of these slots are in high demand fields such as information technology, engineering and nursing.
There is much more to do. But the Legislature’s action is a good start.
I’m also pleased that the Legislature strengthened my Promise Scholarship program, making the awards approximately $1,200 per year. This will help us keep our promise to high-achieving students: That they will have the opportunity to realize the dream of a college education.
And I’m happy that the Legislature followed my lead and focused $111 million of the capital construction budget on new and expanded facilities for our colleges and universities.
Despite a short session and tough budget year, the Legislature stepped up to pass four measures to make our public schools better.
· Reforms to the WASL to make sure every student has a fair chance to pass this test.
· A stronger Learning Assistance Program to help struggling students master reading, writing and math.
· Permission for local school districts to collect the full amount of voter-approved levies.
· And authorization for the creation of 45 charter schools in the next six years.
Every year, we make our K-12 education system stronger. And I am proud of the progress we made this year.
The Legislature passed a responsible supplemental operating budget. They left $304 million in reserve – very close to the level I proposed. After paying for rising student enrollments, increasing prison populations and other “must-do” services, there wasn’t much money left. But the Legislature followed my priorities and made the best use of available dollars.
With help from my Competitiveness Council, we’ve made tremendous strides in improving our economic climate in this state. Landing the 7E7 Dreamliner in Washington clearly demonstrates our progress.
I commend the Legislature for providing $68 million worth of business tax incentives.
These incentives will help Washington keep its competitive edge in technology research and development, and attracting more manufacturing jobs to rural areas.
Health Care for Vulnerable Citizens
The Legislature also accepted my proposal to reduce the impact of pending health care premiums for parents of children receiving optional Medicaid health coverage. Low-and middle-income families struggling to keep their health insurance deserve our efforts to reduce their premiums.
Premiums are reduced to $10 or $15 per child per month, depending on family income.
And premiums for families with incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level are abolished.
We also met our responsibility to voters and approved a negotiated $24 million contract between home health care workers and the state. This grants home-care workers a 50-cent per hour wage increase for workers who care for the elderly and disabled in their homes.
Small Group Health Insurance Reform
I applaud action to address double-digit inflation in health insurance policies for small groups. The legislation allows more small companies to purchase an “economy plan,” for their employees.
The Legislature made some progress in continuing our effort to better manage our vital water resources – although not as much as I would have liked.
We have in the budget more than $12 million in state operating and construction funds to improve water efficiency and reclamation. There is also grant money to work toward improving water quality in Hood Canal.
I am pleased that other parts of my environmental agenda were adopted. The Legislature passed carbon dioxide emissions standards for both large and small energy plants. The standards agreed to by the business and environment communities are some of the toughest (if not the toughest) in the nation.
Due to the tireless efforts of a number of people from my administration and the business and environment communities, the Legislature adopted new stormwater management standards. This legislation will solve one of the most significant contributors to water pollution in our state. We also secured funding for the Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins, or PBT, program and a chemical action plan for PBDE, a toxic chemical used in flame retardants that has been found in breast milk.
The supplemental transportation budget that was approved ensures that all the traffic-relief projects we funded with last year’s package remain intact and moving forward. This means construction jobs and traffic congestion relief. This budget also makes sure that our state ferries meet Coast Guard standards for security.
Convenience for Citizens
We have made tremendous progress in recent years to harness the Internet to make government more convenient for citizens. I am extremely pleased that the Legislature said yes to my plan to allow motorists to renew their drivers’ licenses through the Internet.
Finally, the Legislature has passed needed legislation creating a replacement primary system. I do not support the Louisiana model. My first preference has always been a Montana system. We will let you know when we make a decision and give you plenty of time to ask questions about my thinking when it happens.
Again, I commend the Legislature for all of its hard work the last 60 days. I congratulate Speaker Chopp and Majority Leader Finkbeiner for a productive session. We made substantial progress. I look forward to reviewing the bills that will soon be reaching my desk. I will now entertain any questions.