Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
July 13, 2004
Good afternoon. I am honored to be here. This is a great community organization. I congratulate you on more than forty years of service to the people of Bellevue.
I especially admire your fundraising for grants to community organizations and the Holiday Fund Campaign to help needy families during the holidays.
The past seven-and-a-half years have passed very quickly for me. I’ve been deeply honored to serve as Governor of the state. And I am proud of what we’ve accomplished as a state during my two terms.
I’m especially proud because we’ve faced some formidable challenges. Challenges that seemed to come from every direction. The anxiety of Y2K preparations. The dot.com crash. A major earthquake. An energy crisis. Droughts. September 11th, and the constant challenge of improving Homeland Security. A severe economic downturn. Serious state budget shortfalls.
Yet here we are. We survived, and we are rebounding.
When I was last here, in October 2002, we were in the depths of some very tough economic times. While our economy is still recovering, what a difference a year-and-a-half makes!
Our state’s Office of the Forecast Council reported last month that our economy is producing significant and sustained job gains. Washington state employment grew by nearly 30,000 jobs in the first four months of this year. Our state economy is recovering faster than the national economy.
Our state budget approach was a key factor in the timing of our turnaround. At my insistence a year-and-a-half ago, we solved our state’s budget crisis without a general tax increase, unlike other states. My Priorities of Government approach funded the services that matter most with the money we had.
We avoided a general tax increase when our recession was at its worse—a critical time for Washington’s economy when our state psyche was so fragile. We cut programs and avoided expected voter-approved new spending by $2.6 billion in the current 2003-05 budget cycle. Yes, it hurt. But we managed this reduction without a crisis. And without dismantling core services to the people of our state. The Legislature adopted my approach. Some even went on to take credit for it!
Under our Priorities of Government approach, we ranked every state program. We decided which ones were most important within several key areas, like education, health care, public safety, economic development. And we funded those with the dollars we had available.
Another factor in our economic turnaround was that we took advantage of super low-interest rates to refinance borrowing for state construction projects, just as homeowners have refinanced home loans to reduce their monthly mortgage payments. We did that too. We took savings to pay for interest on new borrowing for state construction projects.
This is work that needs to be done anyway. These projects are putting thousands of people to work all around the state, making needed renovations at our colleges and universities, schools, and state hospitals.
The state constitution limits interest payments on borrowing to less than 5 or 6 percent each year, but we wanted to maximize the opportunities within those limits.
And of course the 5-cent gas tax increase is also a big help in our recovery. We are finally taking needed steps to make our roads safer and less congested. We’re improving freight mobility. And, again, we’re putting people from private sector construction companies to work on these needed improvement projects across our state.
Last year’s tough decisions are now paying off. The economy is turning around.
The Boeing decision to have final assembly of the 7E7 here in Washington is proof that Washington state is on the right track. We competed nationally against states known for economic development and business climate. And we won! “Built by Boeing” will continue to mean “Made in Washington by the best aerospace workers in the world.”
We fought very hard to keep Boeing here because this was about much more than a few thousand new jobs. We protected our aerospace industry—and the nearly 200,000 direct and indirect jobs it provides to our state. People also need to understand that Boeing can receive the maximum benefit of the tax incentives only if all final assembly production of other airplane models and stay in our state.
And those same tax breaks will help the many suppliers and component manufacturers in Washington too. So they can be more competitive in selling to Boeing and other aerospace firms.
Our trade missions also continue to boost our state’s economy. These missions yield results and open doors of opportunity for our state’s businesses and farms. I just returned from an international trade mission to Mexico a few weeks ago. Businesses on our mission are projecting $6 million in new sales over the next 12 months as a result of the mission.
Our trip to China last fall was also a big success. We returned with more than $1.3 million in immediate sales, and nearly $46 million in expected sales over the year – all the work to be done in Washington state. That’s great for our farmers and businesses, and great for Washington workers in creating new jobs.
We’ve enjoyed many other notable successes over the past several years. Our state’s WorkFirst program is a national model for welfare reform, and an incredible success story. More than 140,000 parents have been helped off welfare. We have the lowest welfare rate for our state in more than 30 years, with less than 2.3% of our state’s population receiving welfare grants. The number of families now on welfare represents a 42% drop since 1997.
These are very impressive results. But WorkFirst goes well beyond just getting people off welfare. It helps people get a job, get a better job, and achieve a better life.
We’ve been hearing great reports lately about the summer salmon fishing season. Much of the optimism is due to ocean conditions, but our accomplishments in preserving and protecting our environment have also made a big difference.
Our salmon recovery projects continue to yield results. Nearly 11,000 acres of salmon habitat have been acquired since 1999. More than 1100 fish passage barriers have been removed. Some 1300 miles of stream have been opened to salmon.
I also negotiated with Canada to curtail the Canadian harvest of wild salmon bound for Puget Sound.
These and other accomplishments have attracted attention to our state. We have been nationally recognized for how far we’ve come and how competitive we are. In the two evaluations since I took office, Governing Magazine and Cornell University have each time named Washington among the five best-managed states in the nation. And just last month, the National Policy Research Council issued its national rankings of all states and major U.S. cities. Washington state government was ranked number one. We were ranked third in Economic Dynamism. This category analyzes the competitiveness and performance of every state’s economy.
I am very proud of the way we have used technology to make government more efficient and deliver government services more conveniently. Things that used to take agencies months are now done within days. We have won numerous national awards for the services we provide online. We’ve been named “the most digital state government” in the country. And we continue to build on our digital government success.
For example, taxes can be paid online. You can get a duplicate birth certificate, obtain business licenses and even reserve a campsite online. And this fall, you will be able to renew your driver’s license online!
Such independent national assessments reaffirm what all of us already know—this is a great place to live, work and raise a family!
The most important factor in keeping our state great is education. I’m also proud of what we’ve achieved in several years of education reform. Our children are doing better than ever in school. Washington students now exceed the national average in most tests, and lead the nation in numerous categories.
More importantly, we’ve made great progress as measured against even our own higher state standards.
But while I am proud of the great work of our teachers, parents and communities, we still have work to do. While we are justifiably proud of the progress we’ve made, we must intensify our efforts.
We are at a crossroads with the WASL. We’re closing in on 2008, when the new high school graduation requirements take effect. Students must master reading, writing and math to graduate, starting in 2008. Science will be added in 2010.
We must press on with the higher standards we’ve set—we must not lower them for fear of failure. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, within 10 years all students must meet our high goals. And schools must show a 5 percent improvement each year toward that goal, or face stiff federal sanctions and penalties.
Our children must be prepared for today’s global, high tech, 21st century economy. But it is equally critical that we help struggling schools and struggling students—right now, today.
A quality education is a universal right. Our children deserve no less, and we can provide them nothing more important.
I’ve said it many times before but it bears repeating: Education is the great equalizer. It offers opportunity and hope to all it touches. It makes real the American Dream: that anything is possible if we set our minds to it.
Quality education and lifelong learning demand a world-class education system. A world-class education system is also the key to our state’s economic future. As jobs return and new jobs are created, we must continue to invest in our children so they can fill those jobs!
One way we can continue to advance toward this vision is through technology. The project known as the Washington Digital Learning Commons is an important step. The Commons is an Internet-based educational center accessible from schools, homes and libraries throughout the state. This project has been a dream of mine from my first day in office. And the dream is coming true.
Underlying the Commons is a simple proposition: equality in opportunity. We want every student in our state to have access to great courses in whatever subject they wish to pursue. Every student — regardless of location, regardless of background, regardless of district resources.
There are now more than 50 schools and 20,000 students participating in the Digital Learning Commons. We are seeing the dream materialize. And we’re only getting started. Our aspiration is to reach every middle school and every high school in our state!
Just as opportunities are critical to success in our K-12 system, the same is true for higher education—our colleges and universities.
We’re striving to create these opportunities for young people. The Promise Scholarships I created in 1999 make the dream of a college education a reality for academically successful high school students of working/middle-class families. Last fall was the fifth successful year of the program, with some 7,000 Washington students receiving these scholarships.
Since 1997 when I took office, we’ve steadily increased state funded higher education enrollment. We are proud of this progress, too. But our projections show that even if we continue to increase enrollments, we will fall short of meeting the demand. The gap between demand and space will be 10,000 by 2010. That’s 10,000 students a year who won’t be able to attend our colleges and universities.
We must not fail the many who aspire to one day attend one of the many fine colleges and universities in our state.
Let’s work together to make sure everyone in our state has the opportunity to know the deep fulfillment of a college education. Let’s continue to improve our education system and make sure it stays among the nation’s best.