Locke: We cannot do everything


Associated Press
King 5 News

LACEY, Wash. - Gov. Gary Locke, under fresh attack by teachers and social-service advocates for his proposed budget cuts, went on the offensive Tuesday, calling for sacrifice and discipline, coupled with better schools and a new jobs plan to help spur economic recovery.

Although Locke said he supports creation of a new education trust fund supported by "sin taxes," he said in his annual State of the State address that he's sticking by his call for fiscal restraint and a budget that closes a record $2.4 billion gap without general tax increases.

Gov. Gary Locke
Locke was addressing an unusual out-of-town joint legislative session at St. Martin's College a few miles from the capital city. The Capitol is closed for the next two years for repairs, so organizers moved the ceremony to the private college's conference center.

Spokesman Roger Nyhus said the center was a bargain, $280. Some legislators took a chartered bus, rather than drive their 147 cars.

Noting the state's lingering recession, the two-term Democrat sounded like a fiscal conservative in his repeated appeals for discipline and restraint.

"The way to get back on our feet economically is to live within our means," Locke said in his prepared text. "By sticking together and sacrificing together, we will get through these tough times." Like families going through bad times, the state government must focus on core responsibilities and cut or eliminate lesser priorities, he said.

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Text of Locke's message

"We must all be disciplined in our approach," Locke said.

Although some of his fellow Democrats and some of the party's closest allies say his proposed cutbacks go too deep, Locke defended his budget. His plan eliminates pay raises for teachers and the scheduled increase in state aid for school class-size reduction. Both were mandated by voter-approved initiatives that Locke wants to suspend for two years.

An estimated 25,000 teachers and supporters marched on the Capitol Tuesday to protest the governor's plan, as well as his $112 million cut in other education funds. "Keep the commitment!" they chanted.

Locke also proposes freezing state employee salaries, and cuts higher education, prisons, parks, social and health services, health care insurance coverage for the working poor and other programs.

Locke said his budget still covers the core services of government, adding more dollars for education than in the current budget, as well as targeted college enrollment increases.

"The budget I've proposed will let us do what matters most without a general tax increase," he said. "A general tax increase in these tough economic times will hurt, not help, our economic recovery.

"The tough choices we make today will lead us to a better, more secure tomorrow." Locke offered no details about the school trust fund he has in mind, or the "sin taxes" that he'd devote to it. He had previously discussed his plan for phasing the school initiatives back in once the recession passes.

His jobs plan includes the state construction budget, which he said would produce 13,000 construction jobs during the next two years; increased foreign trade; improvement of the business and regulatory climate, including streamlining the permit process; new local infrastructure to attract local business investments; and support of higher education for students in high-demand fields.

He said Congress and the White House must deal with the nation's health-care woes, since the states can no longer absorb the cost increases.

He said he supports a preferred list of safe and affordable drugs, a new purchasing pool for bulk purchase of drugs, and establishment of an information clearinghouse to help link low-income seniors with free or low-cost drugs from drug companies.

Locke also called on lawmakers to approve a transportation-financing plan in Olympia, instead of risking another rejection at the polls. But he didn't make a specific proposal.

"For too many legislative sessions, we have deferred and delayed and postponed," he said. "Our state's transportation problems must be solved here in Olympia." He pledged to protect the environment during the down times.

Locke challenged lawmakers to "work together across party lines to meet our state's pressing challenge, advance our vision of Washington's future and leave at the end of the session with the people's business completed.

"We will be tested by difficult decisions, and I believe we have uniquely promising opportunities to advance our agenda for a better Washington. ...

"Difficult times remind us that we cannot do everything. But we can do the things that matter most by being disciplined and creative and determined."


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