Locke says times changed, he's the same

KENNETH P. VOGEL; The News Tribune


Olympia, WA - Gov. Gary Locke, criticized in the past for not showing leadership, has won accolades this year for facing down several potential crises.

But the two-term governor said Tuesday he hasn't altered his style as he approaches a self-imposed summer deadline for declaring whether he'll seek a rare third term.

"I think I'm the same," Locke told The News Tribune's editorial board after touting his performance during the double-overtime legislative session that ended last week. "These are different circumstances," he added, referring to the state's budget deficit, which some fear could reach $3 billion, and Boeing's announcement last month that it will ask states to compete for the right to assemble the company's new passenger jet, the 7E7.

The Legislature this month passed a $25 billion no-new taxes operating budget for 2003-2005 that is similar to a plan Locke proposed last December. Locke also played a key role in pushing through the Legislature a number of measures intended to improve the state's oft-criticized business climate, generally, and to entice Boeing to locate the 7E7 assembly work here:

•A $4.2 billion package of transportation improvement projects.

•A $2.6 billion construction budget.

•A 20-year $3.2 billion tax break for Boeing and its suppliers, if the state lands the 7E7 work.

•Unemployment insurance reforms requested by Boeing.

"He hadn't shown this kind of leadership before with key issues," said state Sen. Dino Rossi (R-Sammamish), who worked with Locke to craft the budget.

Rossi, who's been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, conceded that Locke displayed backbone by standing up to the traditionally Democratic labor unions that opposed the unemployment insurance reforms.

"We'll see what happens next year," Rossi said, asserting the state has a ways to go before it emerges from its economic slump. "Is he going to buckle under the pressure of the labor unions?"

Though Locke said state revenue forecasts show that "we pretty much have bottomed out," he warned of a dire domino effect if Boeing picks another state in which to assemble the 7E7.

Arizona, California, Kansas, Texas and other states are expected to submit bids for the work this month. And Locke said that if Boeing picks one of them, "there's a strong probability that - depending on which state it is - that the successor of the 747 will be built in state X," he said, adding that the same scenario could apply to the 737, too.

Over time, that could mean a loss of as many as 150,000 direct and indirect jobs, Locke said. "That's why we proposed such a large incentive for Boeing," he said.

If Boeing does choose another state, though, and Locke decides to run for re-election, he said he hopes voters wouldn't hold it against him "since we've given it everything we can."

Don't count on it, said Rossi, pointing out that Boeing relocated its corporate headquarters from Washington to Chicago "on his watch."

Locke said his biggest disappointment of the legislative session was lawmakers' failure to pass education reforms, including legislation to create independent, publicly funded charter schools and to reform the Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests.


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