Washington State of the State Address 2008

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Jan. 15 -- Following is the text of Gov. Chris Gregoire (D)'s 2008 state of the state address:

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished justices of the court, honored officials, members of the Washington State Legislature, Former Governors, Tribal leaders, Local Government officials, members of the Consular Association of Washington, my fellow citizens:

Good evening. It is an honor once again to stand before you and talk about the state of this great state. In the past three years, we have tackled tough problems and made great progress to improve the lives of Washingtonians, and we are not done.

I’m mindful tonight that our greatest civil rights leader –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- was born 79 years ago today. This is an especially auspicious day for me to share with you the hope and optimism I feel for Washington. A state where we know we are better because of diversity and where we value equality in the same spirit as Dr. King.

Thank you, Reverend McKinney, for starting us off this evening with the opening prayer. We are honored to have you here.

And thank you Sarah (Samuelson) for the outstanding national anthem. I’ve known Sarah since she was a little girl. I’m proud of you, Sarah.

My husband Mike is with me tonight. Mike’s not only a great husband, my best friend, and a great dad, he’s been a great partner in the progress we have made.

I’d also like to introduce Mike’s mother, Mary Gregoire, his brother Denny, Denny’s wife, Barb, and their family.

Mike has promoted children’s and family literacy by visiting each of our 39 counties to read to third graders in more than 60 schools.

The kids enjoy the book Mike reads -- The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.

In the book, the Big Bad Wolf puts such a spin on things to defend himself. He explains that all he was doing was trying to borrow a cup of sugar for his dear old Granny’s birthday cake. But the media blew everything out of proportion with all that huff, and puff, and big bad wolf stuff.

Next thing you know -- the wolf will be opposed to pork barrel politics.

Mike’s other passion is helping veterans. His focus is contagious, and I believe we’ve passed more legislation to assist veterans than at any time in state history. Please give a hand to Mike and yourselves for all we’ve done to serve those who served us so bravely and so well.

I’ve also been proud to hear Mike, a Vietnam combat veteran, remind people that it is very important to welcome home our troops, thank them, and show our respect for them. We all know the sacrifices they have made.

Thank you Mike. But most of all, thank you servicemen and women.

Right now, our other job is preparing for Courtney’s August wedding. “Preparing for” doesn’t quite capture it. Did you know, for example, that if you go to a wedding store in Seattle, you will find 70 thick binders to leaf through just to choose the absolutely perfect wedding invitations? I looked at these binders and thought, “couldn’t we just have her text-message her friends instead?”

Being the mother of the bride is hard work, but don’t get me wrong – it’s also fun.

And lest I forget, we don’t have to worry about daughter Michelle during all this. She graduated last spring and is fulfilling every parent’s dream. She has a job!

In the last year, 50,000 Washington men and women served our nation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world.

To those who returned home, we welcome you back and we thank you for your service. For those now serving, we pray for your safety and wish you God speed on your return home.

Sadly, 95 Washington men and women have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the last year, Mike and I attended 16 funerals for our fallen heroes. We share the grief of their families.

Please join me in a moment of silence for our servicemen and women who have died or were wounded, and for their families.

Now I would like to introduce you to some very special guests.

In the first dark days of December, the lives and livelihoods of thousands of our Southwest Washington friends and neighbors were literally washed or blown away by floods and hurricane force winds. Sadly, some lost their lives, despite the best efforts of the first responders, who were nothing short of heroic.

Amid all the pain and suffering, something remarkable happened – something that will forever touch me deeply.

In an outpouring of compassion that amazed even the most experienced emergency workers, people around Washington donated time, money, equipment, and labor to storm stricken families.

To give you an idea of the kindness and generosity in our state, I invited 12 individuals tonight, who represent thousands of our friends and neighbors who responded so well in those dark and troubled times.

Elaine Lawler -- a tireless volunteer from Adna;

Lieutenant Scott Barton -- the United States Coast Guard from Port Angeles;

Debbie Campbell – executive director of the United Way of Lewis County;

Doug Jackson -- President of TransAlta in Centralia;

Specialist Erik Tollestrup -- Army National Guard from Bremerton;

Grays Harbor County Sheriff Mike Whelan;

Kim Michel – Washington Emergency Management;

Major Chris Panush -- Air National Guard from Boistfort;

Will Keepers -- Department of Transportation in Chehalis;

Sergeant Jeffery Speer -- Washington State Patrol in Chehalis;

Steve Sheary -- Line Foreman from Pacific PUD in Raymond;


Pastor Bob Rorabaugh -- Northshore Baptist Church in Bothell.

Let me also thank all the legislators in this chamber who worked so hard to help the people of their districts through this tragedy.

Please join me in a heartfelt round of applause for all these Washingtonians, and the thousands just like them, who reached out to help storm victims begin to repair their shattered lives.

These special people represent the compassion as well as the special spirit of Washingtonians.

Our communities in Southwest Washington have suffered a tragedy, so I’m asking this Legislature to reach out to them with some much needed help on their road to recovery. And I’m asking all Washingtonians to keep them in their thoughts and prayers, and keep up the help and support.

Of all the wonderful things I’ve learned as Governor, the most important is that you -- the people of Washington -- make our state what it is today. You have this spirit – this knack for problem solving and innovation. You don’t just talk about problems; you get things done to build a better future for our families.

I see it everywhere. I see it now in the rain and mud of Lewis County and the wind-ravaged landscapes of Grays Harbor.

You know, our work here in Olympia isn’t nearly as hard as the work of our families at home. Raising a family. Running a business. Protecting the environment. Farming the land. Keeping loved ones safe. Getting a good job. Providing health care to the family and helping a neighbor.

Those are the tough jobs. Our job here in Olympia is to offer help where needed to allow the spirit of our people to flourish.

And we are doing our job! We have rejected politics as usual, we have knocked down government barriers, and we have provided real change to help people.

As a result, the state of our state is strong. By unleashing the strength of our people and staying true to our values, we will make Washington even stronger in 2008.

Tonight I want to share with you and the people of Washington the successes we’ve had, the doors we have opened, and the work still to be done.

Just three years ago, when I came to office, Washington was struggling with $2.2 billion shortfall that threatened to halt any progress on needs from education to health care.

Those were tough times, indeed. But we have met the challenges head on, made the tough decisions, and adopted fiscally prudent and economically sound policies for our families, our communities, and our future.

Today, I am proud to stand before you and report that we have turned things around and made real progress.

In the past three years, we have spent wisely and carefully to give our kids a better education, make families healthier and safer, and helped bring family-wage jobs to this state. And we have done all that while turning a huge budget deficit into a huge surplus.

Here in Washington, I’m proud to say our state has taken steps to equip our economy to face whatever the future holds.

The collapse of the housing market in other states is affecting the market here too. But I’d say to those folks wanting to buy a house -- our economy is strong.

For those Washingtonians who are in fear of losing their homes, I’d say, let’s do something about it now, and come up with ways to help keep you in your homes!

And watch out for the flim-flam artists. I know of a Federal Way family who recently learned this the hard way. They were approached by a so-called “mortgage rescue” company, and wound up with even higher payments and eventually lost their home.

The couple was suddenly homeless, living in their car, and they had to send their three kids to relatives in another state because they couldn’t care for them.

Let’s not leave this session without helping them and others like them.

I’ll say it again. Our families have a tough job, and I am proud of the fact that we have forced government to behave just as families must do to manage their households.

We have recorded a very important first – the first constitutionally protected Rainy Day Fund in Washington history. And in 2006, we set aside one of the largest budget reserves in state history.

Speaking of the Rainy Day Fund – partly because of it, our bond rating was just raised. Our higher rating can lower borrowing costs for such things as schools and prisons.

National rating agencies are seeing what we already know. We are making progress by spending wisely and prudently.

Speaking of our hard working families, after the Supreme Court overturned the one percent cap on annual property tax increases, I asked you to come back in special session to reinstate the cap.

Thank you for your prompt action. We helped preserve the American Dream of home ownership for families all across this state!

Washington’s good business climate is one of the main reasons that Fortune magazine just recently declared Washington the fourth best state in the nation to start a small business.

The fact is, we have made the changes needed to dramatically turn our state’s economy around and make it one of the strongest in the nation.

My supplemental budget takes care to maintain our solid financial condition.

I propose to spend $266 million to make people safer, protect our most vulnerable, help people pull their lives back together after the December storms, and preserve the dream of home ownership for more families. At the same time, I ask you to leave $1.2 billion in savings.

Media across the state have called my budget frugal. It is. Just like families, we are making wise investments for the future and saving for less prosperous times.

For too long, state government spent in the good times, and then made painful cuts when the economy slowed. We are getting off that roller coaster, and we’re making progress!

I know first hand what Washington families want. When I was growing up, the restaurant where my Mom worked was going through hard times. The owner said he couldn’t pay Mom -- but said if she would just keep working, things would turn around and he would pay her.
After a few weeks, Mom showed up for work and found the front door padlocked.

The restaurant was out of business and she was out two-weeks pay and unemployed. That was a hard time for us because we were living paycheck to paycheck.

So I understand! I know what a steady paycheck means for Washington’s hardworking families.

Here in Olympia, we have helped working families by making sure government is a partner, not a barrier, to creating more good jobs in this state.

Forbes magazine, the flagship of American business media, recently highlighted how we are breaking down barriers by cutting red tape and paperwork, starting one-stop licensing, and providing small business help.

That’s just one of the reasons Forbes now ranks us among the five best states to do business in the country!

You know, sometimes that means something as simple as talking to people in Plain English.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you’re sitting at your kitchen table reading the following letter from the Department of Labor and Industries.

"We have been notified that you did not receive the State of Washington warrant listed on the attached Affidavit of Lost or Destroyed Warrant Request for Replacement form F242."
Does anyone know what that means?

Today that letter has been rewritten, and here’s what it says: "Have you cashed your L&I check yet?”

That’s an example of our Plain Talk program where we are making government communicate in a way you and I can understand. What a concept!

Sometimes Washington businesses need a helping hand with foreign trade. I have traveled thousands of miles on trade missions to help open up markets for our products and recruit new businesses.

I’ve put on aprons in stores from Mexico to South Korea to sell Washington cherries, French fries, and apples, and I’ve hoisted a glass of Washington wine to promote tourism in our wine country. Working together, We’ve increased exports from Washington by 50 percent. In the past 12 months, we have exported $47 billion worth of great Washington products.

Here at home, I not only see our creative spirit, but we are busy nurturing it, from green industries to global health.

We have thrown out the old economic-development model and moved it into communities where the next big thing just might be born tomorrow.

We are seeing exciting new growth in innovative businesses -- from solar energy components in Moses Lake to medical technology in Seattle and Spokane, to carbon dioxide-free motors made in Kennewick.

In Grays Harbor, local people are writing a story of innovation and regeneration with the birth of new industries.

Tell me this – back in the 1980s when the timber industry faced multiple challenges – who would have imagined Grays Harbor County would pick itself up and make itself a center for clean energy solutions that will transform our world?

Now that’s the special spirit of Washington!

Washington entrepreneurs also need skilled workers. We’re providing those workers through greater training and education opportunities.

The bottom line: we’ve created 218,000 new jobs in the last three years. That, my friends, is the population of Tacoma and Moses Lake combined.

The unemployment rate this year was the lowest in Washington state history. That’s right – we’ve gone from one of the highest unemployment rates to the lowest in just three years.
How’s that for progress?

To continue our progress, we must never accept the status quo. That’s why I appreciated your bipartisan support in breaking a 30-year stalemate to supply water to farms, fish and communities in Eastern Washington. Thank you, folks, on both sides of the aisle.

A new solution to protect the Odessa aquifer is the first major result of our work. Water tables have been dropping seven feet a year – putting at dire risk $600 million a year in revenue and 7,500 jobs.

A month ago, I reached an agreement that will provide the first significant delivery of new water in the Columbia Basin in 30 years.

That’s progress, and we did it together through bipartisan cooperation for the sake of Washingtonians!

I hear from working moms and dads all the time that without health care, they fear their families are just one serious injury or illness away from bankruptcy. And they’re right!

The wealthiest nation in the world must relieve some of this fear and suffering. But since we aren’t getting the help we need from Washington, D.C., we are doing what we can ourselves – the Washington Way.

Like providing health insurance to kids.

Three years ago we were cutting health insurance for kids. We now cover 84,000 more kids and are on our way to covering all children by 2010.

Thank you for your continued support to provide health insurance to kids.

Why is this so important? Because as any mom or dad knows, healthy kids do better in school and in life. And health insurance helps keep kids out of emergency rooms where costs are much higher to taxpayers.

Fundamentally, it’s our moral obligation to provide health care to the children of our state when their families can’t provide it!

Last session you approved a package of health care bills I sent to you. I am pleased to say we are seeing real results.

The state’s new, free drug discount card has saved more than 70,000 people an average of $33 per prescription, and an overall savings for them of more than $2 million. I hear from people all around the state about what a difference this discount card makes.

People like Valerie Questad of Wenatchee are benefiting. Here is what Valerie wrote:

“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I got the card quickly and had to use it for another round of antibiotics today. It would have cost me $92.08 -- more than I had. But with the card I paid $13.72! I feel better already!”

When our loved ones are sick and vulnerable, we need to know they are in good hands. I am asking you to provide funding and legislation to protect our loved ones and ensure competent, qualified health care professionals are serving them.

We need national criminal background checks for all out-of-state applicants who want to be licensed health care providers in Washington.

We need more timely investigations of complaints against health care providers to make sure our loved ones are in safe hands.

Almost 30 percent of hospitalizations among senior citizens could be prevented if you approve a new, on-line data base so doctors and pharmacists know all prescription drugs the patient is receiving.

And we can address the nursing shortage in our state this year by training more nurses in hospitals to help patients and create more good, skilled nursing jobs.

Indeed, one of our biggest jobs is to make our people safe, and we’re making real progress.

All of us were deeply saddened by the murder of 12 year old Zena Linnik from Tacoma last summer. I promised her parents we would act to prevent future tragedies.

And act I did, in several ways.

I launched Operation Crackdown. For the first time, the state provided funding so that local law enforcement can partner with the Department of Corrections and track down and arrest sex offenders in violation of their parole. In the first two weeks alone, we arrested 50 sex offenders.

I used my emergency fund to implement electronic monitoring for Level 3 sex offenders because I believe strongly that law enforcement must know where high-risk offenders are at all times.

And by next year, we will have built nearly 4,000 prison beds, which represent the biggest prison expansion in state history.

At the same time, we are working very hard to keep former inmates from returning to prison through our Offender Re-entry Initiative of last year.

We need to better inform Washington families about where sex offenders are living, and automatically e-mail families if a sex offender moves into their neighborhood.

We also need to expand and continue Operation Crackdown and require DNA samples from every single sex offender in our state.

As Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said, we will never be entirely free from the scourge of sexual predators.

But we must – and we will -- do everything in our power to provide law enforcement and prosecutors the support they need to protect children like 12-year-old Zena Linnik and their families.

I’m counting on approval of my proposal to improve safety on our college campuses. If we need more convincing, it came with the severe beating of a young woman on the University of Washington’s Greek Row last week.

I also urge you to approve my proposal authorizing law enforcement to set up court-approved checkpoints to prevent fatalities like the 251 lives lost in 2006 to drunk driving. That’s 251 preventable deaths.

We can protect privacy rights and prevent drunk driving. We can join 39 other states, some of which have seen as much as a 24 percent decline in drunken driving deaths with sobriety checkpoints.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could build more schools, not prisons?

Every child in Washington should have a chance at a good, rewarding life. And that has to start with a good education.

Talk about progress! We are creating a world-class, learner-focused, seamless education system that gives our kids a chance to get a good job.

Three years ago, voter-approved initiatives to cut class sizes and increase teacher pay were shelved. But when I took office, we took them off the shelf, and we’re investing in smaller classes, paying more to keep and attract our great teachers, and setting high standards for our schools.

The chance of a better life shouldn’t be limited to those lucky or rich enough to have early learning opportunities.

We’ve helped thousands more children attend preschool and all-day kindergarten so they get the foundation needed to succeed in school, the job, their community, and life.

As parents, we already know that the most important influence on student learning is the quality of the teacher.

We’ve invested in teacher-excellence and it’s working. More than 1,800 Washington teachers now have national certification, which is recognized as the best measure of teacher effectiveness. Only four other states had more new certified teachers than Washington last year.

A record number will go through the certification process this year, and next year we expect a near doubling of national certified teachers.

Speaking of excellence, did you know the 2007 National Teacher of the Year is Andrea Peterson, a music teacher at Monte Cristo Elementary in Granite Falls?

Andrea’s success isn’t only about making great music. She uses music to help kids learn English, math and other skills. She uses rap music to help students learn about the Constitution.

Now, there’s a teacher! And there’s a woman who has Washington’s special spirit of innovation!

Not everyone wants to go to college, and we are providing the opportunity for these students to flourish.

Our Running Start for the Trades Program is working,

By connecting motivated high-school kids to the trades, we are increasing graduation rates, preparing kids for a good career, and meeting the need for these high-demand, good-paying jobs.

Kids like Ricardo Rodriguez. During high school he started attending the New Market Skills Center in Tumwater with an eye toward an apprenticeship in the building trades.

Ricardo says he hated high school, but all he knew how to do was flip burgers.

Now he’s learning to be a builder to earn a family wage!

We are helping thousands more kids succeed and making our workforce strong. In the last three years we have nearly doubled the number of apprenticeships to 14,500.

Now, that’s progress!

For college-bound kids, we’re opening the doors wider. We’re making room. And we are making college more affordable by increasing the number of scholarships, and offering financial aid to more students.

Let’s make sure every young person in Washington knows that if they work hard, they will have the chance to compete with anyone, anywhere in the world, for jobs in the new global economy found right here in Washington.

As we commute to those jobs, we know our highways have big challenges. But we are making progress.

At the end of 2004, just 12 highway construction projects were completed. Three years later, we have completed 128 highway construction projects – from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the widening project on I-405, and from a new State Route 17 Interchange in Moses Lake to new lanes to speed up traffic on State Route 543 at the Canadian Border in Bellingham.

Ninety one percent of them were on time and nearly as many on budget.

It might not get the ink, but that’s real progress!

The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis was a wake-up call to this nation. Prime exhibits in Washington are the viaduct in Seattle and the 520 bridge.

We need to take them down, not leave it to Mother Nature!

We have begun construction on the most vulnerable portion of the viaduct and we expect removal of the south structure within three years.

I announced our plan last week to build a new 520 Bridge. It’s time. There is nothing to it but to do it. And do it we will.

In Spokane, people have been waiting for a new North-South Corridor. With the people of Spokane, I’m committed to finding a new way to fund that project and make it happen.

And I’m working closely with Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski to jointly build a new Columbia River Crossing between Vancouver and Portland.

And we are on our way to building new ferries to ensure the safety of our ferry passengers.

With our robust growth and employment, we won’t solve our transportation problems overnight. Sometimes we forget that in the old days the federal government paid for 90 percent of our roads and bridges. Those days are gone.

But we’re making progress to address congestion, to maintain the roads we have, and to do it all with safety utmost in mind.

As we witnessed with the flooding and recent closure of I-5, we know about the dire threats posed by global warming. I believe we have a moral responsibility to protect our planet, and provide a cleaner, more sustainable world.

The federal government continues to drag its feet, but we will lead. We’re already driving private investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative fuels, and green buildings.

We’re among the fastest growing wind-power generators in the country, behind only California and Texas, and we have the largest biofuels plant in the country in Hoquiam.

We are witnessing significant investments in solar manufacturing – particularly in our rural communities. Renewable Energy Corporation in Moses Lake makes a component of solar technology and employs 250 people!

We’re saving our planet and creating green-collar jobs.

Now that’s progress in a state and world that needs to reduce greenhouse gases and save our planet for our children and grandchildren.

Each of us can do our part. Small steps by a lot of people mean big change.

To many of us, Puget Sound is quality of life. It’s why we live here. It’s also a $20 billion economic engine for our state.

But toxic hot spots, storm water, leaking septic tanks, and other pollution sources are threatening it.

Today we have something we didn’t have three years ago -- a results-driven effort already working on the ground, and now the federal government as a new partner to begin the clean up of Puget Sound.

Thank you to our delegation, especially Congressman Norm Dicks for securing $20 million in federal funding to help restore the Sound.

As I look back, and more importantly, as I look forward – I know we are making tremendous progress to keep Washington the place to thrive and raise a family.

Jack Farris, President of the Washington Biomedical and Biotechnical Association, once said, “I’m working on the most exciting issues, in the most exciting place in the world, at the best time in history.”

I share Jack’s optimism and enthusiasm, but I’d change his quote just a bit.

Washington has the most remarkable people, ready for the most exciting opportunities, at any time in state history.

We’re come a long way, from tough times and dour prophecies, to put our state back on track toward a safe, prosperous, healthy future.

But believe me, we’re not done yet! Claiming victory now would diminish the challenges ahead, and we are not going to turn back.

Let’s continue to work as partners with and for the great people of this state.

Let’s give a well-deserved rest to partisanship and politics and replace them with progress and prosperity. Let’s build on the spirit of Washington’s people.

God Bless you all, and God Bless the Great State of Washington.
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