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March 14, 2003

Locke pushes jobs, education

From: Oregonian, OR - 14 Mar 2003


VANCOUVER -- Exhorting Clark County governments, port districts and business leaders Thursday to "concentrate on job creation," Gov. Gary Locke asked, "What tools can Olympia provide?"

The give-and-take meeting on Vancouver's waterfront followed Locke's visit to present students at Vancouver's Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School with a "Reading School of the Month" award. The school is the 10th in the state to win the honor.

Locke said his "Jobs Now" program, awaiting legislative approval, would pour $2.5 billion into the economy, with special emphasis on school, college and highway construction. He estimates the money would create 13,400 new jobs in each of the next two fiscal years and 11,000 jobs in the following two years.

Other changes to help the lagging economy would include more trade missions, especially pushing an increasing demand for the state's farm products; streamlining the way state permits are issued; and "cuts across the board in state government," Locke said. "We must not put Washington businesses, especially here along the border, at a disadvantage."

The governor said the state is looking at 1,400 functions, including "checking out-of-state businesses benefiting from loopholes." Locke said the various fixes will not restore the budget, which has a $2.4 billion shortfall. "To fix that would require a 1.2 cent increase in the sales tax."

Scott Bailey, state Employment Security Department regional economist, described the local economy as "pretty dismal, all in all."

He did note that median family income in Clark County has been growing faster than for the state or for Portland. Then, noting that he lives in Portland himself, Bailey spoke about Portland's school financial crisis, adding, "I think we should learn from other states."

In his visit to the school, the governor applauded the King students, telling them their school is 80 percent better in reading than most of the state's schools.

In the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, King fourth-graders meeting or exceeding the reading standard jumped from 56 percent in 1998 to 79 percent in 2002.

"The foundation of knowledge is reading," Locke said. "No matter what you want to do when you grow up, you have to start by being a good reader."

Locke and Terry Bergeson, state superintendent of public instruction, took turns reading from "The Best Place to Read" by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom. Locke and Bergeson shared the illustrations to the laughing students.

After the assembly, the two officials took part in a round-table discussion with reading specialists and volunteers, and asked about the school's reading programs.

In his meeting at the Port of Vancouver, Locke emphasized that pushing education is critical. Then when workers are needed for top-paying jobs, "You will find them here and won't have to go out of state."

When Mark Paras, commissioner for the Port of Camas/Washougal, said the area "needs the tools to lure bigger companies like IBM and Intel," Locke said voters twice have rejected tax increment financing in the past 15 years.

"They said we can't offer tax breaks," Locke said. "I think we get more bang for the buck by working with existing businesses."

After explaining that his new jobs package would provide $535 million for college and university campus construction, creating space for 30,000 more students, Locke was asked about making Washington State University Vancouver into a true four-year school.

"I think we have to broaden the way we look at four-year colleges, but I think most branches (like Vancouver) will continue on the same model," he said. "And we are not going to put branches in every county."

Locke's recovery package calls for $312 million for community colleges, including $35.7 million for Clark College. The Clark College total includes an $18 million classroom building on the WSU Vancouver campus. His budget calls for $19.8 million to rebuild the Washington School for the Deaf and $4.1 million for the Washington State School for the Blind, both in Vancouver.

Brad Clark, president of Local 4 of the longshore union, thanked Locke for nearly $28 million in support of deepening the Columbia River channel. "The river is the lifeblood of both Portland and the ports in Washington," Clark said. Bill Stewart: 360-896-5722 or 503-294-5900; Jason Begay: 360-896-5719 or 503-294-5900;

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