Northwest NEWS

January 3, 2000

Editorial

Guest Editorial

Our priorities for the next millennium

by Gov Gary Locke

   The state's budget is the fundamental outline of our priorities. And while writing a state's budget is never easy, the passage of Initiative 695 gave us additional challenges in addressing our top priorities: education, community safety, and economic prosperity.

   To meet these priorities, I have proposed a budget that will intensify our commitment to achieving excellence in education, change the focus of tax cuts from businesses to individuals, responsibly address the challenges of I-695, and maintain an adequate budget reserve.

   I am committed more than ever to creating the strongest education system in the nation. I will not slow down until every child meets our tough new education standards and is rewarded for doing so. I will not slow down until our classes are smaller and our students get the individualized attention they need.

   To meet these goals, my proposed budget puts 1,000 new teachers in our schools. I've proposed letting communities keep more of their hard-earned tax dollars to help local school districts make classes smaller and provide more individual attention for students. With the bipartisan A+ Commission to ensure accountability, we will be certain that class size reductions lead to increased student achievement, guaranteeing that our education investments will raise our children's test scores and secure their future prosperity.

   My budget seeks to spread that prosperity, while taking a big step for schools and working families, by settling how we will use surplus state revenue. I propose that we split future surpluses between schools and individual citizens, giving our schools needed funding and giving every citizen a prosperity dividend. This 50-50 split of the surplus will ensure that schools can raise student achievement, and taxpayers will see surplus tax dollars go back into their own pockets.

   I'm also proposing to fix our property tax system. During the I-695 campaign, people complained that it took more than 60 years for government to realize how much people disliked the car tax. People also are concerned about property taxes, and we need to fix the property tax system now.

   I want to permanently eliminate the state portion of property tax for our low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities. My tax reform proposal also includes a 6.2 percent tax cut on the state portion of our property taxes for all property owners. And because home sales in a neighborhood can cause property values to soar, I want to pass a constitutional amendment to institute a four-year rolling average of values.

   Beyond these forward-looking steps, we must also address the effects of I-695 on local communities. So, I am proposing that we take money from reserves to protect basic public safety and health services through a combination of ongoing and one-time funding and tax credits. This will help local governments adjust to the effects of I-695. But in the long run, local governments will have to rely on their own resources to fill the gaps.

   While implementing I-695 is this year's problem, failing to address the needs of our children and their schools will be every year's problem unless we make a sustained commitment to improving education.

   We must set the course for the new millennium, and that course is making our schools the best, making taxes fairer and sharing the state's prosperity with every household in every region of our state.

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