Ferries is big issue at EDC luncheon

COUPEVILLE — Washington state is determined to have a “world-class” transportation system, and that includes ferries, Gov. Christine Gregoire said Monday.

Speaking to a salad-luncheon crowd of about 150 at Coupeville High School, Gregoire said her goal is “to have a ferry system you can be proud of.”

“It’s a road across the water,” she said, taking issue with those in other parts of the state who consider ferries “an amenity” they shouldn’t have to pay for. “It’s no less important than roads or highways.”

But she added that relying on fare increases to finance improvements “is an absolute loser. You can’t make it unaffordable for people.”

She said that since the state Department of Transportation was restructured in 2005 to report to the governor, the emphasis has been on acquiring new vessels and decommissioning tired ones in a timely manner.

She also promised larger boats on the Keystone-Port Townsend, a trip she had just taken.

“I know what they’re talking about,” she said of the cramped vessel.

On a broader issue, she said the state is working closely with officials in Oregon and California on Pacific Ocean preservation, essential to a clean and safe Puget Sound by 2020. Innovation is the key, she said. “We’re not going to reinvent failure.”

Gregoire gave an upbeat report on the state of the state in the shadow of disturbing economic news. She said the independent Pew Institute gave Washington an A-minus in a recent report, calling it “one of the three best-managed states in the country.”

She said the state ranks 49th in home foreclosures, and that it has added 255,000 jobs while other states have suffered job losses.

“We have been quite resilient, but we’re not an island,” she cautioned, urging more work toward a diversified economy “from the bottom up.”

“We need to turn globalization to an advantage.” Gregoire said, noting that one in three jobs here are tied to import-export.

She also urged a focus on the needs of infrastructure to solve problems and create employment at the same time.

“We need a second stimulus package,” Gregoire said, “not a check — a job.”

She also said the state must continue to focus on education to address the failings of No Child Left Behind. She said the need is for well-rounded programs tailored to individuals.

Schools must prepare students for life’s true test — getting a job, she added.

“Let’s set some standards that are real,” Gregoire said. “Let’s make sure when they graduate, they have the skills to compete.”

The luncheon, sponsored by the Island County Economic Development Council, was the second of three Whidbey events for the governor this week. She also attended a private fundraiser in Oak Harbor on Sunday and headlined a Democratic Party rally in Langley Monday afternoon.

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