In August, Gregoire announced plans for four- to- seven percent budget cuts across the board, as well as a phase-in of $51 million in cuts to state welfare aid. The cuts will disqualify nearly 2,500 families from child-care subsidies in October, and an additional 5,500 families from cash welfare benefits in February.
“We are right now cutting essential services to people that we have always provided historically, but we’re without options. We don’t have any more choices,” she said.
At 8.9 percent, the unemployment rate in Washington is slightly lower than the national average of 9.6 percent, but “is still incredibly high for us,” said Gregoire. She said that unemployment has remained unchanged for months, a source of frustration for the state’s workforce and government officials alike.
“We want to see an uptick,” she said, citing state and local layoffs for negating some modest job gains in the private sector. Washington picked up an estimated 1,000 private-sector jobs in September, but overall payrolls were down 3,200 due to the loss of an estimated 4,200 government jobs.
Washington is home to some of the country’s largest and best-known companies, including Microsoft, Nordstrom,and Starbucks. And Boeing has a major presence in the state, despite moving its headquarters to Illinois several nearly a decade ago. Gregoire hopes the state’s tradition of innovation will help put its economy back on track.
“We have a reputation internationally for being high innovation, high quality—whether it’s wine or potatoes or cherries or software or coffee, like Starbucks,” she said. She added that the international brand recognition of many Washington state companies eases the promotion of trade abroad. “You don’t have to go and describe [our] state. When you say you’re from Washington state, they know who we are and what we stand for.”