Gregoire staff trumpets economy

Gov. Chris Gregoire's staff touted her record of state economic growth Monday, but the state Republican Party chairman wasn't buying the hype.

Welfare rolls have dropped to the lowest level in decades, international trade is booming, revenue projections are soaring, and the state is getting a new plug in Forbes magazine, the Democratic governor's senior aides and Cabinet officials said.

"The theme here is the economic success of Washington," said Tom Fitzsimmons, Gregoire's chief of staff and top adviser.

In rebuttal, state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser charged Gregoire with trying to take credit she didn't deserve.

"The Gregoire administration has stumbled into good economic times," Esser said. "The governor is trying to take credit for the work of others."

Gregoire, just back from a trade mission to Mexico and dedication of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, was under the weather Monday, but Fitzsimmons, the state trade director and the secretary of social and health services kept her regularly scheduled news conference.

"We have woven together a few connectors" to give current examples of the booming economy on Gregoire's watch, he said. The three gave these points:

n Welfare caseloads have fallen to below 50,000 families for the first time since 1979, and as a percentage of state population, are the lowest in 40 years. More than 100,000 families were on welfare just before the state and federal government adopted welfare changes in the mid-1990s.

Over time, 175,000 parents have left the welfare rolls and have stayed off, said Robin Arnold Williams, DSHS secretary.

Esser countered that welfare changes were a Republican initiative originating in the 1990s.

n Tax revenue continues to roll in as the economy shows great strength, he said. Since Gregoire took office in 2005, the 10 quarterly forecasts have risen by $3.2 billion and tax collections were up another $58 million last month, he said. Unemployment is the lowest in years.

n Foreign trade is booming, said trade director Juli Wilkerson, who also took part in the trade mission to Mexico.

Boeing Co. airplanes, including the new 787 Dreamliner, will continue to head the export hit parade, and many other Washington businesses, including wineries and agriculture, are finding foreign markets, she said.

n The state is getting valuable buzz as a great place to do business, Fitzsimmons said, offering to hand around copies of a rosy new analysis from that lauds the state's competitive and innovative spirit.

The state's economic health now has much to do with retaining construction of Boeing's 787 jetliner in the state, Esser said.

"Governor Gregoire did not have a single thing to do with that," said Esser, who said Republicans were instrumental in lobbying support to retain Boeing jet construction in the state.

As for Forbes heralding the state's business climate, Esser said serious transportation challenges in the state are languishing without solutions. He cited uncertainties about how to replace the Alaska Way viaduct in Seattle and struggles with how to pay to replace Seattle's 520 bridge.

In light of those issues, Esser called the magazine's praise of the state's business climate a "mystery."