Sunday, November 22, 2009

Deficit-Wracked Washington State Calls It Quits

OLYMPIA, WA—Citing mounting debt and a decline in tourism dollars, the state of Washington will shut down for good on August 31, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire told reporters Monday.

"I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has ever lived in or visited the great state of Washington," Gregoire said at a press conference held on the steps of a boarded-up Capitol Building. "You are the people who have made this such a wonderful place. Washington will live on in the fond memories of each of you, even as we liquidate the state's assets."

Ratified as the 42nd state in 1889, Washington has been a favorite haunt for a devoted group of fans. In addition to being the home of the Twilight series of novels, Washington is the birthplace of such notable Americans as cartoonist Hank Ketcham, actress Dyan Cannon, and comedian Josh Blue.

In spite of its rich history, Washington has struggled with mounting debt since the '90s, as tourism and tax revenues failed to keep pace with rising expenses. The state has for years fought what many insiders considered a losing battle.

"We had a good run, but we just can't do it anymore," Gregoire said. "The bad economy, Boeing's departure, and an increasing Medicaid bill were the final nails in Washington's coffin. We are simply losing too much money to keep the borders open."

Gregoire promised that Washington would not shut down operations until the last day of August, giving longtime fans of the Evergreen State an opportunity to visit.

"We wanted to give people a chance to say goodbye," Gregoire said. "Since the rumors of a state shutdown began, I have received thousands of letters and small donations from people all over the country. This means so much—more than you can ever know—but despite all the love and devotion, I'm afraid it's just not going to happen."

Gregoire told the crowd that she did everything she could to keep Washington open, but in the end no effort proved successful.

"I made across-the-board budget cuts, restructured all of our social services, effected hiring freezes, and emptied out the state's rainy-day fund," Gregoire said. "The last biennium has just been exhausting. As much as I love Washington, I can't say that I'm going to miss the 18-hour days trying to keep this state afloat."

Gregoire said she received offers to buy out Washington, but the bids were rejected.

"We had a deal with British Columbia that could have saved us, but it fell through," Gregoire said. "The things [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper wanted to change when he took over went against everything Washington is all about. Rather than severely compromise our state, we decided instead to pass."

On Sept. 1, the government of Washington will disband and all state employees will be laid off, a situation Gregoire calls "extremely regrettable."

"Many of these workers have been in Washington all their lives," Gregoire said. "These folks are like family to me. In fact, some actually are family. The people are why we held on to statehood as long as we did."

Although current residents of Washington will be allowed to stay in the state until they can arrange to relocate, they must do so without government services. Experts predict the state will become a vast vacant lot within five years.

In order to offset some of the debt accrued over the last few decades, Washington is selling its assets, announcing that "everything must go" before the state closes. The most sought-after items to be auctioned off include the Space Needle, built to commemorate the 1962 World's Fair, as well as Mount St. Helens and the Bavarian-theme town of Leavenworth.

The rights to Washington's state flag, bird, and motto are also being sold to the highest bidder.

"Alcoholics Anonymous has put in a substantial bid for our motto, Alki, which means 'By and By' in Chinook," Gregoire said. "I also think that South Carolina might buy the rights to our state flower, the rhodedendron. When we sell the rights to our state song, 'Washington, My Home' that's when it's going to hit me that it's finally over."

For many longtime fans of Washington, the closing strikes a deep emotional chord.

"It's just a shame," said Gene Tupper, a resident of Seattle since 1955. "I don't think anyone will really understand what it was like to visit the Mt. Rainier National Park or walk along beautiful Willapa Bay back in the prime years. I guess all great things have to end sometime."

Many fans of the state said they hope someone purchases and revitalizes Washington before it falls into disrepair.

"I don't want what happened to Oregon to happen here," said Jane Renski, a Washington resident. "We drove by the place a few years ago and it was totally abandoned— really eerie. The whole state was infested with raccoons."


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