In his first State of the State address, Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday called on lawmakers to boost education investments by at least $200 million, finish the work started last year to pass a statewide transportation package and ensure all hard-working Washingtonians have an opportunity to earn a living wage.
Last month, Inslee released his 2014 supplemental budget proposal, which he characterized as a "hold steady" budget. But today he noted that last week's state Supreme Court order, which says the state continues to fail its constitutional obligation to adequately fund education, is a call for action this year.
"Promises don't educate our children. Promises don't build our economy and promises don't satisfy our constitutional and moral obligations," Inslee told a joint session of the Legislature. "We need to stop downplaying the significance of this court action. Education is the one paramount duty inscribed in our constitution."
Last year, Inslee proposed closing tax breaks as a sustainable way to increase K-12 funding. He said today he will again ask legislators to invest in education. And he will propose doing it by ending tax breaks that aren't as high a priority as our education needs.
Inslee said legislators should be able to agree on closing enough tax breaks this year to increase funding for school operations and fund the voter-approved teacher COLAs that have been suspended for the past six years.
While the court acknowledged progress was made last year, it said the state wasn't moving fast enough to meet its constitutional obligation. The court said it remained troubled by a lack of progress in funding basic costs for schools as well as pay for educators and administrators, whom the justices called the "heart of Washington's education system."
Inslee also continued his push for a transportation package, saying inaction would weaken Washington's economic backbone and result in unacceptable reductions in maintenance funding. He said passage of a package in the House last session, the Senate's listening tour during the summer and ongoing negotiating sessions have put legislators in a position to finish the job.
"I've been pushing the Legislature to do something about this since my first day in office," said Inslee. "The next logical step is for the Senate to produce a package of transportation improvements that has 25 votes. If this happens, I'm confident we can find agreement before this session ends. The goal cannot be for everyone to get everything they want. Instead, we must get agreement on what our state needs."
Saying the state of our state is looking better every day, Inslee also acknowledged that's not true for many Washingtonians. He said it's time to increase Washington's minimum wage. He committed to working with legislators, businesses and stakeholders to determine what the new minimum wage in Washington should be.
"There are thousands of working moms and dads with full-time jobs -- sometimes two or three jobs -- who some days cannot afford to put adequate food on the table," said Inslee. "That's why today I'm calling for a statewide increase in the minimum wage. In every community there are people who don't share in our state's prosperity and we need to do something about that."
In addition to calling for education funding, a transportation package and an increased minimum wage, Inslee also announced he will propose B&O tax relief for tens of thousands of small businesses and health care initiatives aimed at improving the health of children, the quality and cost of health care services and better integration of mental health services. He also emphasized that he will continue efforts to meet the state's carbon emission targets and act on climate change.
"Rebuilding our economy after the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression isn't easy. But we are doing it," Inslee told legislators. "I know Washingtonians, and I know what we are capable of doing when we work together. That's why I won't give up, and neither should you. We have 59 days to do hard things this session. Let's get to work."