OLYMPIA (Jan. 15, 2014) — In his 2014 State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee told state legislators that he would revise his supplemental budget request to increase education spending and include a “long overdue” cost-of-living salary increase for teachers. He also urged lawmakers to address income inequality by increasing the state minimum wage andto not to give up on meeting the state’s transportation needs. Plus, the governor acknowledged Boeing Machinists for the “difficult vote” they took to secure aerospace jobs in Washington for decades to come.
Last month, the governor submitted what he called a “hold steady” supplemental budget that didn’t call for budget cuts or significantly increased spending. But on Tuesday, he said he had to rethink that approach after the State Supreme Court told legislators to step up their efforts to meet the court’s mandate of significantly increased funding for public education. The justices added that it was “deeply troubling” that the Legislature’s report evaluating its progress on what’s known as the McCleary decision didn’t even mention that school teachers and administrators have gone without a cost-of-living pay increase for six years.
In his State of the State address, Inslee pointed out that the state increased education funding by $1 billion in 2013, “but the court said we aren’t moving fast enough (and) it was troubled by a lack of progress in funding basic costs for schools as well as pay for educators and administrators, whom the justices rightly call the ‘heart of Washington’s education system’.” He added:
The court wrote that it wants to see “immediate, concrete action … not simply promises.” I agree. Promises don’t educate our children. Promises don’t build our economy and promises don’t satisfy our constitutional and moral obligations. We need to put several billion dollars more into funding our kindergarten-through-12th grade education system.
Inslee said he will propose a $200 million increase for education that would include a cost-of-living increase for teachers. To pay for it, he said, “You can expect that again I will bring forward tax exemptions that I think fall short when weighed against the needs of our schools.”
Leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, immediately pronounced Inslee’s proposal dead on arrival. Without even seeing which tax breaks Inslee proposes closing, Tom told The Seattle Times that more money is not needed for education or teacher salaries in 2014.
Inslee also said he supports increasing the state minimum wage from its current $9.32 an hour to address growing income inequality. He said he supports an increase in the $1.50 to $2.50 range:
In every community there are people who don’t share in our state’s prosperity. And we need to do something about that… Education is fundamental to reducing inequality. But we know that education alone won’t lift everyone out of poverty. There are tens of thousands of jobs that people depend on that don’t provide a living wage in our state.
As I look out at this chamber today, I recognize the political realities of the split control of Olympia. But we must spend time and energy — and yes, political capital — helping make sure everyone in Washington is paid a fair wage.
Leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate pronounced the minimum wage proposal dead on arrival. Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee) told the Times it would harm businesses and takes the state in the “wrong direction.” Last year, Republicans pushed legislation that would lower the minimum wage for new hires and allow certain employers to avoid penalties for paying less than the minimum.
The governor also urged lawmakers not to give up on passing a significant transportation package in 2014.
“If we do not act, our state will face a 52 percent decrease in the maintenance budget for bridges and roads in the next two years,” Inslee said. “If we do not act, 71 additional bridges will become structurally deficient.”
In 2013, the Democratic-controlled House passed a transportation funding package but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to vote on it — or to submit their own proposal. During the interim, Republicans conducted a statewide listening tour on the issue and met with Democrats, but could not agree on a new proposal. Instead, leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate have focused on criticizing problems with megaprojects like the Seattle tunnel and the 520 Bridge and have called for “reforms.”
Inslee said lawmakers can’t ignore the need to protect jobs and our state economy by focusing on the challenges of what he called “legacy projects:”
There are legacy problems the team at DOT still wrestles with, and I understand some of you are frustrated with that. You know what? So am I. But we can’t let issues on megaprojects stop us from moving forward. The 520 Bridge has to be finished. We don’t gain taxpayers’ trust by building a bridge that stops before it gets to Interstate 5. That doesn’t make any sense. Transportation is much too important to let that happen.
The governor also celebrated the fact the Boeing chose Washington state to build its new 777X jetliner, including its carbon-fiber wing.
“Boeing will continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to expand and improve its facilities and employ tens of thousands of people in our state for decades to come,” Inslee said.
But he also acknowledged that this commitment from Boeing “came at a cost.”
We wished that Boeing would have chosen Washington based just on our state’s clear advantages and stellar record in aerospace manufacturing. But there were a couple dozen other states that were more than happy to take those jobs. Those states lined up to give away land, training and anything else they could to attract these new jobs. We were able to secure those jobs for Washington, but they came at a cost. The Machinists took a difficult vote, a vote that demands our respect because their work will benefit everyone in Washington state.
At that point, the assembled lawmakers gave the loudest, most sustained standing ovation of the entire speech.
See the text of Inslee’s entire State of the State address here.
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