- Following last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court that Washington’s Legislature wasn’t moving fast enough in fulfilling its desire to see billions more dollars pumped into K-12 education by 2018, Gov. Jay Inslee announced during Tuesday’s State of the State Address he will propose a plan to increase funding by $200 million in the current session — a departure from the “hold steady, get ready” supplemental budget he unveiled just two weeks earlier.
“I’ve had to rethink that approach,” Inslee said. “Or, to be candid, the Supreme Court has forced us all to
look anew at funding our education system this year. The court issued an order last week on the state’s efforts to comply with the constitutional requirement that we fully fund basic education.
“The court said 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 continued. “The court wrote that it wants to see ‘immediate, concrete action … not simply promises.’ I agree.”
Inslee said much of the $200 he was requesting would go directly to local school districts, but the remainder would fund a “long overdue” cost-of-living adjustment for the state’s teachers.
“Let’s not forget that Washington voters spoke loudly in 2000, saying that educators should get this COLA every year,” Inslee said. “Yet repeatedly that mandate has been shunted aside. We’re going to live up to that promise this year.”
The governor did not address where the money would come from, but implied he would close enough tax loopholes. The same approach last year was rejected by the Republican-led state Senate.
Beyond more money for education, Inslee proposed the state increase its minimum wage — already the highest in the nation — by an additional $1.50 to $2.50.
“There is ample evidence that a raise in that range does not kill jobs,” he said. “An increase in minimum
wage means more money being spent in our economy.”
Meanwhile, the governor also proposed legislation that would exempt small businesses — those with annual revenues of less than $50,000 — from the B&O tax.
“This reform will help tens of thousands of businesses across Washington,” Inslee said, “and I’m asking you to join me in taking this step to unleash the creativity of small businesses in every corner of this state. Besides, you never know which of these businesses in a kitchen or a garage will grow up to be the next Microsoft or Amazon.”
Inslee did not, as he hinted last week he might, use Tuesday’s speech to impose carbon taxes on the state’s energy producers by executive order. But he left open the possibility of doing so later.
Referring to a study funded by last year’s Legislature in which lawmakers from both parties were split over the need to take drastic action to meet previously suggested guidelines to reduce carbon output in the state, Inslee said, “By the end of next week, we will finalize the report of the climate workgroup and submit our best thoughts on next steps.
“I am committed to a set of actions to secure the additional carbon pollution reductions by the required dates,” he added. “Rest assured, we will move forward. Going backward is not an option. Inaction is not an option.”
Lastly, Inslee called on the Senate to approve a transportation plan the House will approve and he can sign.
The Democratic majority in the House last year proposed a $10 billion plan it would pay for with a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the state’s gas taxes — also among the highest in the nation already.
The Senate balked at the plan, only to suggest an even bigger one — $12 billion funded by an 11.5-cent increase in gas taxes — but only if the Legislature passes a series of transportation reforms and the governor agrees to abandon talk of a carbon tax or cap-and-trade legislation.
Inslee did not refer to the Senate conditions, saying only, “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.”