Governor Jay Inslee’s January 15 State of the State speech mixed presidential campaign rhetoric with state-level proposals regarding climate change, education, mental health and orca recovery efforts. However, at a time when the state is experiencing record surplus revenue, it remains to be seen whether his new tax proposals to cover spending will garner support from the legislature.
Facing a legislature now solidly-controlled by Democrats, Inslee called on lawmakers to “build this new and enduring chapter that is the profound story of Washington state. Our story already reflects optimism and strength, but as Washington’s leaders we carry an obligation to never be satisfied with how far we’ve come.”
Climate change dominated Inslee’s speech, in which he cited last year’s wildfire season that resulted in some of the worst air quality in the world. Late last year, he announced a series of new clean energy proposals such as a low carbon fuel standard and plans to make the state’s electricity 100 percent clean energy by 2035, proposals that are set for public hearings this week. The announcement came after voters rejected on November’s ballot Initiative 1631, which would have created a state carbon tax.
In 2008, the legislature set greenhouse gas emission goals that the state is failing to meet. A new report by the Department of Ecology shows that 2015 emissions were 97 million-per-metric ton, compared to 90 million in 1990. The 2008 state goals were to have state emissions reduced to 1990 levels by next year.
To aid the struggling Southern Resident killer whale population, Inslee said “we must make unprecedented investments” that include “increasing salmon stocks, fixing culverts and decreasing vessel traffic risks.” At the same time, Inslee’s 2019-21 operating budget includes $750,000 on a task force to examine the effects of dismantling the lower Snake River Dams which have been targeted by activists who say they are inhibiting salmon recovery.
In his speech, Inslee also called for:
- Investments in mental health via a new partnership with the University of Washington
- A new ‘birth to 3’ preschool program and universal home visits
- Funding for new high school apprenticeships and paid internships
While discussed in a December press conference, left out of his State of the State speech is how he intends to pay for the billions in new spending. That includes a capital gains income tax, a graduated real estate excise tax (REET), and a business and occupation (B&O) tax increase. In both the Senate and House, bills calling for a capital gains income tax have been either introduced and/or scheduled for public hearings. His budget has also received a public hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.
“Today offers us two choices,” Inslee said in his speech. “One, do we reflect on the success of our current story and decide we’ve done enough? Or two, do we rise up to write one of the worthiest chapters of our time that tells future generations who we are?”
In a response shortly after the speech, Assistant House Republican Floor Leader Jacquelin Maycumber (R-7) decried the vast spending increase in Inslee’s budget, while pushing for reforms to the state Growth Management Act, Sound Transit and constructing permitting.
“We’re fighting to preserve our values, our freedoms, our liberties and our way of life,” she said. “State lawmakers must resist ideas that add to the economic burdens of Washingtonians.”
She also couldn’t help taking a jab at Inslee’s presidential ambitions. “We need to make sure he doesn’t forget those of us working in this Washington, in his desire to go back to the other Washington.”