Today in Olympia, Governor Jay Inslee appeared before a joint session of the Washington State Legislature, as he has for the past decade, to deliver the annual State of the State Address, sharing his thoughts on Washington’s well being and laying out his priorities for his eleventh year in office as the state’s chief executive.
This was the first State of the State Address to be delivered in-person since 2020, the year that COVID-19 began spreading rapidly throughout the U.S. and the world. The last two sessions of the Legislature were both held remotely.
Inslee started off the speech by touting recent legislative successes, such as enacting paid family leave as well as transformative climate action legislation, continuing to build more homes, and improving the behavioral health system, to name a few. But, progress is still needed in Washington, and the governor quickly began discussing what still needs fixing in the Evergreen State.
Inslee first addressed rising rates of homelessness in Washington, and underscored that “the fundamental, underlying challenge is that we don’t have enough housing”. The governor stated that he wants to “go big” on housing this session. He proposes to do that through “a $4 billion referendum that will significantly speed up the construction of thousands of new units”.
“When it comes to building affordable housing, our Housing Trust Fund has been our primary tool for decades,” Inslee noted.
“Unfortunately, we can only adjust that dial a little bit here and there. And we’ve been adjusting it up every biennium since 2013 — $30-$50 million at a time.”
“It isn’t enough. If there was ever a time to go big, it’s now.”
“This referendum will fast-forward our ability to build,” the governor added.
“Importantly, it offers us the scale and speed we need. Scale and speed are necessary for market-rate development, too. Residential zoning restrictions block private developers from building denser and more affordable options.”
“We must finish the job we started last session to address middle housing and increase housing density within our communities.”
He also talked about the behavioral health crisis, and said that “prioritizing diversion and community-based treatment options” is the best way forward, and “will ask local leaders to join [him] in crafting a better plan”.
“The state has been and will continue doing its part to shore up capacity,” Inslee told legislators and guests. “We’ve added hundreds of forensic beds since the Trueblood trial in 2015, and we plan to add hundreds more.”
“But even with all these investments, this exponential growth in court orders and referrals is not manageable or sustainable. Nor is our criminal justice system an effective way to connect people to the treatment they need.”
“We should be prioritizing diversion and community-based treatment options rather than using the criminal justice system as an avenue to mental health care, particularly because competency services only treat people to be well enough for prosecution.”
Then, Governor Inslee talked about education, and mentioned to the assembled body that his “budget proposal increases K‑12 spending by $3 billion.
“Meeting the social and emotional needs of our students has been an important effort, and I commend this Legislature for making historic investments last year to increase funding for schools so they can hire more nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers,” the Governor said.
“My budget continues these additional investments.”
“I’m also hopeful we can increase funding for special education. I’ve proposed more than $120 million to better support school districts as they meet the needs of every student they serve, no matter how complex the needs.”
Next, the Governor moved to an issue he holds dear — combating climate damage. He spoke of shifting Washington’s focus “to implementation and investment,” such as increasing the state’s ability to do R&D, “bolster our transmission infrastructure,” and more, including a continued focus on “salmon recovery actions”.
“It was fantastic to join Senators Joe Nguyen and Matt Boehnke in Tri-Cities last month to talk about the potential for a new Institute for Northwest Energy Futures at Washington State University,” said Inslee. “This institute will put the region at the global forefront of clean tech innovation.”
“On the investment side, the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) we passed in 2021 is now live. Our state’s new cap-and-invest program will allow us, this year, to transform how we invest in transportation and our communities.”
“Heat pumps for low-income families, charging stations across the state, hybrid-electric ferries, free transit for youth, grants to clean up air pollution — the list goes on. The CCA will provide an estimated $1.7 billion that we will use for projects to drive down emissions, create jobs and make communities healthier.”
On the public safety side, the governor asked for more funding for law enforcement and gun safety training, but his headline request of the Legislature is “to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons”.
“These weapons are designed for the sole purpose of destroying lives — the lives of school children, law enforcement officers, concert-goers, nightclub patrons, and people gathered in houses of worship,” Inslee somberly observed.
“We owe our children the assurance we’re doing all we can to keep them safe. Let’s pass all three bills and prove to them that the gun lobby doesn’t make the rules in Washington state — we do.”
And finally, Inslee talked about an issue that Democrats campaigned fiercely on in 2022: “the rights of Washingtonians seeking reproductive care”.
He called on legislators to keep Washington a pro-liberty state for all, including referring to voters a new constitutional amendment “that expressly establishes a fundamental right to reproductive freedom in Washington state”.
“The Dobbs decision last year on the national level upended decades of precedent that assured people across the country had at least some measure of constitutional protection for abortion care and contraception,” said Inslee.
“That protection is gone for more than half the people in our country. And the new Republican majority in Congress this weekend made further abortion restrictions one of their top priorities. So, in Washington State, we are fighting to make sure that right remains protected.”
The Governor concluded his remarks by thanking legislators for their service.
“You have each left your hearth and home to come here to serve your constituents and further the progress and success of our state,” Inslee said.
“And when you do so, you will strive and toil to enact policies, and yet may never know many of the actual people you’ve helped.”
“We have emerged through two great threats — one to our personal health, and one to our body politic. Because of the combination of scientific genius and sound decision-making, we are no longer dominated by a virus. Because we stood up to those who dared to dismantle democracy, it is a joy to say today that democracy is intact in Washington State.”
“So, now, it is our blessed opportunity to fully exercise the power of democracy, not with half measures, empty gestures or platitudes. But with the boldness and ambition that is fitting to the unlimited capacity of our Evergreen State.”
“We have a special state. We have a special moment. Let us realize both.”
The 2023 legislative session began yesterday and will run until April 23rd, 2023.