OLYMPIA — The Legislature must act this session on climate change, housing and transportation, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
In his annual State of the State address, Inslee again pushed the Legislature to take action in the next 60 days to address "a variety and dimension of demands greater than ever."
"We must take action this day to keep and strengthen our commitments to those in need right now and in the future," Inslee said in prepared remarks.
As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread quickly, Inslee gave his speech to a small number of attendees, mostly staff and members of the news media, in the State Reception Room in the Legislative Building. His remarks were livestreamed to a joint session of the Legislature, most tuning in remotely. As of Monday, five senators had tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days.
In his speech, Inslee echoed many ideas first announced in his proposed $62 billion supplemental budget released last month.
His proposed budget would use additional revenue and one-time federal COVID-19 relief funds to put new investments into addressing homelessness and behavioral health, improving salmon recovery and fighting climate change with clean building and electric vehicle legislation.
Inslee's budget does not include any new taxes, but it also does not include any tax cuts. He made no mention of either in Tuesday's speech.
In their response to Inslee's speech, Republicans called for more tax relief, especially because the state has more revenue than expected this year, as well as about $1 billion left over in federal COVID-19 funds that must be spent in the next two years.
Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, said the Legislature should find ways for tax relief, specifically by eliminating the capital gains tax, the long-term care tax and exempting the first $250,000 from property taxes.
"We believe the state should not collect more in taxes than is absolutely necessary," Gildon said. "The last thing you need is for the government to take more money away from you."
Inslee has said the Legislature should look at making smart investments in areas that need it.
On housing, Inslee's proposals include removing barriers to middle housing options, such as duplexes and town homes, in cities.
"We also have to realize we need more opportunities for everyone when it comes to housing," Inslee said. "We can't get more housing if there's nowhere to build it."
Inslee also acknowledged the continuing fight against COVID-19, pointing to his office's announcement last week that it would increase access to at-home testing, free masks and vaccines. He urged the Legislature to invest more money into dealing with COVID-19 and addressing learning loss.
In his budget, he proposes reinvesting $900 million the state has from dropped enrollment back into schools. Part of that includes increasing the number of school counselors, nurses, psychologists and social workers in K-12 facilities.
Republicans said they appreciated the willingness to invest in education, but the Legislature needs to focus first on making sure schools are functioning correctly following prolonged closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said the Legislature should make sure it's investing in a way that gets "real results" in education.
While the state works to address its current needs, Inslee said legislators must work to address long-term existential threats, such as climate change.
"Every corner of the state faces climate-related disasters today," Inslee said. "Not tomorrow, but right now."
His $626.5 million climate plan includes a clean building standard and rebates for customers who purchase electric cars. He also proposes spending $187 million for salmon recovery, including a continued mitigation study of the lower Snake River dams.
Transportation will be one of the key issues this legislative session.
Inslee said Tuesday his supplemental budget would use federal funds to preserve existing infrastructure, support ferry service and provide clean transportation programs.
"And to legislators: If you have bigger ambitions or bolder ideas — and I'm encouraged that some of you do — I am ready to engage, discuss and support your efforts," Inslee said.
Lawmakers have been working on a transportation revenue package to pay for new projects since last session, but they have yet to reach an agreement.
Republicans are also making public safety a priority this year, starting by making changes to police reform legislation passed last session. In a media availability following Inslee's speech, Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, said most of her caucus' priorities this session are fixes, including long-term care tax and police reform. She criticized the majority for passing these bills along party lines, only to result in having to fix them the next year.
Inslee made only one brief mention of the long-term care tax and police reform in his speech.
House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox criticized Inslee for returning to the same message he's had in previous states of the state.
"We've heard parts of this speech for about 10 years now," he said.
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