Gov. Jay Inslee delivered the State of the State address Tuesday, during which he spoke about a number of issues affecting Washington, including homelessness, climate change and education. A number of other successes, including passing long-term care legislation for older adults, expanding the number of students who qualify for free college tuition and achieving a ranking of “Best State” in a U.S. News & World Report analysis were all accomplishments Inslee highlighted in his speech.
“We’re both the best place to do business and the best place to be an employee,” Inslee said. “That combination is a rare and powerful testament to our state.”
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Inslee talked about Career Connect, calling it “innovative and life-changing,” which addresses the needs of Washington’s students who approach high school graduation unsure of where, or if, they’ll go to college. This program also assists college students who don’t know where they’re going to work, Inslee said. Launching the Career Connect program allowed the state to put students on a track to finish their education and join the workforce, as well as train mid-career professionals to take on new skills so they can be prepared for “the jobs of tomorrow,” Inslee said.
Providing for the needs of children statewide emerged as a priority for the governor in the State of the State address. Expanding early learning opportunities for children, investing in K-12 schools and special education programs and fighting to protect children from exposure to tobacco were all issues the governor addressed, as well as continuing the state’s ability to meet the needs of foster children.
“We’re the state that embraces the biggest ideas and tries the newest things,” Inslee said. “It may sound daunting, but we know the path to get there.”
Housing & Homelessness
The governor also talked about the lack of housing in the state, leaving many without an affordable place to live.
“We have families living in cars,” Inslee said. “Veterans who need help staying in their apartment. Single parents facing financial struggles, and high school students sleeping on other people’s couches — when they can find one.”
Inslee added, “Too many people are one financial crisis away from being homeless.”
The solutions the state utilized over the past decade to alleviate some of the burden of homelessness, cited by Inslee, included investing in homelessness response and creating programs that fight opioid addiction, among other efforts to fight the statewide problem. Inslee added he wants to find a greater number of shelters to further house members of the homeless population who have nowhere else to go.
With the Australian bush fires raging and the effects of climate change getting progressively more dire, Inslee addressed what Washington can do to fight those effects and institute more effective climate policy. Continuing clean transportation efforts remain a priority for the governor, who spoke to building clean fuel standards in the state — something other west coast states have already instituted.
“Washingtonians deserve cleaner fuels, and I want to make sure they get them,” Inslee said. “That standard up and down the west coast has been in place for years now. It’s had little impact on fuel costs and significantly impacted carbon emissions.”
The Republican response
Republican leadership shared their perspective after the State of the State address, pointing out that Gov. Inslee didn’t talk in great length about transportation or health care.
“One thing that came out of higher education is that there was no mention of the B&O tax,” said Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-9th District). “Nor was there any mention of the fact that we actually cut tuition when we had the keys to the car.”
Transportation, as well, was an issue Schoesler didn’t think was adequately addressed. While Inslee mentioned clean transportation briefly in the State of the State, Schoesler argued the governor didn’t go far enough.
“The only thing we’ve heard about transportation was the low-carbon fuel standards,” Schoesler said. “Transportation is having issues in every single corner of the state, and I-976, obviously passing comfortably and proceeding to the courts, there was zero mention of anything about transportation in our state.”
Schoesler added, “I just found that really surprising that an issue that we all care about wasn’t there at all.”
Addressing homelessness, too, was an issue on which Republicans differed from the governor’s approach. While they also acknowledged mental health and substance abuse disorder factor into the root causes of homelessness, among many factors, Sen. John Braun (R-20th District) also spoke to enforcing laws already on the books.
“Yes, we have to provide services, but we also have to enforce our laws if we’re going to be successful at turning this around,” Braun said. “The governor mentioned that, but he’s not doing anything to fix it.”
The lack of housing, too, plays into the many causes of homelessness, Braun said. Tying up the housing industry with too many regulations gets in the way of construction, he argued, resulting in the decline of homes available to Washingtonians.
“This is a direct result of overregulating that industry — there’s no question about that,” Braun said. “There’s no willingness to take that on and make it less costly to build housing in our state. There’s many root causes, and we have proposals on every one of those over the last many years. Most of them are being largely ignored over the last few years.”
Republican leadership also highlighted differing approaches to addressing environmental concerns. Republican Caucus Chair Sen. Randi Becker (R-2nd District) spoke about how she believed the Republican party to not be averse to cleaning up the environment, despite certain perceptions.
“A lot of people in a lot of our communities believe we need to protect the earth and do everything we can,” Becker said. “It’s not one thing that’s all for everyone, but it’s all of us, as individuals, doing the right thing. Whether it’s Governor Inslee’s priority or it’s the Republicans priority, it is all of our responsibility to work towards cleaning the environment.”