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In final State of the State, Inslee touts progressive policies, asks lawmakers to keep going

Inslee unveiled proposals for a utility bill credit for low- and moderate-income Washingtonians, new spending for tackling opioids, money for special education, and a constitutional amendment protecting abortion.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee boasted about the state’s economic growth and progressive policies, and asked the legislature to continue the trend in his eleventh State of the State message.

In the speech, delivered midday Tuesday at the state capitol in Olympia, Inslee unveiled proposals for a utility bill credit for low- and moderate-income Washingtonians, new spending for tackling opioids, money for paraeducator pay raises and special education, and a constitutional amendment protecting abortion.

The address was Inslee’s last as governor, but he characterized his remarks as “not a farewell speech.” Inslee spent much of his time touting the accomplishments of his long tenure in the governor’s mansion and urging lawmakers to keep building on progressive climate, health and social efforts.

“For over a decade, we’ve advanced nation-leading policies to support working families, grown our economy, and acted boldly to protect our state’s iconic spaces and salmon,” Inslee told state lawmakers. “We’ve advanced equity; built more housing; fought for a woman’s right to choose; and ushered in a

clean energy economy.”

Inslee defended the Climate Commitment Act, a 2021 law that establishes limits for greenhouse gas emissions and uses the money from carbon credit auctions to fund programs intended to mitigate and deal with the effects of climate change. Inslee ticked off a roster of projects he said the Act pays for, including electric school buses, free public transit for young people, hybrid-electric ferries and infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Legislative Republicans, some businesses and farm advocacy groups blame the law for Washington’s stubbornly high gas prices. The governor said he understood drivers’ frustrations about gas prices, but said the responsibility lies with fuel companies.

“It’s time for transparency and accountability,” Inslee said, pledging elected officials would “do something” about how gas prices are explained, but he did not describe a specific plan.

Inslee proposed using some of the auction proceeds to fund $200 utility bill credits for low- and moderate-income households. The governor estimated that would benefit one-third of the state’s households, or nearly two million people.

The governor asked for $64 million in new spending to fight opioid and fentanyl use. Inslee said the money would pay for education, hubs for community health, overdose prevention, access to treatment, and recovery support.

Inslee also lauded money that was committed last year to build more housing, and said “continuing to make necessary investments” would reduce the number of Washingtonians living in homeless encampments.

Other portions of the speech reflected Inslee’s reputation as an advocate for liberal policies. He urged lawmakers to advance a constitutional amendment that would enshrine a right to abortion. Democrats in the chamber greeted the proposal with a standing ovation. Most Republicans sat quietly. A constitutional amendment would require the support of two-thirds of the legislature, followed by voters’ approval.

Inslee also touted social justice laws and initiatives that have been enacted during his term, including the creation of the Office of Equity.

Inslee’s broad requests for staying the course may find a receptive audience in the Democratic-controlled legislature. But Republicans have a different take on the state’s current policies and future trajectory.

Delivering a Republican rebuttal to the State of the State, Sen. Nikki Torres said Washington was strong, but not because of Democratic leadership.

“Under one-party rule in Olympia, our state has become less safe, less affordable, and in far too many ways, we are failing our children,” Torres said. “Our communities do not feel safe, due in large part to policies pushed by Governor Inslee, the Democratic majority in the Legislature, and Seattle-driven special interests.”

Inslee did not refer to a suite of conservative-backed voter initiatives that seek, among other things, to repeal the Climate Commitment Act and the state’s capital gains tax. Lawmakers from both parties have said the possibility of losing those revenue sources will be a factor in budget planning this year.

Even without the potential revenue loss, state Sen. June Robinson, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said last week that she’s reluctant to endorse proposals for significant additional spending during the session.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.