OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington state has a moral obligation to address carbon pollution and used his State of the State address Tuesday to tout his recent proposal for a cap-and-trade program that requires the largest industrial polluters to pay for every ton of carbon they release.
“We face many challenges, but it is the growing threat of carbon pollution that can permanently change the nature of Washington as we know,” Inslee said in prepared remarks.
Inslee said the state must meet a 2008 legislative mandate to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming. The requirement sets an overall limit on heat-trapping gases similar to a program that California launched nearly three years ago.
Inslee, who has made tackling climate change a key issue since taking office two years ago, has said the plan would raise nearly $1 billion in its first year to help pay for transportation projects and for education-funding requirements imposed by the state Supreme Court.
“For all we do here together in the next few months, for all our fiscal woes, for all our short-term demands, we know that the most enduring legacy we can leave is a healthy, clean, beautiful Evergreen State,” he said.
Other issues Inslee mentioned in his address included:
TAXES: Inslee touted his proposals to eliminate a handful of tax exemptions and to raise some taxes for the upcoming two-year budget. He said he looked for revenue proposals that would address what he said was the “nation’s most unfair tax system.”
Inslee presented his budget plan last month that proposed a 7 percent capital gains tax on earnings from the sale of stocks, bonds and other assets above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers. He also has proposed a cap-and-trade levy on carbon polluters, a 50-cent per pack cigarette tax and a tax on e-cigarettes and vapor products.
He also has proposed eliminating several tax exemptions, including tax breaks on royalties, another for oil refineries and one on sales tax on bottled water.
TRANSPORTATION: Inslee says lawmakers must take action on a transportation revenue package.
Inslee warned that if no action is taken, dozens of bridges “will become structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”
“The tragic and catastrophic landslide in Snohomish County last year reminds us that entire communities are cut off from the rest of the state when we lose transportation infrastructure,” he said in his prepared remarks.
Lawmakers have struggled the past few years to reach agreement, with negotiations between House Democrats and Senate Republicans stalling. This year, lawmakers from both parties have said a gas tax is needed, but Republicans are also pushing for overhauls within the transportation system.
In his speech, Inslee said that he welcomed suggestions for improvement but that “the state cannot accept a continued failure to move on transportation.”
Without action, he says, commute times will continue to rise and the state’s ability to move goods will be affected.
EDUCATION: Inslee said that early learning opportunities for children are an important investment. He said his recent education proposals translate to thousands more low-income children attending high-quality preschools.
Citing his proposals made last month, Inslee notes that he’s seeking to fully fund class-size reductions from kindergarten through third grade and also pay for all-day kindergarten across the state.
He also said that the hours spent by children outside of the classroom are just as important as those spent in it — and said nutritious food at home, safe transportation to school and a place to sleep each night are essential.
“The budget we agree on should nurture all our students, in and out of the classroom, because we know how hard it is to educate a homeless, hungry, sick child,” he said.
The state Supreme Court has held the Legislature in contempt for its lack of progress to fix the way it pays for education funding in the state, and has given lawmakers until the end of session to comply or else face sanctions.