OLYMPIA – The Legislature should agree to pay public school teachers more, take steps to prevent devastating wildfires and expand mental health services, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday. It should lay the groundwork for major improvements to school funding in 2017.
“This is a confident state. It deserves a confident Legislature,” Inslee said in his State of the State address.
Voters should give workers a boost in the minimum wage and guaranteed sick leave in this fall’s election.
The state investment board should use its clout to stop companies in its stock portfolios to reduce the “pay gap” between their chief executives and workers.
In his speech to the annual joint session, Inslee pushed an agenda that includes lower carbon pollution, higher school spending and more responsive government. He urged lawmakers to embrace diversity, welcome immigrants and approach the newly started session “with a recognition of the depths of our challenges and a confidence that together we can solve them.”
Not so fast, Republican leaders countered as soon as the speech was over. Raising teacher pay might be a good idea, but the state should have more data on which districts are hard hit and which aren’t, they said.
Raising taxes by ending exemptions to pay for those raises should be a last resort, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said. Offering raises might not solve the shortage, he added, because the state “can’t just flip a switch” and get new teachers.
House Minority Leader Dan Kristensen, R-Snohomish, criticized Inslee’s support of a newly filed initiative to voters to raise the minimum wage and guarantee some sick leave, and questioned the use of public resources to back an initiative.
Asked if he thought the governor violated state ethics laws by supporting it in his speech, Kristiensen said he wouldn’t go that far. But the comment prompted Inslee’s office to send out a 1975 attorney general’s opinion that a governor has a constitutional duty to recommend action to the Legislature and that extends to advocating a position on initiatives.
Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said the state should stop focusing on raising the minimum wage, and look at ways to move workers into better jobs with living wages. If Inslee wants to cut unemployment it should cut regulations, Kristiansen said, not impose new penalties on carbon pollution.
Schoesler criticized the suggestion the State Investment Board use its influence to help control the rising pay gap between top corporate officials and workers. “We’ve always worked really hard to keep politics out of state investments,” he said.