OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire wants the Legislature to pass a “bold agenda” that includes a sales tax increase, school reforms and a $3.6 billion transportation package.
In her State of the State address Tuesday, the Democratic governor proposed a 10-year transportation package she says will create about 5,500 jobs a year to maintain roads across the state.
Gregoire said to help pay for the package she will ask the Legislature to increase some fees, including adding a $100 fee to electric vehicles and passing a $1.50 fee on every barrel of oil produced in Washington.
“Our oil companies are getting all the profit and leaving us with the bill,” Gregoire told a joint session of the House and Senate. “We can do better.”
Last month, a task force convened by Gregoire said the state needs to raise $21 billion over 10 years for transportation needs, including road, bridge and ferry projects. Gregoire mentioned that report in her speech, and the need for several road projects, but did not specifically call on the Legislature to raise that amount, or to send anything to the voters to approve.
But she did indicate that a further transportation proposal could be coming, citing prior transportation projects undertaken by the state, including a 2005 gas tax increase that was approved by voters.
“We can do it again,” she said. “Educate ourselves and educate the public, and then let’s build a better transportation infrastructure than the other guys.”
Gregoire noted that the state faces a $1.6 billion shortfall over the next 10 years just to maintain state highways.
“We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them,” she said. “We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make.”
Lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday for the start of the 60-day legislative session. Gregoire asked them to move quickly on patching a projected $1 billion deficit.
In December, Gregoire proposed spending cuts that included a shortened school year, the elimination of social services for thousands of low-income residents and the early release of some prisoners. She also has proposed a temporary half-cent sales tax increase that would raise nearly $500 million a year and offset some cuts — particularly in education.
Lawmakers made some adjustments to the state budget during a special legislative session in December, relying on some cuts, transfers and delayed payments. Along with fixing the $1 billion gap, Gregoire wants them to leave several hundred million dollars as a buffer in case the economy underperforms.
“You made a down payment in December,” Gregoire said. “I know these will be some of the most difficult decisions of your career. But I ask you to finish quickly because every day the problem gets bigger and the choices harder.”
Gregoire’s sales tax proposal has a referendum clause, so if passed by the Legislature, it would have to ultimately be approved by the voters in November.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to shred very core services, and it is time to stand up for Washingtonians,” she said, noting that the last time the state sales tax was raised was in 1983, under Republican Gov. John Spellman.
“Without the half penny, we lose far more than we gain,” she said. “We lose our future, our values and our way.”
Gregoire also asked lawmakers to pass education reforms, including enhancing evaluation systems for teachers and principals, creating opportunities for struggling schools to partner with universities and creating a new office called the Office of Student Achievement that will focus on assisting students from high school until graduate school.
“We can’t address the education gap we have with the rest of the world until we address the one we have within our own state,” she said.
Gregoire also called on lawmakers to pass a measure to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Let’s all stand together to make it happen,” she said. “Let’s tell the children of same-sex couples that their parents’ relationship is equal to all others in the state.”
Gregoire told lawmakers that her multi-tiered request of them is “a bold agenda, and it involves risk and courage.”
“The future of our state is in our hands now,” she said. “We have to do what is very hard, but do it we must, and together.”
GOVERNOR”S OFFICE NEWS RELEASE
OLYMPIA — Reminding legislators that there is opportunity in every challenge, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday delivered her annual State of the State address before the 63rd meeting of the Washington State Legislature.
“Each time Washington survived an economic crisis and rebuilt its future, it has not been about political party,” Gregoire said. “It has been about the future of Washington state. And now it’s time for us. This is our time, our time to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.”
In addition to addressing the state’s budget shortfall, Gregoire called on the Legislature to ask voters to approve a temporary, half-cent sales tax increase, enact a series of reforms to improve Washington’s education system, move forward with a major jobs and transportation package and pass legislation to ensure marriage equality.
Creating jobs, improving our transportation infrastructure
Gregoire also announced a $3.6 billion, 10-year package to create about 5,500 jobs a year maintaining the state transportation infrastructure. Funding would be raised through small fee increases, including a $1.50 fee on each barrel of oil produced in Washington state.
“Our oil companies are getting all the profit and leaving us with the bill,” Gregoire said. “We can do better. We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them. We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make. This is our year to act and approve a jobs package and invest in our future.”
Gregoire said that the Connecting Washington Task Force identified $21 billion in road improvements and projects, and implored lawmakers to work closely with their constituents to develop funding solutions.
“Our transportation system is the lifeblood of our economy,” Gregoire said. “It moves people to work and goods to market, and supports our tourism industry. If we don’t maintain and grow, we come to a standstill.”
To learn more about Gregoire’s transportation and jobs package, visit: http://www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/transportation/criticalneeds.pdf and http://www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/transportation/connectwa.pdf.
Half-cent sales tax
In November, Gregoire recommended the Legislature allow voters to decide whether to approve a temporary, one-half cent sales tax increase to raise approximately $494 million. More than $400 million would support education, with the remainder set aside to prevent cuts to programs that protect our most vulnerable citizens and our communities.
“While I know the sales tax is regressive, you know what I find even more regressive?” Gregoire asked. “It’s cuts in education that will hit our low-income students hardest. It’s more cuts in our social safety net to poor seniors and people with developmental disabilities. And it’s cuts to public safety that will impact our poor neighborhoods the most. That’s regressive.”
In December, Gregoire laid out a series of proposals to support implementation of a new teacher and principal evaluation system, provide opportunities for struggling schools to partner with universities, reduce requirements for students and administrators so more time can be focused on instruction, and create a new, executive-level office to focus on educational attainment.
“I’ve been to many schools as governor, and I’ve never seen a great classroom without a great teacher, or a great school without a great principal,” Gregoire said. “We have a new evaluation system built from the bottom up. Now we must ensure every classroom has a good teacher and every school has a good principal. Our state deserves nothing less. And we must turn around our failing schools once and for all.”
Last week, Gregoire told the Legislature she would introduce a bill to ensure marriage equality. Today, she urged lawmakers to pass her legislation to grant gay and lesbian couples a state marriage license.
“Our Washington has always fought discrimination,” Gregoire said. “It’s time to do it again. It’s time for marriage equality. Let’s all stand together to make it happen. Let’s tell the children of same-sex couples that their parents’ relationship is equal to all others in the state.”