OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee told a joint session of the Legislature Wednesday that lawmakers must fulfill their top priority of fully paying for the state’s basic education this year.
Inslee said that while lawmakers must address several other issues before them, such as the mental health system, homelessness and higher education, “none of these issues is more important than fully funding the K-12 education our kids deserve.”
“At a time when Washington’s towns and cities were just specks on a map, our state’s founders chose education as our paramount duty. Not roads or railroads. Not jails,” he said. “They chose schools. So should we.”
Lawmakers, who began their 105-day legislative session on Monday, are working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that they must fully fund the state’s basic education system. Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.
Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal released last month, the state pays its part of that salary obligation.
The proposal seeks more than $5 billion in new revenue, with most of it — about $3.9 billion — dedicated to education-related costs. About $1 billion of that education funding would come from a proposed carbon tax that would charge the state’s emitters $25 per metric ton starting in 2018.
In his speech, Inslee said that it’s a tax on carbon pollution “that harms our kids and imperils the planet.”
The court has said that the state has until Sept. 1, 2018 to fully fund education, but that the details of how to do that — as well as how lawmakers will pay for it — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.
“I recognize the Legislature has some hard lifting to do,” Inslee said. “Just as we set high expectations for our students, we should set high expectations for ourselves. And know that we are capable of meeting them.”
Before his speech, Inslee was sworn in to his second term. Statewide officials were also sworn in, including five who were elected in November to open seats, including Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib, the state’s first blind lieutenant governor.
Singer Judy Collins sang the national anthem to open the inaugural ceremony.