OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee told a joint session of the Legislature Tuesday that Washington state must act now to reduce the number of people who are living without permanent shelter.
Inslee highlighted what he called a “growing crisis” as his top issue in his annual State of the State address to lawmakers who started their 60-day legislative session this week.
He said that Washington’s homeless population is not just people living in tents under freeways, it was also families living in cars and high school students sleeping on other people’s couches.
“Too many people are one financial crisis away from being homeless,” he said.
About 10,000 people in the state are without shelter, and more than 11,000 live in temporary homeless housing, according to the most recent annual report from the state Department of Commerce.
“We have an obligation to help solve the problem,” Inslee said. “Our compassion will not allow us to look the other way. To be successful, our response level must match the scope of this crisis. Homelessness is a statewide problem and it demands a statewide response this year.”
Last month, Inslee proposed spending more than $300 million from Washington’s emergency budget reserve over the next three years to add 2,100 shelter beds and provide other help to combat homelessness.
“Responding to homelessness can’t mean moving people down the road, to someone else’s city or to the next bridge,” Inslee said. “It’s about giving them the tools and resources they need to get back on their feet. It’s about prevention, it’s about rent assistance and it’s about supportive housing for our most vulnerable individuals.”
Democratic legislative leaders have indicated they don’t have the votes to tap the emergency reserve. It requires a two-thirds vote, and Republicans have argue it’s not sustainable to take money from the fund for an issue that will require ongoing funding.
But Inslee said Tuesday that he’s looking forward to working with lawmakers on their ideas.
“We should gauge our success not on where the money comes from, but how many people we can actually move to safe housing.”
Inslee also called on lawmakers to pass a clean fuel standard — similar to programs in Oregon and California — that requires fuel producers and importers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with transportation fuels.
“We know the science — and our love for our state — require us to do more to fight climate change,” he said.
The House passed a fuel standard measure last year, but it stalled in the Senate amid concerns from opponents that Washington residents would be harmed by increased fuel prices.
Inslee warned that even with previous action taken — including a new law signed last year that established a mandate to provide carbon-free electricity by 2045 — the state will still fall 30 percent short of its emissions goals if lawmakers don’t take additional action.
“While we’ve made progress, we still haven’t addressed the nearly half of our emissions that comes from the transportation sector,” he said. “This is a huge hole in our mutual efforts.”
Inslee also called on lawmakers to ensure more children get early learning opportunities, to address diversity and equity in the workplace, and to pass gun measures. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has proposed three gun measures limiting high capacity magazine rounds, banning assault style weapons and banning ammunition sales to people barred from owning guns.
Both House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig have said that while the bills will be discussed within their caucuses, it’s too early to know whether they will advance this session. Democrats hold a 28-21 majority in the Senate and a 57-41 edge in the House.
In the Republican response provided on TVW, Sen. John Braun said that more focus needs to be put on the root causes of homelessness, but that the emergency fund needs to be kept intact.
“If the governor believes more tax dollars are the best response to the homeless situation, he needs to look somewhere besides the state savings account,” Braun said. “Besides, who can trust that more government spending is the answer? What’s happened to all the money that is already committed to reducing homelessness? “
Braun, from Centralia, also criticized Inslee’s call for a fuel standard, saying “the changes he supports would dramatically drive up the cost we all pay at the pump.”