OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee used the final State of the State address of his term to urge state lawmakers Tuesday to address homelessness and pass a low-carbon fuel standard.
Inslee’s remarks came on the second day of the scheduled 60-day legislative session, in a year many lawmakers are up for election — and Inslee is running for a rare third term.
The speech arrived in a state experiencing stark dualities. Despite the focus Inslee and lawmakers have put on climate-change policy in recent years, greenhouse-gas emissions in the state have trended up slightly.
Meanwhile, a roaring state economy sloshing with wealth mingles alongside a widespread crisis of homelessness and housing affordability.
“I believe 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,” he added. “Homelessness is a statewide problem and it needs a statewide response.”
To cut unsheltered homelessness in Washington by half, Inslee is proposing to spend more than $300 million over three years to build emergency shelters and expand housing programs.
Among other things, the plan would give grants to local jurisdictions so they can build shelters, fund the creation of “enhanced” shelters that can operate 24/7 or offer residents additional services, boost the Housing and Essential Needs vouchers for people with serious illnesses and give some money to clean up “waste and contaminated materials associated with vacated homeless encampments.”
The governor’s plan, however, calls for funding from the state’s “rainy day” fund, which would require GOP votes to access. While Republican legislative leaders have said work needs to be done to address homelessness, they don’t want to spend rainy-day funds.
In a Republican news conference after Inslee’s speech, Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said his party agrees on the problem — but not necessarily the solutions.
“We just have different ways of getting there,” said Schoesler, adding that lawmakers should scrutinize how existing homelessness funding is spent.
“I ask you, with all that money, are we really spending it well?” he added.
Schoesler also criticized Inslee for not mentioning Initiative 976, the car-tab reduction initiative voters approved in November.
In his speech, Inslee said he’s open to other sources of funding for his homelessness plan.
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, are looking at strengthening protections for renters to prevent homelessness, such as House Bill 2453. Introduced Tuesday by Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, it is intended to protect renters from being evicted for no cause.
Meanwhile, House GOP Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, has called on the Legislature to make it easier for private developers to build housing.
“I hope that we can work on how do you make it easier to create a supply of housing, rather than just beat up on people that are currently supplying the housing,” Wilcox said in an interview last week.
But, “Housing, homelessness, solutions to addiction, I think we can work on those,” he added.
The governor’s latest push for a low-carbon fuel standard comes after he embarked on an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination with an almost laserlike focus on global warming.
After Inslee’s presidential run ended, the Legislature’s Democratic majorities last year delivered to his desk a big chunk of his ambitious climate-change package.
The governor signed into law legislation that phases out fossil-fuel use in power generation, reduces hydrofluorocarbons, puts in place new energy standards for large buildings and comes up with efficiency standards for some appliances.
The one big piece that stalled last year was the low-carbon fuel standard, which passed the House but didn’t get a vote in the Senate.
Proponents argue the low-carbon standards is needed to combat climate change by gradually reducing the carbon intensity of fuels like gasoline over time while also helping to phase in other options, such as biofuels or electricity.
Opponents say such a policy will increase the price of gasoline and ultimately hurt Washington’s economy.
The governor is pushing hard again for that policy.
“We need what the rest of the West Coast has already built,” Inslee said in his speech. “A clean-fuels standard that calls upon the oil and gas industry to give Washington consumers cleaner fuels.”
But in a signal they may not be a priority this year, Inslee in his speech — like Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins in remarks Monday — said little about passing new gun regulations.