State of the State: Inslee pushes for $4 billion housing bond

Calls for an assault weapons ban and the constitutional protection of abortion rights drew cheers from Democrats, silence from the GOP.

Gov. Jay Inslee urged lawmakers Jan. 10 to put a $4 billion bond measure on the ballot this year that, if approved by voters, could accelerate efforts to build thousands of new homes and reduce the number of homeless individuals and families across the state.

“If there was ever a time to go big, it’s now,” Inslee declared in his State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature. “Until we fix our housing crisis, thousands of people will remain homeless. “

Inslee argued, as he has since first introducing the idea last year, that a bond “allows us to act now, not bit by bit over the next 30 years.”

“I believe the people are with us on this. Let’s go big. Let’s get this done,” eliciting applause from lawmakers even though many are approaching the idea cautiously with questions on the sum and the potential impact on state finances.

This marked the first State of the State presented in person in the chambers of the House of Representatives in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Housing wasn’t Inslee’s only focus. He laid out proposals to provide another $120 million for special education services in public schools, better protect salmon habitat, permit clean energy projects faster and ensure the transmission infrastructure can “reliably deliver clean energy throughout the state.”

He also renewed his call for a constitutional amendment to protect access to abortion and passage of gun-related restrictions including requiring a person to complete safety training before purchasing a gun and banning military-style assault weapons.

Those proposals brought applauding Democrats out of their seats while their Republican colleagues looked on in silence.

In the Republican televised response, Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, said policies pushed by Inslee and majority Democrats in the past decade have made “life in Washington more expensive, left our communities more dangerous and failed to provide children with the education they deserve.”

In a separate news conference, Republican leaders said they heard a lot of their ideas coming from the chief executive. Inslee’s desire to direct more dollars to special education, ease permitting rules to spur new housing and increase spending on law enforcement training academies are proposals long pushed by the GOP, they said.

As for the $4 billion bond, they said it’s not a terrible idea but lots of questions need answering.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said that while there is “very little mathematical evidence it will work,” he would keep an open mind to it.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, cheered the governor’s reference to the Washington College Grant program. It was a tidbit that is helping a lot of people find their way in the workforce, and could help more, he said.

“I don’t think people understand how important it is,” he said. “It is helping young people and working adults earn credentials and degrees that lead to family wage jobs.”