Gov. Inslee Calls For Minimum Wage Hike, More Education Funding, Teacher COLAs

Jan 14, 2014

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is calling for a hike in the minimum wage as well as cost-of-living increases for teachers. Those were two of the Democrat’s key policy proposals in his State of the State speech Tuesday.

But Republicans lawmakers quickly shot down the ideas.

The State of the State started off with something everyone in the House chamber could get behind. Corporal Rey Reynolds of the Vancouver, Washington Police Department received bipartisan applause for his rendition of the National Anthem.

But when it was the governor’s turn, the partisan divide was soon on display. First, Inslee called for a $200 million infusion into K-12 education in response to the Washington Supreme Court’s recent order that says the state is not moving fast enough to fully fund basic education.

“Most of that will go directly to your local school districts. It will also fund a long overdue cost-of-living adjustment for our educators this year,” he said, prompting applause, mostly from Democrats. Republicans largely sat on their hands.

Inslee’s call for teacher COLAs represents a change in course. He did not include them in his supplemental budget proposal back in December.

Reception to the idea was cool in the Washington Senate. Democrat Rodney Tom, who leads a mostly-Republican coalition caucus, suggested it’s not likely lawmakers will fund teacher COLAs in an off-budget year.

Inslee’s call for a hike in the minimum wage brought some Democrats to their feet, but not Republicans. At $9.32 per hour as of Jan. 1, Washington’s current base wage is already the highest in the nation. Inslee suggest an increase of a $1.50 to $2.50 an hour.

“There is ample evidence that a raise in that range does not kill jobs,” he said.

But at a news conference following the speech, Republicans were quick to disagree.

“In my opinion, if you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to have more small businesses go out of business, which means more people will lose jobs. That’s the wrong direction,” said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, a pharmacist from central Washington.

Inslee also called for lawmakers to pass a gas tax package and legislation to allow undocumented high school graduates to qualify for college tuition aid. But he also acknowledged a political reality: he’s up against a divided Legislature. For now, at least, the days of one-party Democratic rule in Washington are over.