Starting his final year in office, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee stresses he isn’t finished yet

Jan 10, 2024, 8:06 AM | Updated: 8:41 am

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint legislative se...

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee delivers his annual State of the State address to a joint legislative session in House chambers at the Washington State Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, in Olympia, Wash. (Photo: Lindsey Wasson, AP)

(Photo: Lindsey Wasson, AP)

Addressing the Legislature at the start of his final year in office, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee returned to one of his top priorities and the issue that defined his brief presidential bid: climate change.

“We know that climate change is hurting us now, today. But climate collapse does not have to be our inevitable future,” he said in his 11th State of the State address. “This Legislature put us on a clear — and necessary — path to slash greenhouse gases by 95% by 2050.”

Inslee touted the state’s 1-year-old Climate Commitment Act, a landmark policy that works to cap and reduce pollution while creating revenue for climate investments. It raised $1.8 billion in 2023 through quarterly auctions in which emission allowances are sold to businesses covered under the act. He said the money is going to electric school buses, free transit rides for young people and public electric vehicle chargers.

More on Gov. Inslee: Gov. Jay Inslee doubles down on the Climate Commitment Act despite high gas prices

But that major part of his climate legacy is in question. A conservative-backed initiative that is expected to end up on the November ballot aims to reverse the policy.

In a seeming nod to that challenge and the path ahead for his climate policy, he said: “Any delay would be a betrayal of our children’s future. We are now on the razor’s edge between promise and peril.”

Inslee, who is the longest-serving governor in office in the U.S., stressed he wasn’t making a goodbye speech. There is plenty more he wants to see accomplished in the 60-day session, which started Monday.

He urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would increase transparency surrounding oil prices in the face of what he described as “the roller coaster of gas prices.” He also discussed helping families add energy-efficient heat pumps designed to reduce emissions and slash energy bills.

Outside of climate change, the governor asked lawmakers for about $64 million more to treat and prevent opioid use. He also pushed for more funding for drug trafficking investigations and referenced the need for more police officers.

Inslee also brought up homelessness. The state has the fourth most unsheltered people in the U.S., according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Some think we can just wave a wand and those living in homelessness will simply disappear,” he said. “But this is the real world, and we have an honest solution: Build more housing, connect people to the right services, and they’ll have a chance to succeed.”

Inslee neared the end of his remarks by describing what he sees as two grave threats in the state and the nation — threats to democracy and to abortion rights.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022, he urged lawmakers to join states like Ohio, which approved a constitutional amendment that ensures access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care.

“Fundamentally, this is an issue of freedom — freedom of choice when facing one of the most intimate and personal decisions in life,” he said.

Despite these challenges, overall he stressed that the “state of our state is stronger than ever.”

Republican leadership had a much more negative view of the progress the state has made.

“By any metric you want to pick, there is a growing catalog of crises facing the state,” House Republican Leader Rep. Drew Stokesbary told reporters following the speech. “The vast majority of which have gotten significantly worse during the last 12 years, when Jay Inslee was governor.”

More on Gov. Inslee: Inslee accused of dishonesty over climate law’s impact on gas prices

Democrats have a majority in both the House and Senate.

Sen. John Braun, Republican leader, tore into the very notion of the Climate Commitment Act, calling it “essentially a large gas tax.”

“Here we are in the state of Washington. We might be thinking we’re innovative, we have fabulous companies that are innovative. And yet our solution is not innovative at all,” he said.

Inslee was first elected in 2012. He announced in May that he would not seek a fourth term.

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Starting his final year in office, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee stresses he isn’t finished yet