Laurel Demkovich

(Washington State Standard) Gov. Jay Inslee made one thing clear in his State of the State address on Tuesday: he’s not slowing down as he heads into his final year in office.

The three-term Democrat urged a joint session of the Washington State Legislature to press ahead on issues he and his party have prioritized, including combating climate change and protecting abortion rights. He also highlighted areas like expanding support for housing, education and mental health care where there could be opportunities for bipartisan cooperation.

“This is not a farewell speech,” Inslee said Tuesday. “I’m not riding into the sunset.”

“We’re going to make this state better at mental health, safer against opioids, more supportive for educators and students, and more committed to our climate,” he added.

Throughout his address, Inslee pointed to wins during his time as governor, like banning assault weapons, making record investments in housing, passing a sweeping climate law and signing two of the state’s largest-ever transportation funding packages.

“If I have learned anything with each subsequent legislative session, it’s that Washingtonians are always capable of doing more than others thought we could,” he said.

But the governor and Democratic lawmakers could face a tough year ahead.

Six citizen initiatives threaten to undo landmark progressive policies they’ve supported, including the state’s cap-and-trade program, which charges industrial polluters in the state for carbon emissions and uses the proceeds to pay for programs to respond to climate change and cut pollution in disadvantaged communities.

Another one of the measures would scrap the state’s new tax on capital gains that has pumped nearly $900 million for early learning, child care and school construction into the state budget.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to hammer on a message that Democratic policies have driven up living costs for Washingtonians and made the state less safe. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

‘We will hold our ground’

Inslee is showing no signs of backing off his climate agenda, a hallmark issue for him during his time in office. He said any delay in lowering the state’s greenhouse gas emissions would be a “betrayal of our children’s future.”

“We will hold our ground,” he said.

To help address criticism that the cap-and-trade program is increasing fuel and energy costs for consumers, Inslee this year is proposing a $200 utility bill credit for low- and moderate-income families and is calling for legislation to force greater transparency with oil companies’ pricing.

One of the governor’s other big asks this year is additional funding for affordable housing and reducing homelessness. Inslee wants more money for a state program that closes homelessness encampments and moves people into housing.

He is also pushing the Legislature to make new investments in improving access to behavioral health care and stopping the spread of fentanyl and other illegal opioids.

On education, Inslee wants the Legislature to increase the pay for paraeducators, who work alongside teachers, and to raise a cap on state funding for special education in public schools.

With law enforcement, he is asking lawmakers to fund more state troopers and forensic scientists and establish new training centers.

Inslee is also making another attempt to get the Legislature to pass a state constitutional amendment enshrining the right to reproductive freedom, an ask he’s made since the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. A similar proposal last session failed to receive the two-thirds majority that it would need for lawmakers to send it to the ballot.

‘Demanding better’

In her response to Inslee’s speech, Sen. Nikki Torres of Pasco, the lone Latina Republican in the Senate, said “the state of our state is strong” but the government “has let our great people down.”

“Under one-party rule in Olympia, our state has become less safe, less affordable, and in far too many ways, we are failing our children,” she said.

Similar to her colleague House Minority Leader Drew Stokesbary’s speech on the session’s opening day, Torres asked the Legislature to do more to improve public safety, offer tax relief, make Washington more affordable, and improve education.

“In all of these areas, the people of Washington are demanding results, they are demanding action, they are demanding better,” she said.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said as Republican leaders look to paint a negative picture of life in Washington, she reminds her colleagues of their party’s successes in recent years.

“We’ve made some significant policy changes to improve and protect the lives of every Washingtonian,” she said. “Let’s celebrate that we are moving in the right direction.”