OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposals to boost teacher pay and increase the state minimum wage ran into a wall of Republican opposition after his State of the State address Tuesday.
The GOP-led caucus that controls the Senate slammed the governor’s ideas, saying they would go nowhere in that chamber. Democrats control the House and the governor’s office.
Asked if more money is needed for education this session, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said, “No ... We already addressed the money issues this last time with over a billion dollars.”
Tom, a Medina Democrat who crossed party lines to give Republicans control of the Senate, was referring to increased education funds in the budget approved by lawmakers last year.
Regarding the minimum wage, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, said, “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. It’s the wrong direction.”
The governor’s proposal to boost K-12 funding by $200 million, including cost-of-living increases for teachers, came as a surprise, considering he had previously said the state should wait until 2015 to address education funding.
Inslee said he changed his mind after the state Supreme Court told lawmakers last week to speed up their efforts to meet a court mandate for increased funding for education. The justices set an April 30 deadline for the Legislature to come up with a complete, year-by-year plan to meet the court’s requirements.
“I’ve had to rethink that approach. Or, to be candid, the Supreme Court has forced us all to look anew at funding our education system this year,” the governor said in his speech.
Inslee noted the Supreme Court wrote that it “wants to see ‘immediate, concrete action ... not simply promises.’?”
Inslee said he would look at closing tax breaks to pay for the funding increase, but did not go into details.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, agreed the Legislature should take action this session.
“I think we’re going to have to look at additional investments,” Sullivan said. “The order from the Supreme Court was a game changer. It elevated the need to put more funding into K-12 education this year.”
Sullivan said he agrees the Legislature should look at closing tax breaks, but said it’s too early to say which ones.
House Democrats have already drafted legislation to give teachers a cost-of-living increase.
Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the legislation has 52 signatures by representatives, enough support to pass the 98-seat House.
Wood said there’s no Senate version of the bill at this point.
Inslee, in his speech, said, “We need to stop downplaying the significance” of the state Supreme Court’s order, adding the justices wrote that “this case remains fully subject to judicial enforcement.”
But Republicans did not seem impressed.
“Their job is to be the judiciary branch, our job is to be the legislative branch,” said House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen, of Snohomish. “While I appreciate their strong concerns, what I don’t appreciate is that it almost comes across that they want to do both our jobs. And if that’s what they want to do, let them run for the Legislature.”
In addition to money for education, Inslee renewed his call for raising the state’s $9.32-an-hour minimum wage, this time adding a range of $1.50 to $2.50 for the increase.
“As I look out at this chamber today, I recognize the political realities of the split control of Olympia,” Inslee said, referring to the GOP-led Senate majority. “But we must spend time and energy — and yes, political capital — helping make sure everyone in Washington is paid a fair wage.”
Patrick Connor, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said his group opposes the increase.
“A minimum-wage hike doesn’t help anybody get a job. We should be focused on getting people jobs first and then talk about whether workers are getting paid enough,” he said.
Seattle Times reporters Brian M. Rosenthal and Ashley Stewart contributed to this story.