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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Governor Calls For Higher Minimum Wage, Teacher COLAs

Taylor Winkel
Northwest News Network
Members of the Washington legislature and guests in the gallery stand for the Washington State Patrol Honor Guard prior to Governor Jay Inslee’s State of the State address.";

Washington Governor Jay Inslee introduced key policy proposals in his State of the State speech Tuesday. 

Among them, the Democrat is calling for a hike in the minimum wage and he wants to fund teacher cost-of-living increases. But Republican 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 Governor Inslee’s turn, the partisan divide was soon on display.

First, Inslee called for a $200 million infusion into K-12 education -- a 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," the governor said to applause.

The applause was 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 leads a mostly Republican coalition caucus. He 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. Washington’s current base wage is already the highest in the nation -- $9.32 an hour, as of January 1.

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. Senator Linda Evans Parlette is a pharmacist from central Washington.

“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," she said. "That’s the wrong direction.”

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.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."