Jobs, sales tax increase, marriage equality highlight Gregoire's speech to Legislature

Reminding legislators that there is opportunity in every challenge, Gov. Chris Gregoire today delivered her annual State of the State address before the 63rd meeting of the Washington State Legislature.

“Each time Washington survived an economic crisis and rebuilt its future, it has not been about political party,” Gregoire said. “It has been about the future of Washington state. And now it’s time for us. This is our time, our time to build a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

In addition to addressing the state’s budget shortfall, Gregoire called on the Legislature to ask voters to approve a temporary, half-cent sales tax increase, enact a series of reforms to improve Washington’s education system, move forward with a major jobs and transportation package and pass legislation to ensure marriage equality.

Creating jobs, improving transportation infrastructure

Gregoire also announced a $3.6 billion, 10-year package to create about 5,500 jobs a year maintaining the state transportation infrastructure. Funding would be raised through small fee increases, including a $1.50 fee on each barrel of oil produced in Washington state.

“Our oil companies are getting all the profit and leaving us with the bill,” Gregoire said. “We can do better. We can’t wait until roads, bridges and ferries are falling apart to fix them. We can’t kick the can down the road and saddle our future generations with the repairs we failed to make. This is our year to act and approve a jobs package and invest in our future.”

Gregoire said that the Connecting Washington Task Force identified $21 billion in road improvements and projects, and implored lawmakers to work closely with their constituents to develop funding solutions.

“Our transportation system is the lifeblood of our economy,” Gregoire said. “It moves people to work and goods to market, and supports our tourism industry. If we don’t maintain and grow, we come to a standstill.”

To learn more about Gregoire’s transportation and jobs package, visit and .

Half-cent sales tax increase

In November, Gregoire recommended the Legislature allow voters to decide whether to approve a temporary, one-half cent sales tax increase to raise approximately $494 million. More than $400 million would support education, with the remainder set aside to prevent cuts to programs that protect our most vulnerable citizens and our communities.

“While I know the sales tax is regressive, you know what I find even more regressive?” Gregoire asked. “It’s cuts in education that will hit our low-income students hardest. It’s more cuts in our social safety net to poor seniors and people with developmental disabilities. And it’s cuts to public safety that will impact our poor neighborhoods the most. That’s regressive.”

Education reform

In December, Gregoire laid out a series of proposals to support implementation of a new teacher and principal evaluation system, provide opportunities for struggling schools to partner with universities, reduce requirements for students and administrators so more time can be focused on instruction, and create a new, executive-level office to focus on educational attainment.

“I’ve been to many schools as governor, and I’ve never seen a great classroom without a great teacher, or a great school without a great principal,” Gregoire said. “We have a new evaluation system built from the bottom up. Now we must ensure every classroom has a good teacher and every school has a good principal. Our state deserves nothing less. And we must turn around our failing schools once and for all.”

Marriage equality

Last week, Gregoire told the Legislature she would introduce a bill to ensure marriage equality. Today, she urged lawmakers to pass her legislation to grant gay and lesbian couples a state marriage license.

“Our Washington has always fought discrimination,” Gregoire said. “It’s time to do it again. It’s time for marriage equality. Let’s all stand together to make it happen. Let’s tell the children of same-sex couples that their parents’ relationship is equal to all others in the state.”

To read the governor’s State of the State address, visit .