By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to combat the state’s high unemployment rate by drawing new businesses to the state and creating up to 40,000 new jobs this year.
In her State of the State address Tuesday, Gregoire told a joint session of the House and Senate that she wants to attract $2 billion in capital investments to fuel job growth in fields like biotechnology, software development and renewable energy.
“We owe it to our families to provide job opportunities,” she said.
Gregoire also proposed a new employee tax credit for every small business that hires a new full-time employee. She said that she is going to direct state agencies to enact a green building program to retrofit state buildings to create immediate jobs.
The state’s unemployment rate has hovered around 9 percent since summer, and the state’s chief economist expects it to peak at about 9.8 percent this spring. Gregoire noted that in some parts of the state, unemployment has surpassed 14 percent.
“We need to get Washington back to work,” she said.
Gregoire said she will create a Clean Energy Business Development Program to help attract new businesses to the state and to “position Washington to be a leader in the clean energy economy and keep us competitive globally.”
“With the world moving toward a smart electrical grid, we will actively work to attract those businesses to invest in and create jobs in our state,” she said.
Gregoire’s speech came a day after the start of the 60-day session in which lawmakers have been tasked with patching a $2.6 billion budget deficit.
“It’s an understatement to say this year will be incredibly challenging,” she said. “It will test us — and the values we hold — like no other year.”
Gregoire said that new taxes, along with cuts to programs, will be needed to balance the state budget.
She said that while her all-cuts budget proposal in December was balanced, it goes against her values and of the state. “It would be unjust, unwise and unfair to abandon our friends and neighbors when they need us the most,” she said.
Later in the day, Gregoire introduced an updated budget proposal that would cut nearly $1 billion in spending and rescue some $780 million in government programs.
The Democratic governor did not suggest enough tax increases to pay for the entire list of rescued programs, saying a possible federal bailout worth as much as $1 billion could take the place of some tax hikes.
She did propose about $105 million in new revenue from proposed changes to the tax code. Finding the balance will be left up to legislators.
“We cannot just cut or just tax our way out of this immediate budget shortfall,” she said. “We must have a responsible, balanced approach of painful cuts and new revenue.”
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said that she liked the idea of a tax credit for businesses making new hires and that the Legislature’s next few weeks will be filling in the details on several of the governor’s ideas.
“The spirit of it is: ‘Let’s get the work done,”’ Brown said. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution in terms of cutting our way out or taxing our way out. I think we’re all on board with the basic blueprint — it’s just a question now of really putting those details together.”
In a televised Republican response, Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, opposed any talk of raising taxes.
“Raising taxes will put more people out of work and continue this cycle of reduced revenue,” she said. “That won’t take us in the right direction.”
Gregoire began her speech with a moment of silence for law enforcement and military service members who had been killed, saying they were “my heroes.”
Gregoire then called for changes following the recent killings of police officers in the state, saying that she wants improved communications throughout the justice system and improvements in the bail system.
Six officers, including Seattle officer Timothy Brenton of Marysville, have been shot to death since October, and Gregoire said that the state must “ensure that the legacies of these fallen heroes survive by giving their families the support that they deserve.”
She told lawmakers that she wants to expand survivor benefits, including retirement benefits.
Gregoire said that, with input from the law enforcement community, the measures “ensure that from tragedies we learn, we take action and we do the right thing.”
Associated Press Curt Woodward contributed to this report.