At last, a wide-awake session

A funny thing happened on the way to the no-waves 2014 legislative session. In his State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee got his sea legs.

On education, on transportation, on closing tax loopholes, on boosting the minimum wage: More wheat than chaff.

Inslee’s springboard was Thursday’s Supreme Court follow-up to the 2012 McCleary decision. Absent meaningful action on education, the Legislature could be held in contempt or forced to adopt specific funding directives. That must not be allowed to happen, the governor said.

Inslee aspires to underwrite education “In a way that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, one-time fixes, cuts to services that protect our state’s most vulnerable children and families or cuts to higher education. For too long the easy answer in Olympia was to cut those services.”

The $200 million infusion includes cost-of-living adjustments for teachers and early learning funding not required by McCleary.

On transportation, an historically bipartisan calling, Inslee throws it back to the post-listening tour state Senate to bring out the votes.

“The next logical step is for the Senate to produce a package of transportation improvements that has 25 votes,” Inslee said. “If this happens, I’m confident we can find agreement before this session ends. The goal cannot be for everyone to get everything they want. Instead, we must get agreement on what our state needs.”

The McCleary mojo propels Inslee into the populist tumult of a living wage. (Cue Utah Phillips singing “Solidarity Forever.”)

“In every community there are people who don’t share in our state’s prosperity. And we need to do something about that.” Inslee said. “I’ve lived on the both sides of the Cascades. I know that we can’t measure the success of our economy by how things are going in the shadow of the Space Needle.”

The subtext of a higher minimum wage and COLAs for teachers is to make nice with a marginalized (and still stewing) labor community. It also reveals the values animating policy. Celebrate Boeing’s tax-break package and advocate the fair-shake end of other loopholes? Politics always has a hint of, well, cognitive dissonance.

Inslee concludes with a quote from President Lyndon Johnson, which couldn’t be more appropriate, given the scope and ambition of his speech. “There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves,” LBJ said.

Inslee needs to get in the weeds and work overtime to kindle that together feeling. But it’s worth the fight.

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