Inslee’s State of the State Address:  Raise minimum wage to $13.50 and pay teachers more

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OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Jay Inslee delivered his annual State of the State address Tuesday in which he outlined a bold agenda for 2016, including a big hike in the minimum wage for workers, and a big pay increase for teachers.

“If you work 40 hours a week, you deserve a wage that puts a roof over your head and food on the table,” Inslee said.  “Period.”

The governor’s speech came as legislators gather in Olympia for their 60-day session, and as he gears up his campaign for re-election this fall.

In a chamber filled with lawmakers, Inslee praised the state’s recovering economy, but also noted that the benefits aren’t being felt by those at the bottom.

“People are working harder, they’re working longer hours, and they’re getting paid less in real dollars.”

Inslee called for a steep hike in the state’s minimum wage, to $13.50 an hour -- $4 above the current rate.

On education, Inslee called on lawmakers to address the biggest crisis right now in public schools.

“We have a serious statewide teacher shortage,” Inslee said.  “We need more than 7,000 teachers in our schools.”

Inslee blamed the problem on low pay and wants to jump-start a massive recruiting effort, by hiking starting pay by 10%, to $40,000.  He’d also give all existing teachers a 1% raise to keep them from leaving.

“I propose we pay for it with the elimination of tax breaks,” Inslee said, “whose benefits simply do not outweigh our obligation to our students.”

Though the state is being fined $100,000 a day for lacking a plan to fully fund education, the governor offered no clear path for getting out from under the state Supreme Court’s McCleary v. Washington contempt ruling anytime soon.

“The governor has twice vetoed provisos in the budget that would have given this McClearly work group a leg up on the process,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.

Despite a divided Legislature, Inslee was hopeful that lawmakers could come together, as they have in recent years on other big issues, including $16 billion for transportation.

“We should have confidence because we already know what we have achieved together in these past three years,” he said.

The governor also repeated his vow to hold state workers accountable for the error that led to the early release of thousands of prisoners.