When the final gavel came down on the 2022 Washington legislative session, lawmakers had made significant progress on issues vital to Washington’s future, taking the steps to satisfy our state’s immediate needs due to the pandemic while also dedicating efforts to long-term and foundational actions critical for Washington’s ongoing health and resilience. Lawmakers made significant investments in transportation, housing and education, but beyond the absolute size of those investments, they tackled these problems in new and innovative ways.
As the session began, Microsoft detailed its priorities for the 2022 legislative session. Two months later, we would like to highlight some of the significant actions taken on a number of these priorities, and how legislators’ actions represent an innovative, future-oriented perspective.
The commitment to make significant, additional investments in the state’s transportation infrastructure is a prime example. Included in the 16-year, nearly $17 billion transportation package was important funding to move forward with development of high-speed rail in the Cascadia region. There is $4 million to support continued planning for the system, including key issues like financing, governance and public engagement. There is also another $150 million to provide the state’s match to compete for federal funding intended to advance high-speed ground transportation projects such as Cascadia. This project will be a game-changer for generations to come, and Microsoft continues to be a strong proponent of the high-speed rail opportunity. We thank Senator Marko Liias for his leadership in championing the project in the legislature and Governor Inslee for his long-term support.
These investments will help move the high-speed rail concept forward from planning to a project development phase. The ability to reduce travel times between Vancouver, BC, Seattle and Portland will enable increased collaboration and innovation, expand job prospects, support access to more affordable housing, provide a climate-friendlier transportation alternative, and position the Pacific Northwest to assume a more prominent position in the global economy.
Transportation infrastructure has always been critical for economic growth and quality of life, and the rest of the package provides substantial funding to address safety, maintenance, and repair of our existing facilities, as well as important projects around the state. It reflects a lower-emissions vision of our transportation system, with significant new funding for transit services, ferries, busses, and bicycle and pedestrian trails. In 2021, Microsoft supported the Climate Commitment Act, which established a cap on carbon emissions and a revenue source for clean transportation. The resulting transportation plan utilizes those funds and, in so doing, realizes that vision for the first time and helps ensure that we can make progress with our sustainability and transportation goals through this meaningful approach.
Taken together, these crucial building blocks will pay many dividends: enabling workers to reach their jobs more easily; facilitating movement of materials and products around the region and across the state; and reducing congestion and the excess emissions it creates. Thank you to Transportation Committee Chairs Representative Jake Fey and Senator Marko Liias for their terrific leadership in assembling this groundbreaking package.
Just as transportation funding provided a major win for the people of Washington, we can also point to the legislature’s significant investments in addressing the state’s ongoing housing affordability and homelessness crises. Lawmakers took advantage of a healthy state budget and a strong revenue forecast to take bold action and set us on a course toward a future in which more people in our community have a stable place to call home.
The legislature committed more than $500 million in the capital budget to help reduce homelessness and provide affordable housing, including investments to rapidly acquire housing and shelter facilities, expand the state’s Housing Trust Fund, create crisis stabilization facilities and integrate housing and support services. Additionally, more than $200 million was appropriated in the supplemental operating budget for the remainder of this biennium to fund additional outreach and services to those experiencing chronic homelessness. This combination of facilities and services is critically important, as it enhances the prospects for successfully helping those experiencing chronic homelessness.
While the state is providing new resources, local initiatives are also underway to help solve the problem. Microsoft joined other business, government and community leaders in recognizing that a full return to a healthier economy and community can’t be achieved while so many of our neighbors are unhoused. As a part of the House Washington coalition, we urged lawmakers to prioritize affordable housing during the legislative session.
Microsoft also joined the Ballmer Group, Amazon, Starbucks and other local public, private and philanthropic partners to provide $10 million in seed funding for a new regional initiative called Partnership for Zero. This initiative will support the King County Regional Homelessness Authority in its efforts to dramatically reduce unsheltered homelessness in Seattle and King County. Innovative partnerships like this show our region’s ability to unite around shared goals. By continuing to work together, we can make housing more affordable and accessible for everyone, including those currently living in unsheltered or unsafe conditions.
These partnerships are all steps in the company’s ongoing commitment to finding workable affordable housing solutions, a commitment that includes Microsoft’s $750M Affordable Housing Initiative. The Initiative has already allocated $583 million towards the preservation and creation of approximately 9,200 housing units in the Puget Sound region.
The legislature also made investments in education to create greater opportunities for students and jobseekers. Thanks to the leadership of House College and Workforce Development Committee Chair Representative Vandana Slatter, the legislature made college more affordable and accessible by providing bridge grants to eligible Washington College Grant recipients to cover expenses beyond tuition and fees, such as transportation and books. They revised provisions of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship to make it an option for more students, and provided state matching funds for these scholarships and the program’s Rural Jobs Initiative. Finally, the legislature increased capacity for high-demand degrees in fields like cybersecurity and computer science for students throughout the state. Taken together, all these moves help more Washington students acquire the skills they need for rewarding careers with Washington employers.
The 2022 legislative session was pivotal in Washington state’s ongoing effort to create a more accessible, equitable and prosperous region for everyone who lives here. Microsoft will continue working with our elected leaders and other stakeholders on these and other pressing needs, like the creation of a workable data privacy statute that provides strong protections to consumers while not stifling innovation by local employers.
Washington is poised for a bright future, but we must continue working together to ensure that all Washingtonians benefit from the prosperity that our state achieves. We look forward to remaining an active contributor in that process.