With Washington’s 2023 legislative session now underway, legislators are focusing on some of the state’s toughest issues, ranging from homelessness to education to data privacy. All these topics are complex and require continued attention. However, our state has a long history of collaboration, partnership, and unity that will help us make progress together. In this spirit of collaboration, Microsoft would once again like to share our legislative agenda in clear, transparent terms with Washington lawmakers, other stakeholders and the general public.
Looking at this year’s legislative session, the Legislature will be establishing operating, capital and transportation budgets for the 2023-25 biennium, and considering a wide variety of policy questions. While some of the uncertainties created by the pandemic are behind us, there remain many ongoing challenges – including educational impacts, inflation and disruptions in the workforce – facing lawmakers. With that in mind, we think it’s important to continue focusing on policies that keep our economy strong, create opportunities and make our communities even more vibrant.
Microsoft’s legislative agenda for 2023 focuses on four such policies: data privacy; energy; affordable housing; and education.
Over the past few years, Microsoft has worked with legislators, other employers and a diverse group of stakeholders in pursuit of legislation to establish comprehensive data privacy protections for Washington consumers. We believe that such protections are essential given the foundational role technology plays in the global economy. With the U.S. Congress having failed to adopt a policy that would apply nationwide, it is critical for the Washington Legislature to take action. Unfortunately, to date, legislators have been unable to reach a consensus on how best to provide those protections.
Heading into the 2023 Legislature, legislators indicated the focus will be on expanding and strengthening privacy protections regarding individuals’ health-related data. While we still believe that Washingtonians need and deserve comprehensive data privacy protections, we recognize that the issues surrounding health data are particularly important and timely. While we will want to review the details of the legislation, we are hopeful that enacting data privacy protections in one area could be a step towards comprehensive legislation.
Another important issue that has gotten a lot of attention in recent years is energy, and specifically, our state’s desire to transition from a carbon-based economy. In order to advance decarbonization and accelerate the transition to cleaner energy sources, lawmakers have passed a number of important bills over the last few sessions to reduce carbon emissions, including the Climate Commitment Act and the Clean Energy Transition Act.
These new laws will fundamentally change how our economy in Washington is powered, and it’s important that their implementation is smooth and effective so that Washington state and the businesses within it can meet their clean energy goals. Two areas that need timely attention are decreasing the time it takes to site clean energy facilities and increasing transmission capacity to move energy into and around the state. Both are necessary to bring more clean resources to business and residential consumers.
For this reason, we are encouraged by the introduction of legislation requested by Governor Inslee to streamline the permitting process for clean energy facilities and to increase transmission capacity in Washington. We look forward to helping to shape and advance these important policies.
As a major employer in Washington, Microsoft believes that it’s critical to have a broad range of housing options that are affordable to all segments of the community. Affordable housing is foundational to a high quality of life for all local residents, including our employees. It supports employee recruitment and retention, reduces traffic congestion and carbon emissions, and makes for more diverse and vibrant communities.
Over the past four years, the company’s $750 million commitment to affordable housing in the Puget Sound region has resulted in more than 9,200 housing units being created or preserved. We salute the efforts of other major employers and non-profit organizations that are making similar contributions in this arena. Similarly, we recognize the historic levels of investment made by the Legislature to the state’s Housing Trust Fund to support the creation of additional housing units.
Despite these collective efforts, the problem persists. A recent Boston Consulting Group report commissioned by Challenge Seattle estimates that Washington state needs up to 120,000 new housing units simply to meet our current need, plus an additional 82,000 every year to keep pace with population growth and the growing demand for housing. Those are big numbers, and the simple truth is direct capital investments into income-qualified housing projects by the public and private sectors, while important, won’t do the job alone.
Washington needs new policies at the local and state level that fundamentally change the economics associated with building more housing across the spectrum, particularly for middle- and low-income households. We encourage lawmakers to consider how zoning and land-use regulations, required project reviews and permitting processes could be updated to reduce how long it takes and how much it costs to bring new housing units to the market and to expand the types of housing that are allowed in our cities. Building more housing, more cost-effectively, will help restore balance to the housing market, and increase housing affordability in the region. As Brad Smith recently wrote in an op-ed for the Seattle Times, “Promoting more affordable housing will translate into a brighter future for everyone in Washington state.”
Finally, no discussion of creating opportunities for a better future would be complete without including education. Much like Microsoft’s mission to enable every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, education is the critical pathway to economic and social health.
The pandemic has negatively affected student learning across the education continuum, from declines in academic achievement and increased need for social-emotional support in K-12 schools to significant drops in enrollment in our state’s post-secondary institutions. We continue to encourage lawmakers to work with the education and employer communities to identify bold, strategic actions that can be taken to help educational systems recover from the impacts of Covid-19.
One such strategy is to continue and intensify the focus on increasing post-high school credential attainment among Washington high school graduates, which will be essential for them to compete in our growing economy. Dual credit programs continue to be a great strategy to boost post-secondary enrollment and completion, and we support proposals that reduce barriers, expand equitable access to dual credit coursework, and create more opportunities for students.
Similarly, providing students with career-connected learning builds industry awareness, helps them identify career pathways and often leads to a credential. Accordingly, funding should be provided for regional partnerships that drive collaborations and increase these options across the state. Lastly, we support a continued focus of Workforce Education Investment Act dollars to increase degree production and credential attainment in high-demand fields, including the expansion of computer science programs.
We are glad to see that legislators will be back on the capitol campus after conducting their last two sessions remotely. We believe that important, forward-focused issues like these benefit from the type of give-and-take that in-person conversations are most effective in providing. As the session moves forward and legislation on these issues evolves, we look forward to contributing to the process and being a part of the conversation.