On Sunday, April 23, the Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die, bringing to a close the 2023 session after 105 days of deliberations, debates, and votes. In addition to adopting state operating, transportation, and capital budgets for the 2023-25 biennium, lawmakers took action on a variety of important issues for the future of the state.
Microsoft shared some of its priorities for the session in January in keeping with our ongoing commitment to transparency regarding our public policy agenda. Now, we are sharing our end-of-session thoughts.
Technology and data privacy
This session, lawmakers addressed data privacy by enacting a bill to provide additional privacy protections around personal health care information, rather than pursuing a more comprehensive data privacy bill. While Microsoft did not take a formal position on the proposal, we recognize the importance of giving consumers more control over their health data and imposing new stewardship requirements on companies that collect and use health data. Moving forward, we look forward to working with lawmakers and other stakeholders on establishing broader data privacy protections in Washington, which has long been a Microsoft legislative priority.
We were disappointed that legislation to expand safe, reliable, and sustainable options for device repair fell short of passage. The bill before the legislature fairly balanced the interests of manufacturers, customers, and independent repair shops, and, in doing so, would have provided more viable options for device repair. Right to repair continues to be a priority for Microsoft and we remain optimistic that, next year, Washington will enact legislation that could serve as a model for other states.
Microsoft has been deeply involved in addressing housing affordability over the past five years, and we were pleased to see lawmakers take several significant actions to increase much-needed affordable housing supply. They directed historic levels of funding for investment in affordable housing units, with more than $1 billion allocated between the capital budget, operating budget, and dedicated funding sources. Among these dollars, the legislature committed $17 million to the Washington Housing Finance Commission’s Land Acquisition Program (LAP). These dollars will be tripled through a $50 million commitment from Microsoft to support a land acquisition program targeted to organizations anchored in or run by communities historically underserved, disenfranchised, and “socially disadvantaged.”
Ultimately, solving our housing affordability puzzle will take more than direct investments; it will also require public policies that encourage the creation of more housing units by the private market. Across the state there is an estimated need for an additional 1 million-plus housing units by 2050. Legislators took important steps in that direction by passing the middle housing bill to allow development of more duplexes, cottage clusters, and townhomes throughout the state. As they come online, these units will help to fill the gap between low and high-income housing options and create more opportunities for teachers, nurses, first responders, and others to live closer to those they serve.
Microsoft has long been a vocal proponent and partner in establishing good transportation policy, which is critical to creating healthy communities, reducing congestion, and improving quality of life for local residents. The legislature is investing $13.4 billion this biennium toward transportation, which includes several projects that are important for Microsoft employees and other Eastside residents, including:
- Freeway widening and other corridor improvements on I-405 between Renton and Bellevue
- Corridor improvements at the Seattle end of SR-520 necessary to complete the bridge replacement and roadway expansion project
- Continued design and right-of-way acquisition for a new off-ramp from SR-520 at 124th Street
In addition to addressing current needs, we are happy to see that the budget also looks to the future by maintaining the state’s 16-year, $150 million commitment to support development of ultra-high-speed rail in the Cascadia Corridor. The strategic development of Cascadia is critical to the regional economy, and ultra-high-speed rail will support a healthier labor market and a stronger, more sustainable quality of life for residents.
Microsoft has a bold set of sustainability commitments. This year, the legislature enacted several important measures that will achieve tangible results, including one to streamline approvals for siting clean energy facilities. Making it easier to bring clean energy resources online will be important for Microsoft and the state of Washington to meet our respective sustainability goals.
Another important bill enacted this year will encourage the expansion of the sustainable aviation fuel industry in our state. Aviation has been central to our state economy for decades, and in today’s globally connected economy, it is critical to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation fuel. Washington has an opportunity to be a leader in this emerging industry and pursue a clean, sustainable future.
Finally, the legislature appropriated $2 million to support a cooperative initiative involving the public, private, and research sectors to compete for federal grant funding for the Hydrogen Hub program. This program targets economic sectors that are the most challenging to decarbonize, such as industry, heavy transportation, maritime, and aviation.
Another exciting project is the renovation of the University of Washington Shell House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Shell House is the centerpiece of the 2013 best-selling book “The Boys in the Boat,” the inspirational story of the 1936 University of Washington crew team that won Olympic gold in Berlin.
More than $13 million has already been raised toward a goal of $18.5 million to transform this waterfront landmark into a premier venue for conferences, historic displays, and K-12 school field trips celebrating Pacific Northwest’s unique history.
Microsoft and others in the business community have shown strong support for the project, including a $5 million contribution from Microsoft president Brad Smith and his wife, Kathy Surace-Smith; $2 million from Microsoft Philanthropies; $1 million each from John Stanton and Terry Gillespie; and another $1 million from Challenge Seattle, a donation organized by Governor Gregoire to honor the memory of the late Blake Nordstrom. In addition, a state capital budget commitment of $3 million moves the project many strokes closer to the finish line.
Education and workforce
If supporting the Shell House project is a nod to our region’s history, strengthening education and workforce training remains the best way to invest in its future, specifically by expanding access to high-demand degree and certificate programs.
Microsoft is a strong supporter of the Partnership for Learning’s “Credential is Essential” campaign, which aims to significantly increase the number of Washington high school graduates earning the types of post-secondary degrees, certificates, and other credentials required to compete for jobs with local employers. It was gratifying to see legislators pass two bills that align with this mission by removing financial barriers to Running Start and College in the High School, both of which improve access for traditionally underserved students.
The legislature also invested $6 million to increase enrollments at the Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, as well as additional slots in computer science programs at both UW-Tacoma and UW-Bothell. Lawmakers also provided funding for the Allen School’s Startup program for students from marginalized backgrounds, and our hope is that they will provide additional ongoing funding for this program in the future. These are exactly the type of high-impact investments that we envisioned when Microsoft supported passage of the Workforce Education Investment Act (WEIA) in 2019, which provides higher education funding by taxing companies like Microsoft that benefit most from technical education programs.
Looking back, it’s clear that much was accomplished during the 2023 legislative session. Microsoft feels privileged to be able to contribute to lawmakers’ discussions, and we continue to welcome feedback on our policy priorities.
Tags: affordable housing, Cascadia Corridor, digital skills, right to repair, state, sustainability, transportation, Washington state