A look at the 2024 Washington state legislature

Washington state capitol

A symbiotic relationship

In Microsoft’s nearly five decades of innovation and invention, our company’s products and services have fundamentally changed the way people around the globe work, learn, manage their finances, obtain health care, entertain themselves, and conduct other elements of daily life.

Now, as the company enters its 50th year, our ability to bring forth these innovations depends more profoundly on the decisions made by elected leaders in Olympia and the local communities of the Puget Sound region than it ever has. Our policymakers’ commitment to creating a strong and vibrant community – one offering diverse and rewarding job opportunities along with an exceptional quality of life – provides the foundation for companies like Microsoft to succeed.

Being located in an area committed to innovation, growth, and equity has allowed Microsoft to thrive. In turn, we believe our success has contributed to the health of our region and our state.

The recently adjourned 2024 legislative session is the most recent example of this relationship between community strength and corporate success. Heading into the session, we highlighted state investments in housing, infrastructure, education, and clean energy that will benefit generations to come. We also talked about this being an inflection point, with the state poised to secure its position as the global hub for development and responsible use of artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Building Washington’s future

With this sense of the moment in mind, and in keeping with our commitment to transparency regarding our legislative agenda, we publicly laid out 2024 session priorities in education, housing, transportation, clean energy, and artificial intelligence. This was a forward-looking agenda, consisting of balanced public policies to help build a brighter future not just for the 50,000 Microsoft employees who call Washington home, but also for every resident of the state.

As we now look back on the 60 days of legislative activity in Olympia, we see that our priorities aligned with a number of the issues lawmakers addressed.

Education and skilling

Microsoft supports efforts to significantly increase enrollment in post-secondary credentialing. Recent studies estimate that 72% of future jobs – especially in high-demand fields like technology and health care – will require some form of post-secondary credential. But only 40% of Washington high school students earn such a credential by age 26. So, strategies to help more students obtain those necessary credentials are very important to the futures of both the individual and the state. We were, therefore, pleased to see the passage of SB 5904, which extends eligibility for a variety of state-supported financial aid programs to up to six years or 150% of the published length of a student’s program of study. This extension reflects a real-world understanding that many of today’s students are balancing school, work and family obligations.

We also appreciate the funding provided for the IT Academy program and the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) in the supplemental budget. The WSOS appropriation, in particular, deserves a few more words. State dollars represent matching funds for private donations to this first-of-its-kind public-private partnership that has provided more than $150 million in scholarships and other supports to help 18,000-plus students from rural, low-income, and diverse populations pursue careers in high-demand fields. WSOS is the perfect example of the life-changing impact we can have when the public and private sectors work together.

Housing for all

Microsoft supports policies that meaningfully increase the supply of housing. While the 2024 session didn’t match last year’s “Year of Housing” in the Legislature, it did produce several bills that will move our region and state closer to our mutual goal of creating more housing of all types for people of all income levels. These included the establishment of a new revolving loan fund to support the creation of multi-family housing for low-income working families (HB 1892); legalization of single-occupancy building options for affordable co-living housing (HB 1998); and allowing local governments to provide tax incentives for the conversion of unused commercial spaces to affordable housing (SB 6175). Each of these is a creative approach to providing more housing choices and supply.

As we said going into the session, the housing crisis in Washington is not a problem that appeared overnight, and it is not one that will be solved in one year or even a few years. It will take urgent, concerted and sustained efforts by both the public and private sector, and we look forward to remaining an engaged participant in those efforts.

Microsoft also joined with Challenge Seattle and other stakeholders to focus additional attention on the crisis facing emergency departments around the state as they deal with the interrelated challenges of behavioral health, opioid addiction, and homelessness. Our collective efforts helped secure important investments such as funding for street medicine teams, the establishment of around-the-clock, low-barrier stabilization sites, and the expansion of treatment options for opioid addiction recovery.

Moving people and goods

Much like housing, the 2024 session saw several key decisions regarding transportation. The supplemental transportation budget maintained funding for work on the critically important SR-520 bridge corridor project. This project is essential to the continued economic health of the state, and it’s almost done! We greatly appreciate lawmakers coming together to reaffirm the need for its completion.

Another key state appropriation was made for high-speed rail planning, which was necessary to receive important funding from the Federal Corridor Identification and Development Program. This project can be a game-changer for the entire Cascadia Innovation Corridor from Vancouver, B.C. to Portland, and this timely investment will keep it moving forward.

Like housing, the transportation challenges facing the state are long-standing issues that will not be solved quickly. So, we recognize that the 2025 legislative session will again require a significant focus on transportation to address funding gaps that have arisen on projects in the Move Ahead Washington package from 2022 and to develop the state’s next biennial transportation budget. We look forward to participating in and contributing to those deliberations as appropriate.

Clean energy

Microsoft supports policies that add firm, clean energy to the grid as quickly as possible. Perhaps no issue will have as great an impact in determining our future as our ability to bring additional clean, reliable energy resources online as quickly as possible. That’s why we continue to advocate for an “all of the above” approach that includes not only hydro, solar, wind, and other energy sources traditionally considered renewable, but also serious analysis of the potential for nuclear and fusion as sources of safe and abundant energy. We applaud the passage of the HB 1924 legislation to promote the integration of fusion technology into Washington’s clean energy plan.

Artificial intelligence

As one of the leading companies developing AI technology applications, we are bullish on the potential of AI to positively serve humanity. At the same time, we recognize the risks associated with its misuse and our responsibilities as a leader in this space. We are committed to working with policymakers here in Washington and around the world to limit the potential misuse of this vital technology.

We were pleased to see lawmakers recognize the need to balance these opportunities and risks and to consider what regulations might appropriately protect Washington residents while still allowing the type of innovation that has helped make our region a leader in this and other game-changing technologies.

We applaud the Legislature’s decision to create the AI Task Force, requested by Attorney General Ferguson, insofar as it will include not only elected officials but also representatives of the business community and technology sector. We stand ready to lend our expertise, as a company that has been working on these issues directly for a number of years, to the various subcommittees that will help inform the task force’s deliberations. As we said before the session convened, Microsoft has been and will remain a leader in advocating for the responsible use of AI.

We remain confident that, working together, we can harness the power of AI to create a new age of reason, powered by technology, led by people, and fueled by innovation. Done well, artificial intelligence has vast potential to redefine how technology serves all of us.

Finally, thank you

In closing, we again want to acknowledge the leadership provided by Gov. Inslee over the course of the past 12 sessions, as well as the many contributions made by the legislators from both parties who are retiring or running for new offices. These individuals – and their colleagues who will remain in office – have made many of the decisions that have created an environment for Microsoft, our employees, and our neighbors to thrive.

In a world that is too often divided, one thing that can unite us is our shared commitment to ensuring that Washington and the entire Pacific Northwest maintains its competitive economic and cultural position on the world stage, provides equitable job opportunities, and offers a high quality of life for everyone living here. We will continue to keep those goals in mind as we work with elected officials and other stakeholders in the months and years ahead.

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