Courtesy of Microsoft

Redmond-based Microsoft’s priorities for the 2022 Washington State legislative session that began this week include continued funding for development work on a high-speed rail line between Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Oregon; funding transit projects in the Interstate 405/State Route 167 corridor; strategies for more housing at all income levels; plus education and sustainability initiatives, the company’s government affairs director shared in a blog this week. 

Governmental Affairs Director Irene Plenefisch outlined company priorities in the categories of transportation, housing, education, and sustainability, points of which are condensed below.

Transportation

Washington’s transportation infrastructure has failed to keep up with the state’s rapid growth, Plenefisch wrote, urging lawmakers to make new investments in the state’s transportation infrastructure.

For the rail line, Gov. Jay Inslee has asked for $4 million to support continued work on system governance, financing, route analysis, and community engagement in preparation for construction, she said, also citing an opportunity to leverage federal money. Inslee has requested $50 million to match federal funds that may be available via the infrastructure bill recently signed into law.

Plenefisch called the rail system “a game-changer, allowing the Cascadia region to respond to the growth it is experiencing and positioning it for continued success for generations to come.”

Also a priority: funding for projects to ease congestion in the I-405/SR-167 corridor to improve travel in East King County and provide a major alternative route to Interstate 5 for South King County. These projects were identified for funding in 2019, but the pandemic disrupted plans, she wrote, adding it’s critical to begin the projects as soon as possible.

Housing

The state’s housing supply has not kept up with growth and improving the housing outlook for all Washingtonians will require a comprehensive statewide strategy of strategic investments and innovative public policies to dramatically increase housing units at all levels of affordability, Plenefisch wrote.

Microsoft supports appropriating at least $450 million of Washington’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to acquire existing housing and additional housing units quickly, and to provide funding for increased services for people experiencing homelessness, she said.

“These dollars can have a huge impact in providing both shelters and long-term supported housing options to help thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors receive access to housing and needed services,” she said.

Education

The pandemic has presented massive challenges to students, parents, and educators, she wrote, noting the company also supports investments to provide additional nurses and counselors in schools.

The economic disruptions caused by the virus were far more significant among those with a lower level of educational attainment, Plenefisch added. Recognizing the value of post-secondary education, the evolving state economy, and the need for students to be prepared for the jobs created here, she said Microsoft will continue to support The Credential is Essential initiative launched by the Partnership for Learning. The initiative’s goal is that by the class of 2030, 70 percent of Washington high school graduates will earn some post-secondary credential: an industry certification, an associate or bachelor’s degree or higher, up from about 40 percent today.

Expanding dual-enrollment and credit programs in Washington is one step, she said, noting students who earn some higher education credit in high school are more likely to pursue a post-secondary credential. Supporting students in pursuing post-secondary education is the goal of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS), which Microsoft has long supported. The private sector has given more than $130 million to WSOS, which the state has matched, and more than 14,000 students — primarily from low- and moderate-income families, students of color, and many first-generation college enrollees — have received support to pursue careers in trade, STEM and health care fields, she said. 

“We encourage the Legislature to appropriate $7.3 million to fund the state match of private donations, per the legislation that established WSOS,” she wrote. “We also support HB 1805/SB5797 to align WSOS with the Washington College Grant statute and to ensure equity for rural students through the rural jobs match. Finally, these bills will increase access to WSOS for working nurses, an especially timely enhancement.”

Microsoft also will continue to support efforts in K-12 and higher education to help students acquire computational thinking skills, including supporting development of a statewide strategy for computer science education (CSE), advocating for additional funding to the University of Washington CSE program to expand enrollments, and supporting increased funding for cybersecurity faculty and programs in community and technical colleges, and Washington State University.

“As part of our national partnership to close the cybersecurity skills gap, we hope to make curriculum available free of charge to all public community colleges, provide training for new and existing faculty at 150 community colleges, and provide scholarships and supplemental resources to 25,000 students,” she wrote. 

Sustainability

Microsoft has committed to be carbon negative by 2030 and, by 2050, to remove from the environment all of the carbon it has emitted directly or by electrical consumption since its founding in 1975 — a commitment that means fundamental changes in its business practices, Plenefisch said.

“We are pleased that the leaders in all branches of Washington state government are taking a similarly expansive view on what we recognize as the defining issue for this and future generations,” Plenefisch said. “We will offer our support and expertise as the state implements climate legislation enacted in the 2021 session. We encourage lawmakers to consider new approaches to accelerate clean energy investments, including work on multi-state strategies to decarbonize the electrical grid in a way that serves us all.”