Gov. Jay Inslee moved Washington forward in his first term on education, transportation, saving jobs at Boeing, restitching some safety net programs and improving higher education funding. There is every reason to think he’ll do the same if he holds off a challenge by Republican Bill Bryant and wins re-election Nov. 8.
Bryant is a former Seattle port commissioner who helped forged a cooperation pact between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to better take on global shipping competitors. Bryant grew up near Hood Canal, attended Capital High in Olympia and studied with Jesuits at Seattle University before graduating and starting a trade consulting business.
We find Bryant and Inslee are likable but live on opposite ends of the world politically. That’s on everything from social and labor issues to how to fund K-12 schools in the era of the state Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary case. On big issues, the Democratic incumbent is better aligned with voters’ interests and values.
The challenger is mostly criticizing Inslee’s leadership at several troubled agencies and for the growing urban and suburban homelessness problem.
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But Inslee has led on education, securing bipartisan agreements to increase state investments in public education by roughly $5 billion cumulatively. His budgets boosted mental health programs after the Great Recession. He also signed Senate Republicans’ bill to cut college tuition for the first time, while pushing GOP lawmakers to find revenue to pay for it.
The incumbent also broke a Boeing contract dispute that threatened jet-making jobs in the region. And he secured passage of a bipartisan transportation package that raises $16 billion for fixes to highways, freight corridors and better transit services.
As Bryant tries to convince voters they are worse off under Inslee, the state economy is growing, jobless rates are falling, especially in the central Puget Sound, and tax receipts are growing.
This booming metropolitan economy is fueling a housing crisis. Rural areas remain far behind in job growth. Bryant is assailing the governor over these problems, claiming better leadership is needed; we’re not convinced he can do better than Inslee.
Another criticism of Inslee is that his efforts to make government more efficient and less costly fell short of 2012 campaign promises. Major agencies have had terrible failures. Federal courts have issued orders to improve care for mentally ill people and to expand capacity for handling patients at the state’s largest psychiatric facility, Western State Hospital.
The Department of Corrections miscalculated good-time credit for offenders and prematurely released about 3,000 inmates. This problem originated two governors ago in 2002, but did not come to the executive branch’s attention until December 2015. Two offenders released early stand accused of crimes in connection with two deaths.
The Department of Transportation has also been dogged by the slow-moving Seattle tunnel project begun under a previous governor. The failures by Bertha, the gigantic tunnel-boring machine that got stuck, are epic. But Bertha is moving again, and Inslee has new leadership at DOT.
On another major issue, the K-12 funding problem, Inslee and Bryant differ widely. The Supreme Court in 2012 declared the funding system unconstitutional because of the way it relies on local levies. In effect, rich districts are able to pay teachers higher salaries, while poor districts struggle to buy books and get the best talent. The answer is reducing levies and boosting state investments.
Unfortunately, Bryant wants to dodge the next bullet. He suggests the phase-in of $3.5 billion in new state investments can be stretched past the court’s 2018 deadline.
One GOP-sponsored idea, which could cost $700 million a year more, reduces local levies and replaces them by raising the state property tax rate. Yet Bryant is arguing against raising new revenues.
Inslee thinks the state property tax can help offset some of the local levies, but that other revenue is needed to finish the job. In the past, Inslee suggested everything from a tax on carbon emissions to a capital gains tax on investor windfalls above $25,000.
That brings up another reason to back Inslee. He takes climate change seriously and favors government action to curb greenhouse gases; Bryant prefers private sector approaches that are falling short of the state’s emissions targets.
Similarly, Inslee wants to raise the minimum wage floor; Bryant wants to leave it strictly to local governments.
Electing Jay Inslee is the better way to keep Washington moving forward responsibly in 2017.