Jay Inslee has a dream. The question for Washington voters is whether it has any chance of becoming real.
When asked how to raise money for schools — the $1 billion down payment needed under a Washington Supreme Court ruling — the Democratic candidate for governor said in the Oct. 11 debate, “We do have a secret sauce here, and that is innovation.”
Inslee was saying, in effect, that he would be the innovation governor, helping the private economy grow so fast that the billion for schools would roll in without a tax increase.
Innovation can be powerful over time. Washington has 10 companies on the Forbes list of the top 2,000 companies in the world. Six of those companies didn’t exist 50 years ago: Microsoft, Costco, Amazon, Starbucks, Expeditors International and F5 Networks. Innovation does happen here, and a politician might be excused for calling it “secret sauce.”
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The inexcusable part is for Inslee to imply that “secret sauce” is somehow in a jug on the governor’s desk, and that he has a bigger jug of it than his Republican rival, Attorney General Rob McKenna. But innovation doesn’t come from the governor’s office.
Did Microsoft relocate to Washington in the 1970s to be close to Gov. Dixy Lee Ray? Is the success of Starbucks attributable to Gov. Mike Lowry? Governors can do a few things to create jobs — Gov. Gary Locke was important in keeping the initial Boeing 787 assembly line in Washington — but they don’t create innovation in the private sector.
Inslee has some ideas for helping business, including a parcel of tax credits and a new government agency to promote biofuels. Some of these things would be helpful, but none of them create innovation.
For a political candidate to promise benefits from future innovation that he doesn’t know about and can’t make happen is to engage in wishful thinking. It is to predict that other people will solve his problems, so that he won’t have to disappoint anybody. It is to baby-talk the electorate.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is not running for office, recently said the state needed a tax increase. She said both Inslee and McKenna were wrong in denying this.
McKenna may not be wrong. He would come up with the money by squeezing the non-education parts of the budget and possibly by replacing local school levies with a state levy. The Legislature might not accept this, and his plan might fall short. But it is a real plan. It makes sense and it would get the state much of the way there.
Inslee offers “secret sauce,” which he has no bottle of. In the context of a four-year term, that is not a plan. It is noise and lights, signifying nothing. Regarding Inslee, our Democratic governor is right.