AFTER his victory was clear Friday night, Gov.-elect Jay Inslee thanked his opponent and declared, “Let’s get to work.” In that spirit, we offer not only congratulations but also some advice.
The former congressman has won by a slim margin with the help of Democratic constituencies that are eager for a tax increase, but he promised not to request one. He has talked about efficiency, innovation and bipartisanship, but has not been clear about what he really means to do.
First, the new governor must embrace an approach that prioritizes education. There can be no more erosion of funding for higher education without imperiling the innovation economy that Inslee promised to expand. With the state Supreme Court’s recent McCleary v. State ruling that the state has failed to adequately fund basic education, he needs to come up with a plan that includes significant reforms. He will also have to continue Gov. Chris Gregoire’s good work on early learning. The whole educational system, serving students from ages 3 to 23, needs to retain its share of the budget and it must run on modern principles of management.
The McCleary decision implies spending for schools needs to increase by a minimum of $1 billion a year. The one idea that starts to tackle this challenge without a billion-dollar tax increase is a bipartisan proposal, called a property-tax levy swap, supported by many education groups. Inslee denounced his opponent, Rob McKenna, for supporting the approach. The governor-elect should reconsider his position.
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Inslee should also reconsider his denunciation of McKenna ‘s support for a gas tax to help solve the dire transportation needs, or quickly come up with another plan. Washington’s competitiveness relies on a transportation system that works. It may be awkward, but it’s better for the winner to steal the loser’s good ideas than be without them.
The budget remains a sobering challenge. But the best course is to blaze a trail to sustainable budgets, work that gained some traction in the last legislative session with moderate Democrats joining with Republicans to force change. More needs to be done. Inslee should continue the work on lean management that Gov. Gregoire started and quickly develop ideas to rein in costs on state health programs. These are good things he discussed in his campaign, but they will not be enough.
Already, Gregoire’s team has reached a set of new labor contracts covering wages, but not yet health benefits. Revenue and caseload forecasts will be released Nov. 14 and 16, and the Office of Financial Management may have to declare the labor package infeasible.
In December, as required by law, Gregoire will release a budget. It is not likely to please Democratic legislators. In the same month, Initiative 1185 goes into effect, requiring two-thirds of both houses or a vote of the people to raise taxes.
Gov.-elect Inslee soon after will have to propose his own budget and may have to say no to some who helped elect him.
Leadership , vision and bipartisanship are critical if our state is to emerge from this great economic reset. Inslee begins with a clean slate . We all win if he brings us the leadership we need.