Both Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna told The Seattle Times editorial board that they'll squeeze savings out of state government to put more money toward education, but they clashed over who has the best plan for controlling spending.

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The two leading candidates for governor sketched out a few new details Tuesday of how they’d try to squeeze new savings out of state government to deliver more money to public schools and universities.

In a joint interview before The Seattle Times editorial board, Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna both talked about controlling the cost of state government — and clashed over who had a more realistic plan to do it.

But with both men continuing to rule out general tax increases called for by some education advocates, neither offered a plan for a massive or swift turnabout for schools funding.

McKenna, the two-term attorney general, said he’d seek to limit the growth of most state agencies to just keep up with inflation and population increases.

McKenna said that step could boost funding for colleges and universities by “a couple hundred million” by 2015, and $750 million per biennium by the 2019-2021 period.

“I actually think that is fairly realistic,” McKenna said, noting state government estimates that tax revenue will grow 3.5 percent a year.

McKenna previously has said he’d seek a quicker boost for K-12 schools in light of the recent state Supreme Court ruling that the state wasn’t funding schools adequately.

Both he and Inslee said at their first debate this month that they would try to find an additional $1 billion for K-12 schools in their first budgets.

Some state lawmakers have cast doubt on such promises, saying it’s unrealistic to assume the rest of state government won’t also grow because of increased caseloads and health-care costs.

McKenna’s campaign staff said he would provide more detail about his estimates and assumptions in coming weeks.

Inslee, the former congressman, did not put a specific number on how much he’d try to boost university funding but said, “First, you’ve got to stop the slide.”

Inslee said he was glad to see Democrats in the Legislature halt a Republican proposal that would have cut an additional $74 million from education budgets.

“Going forward, there is no magic wand,” he said, suggesting the best way to increase education funding is to concentrate on job creation.

Education, Inslee said, would have “first claim” on any increased revenues coming to state government as the economy recovers.

Both candidates portrayed themselves as reformers who would shake up the state Capitol and force government to be more efficient.

Inslee previewed a piece of a forthcoming government-reform proposal, saying he would target a segment of middle management in state government that has grown by 1,000 percent since 1993.

Inslee’s campaign later said he was referring to managers hired under a program called the Washington Management Service, which grew from 400 positions in 1993 to more than 4,000 in recent years.

The program recently has been targeted for cuts, but Inslee said he’d cut much more.

McKenna hit back on that idea, suggesting Inslee had zeroed in on that management program because public-employee unions don’t like it.

Inslee said he’d push for state government to adopt “lean management” practices used by private companies such as Boeing.

Although Democrats have controlled the governor’s office for nearly three decades, Inslee portrayed McKenna as the Olympia insider.

If elected governor, Inslee said, he would be in a better position to hire new managers from the private sector, “because I haven’t been down there for seven years having tea with everyone.”

But McKenna said he’d provide a strong contrast to Democratic governors who have been overly generous to public-employee unions that have supported their political campaigns.

“You need a governor that is going to sit across the table from the people he is bargaining with, not on the same side of the table,” McKenna said.

He said he’d push for more state agencies to adopt reforms they’ve been slow to embrace, such as allowing private competition for services such as printing and tech support.

McKenna also repeated his past calls for the Legislature to be able to amend state collective-bargaining agreements with unions — and even suggested perhaps bringing legislators into the contract talks.

Currently, the governor negotiates contracts and the Legislature only has an up-or-down vote.

Inslee opposed McKenna’s idea, saying the governor alone should be held responsible for the contracts.

“The governor ought to be accountable and stand up on his or her two feet and do a tough, responsible deal,” Inslee said, suggesting the Legislature’s involvement might only make the deals worse for the public.

The Times editorial board, which endorses candidates and is separate from the newsroom, ran Tuesday’s interviews, though news reporters and editors were allowed to sit in on the meeting.

Inslee and McKenna also are scheduled to appear at two forums at the downtown Westin Seattle hotel on Wednesday.

The first is an early-morning event sponsored by real-estate and conservation groups. The candidates then will appear at a lunchtime event sponsored by the Rotary Club of Seattle.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628


On Twitter @Jim_Brunner