Here’s a look at where Gov. Jay Inslee and challenger Bill Bryant stand on some of the issues facing the state.
OLYMPIA — Both Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his GOP challenger, Bill Bryant, have largely treated the campaign season as a referendum on Inslee’s first term.
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Arguing for re-election, Inslee points to Washington’s Seattle-driven booming economy, and cites the passage on his watch of a statewide transportation package and increased education spending.
GOP challenger Bill Bryant has painted a far darker picture of the state — and of Inslee. Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, has used troubles at some state government agencies to attack Inslee’s management skills. The past 12 months have revealed the mistaken early releases of prisoners from the state Department of Corrections, problems with a new tolling system and long-simmering problems at Western State Hospital, Washington’s largest psychiatric facility.
But where do the two candidates stand on the issues?
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Neither Inslee nor Bryant has proposed a detailed plan on how they’ll tackle the politically tricky and potentially expensive task of fully funding K-12 teacher salaries.
A solution to that problem — part of the state Supreme Court’s education funding order known as the McCleary decision — could cost about $3.5 billion every two years.
Inslee has said he’s waiting for data from an education-funding task force before he — if re-elected — releases a plan in December. In their third debate last Wednesday, Inslee said a mix of strong revenue growth, some sort of levy swap and the closing of tax exemptions could solve the problem.
Bryant proposes to generally boost funding for public schools and teachers by increasing the amount of tax revenue that Washington dedicates to education — something the state has been doing in recent years.
He has called for a review of state programs to free up existing tax dollars for education and other needs. Making decisions on any program cuts would be “premature” before a full review, however, said Bryant campaign spokesman Jason Roe.
The GOP challenger has also suggested that the way the state funds education may need to be overhauled. Bryant has said Washington should look at how Massachusetts funds its public schools.
Four years ago, Inslee ran against tax increases, even vowing to veto new taxes. He broke that pledge in 2014, proposing a capital-gains tax aimed at the wealthiest taxpayers.
This year, Inslee is not ruling out raising taxes. He says he’d first look to economic growth to raise money for schools and other needs. He’d also seek to close certain tax breaks he says are outdated, such as one benefiting oil refineries. If that’s not enough, Inslee says he’d look again to a capital-gains tax, arguing it’s a better option than raising property or sales taxes.
Bryant opposes a capital-gains tax, saying it would be too volatile to rely on for funding schools. He has downplayed the need for general tax increases, but says he’d be open to raising property tax rates in wealthier school districts — while lowering them in poorer districts — as part of the McCleary solution. In their third debate, Bryant also said he’d be open to closing tax exemptions to raise revenue.
Both candidates say they’d oppose a state income tax. Inslee has declined to say whether he’d veto one if it reached his desk, saying that’s an unrealistic scenario.
In their first debate, Inslee said he wants to provide paid family leave so people can better balance work and family life.
The governor also has said that continuing to invest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, as well as training and apprenticeship programs, is important to boost people’s job prospects. The governor also wants to continue the work of the State Trade Expansion Program, which helps small businesses access global markets, and the state Clean Energy Fund, according to Inslee campaign spokesman Jamal Raad.
Bryant has blamed government regulations for stifling business growth, and the GOP challenger has said he’d order a temporary moratorium on new regulations. He also, among other things, has vowed to fund more workforce development programs for high school students and invest more in boosting the tourism economy.
Inslee supports Initiative 1433, the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that would raise the state minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020, while also guaranteeing workers paid sick leave. Inslee says nobody can live on the state’s current minimum wage of $9.47 an hour. He also argues boosting wages will help businesses as workers would have more money to spend.
Bryant opposes I-1433, saying it could harm small businesses and workers. In a debate last month, he said he favors raising the minimum wage in higher-cost regions. But he compared a “one-size-fits-all” minimum-wage increase to “playing poker blindfolded with other people’s jobs.”
With growing concern about oil-train accidents and spills, Inslee in the first governor debate cited work on a bill passed last year to improve oil-train safety. He also called for better inspections of tracks, reduced speeds for some trains and better braking systems.
Bryant wants to see more regulation on the length of oil trains, as well as increased staffing on trains and more frequent inspections, according to Roe, the campaign spokesman.
After seeing his cap-and-trade plan to cut carbon emissions stall in the Legislature, Inslee used his executive authority to create regulations that would cap emissions from large carbon polluters, such as oil refineries. Such emissions are blamed for contributing to global warming.
But Inslee says he opposes Initiative 732, a separate carbon-tax measure on the November ballot, due to concerns about its impact on the state budget.
Bryant, who in a recent Facebook post said he wants to reduce the state’s carbon emissions, hasn’t issued a plan of his own plan, but has criticized Inslee’s carbon cap regulations, arguing they will raise energy prices and cost jobs. He also opposes I-732.
Bryant has made boosting salmon and steelhead populations a big part of his campaign.
Bryant has said he would appoint a secretary to the state Department of Social and Health Services — which oversees mental-health and foster-care services — who would focus on accountability at the agency. He has also called for boosting mental-health services around the state to take the pressure off Western State Hospital, and for making more efficient use of the hospital’s existing resources.
The 800-bed hospital, Washington’s largest psychiatric facility, has suffered from a shortage of staff and security issues, and it is going through an improvement agreement with the federal government. The state Department of Social and Health Services earlier this year quietly withdrew the hospital from a national accreditation program.
Inslee fired Western State’s CEO and appointed a new one after two patients — one of whom had been charged with murder — escaped in April. He has said the state must continue to improve its mental-health system.
Resolving the troubles at Western State Hospital in order to maintain its federal certification and meeting other court-ordered requirements are priorities for Inslee, according to Raad.
With Seattle and other parts of the state grappling with homelessness, both candidates have said that improving mental-health services is needed to reduce homelessness.
Inslee also said the state must make sure more low-income housing is built.
Bryant has railed against a Seattle City Council proposal that would provide more protections for homeless in unauthorized tent encampments targeted for clearing by authorities.
The GOP challenger has proposed a plan that, among other things, includes zero tolerance for camping on state Department of Transporation lands and better coordination between local and state agencies fighting homelessness. He’d also withhold state money for homeless programs from cities that allow tent encampments on playgrounds, parks and sidewalks.
Sound Transit 3
Inslee has endorsed the $54 billion transit expansion known as Sound Transit 3 that voters in Seattle and the surrounding region will decide upon next month.
Bryant has said he opposes the proposal, which would add 62 miles of light rail, additional park-and-ride spaces, Sounder trains as far south as DuPont and bus-rapid transit for Interstate 405 and Highway 522.
Assault weapons ban
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson in September proposed a statewide ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Inslee, who while in Congress supported a federal assault-weapons ban that later expired, has said he supports Ferguson’s idea in concept.
Bryant has said he would have to wait and see how “assault weapons” are defined before deciding whether to support such a measure. In a June interview with The Seattle Times, Bryant said he didn’t support a return of a federal assault-weapons ban.
In their third debate, Bryant said he didn’t believe a governor should choose which laws to enforce or not enforce. “So as long as it is the law in Washington state, I will enforce it” as governor, Bryant said.
But Bryant is personally opposed to the death penalty, and “if the Legislature passed a repeal, he would sign it,” Roe said.