OLYMPIA — Washington state lawmakers return to work with the kickoff of the 2020 legislative session Monday and Gov. Jay Inslee’s State of the State address Tuesday.
With his presidential campaign behind him, and a run for a third term as governor now on his calendar, Inslee sat for an interview, which has been edited and condensed for space.
Q: It seems like elected officials on both sides of the aisle agree that homelessness and housing affordability is a problem. But Democrats tend to talk about boosting funding for affordable housing and strengthening protections for renters. And Republicans talk about building more private housing. How do you find middle ground in that?
A: I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment that there’s a partisan divide on this. We’ve got to do both. We need more affordable housing, we need immediate shelter relief, we need more permanent long-term housing, we need mental-health-care services that are more available. We need to get on top of the opioid crisis, we need better funding on my career-connected-learning and worker-training programs. We need more housing of all dimensions. We’ve got to build more housing in the state of Washington.
And we’re simply not building enough housing, and as a result we have a housing shortage. And as a result, rents have gone up. And as a result, the people on the lower end of the income bracket fall off the ability to pay for rent.
Q: Unlike your recent budget plans, your proposed 2020 supplemental budget would raise no taxes and instead relies on money from the state’s “rainy day” fund to pay for a plan to cut homelessness. What was your thinking on that, and did the passage of the car-tab reduction measure Initiative 976 and the rejection of nine of last year’s 12 nonbinding tax advisory votes influence you?
A: No, it’s just that taxes are not the end, they’re a means to the end. And we found ways to accomplish our goals without the necessity of them. It’s because we found a way to finance the services that we think Washingtonians need and want, without proposing new taxes. It’s pretty simple.
Q: If the impacts of climate change are as serious as projections, why didn’t you propose something more ambitious this year than a low-carbon standard for some transportation fuels? Why not push for a carbon cap-and-trade program, or a carbon fee, as you have in the past?
A: I don’t actually accept that a cap or fee would be more ambitious. I just don’t agree with that assessment.
Q: Why not?
A: Because the proof has shown that the clean-fuels standards can be as or more productive than a cap-and-trade system. Our evaluation of the California experience is that their suite of transportation projects they have now, including a clean-fuels standard, are as good or better than just a cap-and-trade portion of that.
This is an absolute, non-tax-based requirement for this industry to respond to the needs of citizens. Now we’re also proposing a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) requirement. California has a ZEV mandate, been very successful. We have said that we ought to be driving a quarter of our cars (as zero-emission), that the industry ought to provide us that by 2025 and ramp it up over time. But I also believe that it is much more likely to pass the Legislature, as well.
Q: What do you say to people who feel that a low-carbon fuel standard effectively amounts to a gas tax?
A: A penny, a penny, and it could go up over time, over time. [A California state study of its fuels standard implemented in 2010 shows it may have raised the price of gas by up to 9 cents per gallon over several years.]
But it is de minimus compared to a Washington state that is unrecognizable. And I believe Washingtonians would rather have air so their children don’t get asthma, forests that aren’t all burned down, water that isn’t so acidic and hot that salmon literally cannot survive. I believe people would rather pay a penny. But it is not a direct tax, I want to make that clear. Because the industry wants to continue to lie about this. It’s not a revenue generator for the government. Now, this is not going to solve all of the problems of the world, but it’s going to be our contribution to that effort.
Q: Concerns have emerged about the quality of health care in prisons operated by the state Department of Corrections, including the deaths of inmates due to inadequate medical care. Do you have confidence that DOC is doing enough to fix those problems?
A: I think we’re in the process of improving that. It has been very disturbing to me that there have been lapses in health care of incarcerated individuals. The department has responded, I think, appropriately to those, including removing from service some of the medical personnel who did not live up to our expectations.
We have engaged the services of some consultants to improve our process of data reporting to make it more timely, so there’s quicker response to some of the information. We’ve been working closely with the ombudsperson, who has come up with a couple suggestions as well. We were not satisfied with the care that has been provided to a couple of these individuals. This was not satisfactory in my view, not satisfactory legally.
This is an important obligation we have to incarcerated people, doesn’t matter what their past has been.
Q: Proposed privacy regulations last year for consumer data and facial recognition stalled at the Legislature, partly due to concerns that it didn’t go far enough to restrict facial-recognition programs. Do you expect lawmakers can find agreement this year, and what do you need to sign a bill?
A: The bill last year was one I supported, so I continue to support that position. I have an open mind on some of the facial-recognition issues. We have a fair chance of coming into a definition of what that may be. Where we don’t want facial recognition to be used for discriminatory purposes, we don’t want it to be used for massive data sharing across multiple platforms. But there might be places for security reasons, where it is appropriate. So coming out with those definitions of different circumstances … I think there’s a fair chance we’ll be able to do that.