Inslee delivers Inaugural short on specifics
by John Stang
A lot of rhetoric. Very few details.
That's what came out of both new Gov. Jay Inslee's inaugural speech Wednesday in the state Capitol and the Republican legislators' response to it.
"Our top priority today, tomorrow and every day for the next four years is jobs," Inslee said.
Inslee mentioned the same points as he did on the campaign trail. He wants to focus on job creation in the aerospace industry, life sciences, military, agriculture, information technology, clean energy and maritime trades. He also proposed research and development tax credits to young companies that they could sell to older firms if that is advantageous.
Other points that Inslee mentioned — with no accompanying details — were improving Medicaid coverage, implementing Obamacare, passing the Reproductive Parity Act and improving education. The Reproductive Parity Act would require health plans that cover maternity care to also cover abortions.
Inslee also stressed climate change and the fact that Washington's coastal waters are increasing in acidity, which has begun to harm Washington's shellfish industry. That increased ocean acidity is a result of acid rain and global warming, according to a panel of ocean and biology researchers, business interests plus Republican and Democrat legislators appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire.
"On climate change, we have settled the scientific controversy," Inslee said. "What remains is how we respond to the challenge. Now I know Washington can't solve this global problem alone. But we must embrace our role as first responders, as our children's health is in clear and immediate danger."
Inslee also touched on gun control — a hot subject in the aftermath of high-profile mass shootings in Seattle, Carnation and Lakewood in recent years.
"Any failure to address the issue of violence in our communities and our schools will be intolerable, and in the coming weeks I will work with the Legislature to address this crisis responsibly. I don't have all the answers," Inslee said.
An unveiling of Inslee's first budget proposal — which would highlight his specifics and priorities — has not been scheduled yet.
"There were a lot of nice things said today. But it was awfully short on details," said Republican Senate Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
The Republican leaders praised Inslee's emphasis on jobs, saying that is also their top priority. The Republicans stressed removing numerous regulations as the key to job growth.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, criticized Inslee targeting specific industries for extra help in job creation, saying that is unfair to the non-targeted businesses. "We still have the mentality in Washington to pick winners and losers," DeBolt said.
Meanwhile, Republicans have been staunch defenders of preserving tax exemptions for specific types of businesses — almost always refusing to remove any tax exemptions. When challenged on how a tax exemption is different from Inslee targeting certain industries for help, DeBolt contended tax exemptions are fairer and broader in scope than Inslee's ideas for growing certain business sectors.
The Republicans — who control the Senate with the aid of two allied Democrats, Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch — agree with Inslee that taxes should not be increased. Inslee is more amenable to examining closing some tax exemptions.
The Republicans' plan in the House and Senate is to fund K-12 education first — because of the Washington Supreme Court ruling requiring extra money — and then tackle the budgets for other state services. Republicans contend that education funding can increase with no tax hikes, while preserving programs for medically and socially vulnerable Washingtonians.
Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the new chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, noted that the state's operations budget — the largest single part being K-12 education — is expected to grow from roughly $32 billion in 2011-2013 to roughly $34 billion for 2013-15. "We've got more money, and we've got more money for education," Hill said.
However, Republican leaders said Wednesday they are still working on the details and need more feedback before offering specifics on how they could accomplish that goal. At a yet-to-be-determined date, the Republican-oriented Senate budget proposal will be released before the House's majority Democrats unveil their budget plan.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders were skeptical of Inslee's push on climate change matters. DeBolt argued that scientists still dispute factors in global warming. "There's still a lot of debate about patterns and shifts," he said.
Republicans will also oppose the revival of the Reproduction Parity Act Parity Act, which died last year in the Senate. Earlier this week, Sens. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, introduced a revived bill. If the 24-Democrat-minority remains united and Litzow sticks with the bill, it would have the 25 votes to pass on the Senate floor, if it makes it out of the Republican-controlled Health Committee and the Republican-Tom-Sheldon-controlled Rules Committee. But Senate rules allow 25 votes to bring a bill to the full floor regardless of what happens in the committees; Republicans used the same rule in last year's budget battle.
Supporters and opponents of the Reproductive Parity Act disagree whether such a state law would jeopardize federal health care funding because the state would discriminate against insurers who object to abortions. Both sides are interpreting the same federal law differently.
On another issue, Tom, who is the majority leader of the two-Democrat-23-Republican Senate alliance, is recommending that the Guaranteed Education Tuition program (GET) be eliminated as a budget trimming measure. Democrat legislative leaders oppose that option. The GET program allows families to pay for state university tuitions in segments years in advance of a child actually attending college, with the program — not the child's parents — compensating for increased tuition.
On Wednesday, Schoesler said: "We've made no decision on eliminating it."