Isn't that special: Jay Inslee unveils his top 3 budget priorities

Inslee finally got down to business today about his top priorities for the special session. Does he have the leadership chops to get 'em done?
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Gov. Jay Inslee talks to the media during a Hanford visit.

Inslee finally got down to business today about his top priorities for the special session. Does he have the leadership chops to get 'em done?

Jay Inslee is ambivalent about grading schools, but he’ll be due for a report card soon.

The Legislature goes into special session this week, a thirty-day window to get the state’s critical business done. And much remains undone, including the budget for the next biennium.

The session is also a kind of finals month for Inslee himself. The new governor, only four months in, will be graded for his premiere performance. Just how is the new guy’s agenda faring? Did he bring things together? Did he get things done?

At a televised appearance at Seattle’s City Club On May 13, Inslee outlined his priorities for the session, essentially laying down the criteria by which he should be judged. There are three topping Inslee’s list.

First is the budget and how to come up with the $1 billion or so to spend on education as mandated by the state Supreme Court. The rub here is coming to terms with the fiscally conservative Senate ruling coalition over tax extensions and eliminating tax breaks. Inslee argues, rather convincingly, that extending taxes on professional service workers like lawyers is good policy since it will result in educating needed engineers and scientists. He says there’s no indication of a lawyer shortage in Washington.

Inslee's next issue in order of importance is a transportation bill which “maintains the current level of infrastructure.” This sounds like a no-grand-schemes plan, at least for the time being.

Third, Inslee, without being terribly specific, wants a bipartisan bill to crack down on drunk drivers. How to get something that works and is funded is key.

Observers have already been skeptical about how much there is to be done in Olympia, and whether it can be accomplished in 30 days. Some legislators have said that the first week of the session will be slow — a kind of hit-the-ground-walking kind of week. Inslee suggested that the two week break between last session and this had not seen any great leaps and bounds in agreement between the various parties, though he says he is learning to use the governor’s mansion in these early months by having lawmakers over to breakfast.

Inslee seems confident the budget will get done, but he is often fuzzy on the details and has yet to project a sense that he is in command in the capitol. His answers to questions, said one political observer, always seem to be “uniquely unsatisfying.” It’s unclear whether that’s a matter of folksy style or a man still working his way up a steep learning curve. Or both.

At City Club, interviewer C.R. Douglas of Q13 Fox asked Inslee who he called on for advice and, after lamely joking that C.R. was always his first call, he basically wound up saying the people of Washington state were full of wisdom and he called on many of them for their expertise. It was a politician’s answer, not an executive’s.

Inslee’s strength is his commitment to a bigger vision, which is that Washington’s number one industry is “exporting intellectual capital.” He says this will play a unique role in helping the world attain a more sustainable future. That, he says, is Washington’s destiny. His belief in a green future is deeply held, and Inslee talks knowledgably about Hanford vitrification and the next generation of lithium ion batteries. He warns darkly about a future in which we continue to dig and burn coal, painting a picture of a Washington state turned into a kind of dystopian wasteland of forest fires, choked rivers and no skiing at Snoqualmie Pass.

Still, one wishes he was more in command of how to break basic budgetary gridlock and get a sustainable budget for the next two years. There’s no doubt Inslee is working for our grandkids, but his first report card will largely be based on the here and now and what we’ll have to live with for the next two years.

For more exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.