Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant didn’t shed much new light Thursday on their positions on topics like climate change, taxes and raising the minimum wage.
But it was the first time the two candidates appeared together to share those views in Pierce County, speaking to a crowd of about 2,000 people at a forum hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition at the Tacoma Dome.
As of now, the candidates for governor aren’t scheduled to face one another again in Pierce County, the state’s second most populous, before the Nov. 8 election.
Organizers gave each candidate a welcoming lei of paper flowers, and the candidates wore them on stage during the forum.
During the 40-minute face-off, Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, reiterated his stance that raising the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 an hour could harm workers in lower cost-of-living areas outside the Puget Sound region, potentially causing some businesses to cut back employee hours.
Inslee, meanwhile, restated his emphatic support for raising the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 per hour, as well as allowing some municipalities to raise wages even higher.
“It is time we give our families a living wage,” said Inslee, a Democrat, who said there’s nowhere in the state where people can raise a family on the current minimum wage of $9.47 per hour.
Both candidates demurred at first when asked about whether they would support new taxes to help the state comply with a court order to fully fund public schools. The state Supreme Court has ruled the way the state pays for schools is unconstitutional and must be fixed by 2018.
Ultimately, Bryant said he thinks the state can meet school-funding obligations through existing taxes.
He also said the state needs to take on costs that are being borne unconstitutionally by local school districts. Bryant offered few specifics at the forum as to how that would work, but said he wants to see more than half the state budget be spent on education, an increase over current spending levels.
“We can do that with revenue growth,” Bryant told the crowd gathered at the Dome’s exhibition hall.
Inslee in turn said he wants to focus on eliminating tax exemptions for corporations as a way to pay for education obligations, including ending a tax break that benefits the oil and gas industry, something he has proposed before but that has failed to pass a divided Legislature.
During the short forum, Inslee did not address whether other taxes would be needed for the state to solve its remaining education funding problems, a task some lawmakers estimate could cost $3.5 billion over two years.
After each of the four questions asked at Thursday’s forum, translators worked to relay the candidates’ remarks in 27 different languages.
The translation time limited the time Inslee and Bryant could spend responding to questions, but allowed hundreds of people in attendance to hear the candidates’ answers in their native tongue — something the event organizers said was a rare opportunity.
“After hearing from them, they can make up their mind,” said Mitra Dhital of Kent, who translated the candidates’ remarks into Nepali for dozens of people at the forum.