Elections

Jay Inslee and Bill Bryant: Where governor candidates stand on the issues

Republican Bill Bryant, left, listens intently to Washington Governor Jay Inslee making a point during the gubernatorial debate at Seattle University on Sept. 26. The two have held three debates.
Republican Bill Bryant, left, listens intently to Washington Governor Jay Inslee making a point during the gubernatorial debate at Seattle University on Sept. 26. The two have held three debates. lwong@thenewstribune.com

Didn’t stay up after the presidential debates to watch Washington’s governor candidates square off on television? Been too busy planning your Halloween costume or following the vitriol in the presidential battle to focus on state races?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

This fall, Republican Bill Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, is looking to become the first Republican to occupy Washington’s governor’s mansion in more than 30 years.

The incumbent, Democrat Jay Inslee, is looking to win re-election to a second four-year term.

Here’s where the two candidates stand on issues that have come up on the campaign trail, as well as during their three televised debates.

Minimum wage

 
Dean J. Koepfler Staff file, 2015

Inslee says nobody in the state can live on Washington’s current $9.47 an hour minimum wage, and is urging Washington voters to pass Initiative 1433, on the ballot this fall, that would hike the salary floor to $13.50 an hour. Inslee also has supported unsuccessful past efforts in the Legislature to boost the minimum wage. Those proposals have faced opposition by Republicans who fear raising the minimum wage would kill jobs and hurt rural economies.

Bryant says the minimum wage needs a boost in some areas of the state, including King County, but doesn’t think a statewide raise for low-wage workers is the right approach. He wants to implement a system similar to the one in Oregon, where a three-tiered minimum wage pays workers more in the Portland metro area and less in rural counties. Bryant says the approach is the best of both worlds and provides help for workers based on the cost of living. He has yet to announce any specific numbers for what the minimum wage should be in any area of the state.

Gun regulation

 
Lee Giles III Staff file

Inslee has endorsed Initiative 1491, which would allow people to petition a court to take a gun away from a person deemed a threat to themselves or others. The governor also backs efforts to end sales of assault weapons in Washington and limit the capacity of gun magazines. Washington has no limit on magazine capacity.

Bryant also supports I-1491 but has been skeptical of calls to ban assault weapons in the state. He said he would need to see the specifics of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s proposed assault weapons ban before deciding his position on it. In the past, Bryant said people should be able to own AR-15 rifles, which Ferguson says he wants to ban.

Death penalty

 
Bruce Kellman Staff file, 2001

Inslee has placed a moratorium on state-sponsored executions while he’s in office. He said he opposes the death penalty partly because of how unevenly it is applied, saying there’s not much logic behind who is sentenced to death versus life in prison. “We’ve got to have a system that is equal,” he said at a debate this month, “And what I’ve found is our death penalty machine, if you will, is grossly inequitable.”

At the same debate, Bryant said he was “very uncomfortable” with the state executing people, but said he would enforce the death penalty unless the Legislature acts to eliminate it in Washington.

“I do not think that a governor gets to pick and choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore,” Bryant said. “So as long as it is the law in Washington state, I will enforce it.”

Taxes

 
Lee Jin-Manap AP file

Both Inslee and Bryant say they oppose a statewide income tax, but they differ on whether they think new tax revenue is needed to meet the state’s obligation to fully fund public schools.

In the McCleary school-funding lawsuit, the state is under a court order to fully fund public schools by 2018. Inslee says existing tax revenues won’t be sufficient to solve that problem. He has talked a great deal on the campaign trail about closing tax exemptions — including one that benefits the oil and gas industry — to help find money to pay for schools.

Bryant, meanwhile, has said the state can boost school spending using growth in existing revenues, without the need for new taxes. He, too, says tax exemptions should be on the table and should be reviewed for closure. Yet Bryant has criticized Inslee’s past proposals to end a sales tax exemption on bottled water and extend a 50-cent tax on beer, both of which Inslee proposed during his first term.

Homelessness

 
David Montesino Staff file, 2015

Because he attributes the rise in homelessness partly to rising rents and stagnant wages, Inslee has emphasized creating more low-income housing units and raising the minimum wage. The governor has also talked about the need to improve mental health and addiction recovery services, and to expand a program that rapidly moves people from the streets into permanent housing.

Bryant said he also supports investing in more permanent housing — including “tiny houses for people who are looking to get back on their feet” — as well as jobs counseling. But he has said there’s a need for better coordination between the state and cities to ensure state homelessness funding is being spent effectively. He wants to ban camping on state lands, and withhold state homelessness funding from cities that allow camping in their public spaces.

Bryant has been critical of a proposal in Seattle to require 30 days’ notice before police can clear out many unauthorized homeless encampments in the city. He says police need to have the authority to go in and clean up camps when necessary.

Inslee hasn’t weighed in on the Seattle proposal, said his campaign spokesman Jamal Raad.

Business regulations

 
David Montesino dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

Bryant says if he is elected, he will impose a moratorium on all new agency regulations while the state works to justify the ones it already has. At this month’s debate, he said business owners are concerned that some of the state’s regulations dealing with water quality and other issues “aren’t based on sound science.” The number of state regulations also has become overwhelming for businesses in Washington, he said earlier in the campaign.

Inslee has criticized Bryant’s approach as one that would halt progress on issues such as creating new safety rules for oil trains, which Inslee said are necessary to prevent an explosion like the one that occurred this year in Mosier, Oregon. In June, Inslee directed the Department of Ecology and other agencies to improve their efforts to prevent and respond to a spill.

Bryant agrees with Inslee about the need to improve inspections, staffing and braking systems for oil trains and the rail systems they travel on. But he said he would rather see the Legislature pass a law implementing those changes, rather than imposing new regulations without lawmakers’ input.

Mental health system

 
Ted S. Warren AP file, 2015

Bryant has blasted Inslee for problems at Washington’s largest psychiatric hospital, Western State. The Lakewood facility has been facing orders from local and federal authorities to improve safety issues and its level of care.

Bryant says he would have better oversight of the hospital and fix longstanding management issues. He wants to audit the hospital’s books before deciding if it needs more money to fix staffing shortages and employee retention problems.

Inslee told The News Tribune’s Editorial Board this month that fixing problems at Western State is a high priority for him. He touted an increase of money for the hospital during his term as a step toward reducing staffing shortages and increasing safety at the hospital — problems that were exacerbated by budget cuts during the Great Recession.

He said the hospital still needs more money for new staff, and there should be more options for patients to have adequate care outside the hospital so they can be released from Western State.

The environment

 
Drew Perine Staff file, 2002

Inslee and Bryant have sparred over what the state should do to combat climate change. Inslee has promoted his administration’s new clean-air rule — which requires large polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over time — as an important step.

Bryant, meanwhile, has criticized Inslee’s environmental policies, saying they could raise the cost of fuel and drive middle class jobs out of Washington without substantially reducing the state’s carbon emissions.

Neither candidate supports Initiative 732, which would create a new tax on carbon emissions in Washington state while lowering other taxes. While Inslee has proposed a tax on carbon emissions before, he said he opposes I-732 because his budget office estimates it would reduce state revenues that could be used to help fund public schools.

Education

 
Peter Haley Staff file, 2015

Neither candidate has introduced a detailed plan to solve the biggest issue facing the Legislature next year: How to comply with the state Supreme Court’s order to fully fund public schools by 2018.

In the McCleary case, the court has said the state must end its reliance on local school district property tax levies to pay teachers and school employees, as those costs are a state responsibility. Some lawmakers estimate that paying those salaries will cost the state an additional $3.5 billion every two years.

One proposal to shift those costs to the state budget is to lower local levies while raising the state’s property tax levy by a proportionate amount, a plan commonly known as a levy swap. Inslee said last week he would consider a levy swap as part of a McCleary solution, but that such a plan wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem, because it wouldn’t put any new money into the state’s education system.

Inslee also said he won’t support a levy swap plan that raises taxes for “half the citizens in the state of Washington,” as he said a plan proposed by Republicans last year would have done.

Bryant said he would like to implement a school funding system modeled after Massachusetts, “where you have an equal property tax across all districts.” Under such a model, Bryant said, the state would supplement or backfill money in school districts that can’t raise as much through their property tax levies.

Bryant didn’t say where the state would find the money to backfill those school districts. Throughout the campaign, he has said the state can meet its obligation to fully fund schools using growth in existing tax revenues, without imposing any new taxes.

Open government

During his administration, Inslee has kept his pledge to not use an exemption that allows the governor to withhold records from public disclosure. In 2013, the state Supreme Court ruled the privilege existed because of the constitutional separation of powers.

In an interview with The Olympian’s Editorial Board in late September, Bryant said he was unsure if he would exercise “executive privilege” to shield records from the public if elected.

Bryant said he has to study the issue more, and look at how Inslee and former Gov. Christine Gregoire approached the privilege. Gregoire denied some 500 record requests during her tenure, citing the privilege.

“I will probably lean on the side of public disclosure,” Bryant said in the Editorial Board interview.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @worenstein

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