By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Washington residents can expect the next governor will push to raise billions of dollars for transportation improvements and probably ask for an increase in the state gas tax.
On Wednesday, the leading Republican and Democratic candidates for governor each said they hoped to put a transportation ballot measure in front of voters within their first two years in office.
Only one, Republican Rob McKenna, said with certainty that an increase in the gas tax, along with tolls and other revenue sources, will be part of the package he’d like to deliver to voters in 2013 or 2014.
“I’m not going to hedge here,” McKenna said at a morning forum in Seattle sponsored by real estate developers and conservationists.
Democrat Jay Inslee said he’ll propose a “suite” of ways to pay for projects but declined to say whether user fees, tolls and gas taxes definitely will be included.
“They are all possibilities. We need to look at every tool in the tool box,” Inslee said. “It is premature to talk of any of these tools.”
Wednesday morning’s gathering marked the second joint appearance of the campaign for Inslee and McKenna though they were not on stage together the whole time.
At Inslee’s insistence, each candidate appeared alone with moderator Chris Sullivan of KIRO radio (97.3 FM) to answer questions on the budget, transportation and reducing partisanship in the running of state government. Both then joined the moderator on stage to answer questions from the audience.
Afterward, McKenna called it “odd and awkward” not to be seated together the entire event. “I just don’t understand that,” he said.
The issue of transportation arose several times.
Both candidates have said a ballot measure is needed sooner than later. While McKenna had previously said his goal was to act in his first two years in office, Inslee, until Wednesday, had not indicated how quickly he would move.
Neither candidate Wednesday estimated how large a package they’ll pursue. They each said it needs to generate enough dough to pay to fill potholes in local streets, build state highways and expand bus service in communities across the state.
McKenna said he would not move forward until there is clear support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and interest groups historically engaged in transportation matters.
“You have to build consensus,” McKenna said.
Inslee said he’d propose a package “when we build trust with the voters” that money raised will be spent as promised.
Other areas of agreement and disagreement emerged Wednesday.
Both support amending the state Constitution to permit tax-increment financing, which is a means of using public funds to spur redevelopment of economically blighted areas. This method, already allowed in most states, enables increases in tax collections in designated regions to be spent solely within those areas and not parsed out to coffers of the state, schools and special districts.
Both also expressed a desire to promote construction of affordable housing throughout the state. They also said that they’d like to fund the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition as much as possible given the poor fiscal health of the state budget.
They disagree about publicly funded charter schools. McKenna backs them as another option for parents whose children are stuck in poorly performing schools. Inslee didn’t state his position on charter schools but focused instead on elements of his education plan, including getting bad teachers out of classrooms.
And they differ on constructing light rail along I-90 across Lake Washington. McKenna opposes it, though he didn’t say anything about it Wednesday.
Inslee champions it and said so more than once during the forum.
“I cannot understand folks who do not want to move forward on this investment,” he said.
Not much of the forum dealt with funding for public schools. Both candidates did say that they have plans to free up additional dollars by trimming state spending in other areas and revitalizing economic growth.
“The reason we have fallen off a cliff in revenues is that we have 300,000 people out of work,” Inslee said.
McKenna said he’d pursue steps to make Washington a less-expensive place to do business. He also called for revising the budgeting process for state agencies.
“If state government were a charity, you probably wouldn’t want to donate to it because costs and overhead are too high,” he said.
Wednesday’s forum was sponsored by NAIOP, an association of commercial real estate developers; Forterra, formerly the Cascade Land Conservancy, and Enterprise Community Partners, which helps finance the building of affordable housing.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.