OLYMPIA — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee said Friday the state doesn’t need new taxes to fulfill its education funding obligations, even though Gov. Chris Gregoire says new revenue has to be considered.
Inslee said in an interview with The Associated Press that he is focused on raising the state’s revenue by encouraging economic growth.
“That is the driving engine of revenue growth for state government,” Inslee said. “The foundational aspect of education funding for the state is getting 288,000 people back to work.”
Inslee also believes the state can free up more cash for education by making government more efficient and curbing health care costs. He was open to examining the state’s tax deductions, but the Legislature earlier this year repealed a bank tax break that Inslee had cited as the one he wanted to remove.
He said he is proposing no new taxes.
That stance seems to put Inslee at odds with other top Democrats, including Gregoire. She said earlier this month that the state should have pursued more revenue for education funding in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling, arguing that the state has to step up because there isn’t “going to be a rainbow pot of gold” to solve the problem.
In the so-called McCleary decision, the Washington Supreme Court determined in January that the state isn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic public education.
“We’ve got the roadmap of what to do,” Gregoire said. “We don’t have a dime to pay for it.”
She added: “We need to do something in revenue to put a down payment on McCleary.”
Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, a top budget writer in the Legislature, said the next budget the state writes will need to find about $1 billion — either in cuts or new revenue. That budget would be signed by the next governor early next year.
The Legislature has created a task force that will examine this year how to properly fund education. Hunter said it’s not clear to him where the state will be able to find $1 billion in cuts, though he didn’t rule it out.
“My personal belief is that it will be very, very hard to do this without additional revenue,” Hunter said.
Inslee’s position on education funding is similar to that of Republican candidate Rob McKenna’s.
Both say they don’t need money for education and want to save money through both efficiencies and health care costs.
McKenna also wants to shrink the state’s workforce through attrition.