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Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Rob McKenna, Jay Inslee discuss county's key issues

  • Rob McKenna (left) and Jay Inslee

    Rob McKenna (left) and Jay Inslee

  • Jay Inslee, Democratic candidate for governor.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Jay Inslee, Democratic candidate for governor.

  • Jay Inslee, Democratic candidate for governor.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Jay Inslee, Democratic candidate for governor.

  • Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for governor.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for governor.

  • Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for governor.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Rob McKenna, Republican candidate for governor.

As they travel the state campaigning for governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee mostly yak about how they'll deal with a sluggish economy and underfunded public schools.
But what about a few matters of interest in Snohomish County, as well?
How will they confront the challenges of a financially strapped state ferry system and a mounting death toll on U.S. 2? Here are their big plans, as well as a couple of very local concerns.

Rob McKenna

[Click here to go to Inslee's Q&A]
The Washington State Ferry system is a money-loser. Passengers cover a large portion of operating costs with fares and it still can't pay for itself. What's your solution to make it at least break even?
I don't think the ferry system can ever be completely funded solely with fares. I don't think it has to be. The ferry system is part of the state highway system and obviously the highway system isn't covered entirely by user fees. The ferry system qualifies for gas tax revenues just like the highways do, and that will continue to be the case in the future.
Would you support privatizing the system or creating a regional ferry district and handing control of the system to locals?
The ferries cannot survive as a privatized system. The expense is just too high. What you would end up with is a much smaller set of ferry routes and a much lower level of service. The only way a private operator could make it work is to only operate the most profitable routes at the most popular times of day. That (regional district) idea really never gained traction with anybody outside of the governor's office. I think the benefits were never demonstrated so it's not a direction that I intend to go.
You've said you'd push to get a transportation funding package on the ballot. Will money for improvements on U.S. 2 be part of it?
We're going to put together a major transportation package and bring it out to the voters. U.S. 2 will certainly be a corridor that should be included depending on the desires of local leaders. I'll want to know from Snohomish County leaders what their highest priorities are for such a package.
What would you do to make it a safer road?
I haven't studied U.S. 2 the way I've studied 405 or Highway 167. A way to increase safety, generally, is to create a divided highway where there is enough space to do so. You make other targeted improvements to control speed and reduce the risk of a head-on accident.
Tolling is one idea floated for raising money for repairs. Do you support tolling on U.S. 2?
I don't know if U.S. 2 is a good candidate for tolling. I've frankly never heard that.
Do you believe a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) should be part of the package?
No. The voters have been very clear that they prefer a smaller license tab fee, and I think we need to respect those wishes. I haven't seen a proposal that I'm sold on that would include it. There is some interest in a local option, an MVET for transit. I don't see it being part of the statewide projects funding list.
If voters pass Initiative 1185, it will be the fifth time they've expressed support for requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to raise taxes. Do you think it's time to amend the state Constitution and put the two-thirds requirement in there?
I do. Voters have said repeatedly that this is a safeguard they wish to have in place, and since the Legislature repeatedly ignores the voters' will and overturns the two-thirds, that's the only step you can take that would prevent the Legislature from repealing it in the future.
Would you propose it?
I don't have a legislative strategy in mind for that yet. I'll talk to legislative leaders to see what their view is on that.
Everett wants WSU to be operating a full branch campus in the city by 2020. To accomplish this, the state would need to provide WSU more money and enrollment slots for its Everett operations than elsewhere. Will you commit to using the budget process to help make it happen?
Given that I've come up with a specific funding plan that will increase funding for higher education by a billion dollars above what it would otherwise get by the end of this biennium, then, yes, we should be able to make real progress on establishing a WSU campus in Everett. I'm not sure what you mean by a full campus so I can't speak to that. We should be able to have a WSU presence in Everett by the end of this decade under this financing plan that I've outlined.
You've said one way to free up money for education is by reducing what is spent in other areas. Where's the bloat? Name one department whose budget you know can be cut or one program you know you want to eliminate.
There are a couple strategies to reduce costs. One is to use a competitive process to take a variety of things that the state does and put them out to bid. What that produces is proposals from your own employees who want to keep the work and will do it at a lower cost. Until you go through the competitive process, you don't know which items you are going to bid out and which ones you will keep in house at a lower cost.
A second place where we are going to find money that is specific is in having fewer general government state employees. We're not going to replace everybody that retires. That will be felt across most, if not all, agencies. I've been saying from the beginning that we can do more work with fewer people, and the biggest cost we have is the personnel cost, so that will be another area for savings.
The premise of your question is something has to be cut to free up money for education. What I've actually been saying is that we've got to slow down the growth rate of noneducation spending in order to invest in education.
So you may not need to eliminate any programs?
That's exactly right. I'm not saying we wouldn't find a particular program that we decide is no longer needed. What I'm saying is that you can't let noneducation spending continue to grow so rapidly. My goal is to take the revenue growth above 6 percent and dedicate it to education. It's the only way we can raise education's share of the budget and reverse the trend we've been seeing the last couple of decades is that education's share in the state budget has been steadily shrinking.
Creating jobs in the private sector is a goal of both candidates. How many private sector jobs do you think your administration can create in its first term?
My administration isn't going to create jobs. No governor creates jobs. Jobs are created by private sector job creators in the for-profit and nonprofit areas.
What we have to do is move Washington state off of the top 10 list of most expensive states in which to do business. We can accomplish that with four reforms, starting with unemployment insurance reforms, so we don't have the most expensive unemployment insurance in America or one of the most expensive in America.
Then there's workers comp. We need to join 46 others states and allow competition for industrial insurance which will reduce costs. We need regulatory reform to reduce the heavy burden that the state places on every kind of business from Boeing down to the smallest company. And we need (business-and-occupation tax) reform, which means that over time we need to raise the B&O tax credit so that fewer small businesses have to pay the tax. I don't have a specific dollar target in mind yet because I need to get in and work with the budget staff to see what we could afford and how soon.
The second area we have to focus on is work force. We have an underperforming public school system. Nearly 60 percent of first-year community college students have to take remedial reading or remedial math or both. There is a long list of ways public schools are not producing graduates who are ready for the work force or who are ready for the additional training that will prepare them for the work force.
In your first year, if you know lawmakers will pass one of your bills without making any changes in it, what would that bill be?
It would be a budget which funds education first and puts us on a path toward full funding of basic education. If you mean like a policy bill … it's tough to choose because there are so many things we want to do. There is so much to do after all these years of one-party control of the governor's office. Areas that I would look to for in that type of hypothetical bill that I would get a free pass on would be in all four of those areas I talked about for reform.
McKenna's biography
Rob McKenna is in his second term as the state's attorney general.
His father served in the U.S. Army and his mother was a school teacher. The family arrived in Washington when the young McKenna was a high school student.
McKenna graduated from Sammamish High School then earned degrees in economics and international studies at the University of Washington where he also served as student body president. He earned his law degree at the University of Chicago.
His professional career started at Perkins Coie where he practiced business and regulatory law.
In 1995, he was elected to the Metropolitan King County Council. He won re-election in 1999 and 2003.
In 2004, he succeeded Christine Gregoire as attorney general by defeating Democrat Deborah Senn. Four years later he won a second term, capturing nearly 60 percent of the vote en route to beating Democrat John Ladenburg.
He won the majority of Snohomish County votes in both elections.
McKenna, who turns 50 next week, met his wife Marilyn while the two attended Sammamish High School. They live in Bellevue and are the parents of four children.

Jay Inslee

The Washington State Ferry system is a money-loser. Passengers cover a large portion of operating costs with fares and it still can't pay for itself. What's your solution to make it at least break even?
I consider the ferry system an integral part of the transportation system. It's not some kind of fluffy add-on at the tail end. It is fundamental to the economic health of both sides of Puget Sound, and I don't think we should accept significant reductions in service below what we have now. We are going to have a growing population. We're going to have a more dynamic economy, and I don't think you should accept going backwards when it comes to service. We will be looking in the first biennium for a financing package for some mega projects that we know we have to finance … and I think there should be some opportunities in that effort to find some solutions for at least the capital portion of our ferry system.
Would you support privatizing the system or creating a regional ferry district and handing control of the system to locals?
I don't think that's the best solution, and the reason is I think there's a potential for an inevitable decline in service over time. I recognize those (ideas) might have come in response to the very fiscally challenging time we've had. In coming up with a comprehensive transportation statewide plan, I hope we can move forward as a state rather than Balkanizing the system. I think that's what you end up doing. You end up with separate service levels, and I think this is a statewide asset that needs a statewide solution.
You've said you'd push to get a transportation funding package on the ballot. Will money for making U.S. 2 safer be part of it?
I know how acute the problem is. I will continue to look for ways to make safety improvements on the corridor. We can't say we're going to an immediate segregated road system in the immediate future. I can't give any blueprint for that. I do think we've got to look for ways every time we find a curve with a particular sight intrusion or an area with high crossing deaths to try to find local solutions with some state assistance.
Tolling is one idea floated for raising money for repairs. Do you support tolling on U.S. 2?
I haven't seen proposals like that. I think that's something I would be surprised that the public would accept it on Highway 2.
Do you believe a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) should be part of the package?
I just don't think you can rule things out. I think it's just not responsible to rule things totally out of any particular package. It's going to be difficult enough to develop a statewide plan without ruling things out.
If voters pass Initiative 1185, it will be the fifth time they've expressed support for requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to raise taxes. Do you think it's time to amend the state Constitution and put the two-thirds requirement in there?
We're going to wait and see what the (state) Supreme Court does. My personal belief is, and I am one voter like everyone else, a fundamental tenet of democracy is all of the citizens that I work for ought to be entitled to one vote, not a differential. If you do the math, when you go to a two-thirds requirement you effectively are giving some of our neighbors one and a half votes and the other part of our neighbors one vote. I think they ought to be looked at equally, so I've not supported two-thirds supermajority requirements.
Everett wants WSU to be operating a full branch campus in the city by 2020. To accomplish this, the state would need to provide WSU more money and enrollment slots for its Everett operations than elsewhere. Will you commit to using the budget process to help make it happen?
I want to commit to expand our educational opportunities in the Everett area. This plan and this flight path is ambitious but is one that we ought to try to look forward to. I don't think any governor can make rock-solid promises on timing on proposals like this given our current fiscal condition. I understand the critical need for skilled people in our state and in Snohomish County, and this is a great way to provide it. It would be a goal and it is the right goal for the whole state, not just because I am married to a Cougar.
You've said one way to free up money for education is by reducing what is spent in other areas. Where's the bloat? Name one department whose budget you know can be cut or one program you know you want to eliminate.
Every agency in state government is subject to efficiency improvements by using LEAN management systems. If we bring this constant quality improvement science and embed it in the culture of state government we will find efficiencies in every aspect of state government. I intend to do that and to bring people in from the private sector who've had experience in LEAN.
How does this get the state closer to fully funding education?
We need to do one big thing and three ancillary things. The big thing is to get people back to work. The reason we've hit a fiscal cliff and the revenues aren't there for education is because we've had our revenues fall off a cliff. The reason that's happened is we've had 300,000 people out of work. So the No. 1 job is to get people back to work, create jobs, and that will then create revenues that we can plow back into education, which are so sorely needed.
The three things we have to do on top of that are fully embracing LEAN management system throughout state government. We need to embrace health care reform so we can stop this transfer of money from the educational budget to the health care budget. We've had inflation in the health care budget. We need to reduce that rate of inflation, take those savings and put them into schools.
We need to look at some of the corporate tax loopholes that have just outlived their usefulness and make sure they get voted on a regular basis and take that money and put it into education.
Are there any specific programs you know now you would eliminate?
No. I don't think we should get rid of the state parks. I don't think we should get rid of home health care. I think we can find ways to deliver services in a more efficient way throughout government.
Creating jobs in the private sector is a goal of both candidates. How many private-sector jobs do you think your administration can create in its first term?
A lot more then we have now, and the reason is I'm optimistic about our innovative capabilities if we can help private enterprise and can help small businesses start and expand. We should have a strategic approach built on clusters of industries that we know can succeed. We've got to understand that we're in a competition for every one of these small businesses that might start a whole new industry. That means doing smart things like the 75 proposals that I've proposed that do not involve large government spending but do things that will help small businesses succeed like, I'll just give you one, like allowing an accelerated commercialization of our research and development at our research universities. We do some great research and development at WSU and UW but we have some artificial restrictions on their ability to take that research and build a business out of it. I've got a proposal that removes some regulations that are now inhibiting that acceleration.
In your first year, if you know lawmakers will pass one of your bills without making any changes in it, what would that bill be?
It would be my jobs bill. It consists of 75 very substantive proposals that are tailored to our state. They are not bought in an ideological warehouse somewhere from the left or right. They are tailored for things as discrete as improving our procurement assistance centers. We're like 12th in per capita military activity in the state but we're like 26th in the number per capita of business contracts we get with the Department of Defense. One of my ideas is to improve the procurement assistance program to help small businesses navigate this labyrinth of military contracting so we can get more local contracts with the port in Everett and all of our sites across the state of Washington.
Inslee's biography
Jay Inslee was in his seventh term in Congress when he resigned this year to focus on the race for governor.
A fifth generation Washingtonian, Inslee's father taught in public high schools in Seattle and his mother worked as a sales clerk at Sears and Roebuck.
Inslee graduated from Ingraham High School, earned a degree in economics from the University of Washington and a law degree at Willamette University. He waited tables at Clinkerdagger restaurant in Edmonds as a UW student and worked a summer in the Snohomish County prosecutor's office while attending law school.
After graduating from Willamette, he joined a private law firm in Selah. Inslee's political career began in 1985 as he led the campaign to pass a bond measure to build a new high school in Selah.
In 1988, he was elected state representative. He served two terms then ran and won the 4th Congressional District seat in Congress. He lost re-election to Republican Doc Hastings.
In 1996, after moving back to Western Washington, he ran unsuccessfully for governor. Two years later he ran for Congress and won the seat in the 1st Congressional District, which includes south Snohomish County, which he held until he resigned.
Inslee, 61, is married to his high school sweetheart, Trudi. They live on Bainbridge Island and are the parents of three grown sons and have two grandchildren.



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