In their second debate, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee and his Republican challenger Bill Bryant sparred over taxes, education funding, transportation and the state’s response to homelessness.
But in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at Cascade Mall in Skagit County, gun violence was the first issue the candidates were asked to address.
“I just don’t think that anyone needs high-capacity weapons of war on our street,” said Inslee, who added that the state needs to continue improve access to Washington’s mental health system.
Bryant, a former Port of Seattle commissioner, said he owns a gun and is a supporter of the Second Amendment. But he also said he agrees with background checks, waiting periods and allowing judges to confiscate the guns of individuals deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. On the issue of mental health, he addressed Inslee directly.
“Governor, you have had four years to fix it and you haven’t,” Bryant said.
Throughout the debate at Seattle University, Bryant jabbed away at Inslee’s first-term record while Inslee tried to paint Bryant as out of step with Washingtonians on issues like raising the minimum wage.
In recent weeks, Bryant and other state Republicans have begun to suggest that if Inslee is re-elected he will pursue a state income tax. Both candidates were asked if they would pledge not to support such a tax.
“I am against a state income tax, I do not believe it is right for the state of Washington,” Inslee responded.
Bryant used the opportunity to remind the audience that as a candidate for governor in 2012 Inslee said he would veto any new taxes, but then in 2014 proposed a new capital gains tax.
“I will tell you that I am opposed to any income tax, any new tax on income,” Bryant said. He then tried to get Inslee to pledge to veto any new tax on income, but was cut off by the moderators who said he was breaking the rules of the debate.
On education funding Bryant stuck with his campaign theme that Inslee has failed to resolve the McCleary school funding lawsuit, which has resulted in the Washington Supreme Court imposing a $100,000 a day fine on the state.
“He has failed at the state’s paramount duty and that means he’s a failed governor,” Bryant said.
Bryant, who has not released his own education funding plan, went on to say that if elected he would work over four years to direct 50 to 51 percent of the state budget to education.
Inslee defended his education record and noted that during his first term funding for basic education increased by $2.2 billion resulting in all-day kindergarten statewide and smaller K-3 class sizes.
“Bill won’t even close a [tax] loophole for the oil and gas industry to put into early childhood education and kindergarten and first grade,” Inslee said, referring to a tax break on recycled fuel that he proposed to eliminate.
Traffic and light rail
The candidates also offered contrasting views of how to address the Puget Sound region’s traffic woes. Inslee highlighted a $16 billion transportation investment package passed in 2015. He also offered his support for Sound Transit 3, a $54 billion light rail expansion on the ballot this fall.
“We’ve got to continue in my view providing Washingtonians more access to more options for transportation,” Inslee said.
Bryant said he supports public transit but not Sound Transit 3. He also said if elected he would instruct the Washington Department of Transportation to make reducing congestion its top priority.
“We can engineer--not socially engineer--people to get to work on time and be able to get home to see their families at night,” Bryant said.
Homelessness and heroin
If there was one issue the candidates seemed to agree on, it’s that they’re unsure of Seattle and King County’s plan to create “safe place” sites where heroin addicts could inject themselves. Inslee said he needs to study the idea more. Bryant called it a “tough sell.”
The candidates were also asked what the state should do about homeless encampments following the death of a homeless man in a tent earlier this month in Seattle. Bryant said law enforcement should have the authority to clean out the camps.
“Relegating some of the most vulnerable in our midst to the margins of society by enabling them to live in tents; I don’t think that’s progressive,” Bryant said. “I think that’s cruel.”
Inslee didn’t directly address the encampments, but said the focus should be on increasing the number of low-income units and he said Washington is a national model when it comes to rapid-rehousing of homeless individuals.
“We gotta keep our funding going for homelessness,” Inslee said. “I’m committed to that.”
In some of their sharpest exchanges, Inslee and Bryant clashed over raising the state’s minimum wage. Inslee supports Initiative 1433 on the November ballot to raise the state base wage from the current $9.47 an hour to $13.50 over four years and require employers to provide paid sick leave. Bryant called the governor’s support for that approach “playing poker blindfolded” with people’s jobs. He said if elected he would work with the legislature to come up with a minimum wage hike based on the regional cost of living.
“You can’t live on $9.47 an hour in any city in this state,” Inslee retorted.
An August poll by the Elway Research firm gave Inslee a substantial 48 percent to 36 percent lead over Bryant who has never before run for statewide office.
The debate was sponsored by the Washington State Debate Coalition, a consortium of civic leaders, non-partisan organizations, colleges and universities and media outlets. The gubernatorial candidates will next debate on October 19th at Columbia Basin College in Pasco
The election is November 8th.