McKenna, Inslee face off in Vancouver

Gubernatorial candidates offer views on Interstate 5 Bridge, education and other topics in debate on WSUV campus

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoA debate between Washington gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna, left, and Jay Inslee drew a crowd of 200 to the Washington State University Vancouver campus Wednesday.

(/The Columbian)

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Gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee made clearer their stances on the Columbia River Crossing project during a debate on Wednesday evening at Washington State University Vancouver.

Inslee, a Democrat and former U.S. representative, said he supports replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, and he said light rail extending from Portland into Vancouver must be included on the new bridge in order to secure federal funding.

McKenna, a Republican and the state’s attorney general, said he also wants to see the bridge replaced, but that he is not sure whether light rail is the best public transit option for the bridge.

McKenna also said he would like to have voters decide on a transportation funding package that would include money for the CRC.

“I propose putting (a plan) on the ballot that’s a package that includes money for this project,” he said, adding that the project is too important to jeopardize. McKenna also said Clark County residents are asking good questions about tolling on the bridge, and “I think that until those questions are answered, we need to slow down and make sure we have a plan which is financially sustainable.”

Inslee answered the CRC question next, saying: “It is a national imperative for the economic well-being of this country that we in fact move forward to build this bridge. …This bridge will not be built unless we as a community figure out how to get light rail onto this bridge. It is important for people who want to lead this state to say that.”

Inslee said that Clark County should have ample opportunities to be heard when it comes to the CRC and its impacts on the area, and he touted the project as one that will bring jobs to the region. Following the debate, Inslee said he hopes that if federal money is secured for the bridge, then less money will be needed in tolls.

The candidates also were asked questions about education spending, health care and sales taxes in border cities. The format of the debate allowed for some prescreened questions from residents in Southwest Washington. The debate, which drew a capacity crowd of nearly 200, was broadcast live on KATU TV.

Education

Both candidates said they opposed raising taxes as a way to adequately pay for the state’s education system, especially in light of the state Supreme Court ruling recently that Washington schools are underfunded.

Inslee said his jobs plan will boost the economy and therefore tax revenue, and that a focus on preventative health care will also save the state money in the long run. Those savings and extra revenue will help pay for the education system, he said.

McKenna proposed a 6 percent cap for spending increases on non-education funding during each biennium. That would help the state prioritize its spending and give more money to education.

Border towns sales tax

One citizen question inquired whether either candidate would support easing sales taxes in border cities, such as Vancouver, that compete with cities that don’t have a sales tax, such as Portland.

Inslee said he does not support lowering sales taxes for border communities, because the state needs all the tax money it can get to help pay for education. McKenna also appeared critical of the idea, noting the state’s need for revenue.

“I would be very, very careful about cutting sales tax revenue,” McKenna said.

Health care

The candidates traded jabs following a question about health care. After Inslee said McKenna’s stance on health care reform would prevent breast cancer survivors from receiving health insurance, McKenna shot back.

“My mother had breast cancer,” McKenna said. “I deeply resent politicizing the case of those individual women who are being brought in to score cheap political points.”

McKenna said Democrats’ stance allows the federal government to tell people what kind of insurance they must have, and penalizes them with a tax if they don’t have that insurance.

Wednesday evening’s debate was the second Washington gubernatorial debate this election season. The first one took place in Spokane in June, when neither candidate emerged as the obvious winner, according to several political pundits. In the Aug. 7 primary, which had a smaller voter turnout than what’s projected for the Nov. 6 general election, Inslee received about 47 percent of the vote while McKenna received about 43. Polls have shown a narrower margin between McKenna and Inslee in the race.

Earlier on Wednesday, Inslee spoke at a Rotary Club of Vancouver event, where he outlined his vision for creating jobs in the state through clean energy technologies. He said the state needs to better prepare students for high-tech careers, which often require a focus on science, math, engineering or technology learning.

He concluded his speech by driving home the point that the state must move forward on the CRC.

“Failure is not an option when it comes to this bridge,” he said.

McKenna addressed that Rotary club on Aug. 8.

Columbian staff writer Paris Achen contributed to this report.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com