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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Inslee sells vision for a better Washington

The Columbian
Published: December 16, 2023, 6:02am

He is a lawyer, an author, a former congressman and now a three-term governor. But if none of those career paths had worked out for Jay Inslee, he likely could have been a salesman.

Of course, being a salesman is not all that different from being a politician. You need a strong belief in your product and a strong ability to convince customers (or voters) that their lives will be better if they buy that product.

All of which was on display Friday as Inslee met with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. He was in town for some event or another and stopped by to sell the merits of his proposed supplemental budget.

That is something that governors do. Each December in Washington, the governor presents a budget proposal for legislators to consider when they convene the following month. And after going public with the proposal, the governor then makes the media rounds to promote a vision for how to collect and spend taxpayer money.

Whether or not this has an impact is difficult to say. Years ago, when a different governor was in office, a local legislator posted an online comment about the proposed budget: “And then it went straight into the wastebasket.” And that was a member of the governor’s own party.

The point is that lawmakers come up with their own priorities and their own agendas — as they should. Governors (and presidents) are there to promote ideas, not dictatorially implement them.

But speaking with Inslee on Friday was a reminder of why he has earned the sobriquet “Sunny Jay” — sometimes as a compliment, sometimes as a criticism. Washington is the best state in the history of states, in his mind, and the problems it does have can be fixed by hard work and government-driven initiative.

And so Inslee has proposed an updated budget calling for $70.9 billion in spending over two years. There is increased funding for behavioral health, fighting fentanyl and an opioid epidemic, and combating homelessness.

“This will continue very, very, very intense efforts” from recent years, he said, specifically regarding mental health care in the state.

It also will continue a sharp increase in state spending. The biennial state budget when Inslee took office in 2013 was $32 billion. Adjusting for population growth and inflation, that budget would be $49.3 billion today; instead, it is 44 percent higher than that.

But here is the part that gets lost in the numbers: It is working. Washington routinely ranks among the states with the best economy in the nation, according to people who follow such things. And in its latest rankings, U.S. News and World Report assessed Washington as the second-best state overall.

“We were ranked No. 1,” Inslee said, “and then we had a precipitous drop, all the way to No. 2. I want us to get back to No. 1.”

Which likely has critics rolling their eyes. But naysayers would be wise to recognize that Inslee has won the past three gubernatorial elections by increasing margins.

All of which brings us to one of the more controversial policies of Inslee’s first 11 years in office: the Climate Commitment Act, which has increased state revenue by making polluting industries pay for carbon emissions.

Critics say those costs are passed along to consumers, and a measure to overturn the act has qualified for the 2024 ballot. Inslee counters by saying: “That money is not going to Houston as profits for the oil companies. We’re recycling it to the people of Washington. We have $150 million in credits for utility bills. We are helping with insulation of homes and heat pumps and solar panels. This is helping the people of Washington financially in a way that is also helping with climate change.

“We’re in a race against climate change. All the things we were concerned about are happening faster than we expected.”

You might not buy that such things are the proper role for government. But if you’re in the market, the odds are that Jay Inslee can talk you into buying some solar panels.

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