OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee added some specifics to his campaign themes of generating more jobs in key industries, releasing a package Wednesday of tax breaks and spending projects designed to train workers and cut unemployment.
The bills call for more training for future aerospace workers, money for a new research center in alternative jet fuel at Washington State University, a single location for businesses to get information on the vast array of regulations that must be met and permits that must be obtained, and help for veterans. Others in his Working Washington Agenda would push to develop clean energy and electric cars and expand health coverage.
Washington is “the most innovative state in human history,” Inslee said, but it needs to be as dynamic in the coming century as it was in the last.
He plans to release more proposals to increase jobs in the near future.
Republicans in the Legislature said they’d been briefed on some of the governor’s proposals and offered qualified support for those that mesh with theirs, such as faster and easier permits for businesses and more support for science and technology training. But they said they were waiting for more information on other proposals and suggested the clock was ticking on bills.
“We’re extremely close to cutoff,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville.
The last day for hearing a bill in a committee is Feb. 22 if it’s not connected to the budget and March 1 if it is. “If he’s going to run out a 75-point plan, I’d like to see it soon,” said House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt, of Chehalis. That’s a reference to Inslee’s statement during last fall’s campaign that he had a 75-point plan to create jobs.
There were some details of Wednesday’s package that weren’t immediately clear, such as a target for the number of jobs the package of bills would produce for its estimated price tag of $120 million. And there were some clear points of contention, such as Inslee’s assertion that the new programs and tax preferences wouldn’t worsen the state’s budget gap.
The $120 million is more than covered by $141 million in projected savings in medical expenses if the state expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Inslee said. That’s also a jobs decision, because the state will need an additional 10,000 workers to meet the needs of people with new coverage.
But Republicans aren’t yet convinced the state should expand Medicaid under what many call “Obamacare.” In the House, which has a strong Democratic majority supportive of the expansion, that likely won’t matter. But the Senate is controlled by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, and they aren’t sold yet.
Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the coalition was “looking at that very seriously” but members have concerns about future costs and aren’t sure yet there are enough protections for the state. And they still believe the state should find ways to help all businesses, not just key industries. One way to do that, Tom and Republican leaders said, is to make changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system to expand those eligible for voluntary structured settlements. But Inslee has said he doesn’t support making changes at this time to a system for which reforms were negotiated less than two years ago. Inslee also is calling for increased spending on transportation projects, to fix or expand roads and bridges and create jobs.
To raise the money for those projects, the state would need some kind of a tax increase because “there’s no transportation fairy,” he said. The state would have to “find the most reasonable way to fund the package.”
Once it did, the Legislature should make the hard decisions to pass it rather than sending it to the voters, he added.
But Tom said even if the Legislature passed a transportation package, it would likely face a referendum by opponents. “It’s going to the voters … one way or another,” he said.