Jay Inslee and his staff are really upset that media outlets across the state are calling the 2015 legislative session for what it was: a win for the taxpayers of the state and for the Senate Republicans who made sure Inslee didn’t get his way on raising taxes. Inslee’s staff is particularly upset with the Seattle Times for applauding GOP state Sen. Andy Hill’s leadership in delivering a balanced, sustainable four-year budget.
Indeed, the criticism Inslee has received versus the attention Sen. Hill has received appears to have unhinged certain members of our green governor’s staff – and not for the first time.
As Shift reported, the Seattle Times’ Jonathan Martin recently tweeted about Inslee’s “miserable year” in Olympia and attached his article on the subject. Inslee spokesperson Jaime Smith jumped to her boss’ defense with a bizarre accusation. She accused the Seattle Times of gearing up a campaign against Inslee’s 2016 re-election bid.
Smith isn’t alone in her de-railed reaction to reality. David Postman, a former Seattle Times reporter and current Executive Director of Communications for Inslee, sent out a press release calling out his former employer for daring to write favorably about Sen. Hill. Postman wrote,
“Unfortunately none of these facts were reflected in the Seattle Times’ Sunday story where reporters declared Sen. Andy Hill a star. The Times had in its possession the spending data that would have disproved a key thesis of its story, but for some reason chose not to mention it. The reporters didn’t ask for any comment or input from our office and made no effort to check assertions about the budget negotiations with our staff that were in those negotiations.”
The “key thesis” of the Seattle Time’s story that Postman takes issue with is that the budget debate was about “how much money to spend and what to spend it on.” And, Democrats—specifically Inslee—lost that debate, and big time. In an attempt to prove his point, Postman provides a link to “updated documents on the governor’s budget priorities, showing which items were included in the final operating budget.”
The “updated documents” detail how Inslee supposedly won out on key budget priorities, specifically K-12 education and mental health. Conveniently, Postman does not mention the fact that these issues were common ground between Republicans and Democrats from the beginning of session. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle knew—prior to the start of the 2015 legislative session—that they would have to re-prioritize K-12 education and mental health spending, because the state Supreme Court demanded it.
One could suggest that the only budget priority Inslee and his staff could say they “won” was the pay raise for state employees that Inslee negotiated in secret. However, even that issue wasn’t in much dispute, as Senate Republicans included state worker pay raises in the budget they first passed in April, and only increased the size of those raises in the final budget because of the rising state revenue projections that occurred in May. And, the “win” came at a significant cost for Democrats – they were forced to give up on the one issue they based their entire 2015 legislative agenda on: raising taxes.
Simply put, the claim that Inslee “won” the budget debate is absurd. Postman’s desperate press release essentially begs reporters to willfully ignore the facts in favor of the alternate reality Inslee and his staff appear to be living in.
The inescapable reality is that, even prior to the start of the 2015 legislative session, Inslee championed three priorities: a state income tax on capital gains, a cap-and-tax scheme and a gas-price raising fuel mandate. The first two, Inslee presented in his budget proposal. The third, Inslee had taken significant steps (even organizing a task force) in preparation of implementing by executive order.
Inslee based “we must raise taxes” message on the claim that a state capital gains income tax would make Washington State’s tax code fairer. During his State-of-the-State speech, Inslee said his budget introduced revenue proposals that would address what he insisted was the “nation’s most unfair tax system.” Among the ways Inslee proposed to implement a “fair” tax system is through a new income tax on capital gains – which would have made Washington the only state without a general state income tax to put a tax on capital gains.
Inslee relentlessly billed a capital gains income tax as the answer to Washington State’s non-existent budget woes. He insisted that the tax would generate nearly $800 million during the next budget cycle in order to fund state employee pay raises. By June, Inslee was forced to back down on his state capital gains income tax. Senate Republicans won the argument that Sen. Hill had made clear in January when he said the budget deficit the Democrats were claiming was a “myth”, burdening our state’s working families with more taxes is unnecessary and excessive.
Inslee’s push for his cap-and-tax scheme was a bit different from his capital gains income tax, because—try as he did—he failed to even gain enough support from his fellow Democrats. Throughout the legislative session, Inslee relentlessly championed his dubious cap-and-tax scheme. When he first rolled out his budget in December, Inslee revealed that he believed his extreme green agenda took precedence over achieving a state budget in an email to supporters.
The email reads, “This is bigger than just one year’s budget. This is about moving our state in a new direction, and I need your help to get there.” On January 27, 2015, Inslee sent another campaign email for the purpose of garnering public support for his cap-and-tax scheme in the Legislature. The email charged recipients not to let the opposition—i.e. Republicans and taxpayers concerned about their wallets —“stall our progress.”
Inslee tasked lawmakers with reconsidering his cap-and-tax scheme prior to the start of the special session, even though the Democrat-controlled state House refused to even vote on it during the regular session. An email to supporters lists taking action on reducing carbon pollution via a cap-and-tax scheme as one of Inslee’s top priorities for what turned out to be just the first special session.
Like his previous efforts, Inslee failed to even produce a cap-and-tax vote for the three special sessions which followed – a key priority ignored by the Democrat-controlled state House, even though the Senate had promised to give the bill a hearing if it passed the House.
As for his fuel mandate, the plan was—and likely still is—at the forefront of Inslee’s entire extreme green agenda. The seriousness of Inslee’s fuel mandate plans first gained attention when, in 2013, Inslee signed a climate reduction agreement with his partners in the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC), which include the governors of California and Oregon, and the British Columbia Premier.
A Shift investigation revealed Inslee’s true intentions for his PCC agreement. Our green governor promised his partners that Washington State would establish a fuel mandate by “administrative rule” (a.k.a. an executive order) in “Q1 2015.” It became perfectly obvious during the 2015 legislative session that Inslee was pushing to ensure the state Legislature did not block his ability to implement a fuel mandate by executive order (which the state Senate planned to do with a consumer protection provision in the transportation plan it passed in March).
Ultimately, Inslee was forced to accept a blow to his ability to bypass the state Legislature and implement a fuel mandate by executive order. Perhaps the most important aspect of the final transportation package was that it included the all-important consumer protection provision written by Senate Republicans. It meant that if Inslee attempted to impose his extreme scheme by executive order, the money spent on things he really likes, such as transit and bike paths, will be moved back into the main transportation account.
Of course, as our nation’s “greenest governor,” Inslee has not given up on his fuel mandate hopes and dreams. According to new reports, Inslee’s office has “signaled he is still considering moving ahead on a low-carbon fuel standard.” In other words, Inslee is so dedicated to his fuel mandate that he is willing to sacrifice funding for pedestrian safety, bike lanes, and transit if it means avoiding a legislative vote on his gas-price raising fuel mandate.
The reality is that Inslee has struck out on all of his top priorities. No one – not even his fellow Democrats – respected or wanted our green governor’s top priorities. Unfortunately, he is not willing to accept reality and his staff is willing to become completely unhinged on his behalf to argue about it. And, that’s a problem, because now Inslee appears ready to take a gamble on implementing a fuel mandate to prove the worth of his leadership.
As Shift recently put it, if Inslee does choose to move ahead with his fuel mandate, he will prove once again that he is just a hyper-partisan, rather than the state’s leader. He will prove that he cares more for his extreme agenda than anything else. He will prove that he really is our nation’s “greenest governor.”
Here’s hoping that, at the very least, Inslee’s staff joins us in reality and prevents him from proceeding with his ill-conceived attempt to prove his worth as a governor. It will save them from sending out another embarrassing press release on the topic.