Capital Newsmaker, Week Five: Gov. Jay Inslee
Every week of the 2013 legislative session, Niki Reading picks the lawmaker who's at the center of the action.
Capital Newsmaker of the Week goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who released his jobs plan on Wednesday, flanked by legislators from both parties as well as the state schools superintendent. The plan, which would put an estimated $120 million toward everything from preventing high school students from dropping out to helping develop jet fuel, was his first chance to silence doubters and grousers—two things that never face a deficit in Olympia.
This week's newsmaker, however, might be more notable for the lack of attention he received. Wednesday's announcement didn't cut the sniping surplus.
This week's newsmaker, however, might be more notable for the lack of attention he received. His jobs plan didn't reframe the debate in Olympia—certainly not on revenue, where some Democrats might have liked some support. As for Republicans, most seemed to scratch their head about the plan to the press, while Rep. Norma Smith (R-10, Clinton), a Republican who joined Inslee for his announcement, is expressing serious concerns about his direction and timing. In short, Wednesday's announcement didn't cut the sniping surplus.
For one, Smith told me that she’s “concerned with the lack of detail in some areas and also the timing of the proposed plan,” since policy bill cut-off is a week from today.
First, the details: To address the more than 300,000 unemployed workers, Inslee divided his job creation policy into five “buckets”—education, healthcare, business climate, clean energy and aerospace. There are 11 bills associated with the package—of those, five aren’t yet available and several are bills legislators had already proposed, with Inslee simply offering his support. Most of the bills have bipartisan and bicameral backing, critical this session, including support from Smith who's the co-sponsor on a bill Inslee rolled out to create the joint center for aerospace technology innovation.
Another bill would address water accessibility for farmers in the Yakima River Basin. Two aimed at education would create a drop-out re-engagement pilot program for a minimum of two high schools and one skills center – the other would create a science, technology, engineering and math partnership that would give the state a grade based on its progress toward creating more STEM graduates. To advance aerospace, Inslee would fund 500 more spots for training programs at community colleges.
The bill that seems to have the largest potential impact would exempt many tech and manufacturing businesses from paying B&O tax for their first two years of operation. The fiscal note on that bill estimates that 1,000 taxpayers would be eligible for the exemption in 2013 and that it would cost about $4 million a year—in other words, those 1,000 new business owners would save an average of $4,000 per year for their first two years of operation.
And an airplane repair tax exemption that Josh wrote about after Inslee rolled out his plan on Wednesday initially looked like a big win for aerospace. Inslee didn’t have specifics at the time about how to gaughe the effectiveness of the proposed tax break, which is intended to jump start private jet repair business in Washington state. The fiscal note simply says: “There is no known taxable activity that will be affected by this proposal.” However, repairs on jets can run an average of $50,000-$150,000 per month. At the 9.5 percent sales tax rate, this could be over $100,000 in tax per year ... per plane.
One immediate problem for Inslee's pitch: As Rep. Smith noted, lawmakers are a third of the way through session, with policy cut-off coming at the end of next week. She also said that while she and her fellow legislators are eager to work with Inslee, “it is important to note that prior to the announcement, Republican and Democrat legislators from around the state have been working diligently together to introduce and move major bills that could advance these goals.”
For example, Republicans and conservative Democrats in the senate have passed one package aimed at cutting costs for business and getting people back to work: Workers’ comp reform; Inslee has already said he doesn’t support that approach.
Aside from showing up late to the party, Smith also said some of Inslee’s climate change goals are “worrisome.”
Another potential hang-up: Unlike nearly every jobs package proposed since the Great Recession in Washington, Inslee’s had no estimate for the number of jobs the plan could create. The numbers that are trickling out don't seem jaw-dropping.
And there’s one more sticky element of Inslee’s plan: Medicaid expansion, which Inslee has repeatedly urged lawmakers to approve. Inslee said in his press conference that expanding care to 250,000 Washingtonians and keeping the state’s rural hospitals afloat while having the federal government foot the bill would be a boon for job creation. While House Democrats are on board for that aspect, MCC-leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina) has only said they’re considering that idea; like his Republican cohorts, he has been skeptical of the impending costs if the feds back out of the pledge 90/10 split.
So, while Inslee's jobs package may not have given the discussion over jobs "a laser-like focus" (one of Inslee's recurring phrases), it does highlight where he could be most influential this session: Navigating a horsetrading deal between Tom and liberal house speaker Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) over Medicaid and workers' compensation—and any other defining partisan issues. Capital gains tax? Gun control? The Reproductive Parity Act?