Professional sports stadiums get a better deal than public schools when supporters need money from taxpayers, gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee said Sunday.
“It’s wrong that you can’t build a high school with 59 percent of the voters’ approval, but you can build a stadium with 50 percent approval,” Inslee said during a forum sponsored by the Washington Vocational Association.
“We need to put schools first, not professional football stadiums in Seattle.”
Inslee was sharing the platform with Republican Norm Maleng, the only other candidate among the 10 major would-be governors to show up. But he was really taking a shot at Democratic rival Gary Locke, who has been involved in lobbying to keep the Seahawks in Seattle.
The jab drew one of the biggest hands of the night from the audience of about 100, which included many who have been caught in the election dilemma that Inslee was highlighting.
Schools, which rely on property taxes for construction bonds, and maintenance and operation levies, must have at least 60 percent approval for their ballot proposals.
Projects which rely on other types of taxes, such as sales, entertainment or business and occupation taxes, can be approved with a simple majority.
Bruce McBurney of Silverdale, Wash., the association’s president-elect, said his school district needed four tries over two years to pass its maintenance levy.
“We lost some good young teachers and cut back on programs,” said McBurney. “We just really gutted a lot of things.”
At the close of the forum, Inslee said the approval rating for school levies should be a simple majority.
Both candidates promised to make education a top priority if they are elected, and both said vocational education - training for high school graduates who go don’t go to college - needs more attention.
Maleng, the King County prosecutor, said he would fatten the slice of the state’s general fund that goes to higher education. The current budget spends about 11 percent on higher education. He promised to increase that to 14 percent.
“Education is the on-ramp to the American dream,” he said. “We need to change the way we’re spending money.”
Inslee, a former congressman, said he also wants to improve teacher training, do a better job of testing students and get parents more involved.
Chrystal DeCoster, a visual-communications teacher at Auburn Riverside High School in Auburn, Wash., thought Inslee won the debate by offering more ideas with more passion.
But Mike Fowler of Spanaway, Wash., gave the nod to Maleng for promising to increase funding for schools. “They can have cuts (in the state budget) and still have plenty of money for education,” he said.