Washington’s hotly contested gubernatorial race came to Spokane on Thursday as the two candidates challenged each other on forecast budget deficits, health care and paying for the North Spokane freeway.
In a debate that aired on KSPS, Republican challenger Dino Rossi accused Gov. Chris Gregoire of not taking responsibility for forecast budget woes and other problems in the state.
“Education’s in trouble. Traffic is a mess. We have a $3.2 billion budget deficit that’s really threatening our families and our economy,” Rossi said.
Gregoire responded that she has helped solve budget crunches before and successfully has worked to improve education, give more kids health care, create jobs and build a rainy-day fund.
“Yes, we’ve taken some troubled times because of what’s happening at the national level. Wall Street’s a mess. That has led us to take some decisive action,” Gregoire said. “We need steady leadership with values. I’m ready to provide that.”
Asked for specifics on solving forecast budget deficits, both said they would not raise taxes.
“We are not going to raise taxes because it will hurt the economy and throw people out of work,” Rossi said. “I will protect the most vulnerable people in our society.”
As for cuts, Rossi said he would reduce the size of the governor’s staff and would create a process to determine priorities so the least important programs are targeted for cuts. He also criticized Gregoire for overseeing significant budget increases during her tenure and called her plans to balance next year’s budget “gimmickry.”
Gregoire said new funding went to important programs to boost education and reduce crime. She said she has made progress on a plan to close the budget gap through hiring freezes, an end to out-of-state travel, a suspension of the state’s family leave program and a delay of the earned-income tax credit.
“We have to live within our means,” Gregoire said. “That means no new taxes. We’re going to have to take cuts.”
She added that Washington is in better financial shape than most states.
“He’s given you no answer as to what he would specifically cut to save money,” she said. “So where would he have cut the investments that we have made? He didn’t answer that.”
Rossi said he believes the North Spokane freeway and some other major road projects should be funded by directing 40 percent of sales tax revenues from car sales to transportation projects.
“We’re not going to slip in the Pacific Ocean, if we do this,” Rossi said. “Our economy will fail, if we don’t do this.”
Gregoire has argued that local funding or road tolls might be needed to help finish the Spokane project, and city and county leaders have been debating how to move ahead and if taxes or fees are necessary.
At the debate, Gregoire called Rossi’s highway funding idea a “fantasy plan” that would divert money from education. The North Spokane freeway is a promise that couldn’t be kept under Rossi’s proposal, she added.
Rossi criticized state policy that requires medical insurance companies to cover certain kinds of treatment. He said the rules force costs higher and limit consumer choice. He stressed that his health care ideas are “not deregulation” because the industry still would be overseen by the state Insurance Commissioner.
“You should be able to choose what you want in your plan. I would like to see as many plans in this state chasing us around for what you can get,” Rossi said. “My wife goes to a chiropractor. I go to an environmental allergist. I will pick a plan that has that in there.”
Gregoire criticized Rossi for not saying which specific mandates he supports removing and questioned if he would eliminate requirements to cover mammograms or prostate cancer screening.
“Your plan’s unregulated, free market, no mandates. It didn’t work on Wall Street and it won’t work in the health care industry in the state of Washington.”
Thursday’s event, which was co-sponsored by The Spokesman-Review, was the fourth time the two have squared off. Their final debate is set for next week in Seattle.