SUNDAY, OCT. 14, 2012

Editorial: McKenna will bring pragmatism to top office

The race for governor pits two candidates with deep resumes, but only one of them has a sharp enough scythe to cut through the thorny thicket ahead. Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, has been around the difficult budgeting years, and it shows in his pragmatic proposals. It’s clear that he’s thought ahead to that key question all campaign winners must confront once the celebration ends:

What next?

With McKenna, there shouldn’t be many surprises. He’s laid out what he’d like to do as thoroughly as any candidate we’ve ever encountered. The state budget, especially with the court-ordered education finance bill that can no longer be deferred, is his focus.

His detailed strategy starts with a foundation that assumes no new general fund taxes. Clearly, that’s what the voters want. He then calculates what it would take to finance all of education – including colleges and universities – and establishes this as the top priority.

Obviously, this puts pressure on other government expenditures, particularly increasing health care bills that have spread like milfoil throughout the budget. But his goal is not to kick people off plans; it’s to pursue sound strategies for making them more affordable. Some of his ideas, such as coordinated care and expanding consumer choice, should be given a shot.

He also supports the new health insurance exchanges.

McKenna is also forthright in pushing a transportation finance package that would include a balance of projects and a variety of ways to raise revenue, including a gas tax increase and expanded tolling. This is critical for commerce, and he deserves credit for confronting the revenue question so many politicians avoid.

We don’t agree with McKenna on Referendum 74 – the gay marriage measure – which he says he will vote against but will honor if the voters pass it. Unfortunately, he takes a harder line with Initiative 502, saying he may act against the marijuana legalization measure if it passes.

Inslee served eight terms in Congress, and so has a looser grasp of state issues. He touts his plan to unlock the “secret sauce” of the state’s economy, but in the area that he can directly control – the budget – too many details remain submerged in a stew of management-speak. He won’t raise taxes, but he doesn’t detail how he’ll find the money necessary to meet the basic education mandate. He talks about lean management strategies, but so did Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire. He is too dependent on his plan to fortify the economy. He doesn’t have a credible plan if growth is anemic.

We suspect Inslee is too beholden to employee unions to make much headway on personnel costs. We like McKenna’s plan to open negotiations so the public can follow along. Plus, he wants the Legislature to vote on labor contracts separately from the overall budget.

Inslee has been a solid public servant, but he’s been detached for too long. McKenna’s done the homework and produced realistic strategies. He is the smarter choice.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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