Scream if you like—I'm taking the day off from screaming—but Governor-elect Jay Inslee sacrificed a little candor when he campaigned against Republican Rob McKenna, like adopting positions to oppose tax hikes (Inslee even lambasted a school-funding plan by McKenna that could raise taxes) and pot legalization. I don't think Inslee believed in either position. Democrats know the state is $2 billion short for the next biennial budget and that we'll need billions more for K-12, higher ed, Disability Lifeline, Basic Health, etc. All that stuff will require raising taxes. And Dems like Jay don't actually support marijuana policies that target racial minorities and waste money. But that's politics: Inslee did what he thought he had to do to win the election—and that meant guarding against attacks about being a tax-'n-spend drug pusher.
But Inslee's painted himself into a corner, and now he's got to paint himself out of it. The number-one challenge for Olympia is correcting a structural revenue deficit. (We rely on sales taxes for about half of our revenue, but the sale of goods is shrinking part of the state's economy.) Taxes need to rise under Inslee's watch, most likely by letting the legislature send an income tax measure to voters while Inslee stays mum. And as for pot, well, he's in a corner there, too. That pot-legalization initiative Inslee opposed? Voters passed it. And now he has to either take sides with the Feds, which say all pot is illegal, or he has to stand up for the voters who approved pot legalization by an even wider margin than they elected him.
Natch, he's standing with the voters. Inslee held a press conference yesterday in which the inevitable pot question came up, and local politics blog PubliCola transcribed his answer:
My belief is Washington has worked its will. The voters have spoken. I was not supportive of the initiative but I’m going to be fully supportive of protecting, defending, and implementing the will of the voter—which will essentially allow the use of recreational marijuana in our state.
So I will be working to a very rational, mature ways to convince the [Obama] administration that it's in the best interest, not only of our state, but in our country, to allow our state to move forward in this regard.
And I believe that makes sense for the country for this reason: We have a principal of federalism in our country that has worked well. We’ve allowed states to be incubators of new ideas of, and I think it’ll serve the nation well to allow the state of Washington and Colorado to serve as incubators of a new policy. And I don’t think there’s any reason that that’s antithetical to national security or interstate commerce. This is a local decision of a local state, and we’re going to do everything we can in this administration in that regard and hopefully that’ll happen. I think there’s some positive signs that we’ll be able to prevail…….
I don’t want to be too optimistic about this but my sense is there’s an honest consideration going on in the administration. My sense is we probably won’t have a clear cut answer to that for some time, but I look at that as a good sign. I’m going to look at that as a glass-half-full here. I have not communicated with the administration. It’s a gut check, glass-half-full, the door remains open to allow our state to look forward as we have in so many ways.
Right on, Jay! Remember back when the White House said, "Legalization is not in the president's vocabulary." Uh, it sure is now—thanks in part to our future governor. The next question is how Washington can regulate growing and selling marijuana. Any way this goes—and I don't think Obama really oppose legalization, either—we've either got a governor who can keep the feds out or who will smartly defend the state in a federal showdown.
Now let's see if he can thread the needle on raising revenue.