Politics & Government

The future of pay-per-mile and other things Jay Inslee told us during a 1-on-1 interview

On Friday afternoon, a few days before Gov. Jay Inslee underwent hip replacement surgery, he took time for a face-to-face interview in his office with The News Tribune. The discussion covered several topics, including taxes and housing.

Here are five things to know from the interview:

1. Housing and homelessness will be 2020 priorities

Inslee said he will ask the state Legislature next year to approve major initiatives to increase the number of homes in Washington to address high prices and also take steps to reduce homelessness, which he called a “statewide crisis.”

“We’ve got to build more housing stock, and we are going to propose some proposals on how to do that, which will include financing more low-income housing,” he said. “But we also have to find a place to site new housing, which has to do with some of our land-use planning decisions.”

The governor said details will be released later this month. The Legislature opens its 60-day regular session on Jan. 13.

2. Pay-per-mile tax soon? Inslee says no

On Dec. 17, the Washington State Transportation Commission is expected to recommend that a pay-per-mile tax be phased in to replace the state gas tax over at least 10 years. One option is to start with owners of electric vehicles and hybrids and make it voluntary to get drivers’ reactions.

Inslee said he is not including a pay-per-mile tax in the supplemental transportation budget that he’ll roll out later this month, perhaps on Dec. 18.

Years from now, when cars no longer use gasoline, it’s likely that a pay-per-mile tax or some other way to generate transportation revenue will happen, the governor said.

“We’ll have to figure out some alternative,” he said.

When asked about a proposal to start with a voluntary program for vehicle owners, Inslee said he would be surprised if lawmakers approved that next year.

“But they’re the Legislature. They have freedom.”

3. Tax revolt brewing? Nope.

Voters approved Initiative 976 by 53-47 percent, but Inslee said he didn’t interpret the result as anti-tax.

“They don’t want to pay more than what is necessary to have the services that they want, but people want services. And they deserve services, and there is no tooth fairy in the state of Washington that we’ve been able to discover,” he said.

The governor also said there are “limited conclusions that you can draw” from the election results. Turnout was 45 percent of registered voters.

Voters in Pierce County, which is part of Sound Transit’s jurisdiction, approved I-976 by nearly a two-to-one margin.

Inslee said: “Did people vote not to be able to take the ferry boat to Vashon Island from Tacoma? Probably not. Did they vote to stop bus service to the disabled? Probably not. Did they vote to cancel the transportation projects in Pierce County so that we can get to the (Port of Tacoma) and increase employment? Probably not,” he said.

4. Biggest threat to Washington? Trump

As a presidential candidate in June, Inslee was asked during a televised debate what was the biggest geopolitical threat to the United States. His answer: Donald Trump.

The News Tribune asked Inslee if he considered anti-tax activist and initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who has announced he’s running for governor, the biggest threat to Washington.

Inslee replied: “I have to think about that. Donald Trump is probably immediately the biggest threat to the state of Washington, in part because he has attempted to stop our progress in the state of Washington.”

By the end of his answer — which centered in large part on Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s track record in filing lawsuits to stop Trump initiatives — Inslee was crystal clear.

“So I would still put (Trump) as the enemy No. 1 for the state of Washington,” he said.

5. Inslee’s sense of humor remains intact

The governor has a way with words and can see the light side of his answers.

He laughed after the following answers.

When asked if he saw any signs of a tax revolt or anger about taxes outside of King County, he said he didn’t.

“Well, you know, there are a few people who look forward to (paying taxes) like they look forward to Christmas Eve, but not all that many,” Inslee said.

When asked what he considered his biggest recent accomplishment as governor, he cited his successful push for a large pay raise for public school teachers.

“I guess if I was going to pick one, that’s what I would give the Nobel Prize to,” he said.

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James Drew covers the state Legislature and state government for McClatchy’s Washington papers: The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and The Tri-City Herald.