Opinion

Inslee under pressure to use budget red pen | JERRY CORNFIELD

By Jerry Cornfield,
Political Columnist

As Gov. Jay Inslee prepares to sign a revised state budget, he’s getting pressed to veto a few of its provisions.

The governor was expected to act Friday on the agreement for state spending through mid-2015 that passed overwhelmingly in the House and by a nearly unanimous 47-1 margin in the Senate.

Since the day after those votes, Inslee has been urged to use his red pen to remove sections dealing with a nuclear energy task force, rescind a cleaning out of funds for life-science research and erase a requirement for more savings at community colleges through Lean management.

Four Democratic lawmakers – Reps. Gerry Pollet and Jessyn Farrell of Seattle, Rep. Cindy Ryu of Shoreline and Sen. Marko Liias of south Everett – want the governor to get rid of Sections 101 and 102 creating a task force to consider the long-term potential of nuclear energy.

They point out lawmakers rejected a bill to do pretty much what the proviso does. They contend any look into the value of nuclear energy should be done by the Climate Legislative and Executive Work Group on which Inslee serves.

“I have concerns about the cost and safety and viability of nuclear energy,” Liias said. Examining only the potential of nuclear energy and not other renewable resources “doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, sponsored the legislation that didn’t pass. He said it is “silliness” to ignore the potential of nuclear power as a cleaner source of energy than oil and gas.

He hopes Inslee “understands nuclear is going to play a role in carbon reduction in the future. To ignore it is simply silly.”

There is another factor Inslee must consider, Ericksen said. Inclusion of the task force is one-half of a deal reached in the Senate and embedded in the final budget.

The other half is $300,000 for a study on how oil shipments move through the state. This report is to analyze risks of oil transportation and recommend steps for improving public safety.

Democrats requested this study after they could not get an oil transportation safety bill passed this session. Erickson suggested that if the nuclear energy task force is at-risk of veto, so too should be the study.

A whole slew of people are asking Inslee to intercede to preserve the Life Science Discovery Fund. Budget writers transferred $20 million into the general fund, effectively emptying it out.

This transfer is why Liias cast the lone dissenting Senate vote on the budget.

He said every dollar invested in life-science research attracts additional dollars in federal grants and private investment. The investments lead to medical discoveries, health care innovation and the launch of new businesses, he said.

“I don’t think we’ll generate the same benefit to taxpayers if we shut down the fund,” he said.

Meanwhile, a provision calling for community colleges to rack up another $10 million in savings through “Lean Management Strategies” is giving presidents a headache.

One college president pointed out in a letter to Inslee that “this additional reduction will now mean we will be providing less tutoring, less technology and fewer wrap around services so vital to student success.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield can be reached at jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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