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Gov. Inslee talks homelessness, health care, economy with Daily World editorial board

The Daily World, Aberdeen, Wash. — Dan Hammock The Daily World, Aberdeen, Wash.

Feb. 13-- Feb. 13--Gov. Jay Inslee stopped by the Daily World offices during his tour of Twin Harbors schools Wednesday and covered a range of topics, including the state's initiative against homelessness, which would direct $300 million in state funds to be spread around the state, an idea to help the Grays Harbor economy through his proposed clean fuel standard, and the potential benefits of his public option health care model -- complete with some choice words for President Donald Trump's views on the subject.

Homelessness

"This is a high priority for us. We believe this is a statewide problem and it calls for a statewide proposal to deal with it," said Inslee.

His administration has proposed just over $300 million over the next several years dedicated to helping local communities deal with the homeless issue.

"We have proposed the state help local communities in sheltering efforts to get (people) out of the rain and out of unhygienic conditions," said Inslee. Of the money proposed, Inslee said about $152 million would go toward shelter, $113 million in permanent housing, $30 million in capital to build shelter facilities, and $8 million to help in cleanup efforts.

"The most interesting feature of our proposal is to help local communities in sheltering, which is an immediate need," said Inslee. The plan proposes about $56 dollars per homeless person per day provided by the state. "This is the first time real serious state money (would be provided) for helping local communities deal with it."

The initiative would allow local communities to spend the money in ways that best suit the needs of the community, said Inslee.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all, not a state agency taking it over," he said. "It's giving cities and counties flexibility in how they manage their system."

Inslee said there are different ways to fund such an initiative, including dipping into the state's rainy day fund. He added, "the fund will still grow by half a billion dollars even if we make the investment. It's extremely well-stocked, and we have needs and have to meet them one way or another."

Another option could be increased state revenues, said Inslee.

"I'm not wedded" to using the rainy day fund, said Inslee, "I'm wedded to getting people in out of the rain."

As for the overall lack of housing, Inslee said the state is "a victim of our own economic success," with 300,000 people moving to the state every year and not creating enough housing stock for everyone. He said extending the multi-family tax exemption would help, and has proposed cap expenditures for permanent housing.

"We need to help local communities to build housing, which includes increasing density," said Inslee. "We need to encourage local communities to accept building in the city. We're not creating more dirt, so we have to have more density in the urban core. Encouraging cities and enabling cities to do that is really important."

Economy

"We're doing what we can do to help the economic growth in this region," said Inslee. He said some small items, like the Tesla charging station in Aberdeen, can have cumulative positive effects on tourism and the local economy. The repaving project on Highway 101 through Aberdeen and Hoquiam, which he said was part of his transportaion package, can have positive economic benefits as well, he said.

He also believes his clean fuel standard could benefit at least one employer in the region, the biofuels refinery at the Port of Grays Harbor.

"REG has 40 employees, and has a potential expansion plan, a significant plan," said Inslee. "If we create a demand for the product by passing a clean fuel standard, which will require the oil and gas industry to reduce the carbon intensity of its fuels -- which means they would have to buy biofuels -- that creates demand so REG can expand and hire more people in Grays Harbor."

Health care and the public option

The first order of business when it comes to health care is preserving any option for people, said Inslee, adding there are 800,000 that have health insurance today that didn't before health care reform.

"We have to defeat the effort by Donald Trump and his party to strip people of insurance. We need to keep insurance for those 800,000 people who are potential victims of Donald Trump who literally wants to take away their insurance," said Inslee. "Now that sounds callous, like 'who would do that, who would look at a guy with cancer and say they're going to take his insurance away?' Who would do that? A guy named Donald Trump would do that and his minions in Congress."

Inslee continued, "We have treated 35,000 people in this state who have cancer who would not have treatment in Donald Trump's world. That's what the battle line is today, to prevent them from doing that, and that means we do not elect Republicans anywhere who want to take away health insurance."

Washington started the first public option in the United States last year, a "state-sanctioned program to make sure every county can have health insurance and, by using the scale, scope and the bargaining authority of the state we believe it has the prospect of reducing cost and increasing access."

When asked if the public option has features that would allow rural areas like this one to attract and retain qualified medical professionals, Inslee said, "That's why we set the reimbursement at 160% for Medicare, and there has to be a minimum of 135% for primary care, because we really need primary care doctors."

Inslee said his public option is "a reasonable approach," and the state is currently negotiating with health care providers and carriers and hopes to have "the parameters set and the details filled in" by the fall of 2020.

"We have led in so many things in this state," said Inslee. "We have the best paid family leave in this state, and we have the first and only long term care plan in the country, so people can age with dignity, stay in their homes and not go bankrupt as they age.

"We also have the best overtime rules in the nation," he continued. "One reason for homelessness is people not making enough wages to pay rent, and our overtime rules had eroded over the decades. Twice as many get it now than used to get it. Our administration has restored overtime rules that help a lot of people with wages, particularly those in some of the lower-paid (fields)."

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