FALL 2013

In Their Words

Last spring, he made headlines when he filed suit on the state’s behalf, along with 25 other states, challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the federal health-care law. We asked him about the lawsuit, and some of his 2011 legislative proposals.
By: Attorney General Rob McKenna
In Their Words

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson has said the states must continue to implement the law while the case proceeds through the legal system.  "It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty" to halt implementation, he wrote. Do you agree? Should we stop until the case is decided by the Supreme Court?

The main focus of the states' lawsuit is the mandate that all Americans have federally approved health insurance or face an IRS fine. The mandate doesn’t take effect until 2014. Congress and President Obama shouldn’t wait for the courts to decide the matter. They should revise the bill now, removing the unconstitutional mandate.

It’s also worth noting that the new law's massive expansion of Medicaid will add more than 30 million Americans to its rolls, hammering state budgets with billions in required new spending. Current Medicaid spending is already consuming 30 percent or more of many states' budgets. We should support U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' proposed block-granting of federal Medicaid funds to the states. This approach would increase flexibility and reward innovative states, like Washington, which are already much more cost-effective in delivering Medicaid services to low-income patients.

Your 2011 legislative platform included a package of bills addressing eminent domain reform. One bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly only to die in the House committee. HB 1035/SB 5077 would have prohibited local governments from using eminent domain to take private property for economic development purposes as occurred in the U.S Supreme Court’s Kelo case. Why was legislation like this necessary? 

Current Washington statutes and case law allow eminent domain to be abused by governments seeking higher tax revenues. This problem was highlighted in New London, Conn., when the city took Suzette Kelo’s home, and the homes of others, and sold the property to private developers. Washington law permits similar takings under the state's Community Renewal Law which contains an extremely broad definition of "blight," and also under state case law which broadly defines "public use." Several cities have actively considered taking homes for private redevelopment, including Seattle, and some have moved ahead to do so, such as Bremerton.

You’ve made preventing gang violence a top legislative priority for your office. Why should businesses in Washington be concerned about gangs? And, what can employers do to curb the disturbing trend of young children being recruited into gangs?

Gang crime and graffiti frighten small business owners, their customers and staff, including young families hoping to buy a first home. Business owners and staff in poorer communities probably feel the most impact. Some are already proactively cleaning up graffiti, hiring local kids for part-time jobs after school and contributing to non-profits that offer kids afterschool programs. The Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and the Police Athletic League are among the groups most deserving of continued support. Business owners in highly affected areas have employees whose children are threatened by gang members and actively recruited into gang activities. A healthy business requires a safe community in which to operate and grow.

Washington’s meth rate has plummeted since the state cracked down on its use, sale and manufacture. With the increased likelihood of budget cuts, is that progress sustainable?

I’m confident that the progress we've made on meth is sustainable, as we've cut the number of meth labs by 99 percent since 2004. But we face a grave new threat: Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in our state. Abuse has increased because of the relative ease of access to powerful prescription narcotics. That’s why we need a statewide prescription drug monitoring system to better allow prescribers and pharmacies to reduce the flow of drugs to people who shouldn’t have them.

This June, you will become president of the National Association of Attorneys General. What priorities will you address in this new position, and how will they align with your priorities as Washington state attorney general?

I’ll be announcing that this summer. I expect to focus on community safety, which has been a primary focus since my early days as attorney general. Stay tuned.

Washington’s business climate is a frequent topic of politicians. Although we have the competitive benefit of top rankings by groups like Forbes magazine, we also have our share of worries. Washington has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation for businesses and the highest minimum wage in the country. What do you see as the top business issues facing our state in the next four years?

Businesses like being here because our quality of life is second to none. But too often, policymakers take for granted that we’ll always be the center of aerospace and technology. At one point, people in Michigan thought that Detroit would always be the heart and soul of the auto industry. We all know how that turned out.
‪‪More than half of the states have unemployment rates lower than ours. And unfortunately we have one of the worst underemployment rates in the nation. That means that lots of Washingtonians want to work full time but can’t find a suitable position. This must change. Our tax code and rules for doing business in Washington state should be designed to power job creation, not government growth.

Education reform, centered on increased accountability for education outcomes, is also paramount. Too many kids fail to graduate high school on time, and many do so without having mastered the math, English and critical thinking skills that employers must have in their new employees. For the same reason, our colleges spend a fortune on remedial math and English for entering freshmen.

In higher education, technology, engineering and health sciences require a greater focus to meet the demand for highly skilled workers. Let’s better prepare our young people for those high-paying jobs and reverse the steady decline in state support for our colleges and universities. Our entire economy will benefit.


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