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Originally published October 2, 2012 at 8:57 PM | Page modified October 2, 2012 at 11:08 PM

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Fiery exchanges in debate between Inslee, McKenna

Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee accused each other of wanting to raise taxes during the third debate of their race for governor.

Seattle Times political reporter

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YAKIMA — Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee accused one another of dishonesty about plans to raise taxes in a testy gubernatorial debate Tuesday night.

McKenna, the two-term attorney general, criticized Inslee for opposing a requirement that two-thirds of the Legislature approve any tax increases — a measure repeatedly endorsed by state voters.

"Why would Congressman Inslee and his allies in Olympia want to make it easier to raise taxes?" said McKenna, who also brought up Inslee's record in the state Legislature as evidence he plans to support raising taxes if elected.

Inslee, the former congressman from Bainbridge Island, said he thinks the two-thirds requirement is unfair, but added he is not proposing tax increases and that he would rely on job growth to bring more revenue to the state.

Inslee sought to turn the tables on the tax issue by doubling down on a new line of attack he has mounted on McKenna in recent television ads that accuse the Republican of favoring a property-tax increase on hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians.

That was a reference to a complex property-tax swap proposal that has been circulated by Democrats and Republicans in Olympia as a possible way to boost state funding of public schools.

McKenna has included the idea in his school-funding proposals.

The tax swap, as outlined by legislators including Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the House budget chairman, would raise the state property-tax levy for schools while lowering local levies.

The Hunter version of the tax swap, as well as an earlier one proposed by Republicans, would cause property taxes in some rural and property-poor districts to fall, while increasing the amounts paid in some richer districts.

Proponents say that would help deal with a state Supreme Court decision that found the state is failing in its constitutional duty to fund basic public education.

On a statewide basis, the swap would not bring in additional money for public schools in the short term, but would change where the money is coming from.

"This is a gimmick that doesn't help us move forward," Inslee said.

An exasperated McKenna said while the tax swap is "not my proposal," it is something the state Supreme Court was "effectively requiring" as lawmakers look to address the school-funding issue.

He accused Inslee of stoking fears about the property-tax plan while failing to offer school-funding specifics of his own.

The debate, held before a crowd of hundreds at the Yakima Convention Center, was the third between the gubernatorial candidates. It was sponsored by the Yakima Herald-Republic, the Association of Washington State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, KCTS 9 and KYVE.

The beginning of the event was marred by a malfunction with McKenna's microphone that obscured an opening statement he offered in Spanish — a gesture to the large Hispanic community in Central Washington.

McKenna's statement, as translated by his campaign said it had been "my privilege" to work with Latino community leaders as attorney general and that he looked forward to continuing that as governor.

Inslee did not attempt a Spanish introduction, but hearkened back to his years living in the Yakima area, where he'd raised hay, worked as an attorney and got his start in politics as a state legislator.

Throughout the debate, Inslee sought to remind the audience of McKenna's ties to the national Republican Party, while McKenna shot back with references to Inslee's long tenure in Washington, D.C.

When asked about what to do about a shortage of agricultural workers that had led asparagus crops in the area to go unpicked, Inslee attacked the national GOP for playing politics.

"The sad fact is one of the parties has tried to use immigration and fear of immigration as a wedge issue," Inslee said, saying he favored immigration reform.

McKenna said if Inslee cared so much he should have remained in Congress "instead of quitting." He agreed that there needs to be immigration reform to supply agricultural workers, as well as skilled workers for tech companies like Microsoft.

But McKenna called Inslee's efforts to nationalize the race "transparent and quite funny, actually."

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