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'Progress' or 'failed'? Inslee, Bryant debate issues

Election Governor Deb_Cata.jpg
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Bill Bryant, left, take part in a debate, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee and his Republican opponent Bill Bryant sparred Monday night over education, taxes and government oversight in their second debate.

At Seattle University Bryant repeatedly rapped the incumbent Democrat, saying he had mismanaged state departments, especially the state's mental health system. He also said Inslee had failed to come up with a plan to fund K-12 education, as mandated by the state Supreme Court.

"He has failed at the state's paramount responsibility, and that means he is a failed governor," Bryant said.

Inslee countered that the state has invested billions in public education, that "significant strides" have been made to increase pay for teachers and increase access to kindergarten.

"That's progress," Inslee said.

Washington is a "confident and optimistic state," Inslee said, and that he's helped create 250,000 jobs.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the way Washington pays for education is unconstitutional, in part because of an overreliance on local dollars to pay expenses that should be covered by the state budget. The court gave the Legislature until 2018 to fix the problem and then found the state in contempt in 2014, fining it $100,000 per day to be set aside into an education account. Since the 2012 ruling, lawmakers have spent more than $2 billion to address issues raised in the lawsuit.

Bryant said he would increase funding for education by dedicating any revenue growth to schools and scrutinize existing government spending. Inslee countered that such an approach "won't work" because it would take needed resources from other areas of government, like mental health and housing.

Bryant, a former Seattle port commissioner, has called on Inslee to release reports on problems at the Western State Hospital, the state's largest psychiatric hospital. Two dangerous inmates escaped from the facility earlier this year and it has faced criticism from federal regulators. A recent report revealed that thousands of tools used to open patient windows were unaccounted for and that management was unwilling to recognize that failing to focus on security puts patients and the public at risk.

Inslee said he was working to repair a mental health system that "was gutted" before he took office.

After Monday the two candidates have three more debates scheduled before the November election.

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