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October 17, 2012 at 7:51 AM

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What is lean management? Decoding Jay Inslee, Rob McKenna debate

Did you catch the gentleman's debate Tuesday night? I'm referring to the state gubernatorial debate between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee. Compared with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's cage fight at the presidential debate the same evening, the local debate at KING5 felt like a game of checkers. On the downside, there was no catch phrase like Romney's "binders full of women."

My biggest complaint about the gubernatorial debate is that it is unintelligible to the average Washington voter. Does the average voter know what the McCleary decision is? The property tax swap that sparked repeated back and forth? Lean management? If I were an average voter who tuned in to educate myself on the candidates, it would be like starting the Twilight saga with "Breaking Dawn."

If you haven't watched it yet, here is the video of the opening statements from KING5. Below, you'll find the decoder ring to the governor's debate.

What is the McCleary decision?

The McCleary decision is the state Supreme Court's January ruling that the state government failed to meet its paramount duty to amply fund education for the state's children. Here is the story from our news side. This means the state will have to come up with more funding for education in a slow economic recovery. Estimates range, but many believe the funding gap is more than $1 billion.

This ruling poses the biggest financial challenge for the incoming governor. McKenna has the clearest plan to make it up, I wrote in my column Wednesday, by limiting growth in non-education state spending and directing projected state-tax revenue increases toward education.

What's this property tax swap they keep arguing about?

State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, has come up with a proposal to redistribute funding for public schools. Here is the story from our news side. Even though Inslee repeatedly called it a "gimmick" Tuesday, it did come from a Democrat in his own party. Here is our news side's Truth Needle calling Inslee's claims half-true.

The problem, as editorial page Kate Riley wrote in her column Sunday, is that Inslee's attack hurts the bipartisan work being done to address the McCleary decision.

What is lean management?

Lean management is a way for businesses to manage expenses by involving employees at the lowest levels. Boeing has used it, and King County has had some success with using it in public government to control costs. Here is a news side story about lean management.

The problem is, it's unclear how much money lean management can save the county, or state government. When I asked King County Executive Dow Constantine and the county's budget director Dwight Dively whether they could provide a dollar figure for how much they had saved through lean management, they couldn't come up with a number.

What about the $100 million tax break for Microsoft to build data centers?

The state gave tax breaks to any company, not just Microsoft, to build a large data center in the state. Here is a story I wrote about the tax break when I worked for the news side. It does not just apply to Microsoft. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo, along with Microsoft, runs a large data center in Quincy in Grant County.

McKenna said he supported it Tuesday because Microsoft generates a huge percentage of the state's GDP. Inslee said he was in favor of tax credits that support companies that do research and development, and it wasn't clear whether that included server farms.

The issue isn't whether we should siphon off potential tax revenue from the state coffers. The problem is that the tax break was rationalized as a way to stimulate job creation. Although data centers do provide construction jobs, they don't create many permanent jobs. This isn't a Boeing plant that churns out planes. It isn't even an NBA/NHL arena that would employ food workers and ushers.

Data centers are warehouses for servers that need only a small staff to maintain equipment and patrol the grounds. Data centers are the clouds behind cloud computing, and clouds are engineered to be remotely managed. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has said that leaders of state often approach him and ask Microsoft to build a data center in their countries. His response is that it only creates a handful of jobs. Also, according to this New York Times story, some in Quincy have criticized Microsoft for bullying the utility and burning diesel generators.

What is this book about clean tech that McKenna keeps bringing up?

Jay Inslee co-authored a book called "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy," in 2007. Here is a story from the news side that dissects Republican criticism of the book.

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