Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton accused Gov. Jay Inslee of using the economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to promote "his climate change agenda," in a letter written Friday.
Sexton, referencing a May 13 interview Inslee had with Sen. Bernie Sanders on the effects of climate change, said he objected to Inslee's characterization of the pandemic as an opportunity to re-create the state's economy to be more environmentally friendly.
In the interview, Inslee said as states take steps to rebuild their economies they should take the opportunity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and invest in green energy.
"We have to recognize the necessity of this moment," he said. "This will allow us to rebuild our economy."
Inslee pushed back against critics who say the pandemic shouldn't be used to further political agendas, saying government has to recognize this as the opportunity that it is.
"We can't use COVID as an excuse for inaction on climate change," he said.
Sexton said elected officials confronting COVID-19 in Washington should be focused solely on protecting the health of state residents, and reopening the economy safely.
"To me, there's no room in the conversation for any other agenda," he said. "To hear him call it an opportunity, it pissed me off."
Inslee's calling the pandemic an opportunity made Sexton question the governor's motives for the continued shutdown, and diminishes the suffering of those who have lost businesses, family members or friends, he said.
Mike Faulk, Inslee's press secretary, said the governor believes new investment in green energy is an example of how government can stimulate the economic recovery, and that calling for such investment is not an attempt to slow it.
"The governor has said he made those comments in the context of looking at the yearslong economic recovery we are undoubtedly facing," Faulk said in an email. "The governor is looking to the future, as good leaders do, and he has always seen action on climate change as a potential economic engine for the long-term."
Since the shutdown in late March, Sexton said he's heard from countless Burlington business owners who fear they won't survive the pandemic.
"They're up against the wall," he said. "They won't be able to stay in business if this lasts much longer."
Burlington's higher than average reliance on sales tax revenue means city government can expect financial trouble of its own.
While sales tax revenue is released from the state on a two-month lag, Sexton said preliminary numbers for March show a 35% drop. And considering the shutdown didn't start until late March, he said he expects April's numbers to be worse.
Sexton said he knows he doesn't have all the answers himself, and acknowledged the decisions about whether, and how, to reopen the state are difficult.
"I don't envy the governor's position at all," he said. "I wouldn't want to make these decisions."
However, he said going forward he expects to take Inslee's decisions with a grain of salt.