By Tim Kukes for CHS
What is it like working with Washington’s Republicans?
“We tried everything we could have. Cajoling, complaining, amending, making procedural motions, protesting and acting out in various ways,” State Senator Jamie Pedersen said Saturday at a town hall meeting with the 43rd District’s leaders.
Pedersen’s story of the state’s education “levy cliff” battle had a happy ending Saturday. Instead of, they lived happily ever, Pedersen’s happy conclusion went like this: “… finally senate Republicans agreed on Wednesday at the very last bill before the cutoff to pass the levy extension.”
Constituents of the state’s 43rd legislative district filled the Seattle First Baptist Church sanctuary, on Harvard Ave on First Hill just above the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Organizers said it may have been the largest 43rd town hall gathering yet as the old church’s pews were filled. Yes, the town hall has officially outgrown the church’s basement.
Pedersen was joined by the 43rd’s Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, and newly minted Rep. Nicole Macri. Nancy Amidei served as moderator for the event, asking questions of the officials that had been hand-written by constituents as they entered the building and then organized by volunteers to focus on those issues of most importance to the 43rd legislative districts. Those issues, by the way: public education funding, health care, housing and the homeless, the environment, the death penalty and use of deadly force by police officers.
All three elected officials agreed that the funding of public education was the number one issue to be addressed. Pedersen reported on the extension of the “Levy Cliff” that was putting some $30 million for Seattle public schools in jeopardy, and the effort state Democrats took to get the bill through the senate.
Questions regarding compliance with the McCleary decision, made in 2007, and how public education was going to be funded were the most plentiful, Amidei said. 60% of Washington’s budget already comes from sales tax, Pedersen said. A capital gains tax could raise money for public education.
“What I am committed to doing is making sure we increase revenue and we do it at the same time by making our revenue more progressive,” Pedersen said.
Chopp said that when requesting additional revenue from voters, it is important to explain where the money is going and how it will be spent. Towards that goal, Chop said that HB 1843 had been passed which has specific rules to how the raised education money can be allocated.
Health care was the second issue on constituents’ minds, with questions of how Washington state was going to protect and pay for it.
“The news coming out of Washington D.C. is terrible,” Macri said. “The bill that the Congressional Republicans have drafted is in a lot of ways worse than we thought it would be, but the timeline is better than we expected.”
Macri said Washington has been a leader in providing health care for years and that state programs that were replaced by the Affordable Care Act offers lessons for future action.
Chopp went on to criticize the Republicans for presuming that everyone has access to health care by comparing it to believing somehow everyone has access to buy a Tesla.
Housing expert Macri fielded questions about homelessness. While it won’t add new funding to help fight homelessness, an important effort in Olympia is being made around HB 1570. Macri is working on the bill that would lift the expiration on a home buying document fee that contributes to the Home Security Fund dedicated to serving homeless people across the state. Expiration of the fee would result in 62% of homeless funding in Washington ceasing to exist, Macri said.
Another initiative could also help. Project Home and Hope would keep public properties for public purpose and not sell it to private developers, Chopp said. One example, is a plan to convert some North Seattle College parking to student housing for homeless students.
“We cannot rely on the private market to solve these problems,” Macri said. “When we invest in housing for people who need it and cannot afford private market housing we see results.”
The town hall meeting concluded with heartfelt round of applause for the legislators of the 43rd District and a mandate from moderator Amidei.
“Keep the pressure on them even though they are on your side,” Amidei said. “They need it. They need to hear from you.”