State Sen. Lisa Wellman, Rep. Judy Clibborn and Rep. Tana Senn spoke at the June 1 Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce meeting about their priorities as the Legislature enters a second special session, including fully funding education without affecting Washington’s safety net and social services.
In its 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to increase education spending, which nearly all lawmakers agree requires new revenue. Senate Republicans have proposed a flat property tax, which would bring in about $5.5 billion, to solve the problem of over-reliance on local property tax-levy money that is the center of the court order. Democrats argue that that would hit some communities, including Seattle and the Eastside, harder than others.
“We need to educate all of our kids in Washington state,” Senn said. “But we also have to make sure that we’re sharing the brunt, that we keep our communities solvent and that we really do have that high quality of education.”
The three Democrats, who all live in Mercer Island, say that more progressive taxes are needed, such as a capital gains tax. That means that people in the 41st may still end up paying more than in other districts, but the tax wouldn’t potentially tax seniors and other vulnerable people out of their homes.
“Republicans want to increase taxes on 100 percent of working Eastside seniors and families. Democrats want to raise the necessary revenue from the wealthiest 3-4 percent of our community,” Senn said in a statement last month. “By solely relying on increased property taxes to fund education, the GOP plan would eat into the main source of revenue for our Eastside cities.”
According to that statement, property taxes would increase by $262 million in Bellevue, $247 million in Lake Washington, $120 million in Issaquah and $52 million in Mercer Island under the Senate Republican plan.
If lawmakers fail to come to the table to discuss a compromise by June 30, the state government could shut down July 1.
Still, the legislators said progress has been made in other areas during the 2017 session. Clibborn said her favorite bill is one that helps foster kids get into driver’s education programs, and lets them use their foster parents’ insurance plans.
Wellman, a freshman senator and former tech executive, said that she has also been working with two Islanders and their Washington Business Alliance, as well as city and county officials, to create a sustainable fiscal infrastructure for Washington, including a state bank.
Senn said she has been focused on issues that affect working families, including children’s mental health, early learning, equal pay, transportation and education.
Clibborn, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, has helped pass the transportation budget and negotiate on behalf of Islanders for Interstate 90 access. Mercer Island and Sound Transit recently reached a tentative settlement agreement that includes a $10 million mitigation package to offset the effects of light rail construction on I-90, but does not address single occupant vehicle access.
Clibborn said that to pass the operating budget this session, all parties need to come to the table prepared to negotiate, as they did with the transportation budget.
“It’s much easier because in 2015 we passed a huge package that goes until 2031, so most of our budget is tweaking and making sure that the projects we promised are going forward,” she said. “To start from scratch, like we’re doing with education, is very difficult … because the philosophies are not aligned.”
The three legislators also touched on the effects of the current federal administration on politics at the state level.
“Immigration has turned out to be an issue that I had not expected when I was running for this position … but it’s a major issue, and it’s not like it’s not impacting people within our 41st communities,” Wellman said.
She noted that 33 percent of Microsoft’s employees are here on visas, and that they “won’t invest [here] if they feel their futures are uncertain.”
Chamber member Emmett Maloof asked about President Donald Trump’s proposed multi-billion dollar education budget cut.
“We have to act on the philosophy that there are a lot of moving parts on the federal level, whether it’s around the ACA and health care, around immigration, around education and a full variety of other issues, that we have to deal with what is right now … current allocations and current revenue,” Senn said.