Cutting corporate tax loopholes, exercising fiscal discipline, creating a public infrastructure bank and providing more choice schools were the ideas Eastside senatorial candidates presented on how to fully fund education on Thursday.
Hosted by the Indian Association of Western Washington, the Eastside Candidates Forum was held at the North Bellevue Community Center. At the forum was Manka Dhingra and Jinyoung Lee Englund running for the 45th Legislative District Senate seat, and Patty Kuderer and Michelle Darnell running for the 48th Legislative District Senate seat.
In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. State that Washington failed to amply provide for the education of all children and that it is the Legislature’s job to fund it. In 2017, the Legislature temporarily lifted the 1 percent property tax cap and used a property tax levy swap. This will result in higher property taxes in King County to fund education throughout the state.
In light of this swap, the candidates were asked if they believe the education budget fully funds the 10 components of basic education, as well as if it’s sustainable, and, if not, what is their proposed solution.
Dhingra, who prefers the Democratic Party, said the Republican-controlled Senate did not solve McCleary with the property tax increase.
“It’s not sustainable and it makes our district very very unaffordable so we have to fix that, and I am committed to making sure that if and when elected that I will be working on rolling back the property tax increases,” she said.
Instead, she would review the 900 corporate tax loopholes in the state’s current tax code to make sure they still serve their intended purpose. If not, she proposes closing them. That review would happen every two years, she said.
However, that alone may not fully fund education. She said the state may need to look at the possibility of a carbon tax or redoing the tax structure, which she says is one of the most regressive tax structures in the country.
Englund, who prefers the Republican Party, said late Sen. Andy Hill was the chair of the Budget Committee, which took a bipartisan approach to fund education. She said the state needs to exercise fiscal discipline first instead of looking “looking for an excuse to raise more taxes.”
“…The positive thing about the agreement is that now over half of Washington state’s operating budget is going towards education,” she said of the property tax increase. “That’s over $25 billion. So the question, at this point, is not do we have enough money. The question is how is the money being spent and are we targeting and are we being smart about how we spend the money to actually achieve better outcomes for kids.”
Kuderer, who prefers the Democratic Party, said the Legislature did not fully fund education and doesn’t believe the way to “fully fund” education is through a lift of the property tax cap, which will be back for a vote in five years. Additionally, part of the property tax law includes a property tax cut of $371 million to large corporations.
To fund education, she would take back that $371 million and open a state infrastructure bank that would allow the state to self fund its own infrastructure project with low-cost loans.
“This would take some of the pressure off the general fund where our education is funded,” she said. “We would do low-cost loans to cities, counties, the state, public utility districts. Far less than what we’re paying Wall Street now to borrow the money.”
Darnell, who prefers the Libertarian Party, said the “system is not incentivized for excellence” and believes the Washington Education Association and teachers unions are holding teachers, students and parents hostage.
Instead of spending the “near $15,000” on each child from federal, state and local dollars, she thinks about half should “follow the backpack,” meaning the family could choose a public, private or charter school, and the other half stays with the school system.
“They’re not educating the child but now they have an incentive because they want the other $7,000 back, right?” she said. “So it improves the public school because they have more money and they’re not educating the child and it creates this incentive and competition and choice and empowerment, and families will be more engaged because of choice.”
According to the Indian Association, immigrants earned nearly $31 billion and contributed $8 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2014. Working undocumented immigrants in Washington have contributed $300 million in taxes annually and more than 170,000 United States citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented, which includes the 18,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients.
But hate crimes and speech against immigrants is prevalent nationwide as well as on the Eastside. Candidates were asked what they can do locally and statewide to address these concerns.
Darnell said she believes strengthening the economy and job security of this nation will alleviate the fear those who espouse hate speech have.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people in America right now that, as a consequence of the Recession, a lot of folks haven’t recovered yet, that are frankly scared,” Darnell said. “If you think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know, they’re down on the bottom rung. If they really got to know other people in their community, they might not be so scared.”
Darnell also believes a new type of leadership is needed, as she’s seen a polarization of leaders who have not risen above the rhetoric and said, “Enough of this!” Darnell said politicians need to listen to one another instead of dividing into fractional groups.
“It breaks my heart to see what is happening in this country,” she said. “Many of you folks came here for freedom, for empowerment. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to 17 different countries and it alarms me of what’s going on in my own country.”
Kuderer said she’s heard the fear of what’s happening at the national level while door knocking for her campaign.
“The immigration ban that was initially proposed by President Trump was offensive and it was wrong,” Kuderer said. “And it put a lot of people in fear.”
Kuderer said she agrees with Darnell in that the country needs new leadership, referring to President Donald Trump.
She said she supports Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit to hold the Trump administration accountable and believes it’s up to the Legislature to write a letter to Congress urging support of passing the DACA program.
“What he did without giving the DACA folks a deadline without publicizing it is beyond reprehensible,” she said. “My folks used to tell me you can always tell what someone values by how they act. Not so much what comes out of their mouth but how they act. Now, if you have watched what’s been happening at the national level, I think it’s fair to say that there is ample … evidence that President Trump doesn’t really care about minority populations.”
Englund has spoken up on protecting DACA recipients and notes that her family and her husband are immigrants.
“Literally everyone who comes here is an immigrant and I disagree what’s happening at the national level,” Englund said. “I think that it’s just another example of why one party government will fail us and that’s why we need a balance of power.”
She said she would bring people, who don’t often engage with one another, together to figure out how to stop hate speech and crime against immigrants.
“My goal is to make a list of all the people who are leaders in our state and who maybe have never met each other and maybe who have never even had a conversation,” she said. “I think it starts there. I think we fight against hate with love and I think we fight against that kind of sentiment by taking positive actions forward.”
She would also encourage Congressional delegates to consider the renewal of H1-B visas, as companies are in need of talent and the immigration process takes far too long, which she would also hope to fix.
“My aunt, she applied to come to America 10 years ago,” she said. “She finally got passage to America this year. She’s from Korea, an ally state, it took her 10 years.”
Dhingra said action needs to happen now. As a trainer of law enforcement, she said the Legislature needs to apply trainings of implicit bias and de-escalation methods on a policy level.
“As a state, we have to make sure our law enforcement officers are here to serve and protect,” Dhingra said. “That if someone is the victim of crime, they feel comfortable calling 911 and seeking protection and making sure they’re not going to be the ones being deported. They’re not going to be asked their immigration status because they’re not officers for ICE.” On an individual level, she encouraged everyone to report hate speech and crimes to police, even if they’re a witness, because police log those reports and use it as data.
“So let’s make sure we’re tracking every incident of hate and let’s make sure we are in a position to fully prosecute them,” Dhingra, a prosecutor, said.
When it came to what each candidate’s first bill would be, if they are elected, each had varying answers.
Kuderer praised the potential power of a state infrastructure bank to free up money for education.
She said the state could pay a fraction of the $3.2 billion in debt service loans it currently pays to Wall Street under this model and believes it’s far more sustainable, as North Dakota had success with it through the Great Recession.
Darnell said she would create a homeowners bill of rights because of what she’s seen happen during the 600,000 foreclosures that occurred during the Great Recession.
She said there’s several barriers in the Deed of Trust Act, which allows banks to take people’s homes without any proof of title. She’s also against the burdensome costs of filing a temporary restraining order to stop the sale of a home, which if coupled with the cost of representation, is a perfect disaster for a homeowner to lose their house.
Dhingra’s first bill includes preventing those convicted of domestic violence harassment from purchasing a firearm, and Englund would work to immediately get rid of the high cost of car tabs the passage of Sound Transit 3 brought.