At their town hall on March 23 at Cascadia College, Sen. Guy Palumbo, Rep. Shelley Kloba and Rep. Derek Stanford — all Democrats from the 1st Legislative District — discussed Washington’s various funding challenges, along with potential solutions.
All three lawmakers wanted to see investments made in infrastructure, education and social services, and talked about new revenue options. These will likely be explored more as the House and Senate release their budget proposals this week.
Kloba said that when the state doesn’t meet its financial responsibilities, it ends up with court battles like McCleary for education funding, along with similar cases for fish culverts and public employee contracts.
Stanford said that Washington’s tax structure is among the most regressive in the country.
The three agreed that steps need to be taken to fix the state’s “upside down” structure and Kloba openly favored a capital gains tax. Palumbo said it would be unlikely to pass in the Senate, but other proposals, such as a tiered real estate excise tax, have a better chance.
“It’s a hard road, especially with the revenue forecast,” Palumbo said, noting that the state is predicting $861 million more than expected through 2021.
As far as transportation, Palumbo said he supports raising the gas tax to pay for projects across the state, in response to an audience question about the tolls on I-405.
“I’m against tolls; I have been from day one,” he said, adding that he’s tried several times to repeal them. “The reality is that they’re not going anywhere, so now the fight is to get that money for our district.”
The “good news,” he said, is that the 1st District has $668 million worth of projects — including the widening of SR-522, new lanes on I-405 and fixing the Clearview bottleneck — in a package proposed by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens).
“The bad news is we’re still trying to pass the package,” he said.
Stanford said he’d like to see more investments made in bus capacity, which would “help with congestion and provide more options,” but that the state needs to work with local transit agencies on funding it.
Palumbo said more coordination is also needed on Sound Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit projects in the area.
Kloba, who supports tolls, said that reliance on the gas tax is “problematic” as vehicles become more efficient.
The legislators said that the state should also be stepping up to fund special education and behavioral health.
Palumbo said that addiction, mental health and lack of affordable housing are related problems that are contributing to the homelessness crisis, but that the approach should be to deal with the causes instead of “throw[ing] more money at the problem.” For his part, Palumbo said his focus is on increasing housing supply.
Stanford said he supports ideas like Bothell’s Navigator program, because it’s important to divert people from the criminal justice system into services, as well as eviction reform.
As far as health issues, Kloba, Palumbo and Stanford all supported the limits on exemptions from the measles vaccine, as well as a Medicaid rate increase for nursing homes and the Long-Term Care Trust Act.
On other education issues, they supported “multiple pathways” to graduation, and a tax on vaping, which Stanford said is “an epidemic in our schools.”
On the environment, they supported the 100 percent clean energy bill and other policies aimed to reduce emissions.
“The governor…said that instead of hitting a grand slam, which would be something like the carbon tax, we’re going to hit a couple singles and doubles,” Palumbo said.
For those who didn’t get to attend the forum, the legislators will host a tele-town hall on April 1.