State Legislature candidates square off at debate in Redmond

Candidates from the 45th and 48th Washington state legislative districts met one recent Monday evening for a debate on policy issues as they vie for seats in November’s election.

The debate, which was held by the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse, saw Libertarian Michelle Darnell square off against Democratic incumbent Patty Kuderer for a 48th district House of Representatives seat.

In the 45th district Senate seat, Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund debated Democratic candidate Manka Dhingra.

The event was moderated by Natalie Brand from King 5 TV, and all the candidates were asked the same questions.

Each of the candidates were asked to list their top priorities if they were to be elected.

Darnell said funding education and education reforms, traffic congestion and car tab prices and housing were her top three.

Of those, housing is what she’s most concerned with.

“We have an inventory problem,” she said.

Darnell said she would push for a homeowners’ bill of rights, especially in light of rising real estate and property costs.

She’s also interested in looking at how the state approaches growth and hopes to repeal regulations and streamline permitting to encourage development.

Darnell was also skeptical of sending money to Olympia to address these problems, instead saying money should be kept local.

For Kuderer, her top issues were health care and housing, but education funding should be addressed as well.

In the state Legislature’s compromise to find a way to fully fund K-12 education, property taxes in King County and other areas were increased to help offset costs to more rural counties.

Kuderer said this model is unsustainable.

“We are trying to fund education really by property tax,” she said.

Instead of this model, she hopes to raise revenue by taxing corporations instead of homeowners, she said.

In the 45th district, Englund said her top priorities were reducing high sales and property taxes, fixing transportation woes like congestion and funding education.

She specifically wants to get rid of toll lanes and city-specific taxes.

Dhingra said education, fixing property tax increases from McCleary funding and creating public infrastructure were her priorities.

Concerning transportation in particular, she said any solution needs to be regional and interconnected with multiple cities and the state working together.

When asked how the state should create a functional and fair tax system, Kuderer didn’t mince words on her position.

“We’re dead last in an issue of tax fairness,” she said, adding that the state has the most regressive tax system in the country.

This means taxes fall more heavily on the poor, working and middle classes than they do on the wealthy through higher sales taxes and other forms of tax.

“We have to reform the tax structure and we have to do it all at the same time,” she said.

Lowering property and sales taxes were ways to do this, as well as implementing a capital gains tax.

Darnell agreed that the tax system wasn’t fair to many people, but disagreed with the notion there should be a capital gains tax, calling it a delayed income tax.

Darnell labeled herself as the “wealth creation” candidate.

In the 48th district, Dhingra also said that the state had a regressive tax system that should be fixed, starting with rolling back property taxes and cutting corporate tax loopholes.

“It is time that we prioritize people, small businesses and our children,” she said.

Kuderer objected to the idea that a capital gains tax was an income tax, saying it would only effect around 6 percent of people in the 48th district.

In contrast, Englund said she did not think the state’s tax system was regressive, saying that because the state doesn’t have an income tax, it benefits all residents.

“What we need to do is to do a deep dive into state spending,” she said.

When asked how to deal with rapid population and economic growth in a way that helps all residents, Kuderer, Englund and Dhingra all said funding and increasing education and training for Washington students was the way to tackle it.

Darnell said the state should shrink its role and reduce regulation and taxation.

Both Democrats, Kuderer and Dhingra, said they would support equal pay legislation if it was proposed.

“Absolutely,” Dhingra said. “I for one am tired of getting paid 77 cents on the dollar.”

Englund said she hadn’t experienced discrimination personally, and would prefer to solve the wage gap by bringing unions and business together.

Darnell said she wouldn’t support legislating a solution.

“I’m getting really tired of the identity politics going on,” she said, saying identity politics were responsible for social conflict along sex and racial lines.

Darnell also said she wouldn’t support the state intervening in tackling cheaper housing, saying it should be left to developers and that regulations should be cut back.

Kuderer said she would hope to create a public infrastructure bank at the state level for municipalities to use when purchasing land or building utilities.

Creating a real estate excise tax exemption for landowners who sell to cities for affordable development would also help.

Dhingra said rolling back property tax increases from McCleary would help reduce housing costs.

Both Dhingra and Englund said the state should bring different stakeholders together to find solutions.

On fixing increasing traffic congestion in Puget Sound, both Englund and Darnell said creating solutions within the framework of vehicle infrastructure was needed.

“People want immediate and incremental solutions,” Englund said.

For her, this means removing toll lanes from Interstate 405 and creating more bus routes and park and rides.

Darnell said there was a plot to “engineer people out of their cars” and said self-driving cars could be a solution to the region’s transportation problems.

Dhingra and Kuderer said they both supported public light rail expansion.

Kuderer said the longer the state waits to create public transit like light rail, the more expensive it gets.

Dhingra said much the same.

“We need public transportation options, we should have had them 10 years ago,” said Dhingra.

Finally, when asked their thoughts on if the education funding solution was adequate to address concerns, Dhingra said the state needed to focus on attracting more teachers.

“We have a shortage of teachers,” she said. “…We have to reduce class sizes, we have to make sure our teachers are given a living wage.”

Having teachers who can’t afford to live near schools because of high costs of living and low wages is a problem, she said.

Englund said schools need more para-educators and support for teachers as well.

“Just be open minded to creative and innovative solutions, and not just that more money creates better outcomes,” Englund said.

In the 48th district, Kuderer said the funding solution in the most recent state budget didn’t address the problems presented in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision saying the state was under-funding education.

She said funding through property tax is unsustainable and that the state needed to raise teacher wages and improve facilities.

Darnell said she doesn’t see as much of a funding problem as a systemic problem, where many non-teaching personnel are in the system.

Darnell also said the teachers unions were holding the state hostage and that she supported charter schools.

During the crowd question portion of the debate, Englund and Dhingra were asked about their views on the opioid crisis and they took the opportunity to address the question of whether they support a safer drug consumption sites in King County.

Englund said she strongly opposed the sites.

Advocates say the sites are designed to allow drug users to consume drugs in a controlled environment to prevent disease, overdoses and connect users with services.

Dhingra said it was a non-issue since no city in the 45th district is talking about hosting a site, but said the state must look at science based solutions, calling the epidemic a public health issue and not a law enforcement issue.

The general election will be held on Nov. 7 and the winning candidates will be sworn into office in January.