Legislators from 41st District weigh in on top state issues

January 5, 2009

By Jim Feehan

41st Legislative District map 41st Legislative District map

The Legislature convenes Jan. 12 with the daunting task of closing a projected $5.8 billion shortfall.

Last month, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed slashing more than $3.5 billion in funding for schools, social services and other areas to close the biggest budget shortfall in state history.

In addition to budget cuts, Gregoire proposes using $609 million from the state’s rainy-day fund. She’s also banking on the federal government sending the state at least $1 billion to help pay for Medicaid and welfare programs.Meanwhile, some lawmakers and lobbyists are calling for a tax increase and closing certain tax exemptions.

On the eve of the legislative session, The Issaquah Press interviewed the 41st Legislative District delegation (which represents part of Issaquah) of state Sen. Fred Jarrett, and state Reps. Judy Clibborn and Marcie Maxwell to find out their views on taxes and spending priorities.

What is your overall outlook for the upcoming session?

Maxwell: We are without a doubt encountering fiscal challenges in this state. I’m optimistic that we can make the kinds of prudent choices during the legislative session that will keep our state on track.

Clibborn: The overall outlook is not surprising. We know the national economy is having a hard time, and it was only a matter of time before we finally got hit with the same. However, we did put ourselves in a better place by starting a “rainy-day fund” that comes in handy in this bleak budget year. We also have an economy that is better than most other states, because of our international trade and sound businesses here in Washington.

Jarrett: You can’t be in this business without being an optimist. I look at this as an opportunity. During this recession, everybody has a responsibility to share in the sacrifice.

One way state lawmakers could raise money is by closing tax exemptions? Would you favor closing sales tax exemptions on food and medicines? Property taxes? Exempting sales tax on professional services (lawyers, doctors and other professionals)?

Maxwell: We’re going to be taking a look at all areas of the budget and at the laws currently on the books this session, including tax credits and exemptions. Some tax credits and exemptions have their place, so I don’t favor closing them all.

Clibborn: I am not interested in closing loopholes on food and drugs. This is another hit on people already struggling at every level of our economy. I am also not supportive of increases in sales tax, since it has been used up with the passage of Sound Transit 2. Property taxes are high and will not show the decrease in property values until next year, when people may get a decrease. In the meantime, we will make cuts and evaluate tax breaks as they expire. I do not see this as the silver bullet.

Jarrett: I would first looking at trimming state spending before looking at tax exemptions.

What would you cut immediately from the budget without any qualms?

Maxwell: These are tough times and we’re bound to see some tough cuts. I won’t have qualms about cutting programs that have shown a record of inefficiency, redundancy or waste.

Clibborn: I will support stopping all new expenditures for programs not started. That includes family leave, sales tax

replacement for the poor, and other programs we voted for and did not fund in the budget. These are drivers of the budget shortfall, since they get counted as if they were started.

Jarrett: We need to follow a business model of essentially making the state more efficient in delivering services.

Conversely, what would you fight tooth and nail to prevent from being eliminated or drastically cut?

Maxwell: As a former school board director, K-12 education is a particular passion of mine and I will be a strong voice in Olympia for adequate funding for our basic education system. Our children deserve opportunities to learn with high-quality teachers and to prepare them for future jobs in a global economy.

Clibborn: I will fight to support funding for education. We need to move toward the funding levels that give us the best school system in the nation. I do support the cuts made in the governor’s budget that delays the cost of living adjustments for all state employees for this budget and the cut in class-size dollars.  These were put in place by initiative and were never funded. In a time without a surplus, we cannot keep them as is.

Jarrett: Funding for foster care program. We’re trying to get foster kids into permanent homes and in doing so, that would reduce caseloads, which reduces the need for more social workers and it does something good for kids. Also, we need to do a better job of getting students through college quicker. On average, it takes a student five years to get a four-year degree. The University of Maryland has had success that has put 25 percent more students through the system by lining up course credits in a timely fashion.

Would you favor a state income tax?

Maxwell: Our citizens are struggling right now with their own budget concerns. The state needs to spend current tax dollars wisely.

Clibborn: I do not favor an income tax. We would still have the problem with our budget, no matter what taxing base we decided on, because of the pervasive nature of the recession.

Jarrett: No. Even if we changed the state constitution and it went through the administrative process, we wouldn’t begin collecting money until the next recession.

Aside from the adoption of the operating and capital budgets, what do you see as the biggest issue in the ‘09 session?

Maxwell: Further discussions of the final report from the Basic Education Finance Task Force, and then pass the future foundation for K-12 basic education that will drive 21st century education programs and adequate funding for our public schools.

Clibborn: The biggest issue coming down the road early on in this session is the stimulus package from the new administration. There is a feeding frenzy for lists of projects eligible, and we will see a lot about it in the news. The criteria, the amount, the strings attached are all unanswered questions. Stay tuned!

Jarrett: Reforming how we look at basic education. The Basic Education Task Force’s recommendations for the upcoming session will change the way we fund K-12 education in the state. We’re defining basic education as the schooling needed to help students meet new high school graduation requirements adopted by the state Board of Education. Another important issue that will come up is the cap-and-trade system that would set an overall limit on greenhouse-gas emissions from major sources, such as factories, power plants and gasoline, starting in 2012.

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