48th Legislative District candidates answer questions

October 12, 2010

By Contributor

Voters in the 48th Legislative District will decide a state House of Representatives state Senate races next month. Here, the candidates discuss a variety of local and state issues in 25 words or fewer.

Incumbent Democrat Ross Hunter faces Republican Diane Tebelius for a House seat. Incumbent Democrat Rodney Tom is running against Republican Gregg Bennett for a Senate seat.

Government should be fiscally responsible. What does that mean to you?

Hunter: We should build budgets that are sustainable. This will require major changes in healthcare cost growth to lower its growth rate.

Tebelius: The state Legislature must identify and fund the priorities of government. It means not passing deficit budgets and not borrowing one-time monies to fund ongoing expenses.

Tom: It means prioritizing core government services and then delivering them in the most efficient manner possible. State government can’t be all things to all people.

Bennett: Olympia has been spending at unsustainable and unaffordable levels. It’s time to cut state spending in all areas except public safety and education to become sustainable.

What are the biggest cost cuts you would make to help balance the state budget?

Hunter: We will eliminate most spending not required by federal law or the state Constitution. See my web site for details.

Tebelius: We need to review the state pension system for new state workers; initiate changes in medical insurance payments of current state workers.

Tom: We have to adjust our payroll expenses, looking at COLA freezes, STEP freezes, healthcare and other benefit costs.

Bennett: Cut state spending in all areas except public safety and education to balance the budget.

What are the top two taxes you would consider to balance the state budget?

Hunter: I do not expect we will raise significant new tax revenue next year. Fee-supported programs should carry their own weight and not be subsidized by the general taxpayer.

Tebelius: We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. I have been clear that raising taxes during a recession is a job-killing approach.

Tom: I believe I-1053 will pass, and any new taxes will be off the table. I believe we need to look at tax loopholes that aren’t delivering the jobs they originally promised and repeal them.

Bennett: None. This is all about spending and prioritizing services and only funding essential services.

What steps will your own legislative office take to cut costs for the state?

Hunter: We took furloughs, funded my own out of state travel, and share a district office with another representative.

Tebelius: The legislative branch must make cuts. In doing so, the Legislature must make transparent the costs of the entire legislative branch.

Tom: I have furloughed my legislative assistant one day per month, and paid back to the state wages I was paid during special session when I wasn’t physically in Olympia.

Bennett: I oppose using taxpayer dollars to mail “newsletters,” which I believe are used for re-election efforts and therefore an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.

What can Washington do to attract businesses to expand or relocate here? Be specific.

Hunter: Make the R&D tax credits permanent. Replace the 520 bridge. Improve education outcomes so companies can hire here.

Tebelius: We need to reform the tax code, state unemployment insurance, state Labor & Industry regulations and reduce state health care mandates on businesses.

Tom: We can become more business friendly by passing legislation, like we did this year forgiving small businesses for minor first-time violations.

Bennett: Must specifically address the pro-labor leanings of our Legislature and governor to become more business supportive. We must reduce the tax burden on small businesses.

What, if anything, can the state do to spur job creation?

Hunter: Stay on course with transportation improvements (520, viaduct, etc.). Improve tech transfer from universities to businesses. Improve job-specific training.

Tebelius: Washington is ranked at the top nationally for business failures. We must pass reforms to remove barriers to growth, especially for small businesses in the private sector.

Tom: We can have a world-class education system that gives our students the knowledge base to compete in a global, high-tech economy, while re-training workers for the jobs of tomorrow.

Bennett: The state can invest pension funds into startup businesses and can give B&O tax credits to new companies.

What adjustments would you make to the state’s minimum wage laws?

Hunter: This was an initiative that has worked well over the years and does not need significant changes.

Tebelius: The minimum wage is designed to help working men and women. The changes adopted by the voters need not be revised.

Tom: None.

Bennett: None.

What specific human services programs should be protected as the state tackles its budget shortfall?

Hunter: All options are on the table. It is difficult to eliminate core Medicaid services, as they are a federal entitlement.

Tebelius: We must maintain a safety net for the most vulnerable including children, elderly and the disabled. The failure of the Legislature to address the deficit problems has resulted in cuts for all programs.

Tom: Programs related to the developmentally disabled and seniors.

Bennett: Essential care services that are provided to our most vulnerable, children and senior citizens. We need to protect those who are unable to protect themselves.

What will you do to help community nonprofits secure funding for human services?

Hunter: This year I eliminated many silly rules that cities and counties (that provide a lot of funds to nonprofits) suffer under in their budget process.

Tebelius: During economic downturns, the government must continue to provide a safety net. The mismanagement and huge deficit spending is due to the failure of the Legislature to set priorities.

Tom: Nonprofits are an excellent way to leverage our limited state dollars to maximize services, and ensuring they’re directed at the specific needs of the community.

Bennett: We need to provide steady baseline funding to qualifying programs. These programs need to be supplemented by demonstrated local financial support.

What is the top environmental concern in the 48th Legislative District and how do you plan to address the issue?

Hunter: Job growth greatly exceeds housing growth, requiring major highway construction that we cannot afford and damaging the environment. We should tie infrastructure and transit funding to meeting density goals.

Tebelius: Water quality, alternative energy and land use.

Tom: The cleanup of Puget Sound. It’s the crown jewel of our region, and it’s showing signs of neglect, especially from petroleum runoff.

Bennett: Preserving the habitat we have and channeling growth into urban centers.

What is the best way to fund and upgrade state parks?

Hunter: State parks should be funded from the general fund — they are a core investment of the state.

Tebelius: The best way to fund state parks is to develop a balanced state budget that includes proper maintenance for state parks.

Tom: This past year we instituted a voluntary donation on your drivers’ licenses that should keep all parks open.

Bennett: We must first get our state spending under control before we seek to fund nonessential programs or look for upgrades.

How can the public education system be improved, given the funding constraints?

Hunter: The Core24 set of graduation requirements ensure that all students have a curriculum that enables them to be prepared for college. Improve principal and teacher evaluations.

Tebelius: Fund education first. Adopt 21st century standards and assessments through the Core24 curriculum, reward and support quality teachers, and ensure vital dollars are spent in the classroom.

Tom: We need to continue to press for reforms, making sure we have a great teacher in every classroom, and a great principal at every school.

Bennett: Fully fund basic education. Empower local districts to implement what works for them. Create measurable goals for performance and reward our best teachers.

What can you do as a lawmaker to help Bellevue College open a campus in Issaquah?

Hunter: Bellevue College has an ambitious plan to turn into a four-year college. Their expansion plans are part of this. This will require funding, which will be difficult to do now.

Tebelius: I intend to work with community and education leaders to see that the needs of all communities are met in this area.

Tom: I’ll continue to advocate for the needs of Bellevue College, which include expanding into the Issaquah Highlands area.

Bennett: Work with local developers to identify potential expansion sites.

How do you or will you foster bipartisanship in Olympia?

Hunter: I have a long history of working across the aisle on education policy and funding, environmental improvements, transportation and job creation.

Tebelius: I will work with all parties in the Legislature and help foster cooperation among lawmakers from diverse areas of the state.

Tom: Having served in the Legislature as a Republican, and now the last four years as a Democrat, I think you foster bipartisanship through trust.

Bennett: By restoring the protections that my opponent suspended in I-960, which requires legislators to work across party lines to prioritize spending.

What is your position on state income tax Initiative 1098 on the November ballot?

Hunter: I am not categorically opposed to an income tax in general, but have some specific concerns about this particular proposal.

Tebelius: I oppose Initiative 1098. It is a job-killing measure and something the state cannot afford. I-1098 is a precursor to a state income tax for everyone.

Tom: I’m opposed to I-1098.

Bennett: I strongly oppose. This just puts off our need to fundamentally restructure our state spending.

Is this the right time for the state to get out of the liquor business? Why or why not?

Hunter: We should not be in the liquor business. It is not a core function of government.

Tebelius: Initiative 1100 to privatize liquor sales is long overdue. It is a cost-saving measure to help reduce the size of state government, and will ultimately benefit citizens.

Tom: Absolutely. Being in a retail business is not a core function of government. I sponsored a similar bill in the Senate and couldn’t get a hearing.

Bennett: It is the right time. We need to be looking for cost savings and prioritizing state services. Our state shouldn’t be in the liquor business.

Should the state be challenging federal healthcare legislation?

Hunter: No. It’s a waste of time and money.

Tebelius: The job of determining what cases to challenge in state or federal court should not be left to legislators who have their own agendas.

Tom: No!

Bennett: Yes. I support Attorney General McKenna’s efforts.

What can Washington do to make prescription drugs more affordable?

Hunter: These prices are largely controlled by the federal government and drug companies, and the state has little leverage.

Tebelius: Competition and choices for healthcare insurance should be increased. Current state policy has reduced competition within the marketplace, raising the cost of medical necessities.

Tom: We can enforce through our trade agreements intellectual property rights and patents. Too many foreign countries are using the United States as a free R&D lab

Bennett: I don’t think this is the role of the state, to intervene in the cost of prescription drugs.

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