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In the hot seat: State rep., senate hopefuls square off on reform, economy in Snoqualmie Chamber forum
The five candidates for three positions in the 5th Legislative District aired their views on education, reforms supporting small business, and transportation issues at a Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce lunch forum held Friday, Oct. 19, in Snoqualmie.
Brad Toft (R), Snoqualmie mortgage manager and Mark Mullet (D), Issaquah business owner, are both running for the 5th District State Senate seat left vacant by Cheryl Pflug’s withdrawing from the race in May. David Spring (D), North Bend activist, and Chad Magendanz (R), Issaquah software consultant, are competing for the 5th District Representative seat, Position 2.
Position 1 Representative Jay Rodne (R) is running unopposed. He was not asked to answer the other candidates' questions, but was asked for his views on transportation.
Bill Shaw, publisher of the Valley Record, led the forum. Candidates took turns answering his questions:
How would you fully fund education?
Toft: The first dollar of our budget should be going to education. What’s happening in Olympia now is false choice being put in front of the voters. Education is being mixed in with other social services, and then we’re being told that there’s not enough money. So the dollars need to go to education first, and then we can have a discussion about raising revenues.
Mullet: “Education is the best investment of public dollars,” he said, so the state could save money in other places. King County and the city of Issaquah have implemented Healthy Incentives programs to keep health insurance costs low, and “If it saved tens of millions of dollars for King County, I think it could save hundreds of millions at the state level… If we could take all the money that we’ve saved by alleviating the ridiculous health care inflation… and reinvest every single dollar into education, that’s how I think we would really make a difference in the lives of our kids. “
Spring: It would take $3 billion per year to restore school funding to the national average… where are we going to get $3 billion? Where did the $3 billion go? Well in 1996, we gave away $15 million a year in corporate tax breaks. Currently we’re giving away $45 million a year to wealthy, multi-national corporations like Microsoft. Where I would get the $3 billion is simply by rolling back corporate tax breaks to what they were in 1996.
Magedanz: We have the money to fund education in this state, we just don’t have the money to fund everything else, and it comes down to priorities. If we have a priorities of government approach, we will be able to fund our kids first.
How would you help small businesses overcome regulatory obstacles?
Toft: The uncertainty that exists today is the inhibitor of economic growth. First of all, we need to stop, or at least set a moratorium on the number of regulations that are going on the books every year from our state agencies…. Next we have a B&O tax that is prohibitive for starting businesses here. What I would recommend is putting a floor in on the B&O tax at half a million dollars… and have an incubation period for small businesses, so that don’t pay that tax for the first three years. It’s a tax on revenue, not a tax on profit.
Mullet: In the city of Issaquah, we figured out that we have to regulate and facilitate, otherwise, we can’t get businesses to invest in our community, and some of these things didn’t cost a lot of money (such as calling a new business to let them know what permits information they are still missing before they open). Kind of just reinventing the approach that government has to take for business… Also, I’m very supportive of the AWC’s idea of having one point for B&O tax collections at the state level.
Spring: In my experience as a small business owner, the biggest problem was the B&O tax. We basically competed with the larger stores… I think the B&O tax is extremely harmful for small businesses, I proposed a bill in Olympia to eliminate the B&O tax on any businesses making less than $10 million a year, and to pay for it simply by repealing corporate tax breaks on any corporation making more than $1 billion a year.
Magendanz: I believe in raising the floor for the B&O (tax) as well as consolidating the collections so it’s easier to file, easier to stay in compliance. ... Also, we have the most expensive workers’ comp program in the nation, we have the fifth most expensive unemployment insurance program in the nation. We started some good work with workers’ comp reform in the last session, but I think there’s a lot more to do.
What’s the best solution for the I-90 corridor and beyond?
Toft: “There’s a philosophy that’s pervasive in Olympia, that’s basically social engineering to get people out of their cars. That philosophy needs to be discarded for an approach where our roads are safer and congestion is relieved.” He proposed looking at all revenues collected, and for those that have a transportation component such as vehicle sales tax, “those need to be put back into the transportation budget.”
Mullet: I like variable rate tolling. I am not a fan of flat-rate tolling, because I don’t think it changes people’s driving behavior. Variable rate tolling achieves something very important, and that’s getting people off the roads, between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m….The gas tax is a flawed source of funding right now because… (as cars get better gas mileage) we’re going to be buying a lot less gas in the future. I think we toll I-90 as well, because that’s where you get the extra revenue, and that’s how you make it easier for people to move… If we don’t do something to reduce a.m.-p.m. peak, we’re never going to get anywhere.
Spring: I oppose any kind of tolling on I-90 or any place else. We’ve already paid for these roads… The solution to this problem (is a public bank). Instead of basically having our bonding going through Wall Street banks charging us 4 or 5 percent interest… if we had our own public bank, keeping our own tax dollars at work in Washington state… we could charge ourselves 1 percent interest, and it would be a new stream of revenue for the state legislature… but the key issue is it would cut the cost of transportation projects.
Magendanz: Everybody loves the gas tax, because they don’t feel the pain… but the gas tax isn’t going to live much longer…. I’m not a fan of tolling… I think the result is going to be a vehicle-miles travelled approach.
Rodne: Environmentalists and transit advocates want congestion because then, the theory will be that people will drive less. We need to return to a policy of transportation planning that focuses on congestion relief. The reasons why transportation projects cost so much in this state: 1) prevailing wage loss, which price construction projects, public projects right out of the market, and 2) the environmental permitting regulations… There will be a transportation gas tax proposal on the docket next session. I am absolutely opposed to that until we reform the prevailing wage loss, and until we reform the environmental regulations process.