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Candidates talk schools, transit
Because Republicans have long dominated the 5th Legislative District, many observers were surprised when Democrat David Spring garnered nearly 49 percent of the August primary vote, challenging the eight-year incumbent Republican Representative Glenn Anderson for Position 2.
Spring attributed his strong showing to voters being “mad as hornets” about education funding in the state.
Himself frustrated by the Snoqualmie Valley School District’s three failures to pass a bond to build a second comprehensive high school and sixth elementary school, the North Bend resident and father of a third-grader has already drafted several bills that would increase state education funding. He said the bills have the support of House Majority Leader Frank Chopp, a Democrat who took notice of Spring after the primary.Spring wants a referendum to lower the threshold for passage of a construction bond from 60 percent to 55 percent. He also wants to reduce class sizes, increase per-pupil funding, and raise teacher pay to put them all closer to the national average.
Additionally, Spring wants the state to fund 50 percent of the cost of new school construction. He said the state was willing to cover a smaller percentage of the actual construction costs of a new Snoqualmie Valley high school because it determines its contribution using an “unrealistic formula” that penalizes the district for its fast growth and affluence.
“The state has typically paid for 20, 30, 40 percent of the cost of (building) high schools. And so it became really clear to me that our school district was being shafted,” Spring said.
Spring said he’s gathered more than 400 signatures for a petition urging the Snoqualmie Valley School District to sue the state to provide matching funds for high school construction.
He said the money needed to fund these measures, even as the state faces a budget deficit, can be found by ending corporate tax breaks, which he said Anderson had supported as a “former corporate lobbyist.”
Anderson said he was a registered lobbyist in Olympia from 1996 to 2000 as he advocated for stronger background checks on people who worked with children. He denied being connected to corporate lobbyists, and said he has voted for a decreasing number of business tax breaks over the years.
“It’d be nice to sit there and say that you could wash out a lot of corporate tax breaks, and to be honest, I think there are a lot of them that we could do without,” Anderson said. “Over the last, almost eight years, the Democratic party has been in charge, and they’ve granted all these tax breaks. You can vote no, and that’s what my record is.
“I’ve voted for my share of tax breaks. But I’ve gradually voted for less and less because they are just people wanting to pay less than others, and that’s not fair,” he added.
Anderson also refuted Spring’s claim that within the pending House Bill 1612, which Anderson co-wrote with fellow 5th District Republican Jay Rodne, is an attempt to raise property taxes.
During the education funding reforms of the 1980s, the levy lid was set at 24 percent. Some school districts were grandfathered in with higher levy lids, however, and the state has been mandated to standardize the cap. Anderson’s bill would raise the maximum school levy lid to 30 percent statewide.
Spring said raising the lid would effectively place a greater burden on homeowners by allowing for higher property taxes.
“We’re already paying some of the highest property taxes in the state. Bellevue and Seattle pay $2 per 1,000 of assessed valuation. Here we are paying $3, and had we passed the school bond, we’d be paying $4,” Spring said.
Anderson said raising the lid simply gives school districts more options when they approach taxpayers for levies.
“It raises the cap, but the school board would have to actually vote to use that (increase). So it allows the school district the flexibility, the choice, based on what that community is willing to support. But is it a property tax increase? The answer is no,” Anderson said. “Unless the community votes to support it, nothing happens.”
The candidates have different ideas of how the region should resolve transportation issues going forward.
Anderson focuses on cars and buses.
He said increasing the gas tax will only stifle the economy; he thinks sales tax revenue for auto sales, parts and services that currently goes to the state general fund should instead be used to fund transportation projects. He sees tolling as inevitable, but opposes pre-tolling a 520 bridge replacement.
In terms of public transportation, Anderson thinks adding buses is a better route than expanding the light rail system.
“The bus rapid-transit approach is going to get more people out of vehicles and be environmentally sensitive. Taxpayers will be able to afford doing a good thing, versus we’re going to spend X billions, and Issaquah might see a rail line in 2025,” he said.
Spring, on the other hand, sees light rail as the future of the region.
“It is the only way that we are going to reduce emissions for global warming issues. Quite frankly, I believe that we will someday run out of oil, in 40 or 50 years,” Spring said.
He said that light rail will eventually extend to Snoqualmie Valley.
“We will be able to get on a very fast system — not a slow bus — but a light rail system that will be in Seattle in 20 minutes,” Spring said. “Does it benefit us tomorrow or next year? No. But will it benefit us in 20, 40, 50 years? Yes.”
The Municipal League of King County, a nonpartisan association that conducts the equivalent of job interviews with candidates and rates their ability to serve effectively, ranked Anderson as a “good” candidate for the position. It ranked Spring as a “very good” candidate.
Both candidates are scheduled to meet the public and answer panel and audience questions at Mount Si High School starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9. The school is located at 8651 Meadowbrook Way S.E. in Snoqualmie. The forum, which includes other 5th Legislative District candidates, is presented by the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Snoqualmie Valley School District.