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Huster, Pflug talk development, deficit

Democrat Phyllis Huster is challenging Republican incumbent State Senator Cheryl Pflug to represent the 5th Legislative District, which encompasses the Sammamish Plateau, Issaquah, Snoqualmie Valley and Maple Valley.

With all eyes on the economy, the candidates discussed their plans for boosting economic development in the 5th District, coping with the projected $3.2 billion deficit in the next state budget, and other top priorities.

Pflug, who has represented the 5th District in both the Senate and House of Representatives, said that after growing up in the area and raising four kids here, she has the advantage of understanding the community.

“Being typical of the area I represent, I don’t have to do a poll to know where people are going to be,” she said.

Pflug said she has been successful working with Republicans and Democrats alike.

“I will cross the aisle when that’s what’s important,” she said, pointing to health care-related legislation she had written that Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire incorporated into an omnibus health care bill.

A former nurse, Pflug’s passion is health care, and she said she’s worked toward making it more affordable and effective.

She wants to bring down the cost of private insurance for young workers who can’t afford it, and also encourage insurance companies to pay for more primary care. She said managing chronic problems though primary care visits avoids expensive trips to the emergency room, and contributes to a stable work force.

“Ten, 20 years out, you’re making a huge difference in health care costs, because people are not having to have bypass surgery, or amputation of diabetic limbs,” she said.

Another priority for Pflug is changing state regulatory processes to improve the business climate. She said businesses often have to wait unacceptable lengths of time for permits, and state agencies sometimes have competing or even contradictory rules.

Pflug also said the state needs to invest in alternative energy sources and transmission infrastructure, making it easier to move both goods and people.

“Where we make our money is at our ports, loading and unloading,” she said. “It just flat-out doesn’t work if you can’t get stuff to the port and east.”

She favors a 520 bridge replacement with a bigger structure, and opposes a Sound Transit proposal to reconfigure Interstate 90’s reversible lanes to accommodate light rail.

“I-90 functions almost at capacity now, so to take two lanes out is a disaster,” she said.

She would fund transportation improvements not with user fees, which she said are hardest on the people who can least afford them, but by reforming the ferry system and taking some money from the general budget.

Pflug also wants to overhaul the school transportation formula, which provides funding on a per-pupil basis.

“We have problems in communities like ours that have to deal with hills and freeways that divide school districts — that means we have to buy buses with bigger transmissions, and we have to have more buses because there are longer routes,” she said.

Huster, who moved to the area from Georgia about two years ago, aims to give her neighbors a fresh new voice in Olympia.

“You get these incumbents that have been in office so long, that they’ve forgotten what the voter wants,” she said.

The self-described “moderate Democrat” ventured into the political world working on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign several years ago, and said she’s been actively involved in politics ever since.

“Frustrated and angry” by what she considers a lack of representation by Pflug in Olympia, Huster said she could work more effectively with the Democratic majority in the state Legislature to serve her community’s interests.

She said capitalizing on the 5th District’s natural beauty could give the area a shot in the arm.

“Let’s build a tourism industry, and let’s tax tourist dollars to enrich our local community,” she said. “And if we could get federal dollars to sponsor green jobs right here in our own district, then we’re recession-proofing ourselves.”

Huster also said she would decrease payroll taxes and health care costs for businesses worth half a million dollars or less.

“We’re counting on Microsoft to grow jobs, but those companies are the first to cut jobs during a bad economy. So we have to sponsor that innovation from the bottom up,” she said.

While she sees “no magic bullet” to get the state budget on the right track, “we’ve got to make it stretch, we’ve got to focus on our priorities, and maybe we have to do things that are kind of creative.”

Her plan would include procurement reform. For example, if numerous school districts are buying the same book, she proposes that the state help them negotiate a bulk rate.

She said she would also look at “more efficient ways to tax.”

Rather than taxing alcohol by volume, she would move to have it taxed by price.

“If somebody buys a $400 bottle of wine, I think we tax that at a $400 rate, instead of the same as an $8 bottle,” she said.

Other ideas include closing corporate tax loopholes, revisiting vehicle registration fees so users directly support road improvements, and redesigning the state lottery.

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