Property tax relief may have been a priority for the 5th District state legislators who spoke at a series of town hall meetings Saturday, Feb. 17, but school safety and gun control were top of mind for the 50 or so North Bend area residents who filled the North Bend Library meeting room to hear from them.
One of the first questions asked was about the actions each legislator was taking to prevent gun violence in schools. All of them agreed this was an important issue.
“Whenever we increase security in schools, there’s a cost factor, but that’s money well spent. We’ve got to address the issue of gun violence in schools. I would be very supportive of metal detectors in our schools,” said Rep. Jay Rodne (R-Snoqualmie). He added that he would also be supportive of structural designs to “harden” buildings against active shooter scenarios.
Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) said the Senate is currently investigating the cost to place a school resource (police) officer in every school. Estimates are $139 million in 2019, $192 million in 2020 and increasing from there.
“To just have a school resource officer in high schools would be $32 million, $44 million, then $47.5 million,” Mullet added. “Those are the numbers and that is certainly a conversation that’s happening right now.”
Rep. Paul Graves (R-Fall City) noted the Senate had already passed a ban on bump stocks this session (SB5992) and he is championing a bill in the house to allow people who know they have mental health issues to voluntarily put themselves on a “do not buy” list, to prevent gun dealers from selling to them.
They also mentioned the possibility of raising the age for gun ownership to 21.
The audience absorbed this information calmly, but was stirred up by the legislators’ response to the next question — from the audience.
Dan Olah, Snoqualmie Valley Indivisibles member, asked each legislator to say whether they’ve taken campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. Rodne responded that they couldn’t answer that question at the state-sponsored town hall meeting
“Why?” the crowd demanded.
For legislators to discuss campaign issues at a state function violates state ethics codes, Rodne explained. So would posting their campaign contributors on their websites, which was Olah’s next request.
The legislators urged audience members to visit www.pdc.wa.gov to find out about their campaign contributions. Record staff checked the website and found that in 2016, both Graves and Rodne received campaign contributions from NRA-related organizations. Rodne, who reported $103,556 in total campaign contributions in 2016, received $1,950 from NRA PAC. Graves, who reported $320,633.69 in total 2016 contributions, received $1,000 from NRA Political Victory Fund. Mullet reported $557,494.02 in 2016 contributions, but none from an NRA organization.
The audience did want to hear about tax relief, too, but as it related to capital gains taxes on major industries, business and occupation taxes, and assurances that they won’t soon face a state income tax, too.
This year, Mullet said is turning out to be “the year of misery,” because tax increases passed by the legislature are taking effect, but the local tax relief was delayed until 2019.
Although there were only three weeks left in the session at the time, Rodne said, “We’re going to work really hard to get that tax relief in.”
Mullet explained that “We actually had a lot of economic growth and a lot of extra revenue, so … something that all three of us are optimistic on, with some of that extra revenue we’re trying to do a one-time tax relief to kind of make up for the fact that this year is really painful. Had we known we were going to have this revenue when we left town last June, we never would have had the state tax start in 2018.”
Regarding an income tax, all three were strongly opposed to it and confident it would not come up this session.
Rodne said an income tax was not the solution, noting that the state’s transaction-based taxation system helped Washington get through the dot-com collapses of a decade ago.
“I oppose an income tax as well,” said Graves. “The voters have voted against it nine times over the last 60 years.”
Graves proposed amending the state constitution to specifically state that Washington has no income tax, too, “instead of creating that anxiety every year of will it come up… The constitution is meant to cement our long expressed values and voting nine times against it in 60 years counts for that. It’s not really out of an anti-tax sensibility, it’s really about a promise to Washington families and Washington citizens that you can invest safely here.”
All three voiced their support of small businesses, too, in particular small business loans, and Graves proposed giving small businesses the same type of B&O (business and occupation) tax shelters the state previously gave to Boeing.
To a question on “the rural-urban divide” in the state, Rodne called for a review of the state’s 1990 Growth Management Act, saying it was intended to manage growth, and increase density, which it was doing, but also to decrease sprawl which it was not doing. Land prices, he said, are rising because of the artificial restrictions imposed by the GMA.
On the carbon tax bill now in committee in the Senate, Graves said he did not support it in its current form.
“It’s a gas tax that doesn’t even go to roads and bridges,” he said.
He also objected to the many business exemptions included in the bill and Mullet agreed.
The legislators also talked about exemptions to discrimination laws on religious grounds, elements of the school funding package, affordable housing, homelessness, traffic infrastructure and the epidemic of loneliness in the U.S.