Candidates for state House positions in the 5th Legislative District weighed in on education, transportation and the public good at a Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce forum Friday, Oct. 17.
Jay Rodne of North Bend and Chad Magendanz of Issaquah, Republican incumbents for the 5th District’s positions 1 and 2, respectively, sat down with Essie Hicks of Issaquah and David Spring of North Bend, their Democratic challengers, answering questions from presenter Carolyn Simpson, a Snoqualmie Valley School Board member.
Each of the four spelled out their goals and differences from their opponent, and each had to weigh in on the challenges facing local communities and the state.
Shared priorities on education
Asked to share their priorities, all four candidates first pledged to find ways to fund basic education in Washington and meet the Supreme Court’s McCleary directive.
“I think everybody recognizes the gravity of the situation,” said Rodne. He would also fix the Interstate-90-State Route 18 interchange.
“It’s unacceptable that residents have to wait in line upwards of a mile,” Rodne said. His third priority is passing a mental health bill.
Spring said his second priority is to create jobs, particularly for young people. His third priority is restoring funding for higher education. “We should not be driving kids into debt simply to help them get higher education,” he said.
After education, Hicks wants to “make sure we have a comprehensive transportation solution” that brings economic vitality and serves tourism. She was the only candidate to talk about the environment as a priority, referencing ocean acidification, the economy, healthy fishing industries, and groundwater.
“I want to make sure we always have clean water, good food, safe and effective policies,” Hicks said.
Magendanz’s second priority is transportation, “with a focus on congestion relief. How do we get more people to work more effectively, more products to port more efficiently?”
He also wants a “performance funding model” for higher education,” with a better balance between state support and tuition. Magendanz would “tie education funding to real economic outcomes….We need to look at the wage growth potential for each program and put our money where it’s going to have the most impact for our state… and our kids.”
Roads and transit: Diverging views
Next, the four were asked about their preferred solution to pay for transportation fixes.
“We’ve got really big problems here,” said Spring—billions in backlog projects and less overall spending on transportation. “We’re not getting any solutions until we deal with underlying causes.” He struck the theme that he returned to again and again at the forum: His desire to cut corporate tax breaks.
“What caused the problem is billions in tax breaks to large corporations,” Spring said. “I oppose the gas tax. I oppose every tax other than rolling back corporate tax breaks.”
Rodne said he supports a tax package that’s coupled with reforms.
“I am working with my colleagues to put together a compromise package with two or three doable reforms.” Those might include not charging sales tax on state transport projects or reforming the State Environmental Policy Act review process to save on litigation costs.
One thing the package should not do, Rodne said, is focus on transit.
“We have overinvested in transit,” he said. “We need to restore some semblance of balance in our general purpose lane capacity to specifically focus on congestion relief.”
Hicks said any transportation tax reform should be transparent, equitable and work well.
“The difference between Mr. Rodne and myself is that I do believe transit is an important part… I do want to make sure those environmental safeguards are there,” she said. “We might want to look at a small increase in the motor vehicle excise tax.”
“So you support a tax increase?” queried Rodne.
“A small increase,” Hicks replied.
“I do believe we’re going to have to invest in our infrastructure, with a focus on congestion relief,” said Magendanz. “I think we’re talking about a nickel to a dime. And it’s going to be targeted with specific reforms.” He wants to apply “lean management” principles, run the Washington State Department of Transportation leaner.
Magendanz said he would “focus on letting the market decide where we invest. I believe in a use tax. Gas tax is an efficient use tax. Vehicle miles traveled, done well, could be an effective use tax.”
Simpson asked candidates to give a one-word answer to a question: Do you support tolling on I-90 to support State Route 520 bridge replacement? Every candidate said no.
Simpson later asked another one-word-answer question: Is it time for a state income tax? Hicks, Rodne and Magendanz said no. Spring’s answer was qualified.
“I support an income tax on incomes in excess of a million dollars,” said Spring.
Class size vote
Asked whether they support the new class-size-shrinking voter initiative, I-1351, most did not. Only Hicks backs it.
“Even a few children fewer gives my children better service,” she said. “That’s something government needs to concentrate on.”
Magendanz cited research that found a “dramatic dropoff in the cost-benefit of class size enhancements after third grade,” he said. “There are much more effective ways of spending our money.” I-1351, he said, adds a lot of non-teacher staff, and “doesn’t do a good job of putting money into the classroom.”
He and Rodne both took aim at the price tag of the initiative.
“This initiative does not have a funding source, adds $4.5 billion to an already beleaguered budget,” Rodne said.
Spring, too, opposed it, saying it means billions in cuts to higher education and social services.
“If they would have added a few words—if they would have said we will fund this by rolling back corporate tax breaks, I would support it,” he said.
Focus on fax breaks
Candidates got to grips with that issue, when asked to describe their position on tax breaks and credits, and how they fit into employment and the economy.
“One of our responsibilities is to create an attractive economic climate for growth… and keep high-wage employers in the state. How we do that is by providing incentives in taxable ways,” said Magendanz. He likened the process to a car salesman chasing after a potential buyer who is walking out the door.
“We were chasing after Boeing to keep them here. Sure, it was $8.5 billion in tax incentives. That seems overwhelming. But the governor’s calculation on benefits just from Boeing alone is $21 billion. That’s a no-brainer.”
Spring challenged those numbers, saying that even with the credits, Washington still loses jobs.
“No car business would stay in business with a policy like that, and neither will our state, giving into corporate blackmail,” he said.
“I don’t think corporate-bashing is productive,” said Rodne. “I’m a proud free-market capitalist. In our global economy, corporations have the right to choose where they locate based on labor costs. States have got to be competitive… if we’re going to attract high-paying jobs.
“One person’s tax break is another person’s job. We need to keep that in mind.” He stressed lowering regulatory burdens to make it cheaper to do business in Washington.
Hicks said Washington needs to “maintain our competitiveness by being an attractive place,” and said she wants Washington to be a hub for tech businesses and “maintain our great way of life here.” However, tax breaks need to be transparent and open to scrutiny, and “should have a clear benefit to the public.”
Crossing the aisle
Candidates were also asked how they would cross party lines to break partisan paralysis.
Hicks said she advocated to the legislature as a small business owner, lobbying to serve women in business. She met opposition Republicans, got her point across, and “was able to help us get some changes, and our bill passed.
“I believe I have a moderate voice,” she added.
Magendanz, too, said he is a moderate. He has worked with colleagues from across the aisle to push for technology in education, and said he’s not afraid to let a Democrat be the prime sponsor of his own bills to ensure they pass.
Spring said he has crossed party lines several times for issues he’s passionate about. He told the Chamber that he took Democratic proposals from his caucus and gave them to Rodne’s office in the name of opposing secrecy. In 2012, he also endorsed Republican senate challenger Brad Toft to protest then-Senator and candidate Cheryl Pflug’s appointment by the governor to the state Growth Management Hearings Board during the election season.
Rodne referenced his bipartisan work on a sex offender sentencing bill that increased penalties and treatment: “We forced a compromise and took heat from both sides, but we got it done.”
“Keep in mind that 90 percent of the votes in Olympia are unanimous,” said Rodne. “It’s just the small percentage of votes where real differences between parties become apparent.
“I think that’s a healthy thing,” he added. “Our system is designed to make it difficult to pass legislation so we can reach a compromise.”
Seth Truscott/Staff Photo
Chamber election forum host Carolyn Simpson, Valley school board member, queries 5th Legislative District candidates at the Ridge golf club Friday. She asked questions submitted by the community and the Record.