By Meg Olson
Washington state legislators representing the 42nd district chose Blaine to meet with Whatcom County voters, share their progress and ask for feedback.
Mayor Bonnie Onyon welcomed the delegation, thanking them for choosing Blaine as the location for their February 17 town hall meeting as well as for their efforts to get Blaine projects on the state legislative agenda. “The southbound exit (at milepost 274) is really important for us as well as extending utilities into east Blaine,” she said, reporting on several trips to Olympia to lobby for funds.
“We work together as a team,” said representative Luanne Van Werven, referring to the trio of Republican lawmakers. “Everything we do is with Whatcom County in mind.” Serving on the house transportation, higher education and public safety committees, Van Werven said the funds for the new interchange in Blaine were in the budget last year but were vetoed by governor Jay Inslee. “It’s a new day and I think we have a better project,” she said. Senator Doug Ericksen said they would be looking for $500,000 for an interchange justification study, a prerequisite to federal funding, and up to $13 million in state matching funds.
Representative Vincent Buys, who serves as ranking member of the house agriculture and natural resources committee, said he had been focused on “working for a fair and equitable solution so people in Whatcom County could use their wells,” in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that found the county failed to follow state requirements to protect water resources.
Buys said the delegation was working to help small businesses in the county. “One of the goals for all three of us was to look at duplicate regulations and get them out of the way,” Buys said. Buys also sponsored legislation to make it easier for food trucks to do business and Van Werven sponsored a bill to push back the filing date for state business and occupation taxes.
Ericksen discussed on his efforts to protect taxpayers from a big tax increase in 2018. He has introduced a bill to delay a state education tax increase until next year when local school districts tax levies will be decreased. The current state plan is to increase taxes this year while local school districts continue to collect taxes at the same level for one more year.
Ericksen said his proposal would save taxpayers a billion dollars, which the state can afford with projected increased revenues due to a stronger economy. “With an extra $3 billion coming in we can fully fund schools and there’s no need to increase taxes,” he said.
One audience member asked “If you have a billion extra dollars, isn’t it better to put it away for the lean years?”
Ericksen responded that with a healthy ending fund balance from 2017 and a “rainy day fund” also in place the lean years are adequately covered. “A dollar is much safer in your pocket than it is in the hands of the state treasurer,” he added.
Another audience member suggested after years of inadequate funding, the state’s public schools needed the extra funds now. “I’m not sure schools can absorb that much money at one time,” Van Werven said.
In the wake of the recent school shooting in Florida, audience members wanted to know what steps legislators would take to curb school shootings. “We don’t have a gun problem we have a problem, with people who shouldn’t have guns,” Van Werven said, suggesting mental health issues were the real problem, and pointing to “psychotropic drugs and violent video games” as the culprits. An audience member suggested bullying and social isolation were to blame, saying “We need to teach them to be good friends.”
Van Werven recommended increasing school security. “We guard what we value and what we value the most is our children,” she said. “What will it take to make sure there is an armed guard in every school.”
“That’s your plan?” asked a frustrated local mother, pointing out there were two armed officers at the Florida school.
Ericksen suggested there needed to be a balance between security and freedom. “Nobody wants to live in a totalitarian state where you have to go through a checkpoint to get into an elementary school,” he said.
Asked about governor Jay Inslee’s proposal to institute the first state carbon tax in the nation, all three legislators were opposed. “It’s going to hurt the people who can least afford it and will bring insignificant change to our climate,” Van Werven said. Ericksen agreed, saying the carbon tax was unfair due to numerous exemptions, such as jet fuel.
“So what can we do about climate change?” asked audience member. Buys said that “the number one thing we can do is manage our forests,” suggesting forests fires “put more into the atmosphere than anything a carbon tax will ever do.”
Buys also said that, rich with hydroelectric energy, Washington should encourage investment in infrastructure and a tax policy that will encourage businesses to come here. “They can build their product greener here than in the midwest or China,” he said.