Camas, WA — State Senator Ann Rivers, Representative Brandon Vick, and Rep-Elect Larry Hoff met with 18th LD constituents Saturday at four separate town hall meetings to answer voter questions ahead of the next legislative session in Olympia.
The 90-minute session started off with introductions to provide voters a sense of the work they will be working on this year. Rivers, a Republican, said she will work as Minority Whip.
Vick, also a Republican, who is entering his fourth term, says “it’ll be an interesting year with 43 Republicans and 57 Democrats, which means I’ll have to figure out how to do my job differently, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be effective.”
He said he’ll be serving on the Finance and Tax Policy committee, and thinks gambling may turn into a major issue this year.
Republican Hoff, 67, who was elected to public office for the first time in November, said he will serve on the Appropriations Committee, which oversees how money is spent.
”We need to be better stewards of that charge,” said Hoff. “I have a passion for small business, and I want to reduce regulations to help small businesses operate more efficiently. I really look forward to starting to work. My calendar has been jammed with 15 minute appointments in Olympia. It’s fun to listen to people in those meetings.”
The session got started with Rivers answering a question about mental health, drug addiction, and rising suicides among the elderly.
“I’m not generally a fan of the governor’s policies, but I am working closely on mental health legislation with Governor Inslee, and I look forward to that. Mental health isn’t sexy, it’s not fun, but it’s really important. Mental health will be the focus of this legislative session, and to fund mental health issues in the schools, and in particular, special education.”
Rivers continued: “It’s about creating housing for those folks who aren’t capable of managing. Our jails are full, and you see they’re housing mentally ill citizens. It’s a very comprehensive plan to provide housing and counseling. If you are very poor in this state you can get services. The rich can, too, but the middle class really can’t. I’m excited what the Governor is putting forward. You will see a ton of activity around mental health.”
Vick said every session has a theme, and this will be about mental health.
McCleary Legislation Causes Public School Funding Deficits
Camas resident Aunna Elm had a 12-minute exchange addressing school district funding issues that have stemmed from McCleary.
”I’m a parent and I know you want to put McCleary to rest, but it can’t rest,” said Elm. “I started attending school board meetings this past Fall when I became aware of what the funding issues were during the statewide strikes. I’ve been watching my school board and my administration grapple with the realities of what’s about to hit us, effective immediately. We are using reserves to cover what was lost when this legislation was passed.”
Elm asked the legislators about loss of regionalization funding, the staff funding model, and budget deficits, and what is going to be done to resolve these issues. She also challenged them on why the 18th LD representatives didn’t attend a recent ESD112 education meeting.
”I’m imploring you to do a re-do,” said Elm. “Please come meet with superintendents and come to the table to help us prevent this crisis. McCleary is not a good law. I’m upset it was passed.”
Rivers said the law was designed to create equity over time, but what happened at the end of the session is that it took out the steady ramp-up in funding.
”All of the structure and guidelines that we put in were removed,” said Rivers. “So when that happened it became a big pot of money and all contracts were opened up. That’s where the strikes came from. I hope not to offend any of you, but this big pot of money was like dragging a doughnut through a fat farm. People dove in and they wanted it, and then you had the union reporting a 25 percent increase in pay, which was not truthful. Then other teachers saw that, and they wanted it. It was all based on mis-information. There was never a 25 percent increase, but that became the standard, so all of the structure that would have involved a steady ramp up was removed.”
Rivers said she meets with superintendents on a regular basis.
“The good news is there will be a renewed push for special ed because clearly we have to do that. That’s just morally and legally appropriate,” said Rivers. “I think we are headed toward another McCleary if what the Governor is proposing is adopted by the Legislature, then we will return to the have’s and have-nots for education.”
A Camas resident discusses affordable housing issues in SW Washington.
Property taxes were also addressed as a result of the McCleary legislation. Rivers said she has “heard from many constituents who can’t afford to live in their homes because of increased property taxes, and I want you to know there will be a 30 percent cut in property taxes coming this year.”
Vick replied: “You have allies on this, as well. We need to do something that’s fair for everybody. We don’t want to see people losing their houses.”
Growth Management Act
Erin Alley, president of a local homeowners association said she has watched the Growth Management Act fail, and discussed the challenges of the Mount Livingston quarry. She asked about what action can be taken legislatively to prevent quarries from being developed. She said it’s a failure of land use planning.
Rivers replied: “GMA is not working, and it’s been a common thread during all our town halls today.”
Carbon Emissions Tax
“Washington is the 4th lowest state in carbon emissions,” said Rivers. “The last thing we can do is hit the tailpipe, and I’m not in favor of that. We need to incentivize instead of punishing citizens.”
Hoff said he was against the carbon emissions tax because it would have “increased the cost of food and that would have hurt everybody, especially poor people.”
Citizens came to ask questions at Camas City Hall.
Infrastructure and Housing Density
Camas resident Bill Hewitt addressed the I-5 bridge, and housing density.
“Democrats want to increase housing density and it really doesn’t work,” said Hewitt. “When you consider affordable housing please consider the quality of life aspects. We need to encourage an infrastructure to go underground.”
That comment led to a lively debate about light rail, replacing the I-5 bridge, and improving overall infrastructure. Several complained that the U.S. infrastructure has been crumbling, and that not enough is being done to fix it.
Ann Rivers said light rail is old thinking and instead said we should focus on new technologies, like underground tunnels, driverless BRTs, and last mile connectors.
“For the record Clark County has voted light rail down every time it comes to a vote, expect for the little spot in the 49th District in Downtown Vancouver,” said Connie Jo Freeman.
That argument was countered by resident Doug Long.
“I’ve had the privilege of traveling around the world using light rail systems,” said Long. “Many of our larger cities wouldn’t function without light rail. Light rail is the future. The buses are fine for arterials, but they’re not the best solution.”
“The problem with rail is that it’s fixed,” said Rivers. “You need massive density in order to get enough riders to pay for itself. Tri-Met doesn’t pay for itself. People in favor of light rail are also against building tall buildings to house people who would use light rail. It doesn’t make fiscal sense. We just don’t have the population density.”
Hoff said he’s optimistic something can be done to remedy these issues.
“We’ve been talking about solutions for a long time, now we need to act,” said Hoff.
Hoff encouraged citizens to be active and to let their voices be heard.
From left: Representative-elect Larry Hoff, Senator Ann River, and Representative Brandon Vick.