Education, homelessness and balancing the state budget were among critical topics at a forum for 45th State Legislative District candidates, held Oct. 12 at Wilder Elementary, a Lake Washington School District building in Woodinville.
The moderator was Linda Hanson, a former Washington State PTSA president, executive committee member of the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, member of the Children’s Campaign Fund board of directors and a long-time education reform advocate.
All 45th District candidates participated: Sen. Eric Oemig (D), his opponent Andy Hill (R), Rep. Roger Goodman (D), his opponent Kevin Haistings (R), Rep. Larry Springer (D) and his opponent Mark Isaacs (R).
Each had two minutes for an opening statement and up to two minutes to respond to each of several questions.
Hanson’s top question addressed public education. “How can we fully fund education and also health and transportation?,” Hanson asked.
Hill: “Fund education first — it is the paramount duty. We need to rank 1, 2, 3 … education, public safety, stewardship of the environment and so on. What we can do and what we should do. With the same people in Olympia, it won’t happen.”
Oemig: “The most critical thing is funding. There’s a seductive argument that we can optimize our way. … We can do education on the cheap. … It looks like double-shifting, converting science labs, having lunch in gymnasiums. … The burden ends up falling on you guys to do a local levy.”
Haistings: “It does go back to the priorities of government, taking a finite number of dollars and dedicating them to education as priority number one. … Statistics are clear. Quality of teachers in the classroom drives the quality of education. … At the end of the day, it’s no different than my household budget. When the money’s gone, it’s gone.”
Goodman: “Education is first – the paramount duty. In context of the current budget, cut the least to education. … The key issue is tax reform. Take burdens off the taxpayers, property owners and the poor.”
Isaccs: “Teachers and principals have to be more in control of authority of what takes place in public schools. … Funding should involve teachers and principals in the budgetary process to ensure the classroom is where money is best spent.”
Springer: “Without fundamental changes, we’re reduced to pick and choose … to patch holes. … When I taught in schools, I asked, ‘take the extraneous burdens off my back.’ Involvement of parents, quality of teachers and class size are the biggest factors in a quality education. Nothing has been different in 50 years.”
HOMELESSNESS AND FORECLOSURES
Hanson mentioned the growing problem of homelessness in this region. “What can be done at the state level to decrease home foreclosures in these times?,” Hanson asked.
Oemig: “Homelessness is a symptom of so many other problems. Help single parents get child care to go to work. … Give medical benefits and bridges to help people land on their feet.”
Hill: “We’re really late to the game. The state can be educating homeowners if they’re going to miss payments. … Hopelink has financial literacy education. … Get people help and guidance before they fall behind. State government can have more early intervention.”
Goodman: “There are about 900 homeless families on the Eastside — people living in tents, in the woods. … Hopelink turns away 24 families for each that asks for help. Churches and agencies can’t do it alone. Government plays a key role — we have to be a little more aggressive in helping debtors.”
Haistings: “It goes back to a matter of education. … Where is the responsibility of the government to help, more than give a handout? We can’t prevent all foreclosures, but how do we help others to make that possible?”
Springer: “The issue of homelessness is very complicated. We don’t yet know the percentage caused by foreclosures. … Look at the root causes, substance abuse, alcoholism, mental illness. … Largest other contributors are inability to get medical insurance and domestic violence. … Go after those situations. Also, legislators could help homeowners with mediation.”
Isaacs: “All of us know someone who’s under water, facing tragic circumstances. I’m unaware of a quick fix. … Bank of America is halting action but banks have to remain solvent. … I agree that root causes have to be attacked first. Government, banks and individuals need to work together to come up with solutions.”
BALANCING THE STATE BUDGET
Hanson noted that Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked citizens where to find cuts and savings to balance the state budget. “What’s on or off the table?,” Hanson asked the candidates.
Hill: “Four years into a crisis, we’re looking for cuts. … We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. I believe there are moral and ethical obligations to pay pensions. Freeze salaries, ask government workers to pay more for their health care.”
Oemig: “Olympia has a spending problem and a revenue problem. We don’t spend enough on public schools and tax the wrong people, working people who have families — teachers, police and fire. … I want to tax out-of-state businesses and large corporations.”
Haistings: “Look at the priorities. Bottom line is if we don’t find a way for businesses to reinvest in people, we will not get out of the crisis. Education is first. … Every new job prevents another foreclosure … goes back into consumer spending.”
Goodman: “We all have to live within our means. State government has no choice. You could criticize how money is deployed. … Five thousand fewer state employees are doing more for less. … Don’t cut funding for disabilities or early learning. If we abandon that, we’re going to pay so much to catch up later.
Isaacs: “I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. What do we cut? It’s very easy to say X, Y or Z. … We have to bring some kind of innovative approach, such as cutting stickers on front license plates.”
Springer: “We do — are required to — bring lines, budget and revenue together. The processes can be difficult. … Funding K-12 has to be top priority. Do we fund Hopelink or K-12? That points out the dilemnas. K-12 comes first, safety nets second. … Also, if state employees can pay 20 percent of health care cost, instead of 12 percent.”
THREE LITTLE WORDS
As the forum concluded, Hanson asked each candidate to state just three words to reflect his main goals, if elected.
Hill: “Create. Sustainable. Budget.”
Oemig: “Opportunity. Fairness. Performance.”
Haistings: “Sustainable. Economic. Reform.”
Goodman: “Basics. Education. Governance.”
Issacs: “Initiate. Innovate. Implement.”
Springer: “Fully. Fund. K-12.”