The East King Chambers Coalition held its annual legislative breakfast on Jan. 8 at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue in anticipation of the legislative “short session,” which began on Jan. 13.
The event, emceed by Q13 anchor and correspondent Brandi Kruse, included a keynote address from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and continued with two panel discussions.
The coalition comprises several Eastside business leaders. Eleven (11) chambers of commerce make up the group, including the Bellevue, Bothell-Kenmore, Kirkland, Snoqualmie Valley and Redmond (OneRedmond) chambers.
The yearly event is timed to commemorate the start of a new political year, and, in this instance, what will be up for discussion at the short legislative session.
In his speech, Ferguson touched on homelessness, the opioid crisis, the importance of nonpartisanship and President Donald Trump.
Ferguson said during his speech that although many people might think of the attorney general in relation to the more than 50 lawsuits filed against the current president, that’s only one aspect of his output.
He noted that there are 13 offices around the state, some 600 attorneys and 1,300 employees under the tutelage of the public law office. Every year, 20,000 consumer complaints are received and responded to.
At one point in his speech, Ferguson spoke at length about the opioid crisis (and the way it intersects with the homelessness crisis) and how it has become a major topic of concern in his office.
“We have filed numerous lawsuits against the entities that we think have helped fuel the opioid epidemic,” he said, adding that one of the primary goals of the litigation is to hold those in power accountable.
In speaking about federally targeted litigation, Ferguson said lawsuits are filed when it’s clear that the state will be affected.
“It doesn’t matter the political party,” Ferguson said, adding, “In all 53 lawsuits we have filed against the Trump administration, they all have a critical nexus for Washington state.”
First panel discussion
After Ferguson’s keynote speech, a panel — encompassed by Sens. Bob Hasegawa (11th District) and Mark Mullet (5th District) and Reps. Larry Springer (45th District), Shelley Kloba (1st District), Vandana Slatter (48th District), Bill Ramos (5th District), Amy Walen (48th District) and Davina Duerr (1st District) — congregated on stage to talk about business, infrastructure and budget.
Kruse’s first question focused on I-976 ($30 car tab initiative approved by voters in November 2019), and what the state can do in the future to address car-tab challenges and initiatives.
Mullet was the first to speak. He said he thinks that during the session, legislators are going to have to put a “pause button” on affected transportation projects that were underway beforehand.
“I think in 2021 — the larger session — we’ll have to come up with a more comprehensive plan,” he said. “We need to find ways to find money to finish the projects that we need to get moving on. Our job just became twice as hard after that vote.”
Kruse subsequently brought up the recent recommendation by the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) to replace the currently-in-place gas tax over time with a pay-per-mile tax.
“I think we’re probably years down the road,” Springer said. “I don’t think this is a system that you can drop into place overnight or in a single legislative session… I can envision a highway transportation funding system that includes both the gas tax and vehicle miles driven and then adjust each of those… It’s going to take a while to figure this out.”
Next, Kruse focused on the business climate, and whether it’s getting more difficult for small to midsize businesses to succeed.
Walen, who owns a car-dealership business — with one location in Seattle and one in Kirkland — spoke of concerns she has as a business owner.
“I am proud of our businesses in Washington state,” Walen said. “I am proud of Amazon. I am proud of Starbucks. I am proud of Boeing. I am proud of companies that have been successful around the world. But our culture is pretty critical and pretty harsh on businesses. And I hope that our legislation will come together to work to support not just the big businesses, but yes, the small ones.”
Kruse then mentioned the new iteration of a proposed head tax as pushed for by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Swanat, and if panelists would support it if enacted. Many of those who spoke voiced their reservations.
“I actually don’t, because I think it comes out of the workers’ pockets after all is said and done,” Hasegawa said.
Second panel discussion
Following the first panel discussion, a second one, made up of Sens. Manka Dhingra (45th District) and Patty Kuderer (48th District) and Reps. Roger Goodman (45th District), Tana Senn (41st District), Lisa Callan (5th District), My-Linh Thai (41st District) and Debra Entenman (47th District), gathered to talk about human services, housing and the workforce.
Rent control policies drove the first part of the conversation. Kruse turned her attention to Kuderer. In the past, Kuderer has stated that she wanted to see the outcomes of rent-control policies recently enacted in Oregon and California, for example, before potentially implementing them in Washington.
“Before Washington goes down any path… we need to have more evidence, because the last thing we want to do is disincentivize and lose inventory,” Kurderer said. “We don’t want to do that. We’re in a housing shortage right now.”
On increasing costs of living, and how workers progressively have to move farther away from where they work, Dhingra stressed the importance of nuance when discussing affordability.
She noted that, in cities like Redmond, for instance, even with a $100,000 salary it can be challenging to find affordable housing.
Entenman, who lives in Kent, invoked personal experience, and how the gains made by the inclusion of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft in pivotal Washington cities are not benefiting everyone.
“We need to understand that a community needs all different kinds of people,” she said, adding, “We need a number of reforms, and it needs to be looked at holistically.”
Kruse next brought up the possibilities of universal preschool and how to better support residents “from cradle to career,” on which several panelists weighed in.
“The idea — rather than say universal preschool — is to continually increase access to high-quality preschool,” Goodman said.
On mental-health crisis support, Dhingra, who helped create the behavioral health sub-committee at the last legislative session and who is its chair, underlined the positives of early intervention.
Kruse concluded the discussion by focusing on homelessness. Half the panelists were asked to weigh in on Seattle’s county-wide approach. The other half responded to a Trump tweet. (In the missive, the president states that if a given West Coast state acknowledges responsibility for homelessness and “politely” asks for federal help, then he might consider it.)
“I think a regional approach to this solution is important,” Entenman, replying to the first inquiry, said. “I’m not sure that Seattle is the best example of that… It seems that we have not built any permanent homes for folks… I don’t think that is a positive example, to build really pretty shacks without toilets or running water and say that is a solution.”
Regarding the second question, Thai voiced her dismay at Trump’s use of the term “politeness.”
“As somebody who is a refugee elected to serve in the Washington state legislature, I have issue with that word ‘politeness,’” she said. “Because we, the immigrants… we have always been polite, and where does politeness take us to? …If the president of the United States believes that he’s serving every single citizen, it’s not about being politely asked. It’s about the president asking his citizens, ‘What can I do to serve you?’”