State Legislature candidates talk shop at community forum

Four candidates running for state Legislature seats in the 45th and 48th districts attended a forum on July 11 at the First Baptist Church in Redmond where they were asked a variety of policy questions.

Manka Dhingra, Democrat, and Parker Harris, no party preference, attended the forum for the 45th District Senate seat, while Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund did not attend. A Facebook event was scheduled at the same time as the forum for Englund to attend a Pierce County Republicans fundraiser in Puyallup.

Michelle Darnell, Libertarian, and Richard Knierim, Independent Democrat, are running for a 48th District Senate seat and attended the forum. Incumbent Democrat Patty Kuderer did not attend.

Vandana Slatter, incumbent Democrat, and Ciaran Dougherty, Libertarian, did not show up to represent themselves in the race for the 48th District Position 1 House of Representatives seat.

Taxes, bipartisanship and affordable housing were key topics during Tuesday’s forum.

Dhingra said Washington state has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation, and criticized state Republicans for raising property taxes in the Seattle area this session as part of a mechanism to fully fund K-12 education.

Ending loopholes and tax breaks for large corporations in the area could help create a stronger middle class, she said.

While other candidates talked of lowering taxes across the board, Dhingra said the state requires revenue, and institutions like schools are already making the current budget stretch.

“We have to invest in our community and we have to invest in the future,” she said.

Harris agreed, saying taxes in the state are in “a mess.”

He proposed extending tax breaks and assistance to small businesses who are heavily taxed, and promoted a single, low-rate income tax.

Knierim said the state should “live within its means” and that he hoped to reduce the Business and Occupation tax on businesses.

The continued growth of business and jobs should also be a priority, Knierim said.

Darnell agreed with Knierim, saying the state should work with the money it already receives.

“The problem is how we’re spending the money,” she said.

Darnell said state money is “circling at the top” with special interest and donor groups in Olympia.

“We need wealth creation, not wealth redistribution,” she said.

While the candidates disagreed on taxes, when asked if they would promote bipartisanship, they all indicated it would be a priority for them.

Darnell said she would work to “stop the partisan rhetoric and the bickering” while listening to various viewpoints.

Both Knierim and Harris emphasized a centrist position as being needed in Olympia, and Dhingra said her experience working as a county prosecuting attorney gives her experience bringing people to the discussion table.

The candidates diverged again somewhat when asked about how to tackle the shortage of affordable housing in both Redmond and the greater Seattle area.

Darnell said the main problem is a lack of inventory forcing real estate and rental prices through the roof.

She said sponsoring legislation to make it easier for contractors to build would be a priority.

Specifically, she said she would introduce legislation that would require projects to be approved automatically if the permit-authorizing municipality did not respond to contractors’ proposals within 180 days.

Harris who said environmental protection should be balanced with growth.

Harris also said he would not support policies like rent control unless it was temporary and that the state shouldn’t create dual housing systems between cheap, affordable and high housing costs. He also promoted more development and reduction of property taxes.

“Affordability is a huge issue in our district,” Dhingra said.

Examining creating high-density growth would be part of her policy, she said, especially as workers are being priced out of the area, which contributes to more people commuting and greater transportation congestion.

Knierim also agreed more housing as needed and that local governments should be handling much of the planning for growth.

Notably, on another subject, Harris said if elected he would push for a single-payer health care system in the state.

The primary for the 2017 November general election will be held on Aug. 1, with ballots being mailed out on July 14.