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Reps candid on issues, and on income tax
[Apologies for the incorrect date of the Town Hall meeting in the 2/24 issue of the Herald.]
POULSBO — With questions ranging from statewide decisions, such as education funding and marriage equality, to local issues such as traffic safety on county roads and noise pollution, North Kitsap’s legislators answered residents’ questions with a pertinent and candid air on Saturday.
About 150 people packed into the Poulsbo City Council chambers Feb. 18, more than attended the legislators’ first meeting of the day in Bremerton. Sen. Christine Rolfes, Reps. Drew Hansen and Sherry Appleton, all Democrats, are up for election in November.
The majority of the questions at Saturday’s town hall meeting were focused on education — where funding will come from, how much funding is needed, and teacher evaluations and health insurance. Many questions spilled over into big budget questions, a few days before the House released its first draft of the state budget.
One topic of contention in Olympia is reforming teacher evaluations. Appleton is opposed to the current system of teacher evaluations.
“I still will feel very uncomfortable unless I know we’re not judging teachers on what is not their fault, but is on what parents and home life are like,” she said, pointing out divorce and family dysfunction can serve as factors in how a child learns.
Rolfes said Senate Bill 5895, which is currently in a House committee for review, would change evaluation criteria from a pass-fail system to a program with eight criteria, that better analyzes the “different elements that depends on if a child will be successful.”
The legislators were asked how the state plans to fund education. Hansen referred to the recent Supreme Court decision, which said, as stated by Hansen, “We are not meeting our constitutional obligation to make ample provisions for adequate basic education for each child.” The Legislature found that “ample provisions” mean the state needs an additional $2 billion to $3 billion per year.
This led to a discussion on long-term tax reform to bolster state revenue. Hansen said part of the solution should be closing loopholes in the tax code, and earlier in the meeting he informed the crowd that three of his job-creation bills were approved by the House.
“We have a budget deficit in this state because we have a jobs problem. It’s not the other way around,” he said.
Hansen also gave a tough answer when one resident asked if the Farmers Market Nutrition Program will continue to be funded.
“The sort of decisions being made, they really are choices of this versus aid to parents with kids with develop disabilities. That versus how we keep kids in school. That versus what we do in other parts of the safety net for people that are mentally ill,” Hansen said. “There are extraordinarily tough choices all across the budget right now.”
To applause, Appleton said the state should institute an income tax.
“Revenue is always going to be a problem in this state. When you are sales tax-based economy, it is impossible to get a stable revenue stream,” she said. “As the economy goes, so goes the budget.” The audience didn’t just focus on the state’s fiscal problems. A few questions asked the legislator’s opinions on the marriage equality bill. To another round of applause, Appleton said she, Rolfes and Hansen all voted in favor of the bill.
“This isn’t abut same sex [marriage], its about fairness, its about compassion, and it makes a lot of sense,” she said. Rolfes said she thinks the issue will “clearly” be on the ballot in November, and “everyone in this room will have the opportunity to consider the issue and vote on it.
“For us as legislators its a real gift to be able to give someone a right,” she added.
The legislators were also asked an important, but common question: how do you do your job? The legislature heard about 500 bills this session, but Appleton said sometimes they have 5,000 to review — “the reason we only have 500 is because we don’t have any money.”
Hansen explained that bills first go through review in two committees, in each the House and Senate. Representatives and senators are usually on three to four committees, and for those bills that do not go to a legislator’s committee, the House and Senate leadership briefs everyone on all bills with fact sheets. Hansen said a big benefit is Kitsap’s active citizenry.
“We like to hear what people are asking,” Appleton said. “We live in very saturated environment. What we’re focused on isn’t necessarily what other people are focused on.”
March 8 is the last day of the regular session of the Legislature.