Education was the inevitable conversation driver at a Saturday town hall meeting for the 22nd District, which covers much of Thurston County.
But Olympia Democrats — Reps. Beth Doglio and Laurie Dolan, and Sen. Sam Hunt — addressed other topics, too: changes to the state’s deadly force statute, blue collar jobs, the death penalty and Capitol Lake.
About 200 Thurston County residents gathered at South Puget Sound Community College’s Lacey campus for the town hall meeting. So many people turned up that many stood in the back of the room.
Hunt turned the conversation to education right off the bat, discussing a decision to delay the “levy cliff” — allowing school districts to collect the same amount of local taxes for another year. The bill passed out of the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday. It’s awaiting Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.
The bill will protect about $7 million in the North Thurston Public Schools budget, about $4 million in the Olympia School District’s budget, and a smaller but still significant amount in the Tumwater School District’s budget, Hunt said.
Several constituents, including small-business owner Lynne Dearing, asked how legislators planned to fund basic education and other parts of the state budget.
“I think we need to have roads, and we need to have infrastructure,” Dearing said. “And that is going to cost money.”
Doglio said she hopes to increase the business and occupation tax on large businesses and decrease the taxes on small businesses. And while a state income tax may solve the state’s budgetary shortfalls, it’s not likely to be approved by the Legislature.
“We are not going to pass an income tax in our Legislature,” Doglio said. “There’s just no way. The will is just not there.”
However, it may be possible to impose an income tax through a ballot initiative, she said.
Alice Curtis asked what it would take to repeal the death penalty in Washington, and Hunt said it would take a similar effort. With the Majority Coalition Caucus in control of the Senate, bills to strike the death penalty won’t see the light of day. A ballot measure would have a better shot at success.
Zena Hartung, of the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team, asked the lawmakers about an issue that’s close to home: Capitol Lake. Doglio said the next step to resolving the issue — whether the solution is to dredge the lake, remove the dam or something in between — is for an Environmental Impacts Statement to be drafted. She said all three local lawmakers have requested that from the capital budget. An EIS would cost about $3 million, she said.
“It’s the logical next step, regardless of how you feel about the project,” Doglio said.