District 35 race focus is taxes

Two anti-tax candidates have stepped up to challenge first-term Rep. Fred Finn of west Thurston County in the 35th Legislative District, and one campaign issue is the Democratic incumbent's vote this year for tax increases.

Finn, owner of a real estate business, has said the package of tax increases was necessary to maintain the government safety net during the severe national and international economic downturn.

But Republican Linda Simpson of Bremerton and Independent Glenn Gaither of Hoodsport disagree, saying government needs to shrink in size and cost. Both argue that lawmakers should have downsized government instead of adding taxes to the purchase of pop, candy, bottled water and mass-produced beer this year.

The challengers also object to the three-year surcharge on business taxes that hit most service-industry enterprises from hair cutters to accountants.

Under the state’s “top-two” primary format, only the top two vote-getters advance from the Aug. 17 primary to the Nov. 2 ballot, and Finn says he is taking the challengers very seriously.

“The top issues are balancing the budget and then stimulating the small-business growth,” said Simpson, a naval reservist whose background includes the assembly of explosive mines for the Navy as well as a stint as a Bremerton school PTA president.

“We have to get rid of that new increase in the (business and occupation) tax. We need to provide private competition for workers’ compensation benefits. And we just need to make a better climate (for business), because the government doesn’t create jobs,” Simpson said Tuesday.

Simpson wants to reopen state worker contracts. She is not calling for pay cuts but does want to increase the share that state employees pay for their health insurance. She said workers in most private sector jobs pay much more than the 12 percent of premiums paid by state workers.

She also questions why the state has a commission to regulate horse racing, why it spends tax dollars to promote tourism and why the state pays for its own historical society – suggesting in each case that the private sector could get the job done.

Gaither, a shop steward for the Teamsters, works as a corrections officer for the state prison in Shelton. He said the state needs to set priorities for funding public safety and reduce spending in other areas – just as his single-income family quit paying for cable television as it cut costs to fit its budget.

Gaither said his spending priorities are public safety, jobs creation and education. Like Simpson, he questioned the need for some agencies – specifically the Puget Sound Partnership, which was created in recent years to put more focus on cleaning up the state’s inlets. Gaither said the state already has departments of Ecology and Natural Resources and the federal government has the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We have to reprioritize government. The money is not there to run every program we want to run or every project we want to finance,” he said.

Gaither also wants “to revamp” the state business and occupation tax that is levied on the gross revenues of businesses. Gaither said he does not have a specific proposal for replacing the tax but thinks it is unfair to businesses that struggle to turn a profit. He thinks it should be replaced by “a tax system that would basically work off the net profit of the business.’’

All three candidates support an initiative letting private insurers compete with the state-run workers’ compensation insurance system. The challengers also support an initiative funded by the American Beverage Association in Washington, D.C., to repeal about $100 million in new sales taxes on soda, bottled water and candy, while Finn opposes it.

Both challengers oppose an initiative on the ballot to enact a high-earners income tax, and Finn says he also does not support it out of fear it could be applied to lower incomes after two years. The challengers also favor putting the state’s liquor sales monopoly into private sector hands, but Finn is not taking a position on two ballot measures that would accomplish that.

So far, Finn is the only candidate to report having raised campaign money – reporting $67,693 through Monday. Simpson and Gaither both opted for “mini-reporting” on campaign finances to the state Public Disclosure Commission; this means they pledged to raise and spend no more than $5,000 and to accept no donation larger than $500.

Ironically, one $800 donation given to Finn in November was from the Washington Beverage Association, which supports the initiative to repeal the soda pop tax that Finn voted for.

Finn’s donor list is topped by $1,600 each from Lakeview Village Apartments and from Virginia Blechman, a relative from Oregon. He also received $800 contributions from varied business interests such as Apartment Management Services, BNSF railway Co., CenturyTel Inc., Philip Morris USA, and the Washington Realtors.

He also has $800 donations from trial lawyers’ Justice PAC and the Muckleshoot Tribe, $800 from builders’ Affordable Housing Coalition and $400 from Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund. He also has a long list of individual donors.

The battle over Finn’s Position 2 is one of three contested races in the 35th Legislative District, which runs from west Thurston County to Bremerton and takes in all of Mason County. But his position was the only one to draw more than two candidates during the June filing week.

In the 35th District’s Senate race, Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch is challenged by self-styled tea party “grandma” Nancy Williams of Belfair and write-in Democratic candidate Justin Stang of Mason County.

Sheldon and Williams were assured of moving to the Nov. 2 ballot under the “top two” primary format until Stang entered the race a few weeks ago. Stang is raising concerns about a biomass energy plant proposed near Shelton, but if history is a guide he faces a steep climb to out-poll Sheldon or Williams and qualify for the general election ballot.

Sheldon has raised $68,015, Williams $5,824 and Stang $850.

In the Position 1 House race, Rep. Kathy Haigh, a Shelton Democrat and longtime veterinarian, faces a challenge from Republican Daniel Griffey, a firefighter from Allyn.

Haigh is a longtime advocate for better school funding and has raised $31,675 in campaign contributions. Griffey, who advocates smaller government, lower taxes and fewer regulations, has raised $18,302.

House Republicans are eyeing Finn’s seat as one they might recapture, but their campaign committee has not identified it in the top tier of seats likely to be won by the GOP. Democrats control the House by a 61-37 margin.

Finn’s challengers have not spelled out how they could have avoided the $800 million in new taxes and revenues that the incumbent voted for. But they intend to look for cuts if elected.

Finn voted for both cuts and taxes last time but said he agrees the Legislature will have to make up any new budget gaps in 2011 entirely by cutting spending if the economy fails to improve.

Finn also agreed with the challengers on wanting to improve the business climate and said he favors reviewing regulations to see how they affect businesses.

But he also noted that several respected economic magazines have ranked Washington state’s business climate among the top five in the country.

Even so, Finn said he also favors a new look at the Growth Management Act, 20 years after its enactment, to see if it is accomplishing its goals.

35th Legislative District State Representative, Position No. 2

Fred Finn

Party: Democrat.

Residence: Thurston County.

Contact: 360-866-2000.

E-mail: fredfinnforstaterep@hotmail.com.

Website: www.re-electfred finn.com.

Occupation: State legislator and owner of a commercial real estate business.

Experience: State representative, 2009-present; owns AMS Real Estate Inc., which renovates and manages multifamily and commercial buildings; served nine years on Griffin School Board; former telecommunications lawyer in Washington, D.C.; Army veteran; serves on Griffin School Foundation board; formerly on the Mason General Hospital Foundation board; former co-founding director of the Washington Business Bank; member of Mason County Economic Development Council, Washington Conservation Voters and State Bar Association.

Education: B.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1967; law degree, Fordham University School of Law, 1973.

Glenn Gaither

Party: Indepen-dent.

Residence: Hoodsport.

Contact: 360-229-3209.

E-mail: ggaither@gmail.com.

Website: www.gaither4house.com.

Occupation: state corrections officer.

Experience: Worked nine years for state Department of Corrections and is a shop steward for Teamsters; firearms instructor for DOC; never run before for public office; served four in U.S. Marine Corps; previously worked as independent contractor in commercial diving.

Education: Knappa, Ore., High School graduate; completed six-month training course at Divers Institute of Technology, Ballard; EMT certification at Tacoma Community College, 1989; ongoing training at Peninsula Community College.

Linda Simpson

Party: Republican.

Residence: Bremerton.

Contact: 360-850-7194.

E-mail: linda@electlindasimpson.com.

Website: www.electlinda simpson.com.

Occupation: United States Navy reservist.

Experience: Served nearly 10 years in the Navy Reserves, where she handles weapons and ammunition for the Navy; on staff of Bremerton Boys and Club; has Washington teaching certificate; served on task force for the Bremerton School District’s superintendent search and on the finance committee; former Bremerton PTA president.

Education: B.A. in biology from University of California at Santa Cruz; M.A. in elementary education, Old Dominion University.