Starting off on a theme that would dominate Saturday’s 21st Legislative District town hall, Sen. Marko Liias (D) went straight to what he termed his “top priority” for the current legislative session: To finally achieve full state funding for basic public education in Washington State.
“I’m standing here thanks to the education I received in the Mukilteo School District,” he said. “Ensuring full state funding of basic education needs to be done this year. Our parents, teachers and kids can’t afford to wait.”
Liias was joined at the podium by State Reps Lillian Ortiz-Self (D) and Strom Peterson (D), who after short introductions spent the rest of the two-hour session responding to questions from the more than 200 constituents in attendance.
While questions touched on a wide range of issues, the themes of education funding, gun control and reforming our tax structure appeared to be high on the priority list of most attendees.
While many raised concerns about education funding, Edmonds School Board member Diana White spoke directly to these, pointing out that the State of Washington has been in contempt of court and accumulating fines for years in the wake of the McCleary decision, and that unless a solution is forthcoming this session, schools will be facing drastic cuts in programs, class size and staffing when they open this fall. And some may not be able to open at all.
“What do you say to the parents, students and teachers who are depending on you to step up fully fund basic education now?” she asked.
In response, Liias explained the controversy in Olympia, where some legislators (himself among them) are ready to step up to the plate and find the necessary funding, while others believe that schools already have enough money, but aren’t spending it right. “This is an issue where every legislator needs to hear a loud and clear message from constituents that we must do this now,” he stressed.
With both Democrat- and Republican-sponsored proposals currently being considered (HB 1843 and SSB 5607, respectively), the legislators distributed a handout to assist constituents in sorting out the differences between the two.
On the issue of gun control, all 3 legislators voiced support for HB 2354, which would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“Unfortunately, many opponents see this as a black-or-white issue where banning these equates with taking guns away from law-abiding citizens, hunters and others,” said Lillian Ortiz-Self. “Nothing could be further from the intent of this legislation, which is merely proposing to control these two very limited classes of firearms that are most involved in mass shootings.”
Underlying the education issue and many others is the question of funding. This brought the conversation back to Washington State’s tax structure, which has been characterized as the most regressive in the nation, falling most heavily on those least able to pay.
“Today our low-income citizens pay out an estimated 17 percent of their income in taxes, while our wealthiest citizens pay only 4 percent,” said Peterson. “This is totally upside-down.”
Added Liias, “We’re squeezing our low- and middle-income families and giving those most able to chip in more a free ride. We need to fix this system as part of a long-term solution to funding not only education, but the full array of services provided by government.”
In conclusion, the legislators thanked attendees for coming out late on a Saturday afternoon, and reminded everyone that while town halls like this are a great way to touch base with each other, emails, letters and phone calls work every day.
“We all encourage you to keep the communication flowing, let us know what you’re thinking and what’s important to you,” said Liias. “We don’t have to agree with each other on every issue, but if we respect each other we can disagree and discuss.”
Added Peterson, “It’s always good for us to get out of the Olympia bubble, come out here and listen. Keep talking to us.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel
Publisher’s note: A story on Saturday’s 32nd District town hall with State Senator Maralyn Chase will be posted Sunday.