Local lawmakers talk taxes, housing and jobs during Economic Alliance event

When was the last time you put two Republicans and two Democrats in the same room, and they all got along?

Well, it happened Thursday morning in Everett, at a session of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County. The topics – your taxes, housing development, transportation and job creation.

That’s District 21 (representing parts of Edmonds and Lynnwood) Democratic Senator Marko Liias on the left, with Republican representatives Carolyn Eslick and Sam Low from the 39th District (Arlington, Granite Falls, Sultan), and on the right, Brandy Donaghy, Democratic representative for the 44th District (Mill Creek, Snohomish).

They all got along; that doesn’t mean they all agreed on the issues.  The Economic Alliance laid out its agenda for the upcoming session of the Washington State Legislature, which opens Jan. 9. The topics:

  • Creating a competitive business environment
  • Developing workforce programs and recruiting talent
  • Transportation
  • Building and maintaining “thriving communities”
Attendees at the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County gathering Thursday.

Creating new jobs and workforce training got top billing as about 100 people met what was billed as a “fireside chat.” But the lawmakers admitted that finding affordable housing for workers and housing opportunities for entry-level and lower-income people may be more challenging than creating jobs. Housing and services to support the “thriving communities” that the Economic Alliance is advocating will test the will of the legislature. All four lawmakers predicted many bills will be coming through the session on housing.

Rep. Carolyn Eslick (R-39th District) hopes the legislature or local communities find a way to rezone commercial property to housing, and she supports accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on any property in a community. Rep. Sam Low (R-39th) suggested fees and permits eat up too much of a house hunter’s budget; Rep. Brandy Donaghy (D-44th) told the group that we need to look beyond single-family homes and condos when we create affordable housing.

A bill that failed last session – to overturn local zoning in favor of statewide regulations – sparked the most conversation. Gov. Jay Inslee last month told reporters he hopes to resurrect that bill; that we need more of what he calls “middle income” housing – ranging from duplexes to sixplexes – throughout the state. “One of the solutions to that,” said the governor, “is to open up more land that is currently wired off, barbed wired off. You can’t build housing because of our antiquated zoning. So, we will be asking legislators again to make more land available so people can have more housing.”

Sen. Marko Liias (D-21st) told me that we must meet the needs of our communities, but he doesn’t think a statewide preemption of local zoning is the answer. “Where cities are doing things right; Mountlake Terrace with the city center by light rail… we don’t need to tell cities what to do,” Liias said.

Terrace Station apartments in Mountlake Terrace

But he had a warning for communities that don’t plan to build next to the transit investments the region is making, “I think that’s where the state has to set some targets and say you need to figure out locally how to get here. But we need more housing next to the transit that we are building.”

Artist rendering of the Lynnwood City Center project

Liias also points to Lynnwood’s planned City Center as an example of what’s right: “You’ve got the Lynnwood Convention Center, a lot of great density going in around it… we’ve got beautiful examples of when you do it with a vision and when you do it comprehensively, you can do it right.”

Hazel Apartments on Highway 99 in Edmonds

Edmonds, said Liias, is not yet where it needs to be. “We need a little bit bigger vision on (Highway) 99 and also on Edmonds Way,” he said. “We need something that looks more like Shoreline, where they’ve got significant new housing that’s gone in. We’re getting there in Edmonds, but I don’t see the housing units being built as quickly as we need to.”

Westgate Station is a mixed-use project proposed for what is currently a vacant lot near the Kwick N Kleen Car Wash on Edmonds Way.

One obstacle, Liias believes, is the permitting process for new projects. He thinks it must be streamlined to encourage new development. “Once you’ve zoned it, you have to make sure that it also gets built. And that’s what I think that we’re not seeing yet in Edmonds; there is a vision, but we need the units now, on the ground.”

The Boeing-sponsored meeting drew about 100 business, government and community leaders.  Boeing’s Government Operations Director Susan Champlain brought a good news vibe, teasing the group – but not giving details – about the company’s year-end sales numbers due out next week. She followed that up, telling attendees that Boeing hired “thousands of people in 2022” – and a promise that the future means “lots of work for Boeing and our suppliers.”

787 Dreamliner ( Boeing photograph)

Her comments follow United Airlines’ big December order for 100 Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the huge purchase in 2021 of 270 Boeing 737s. In the past year, Southwest, Delta and Alaska have also ordered more than 200 of the single-aisle jets.

Kevin McKay, director of marketing/programs at Senior Aerospace, Arlington

Listening intently, and pleased with what he heard, was Kevin McKay, director of marketing and programs at Boeing subcontractor Senior Aerospace in Arlington. “We are actively hiring machinists, assemblers, programmers as well as the support staff, McKay told me. The company is also looking for people at the entry level “who want to come in and learn,” he said, adding that Senior Aerospace has 400 employees in two local facilities and will hire more this year. “If everything happens that looks like it’s going to happen, we’re going to need in the hundreds of (new) people.” Those would be Snohomish County jobs.

Talk of lawmakers again considering a capital gains tax set off some sparks. Rep. Eslick cut to the chase, promising to fight against any capital gains tax. “We should not be involved in capital gains,” she told the group, “more taxes mean less business for us.”

Liias countered that “we have the most upside-down tax system of any state.” He argued that the people who can least afford it pay “14-15%” in taxes, when the richest pay about 1% of their income. Liias pointed out that there are exemptions from capital gains for 401 K plans, for farmers and others; that the tax affects those who have stocks or investments. He said the state’s plan for any revenue from capital gains is to invest it in “early learning where we can get the best return” for residents.

This was not a work session – no issues were resolved, no problems fixed. But this show-and-tell morning was a chance for the Economic Alliance to tell lawmakers what some of the county’s priorities are; a chance for county decision-makers to hear what local lawmakers are thinking on those issues. When the legislature meets later this month, one lawmaker told me that maybe a quarter to a third of all bills will pass. But, as Sen. Liias put it, “we have to show that we are delivering on the core issues; to demonstrate that on housing, we’re going to make some progress; that’s what I’m hoping for.”

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. Capital Gains is a subject that few who invest like to hear. SO I say this many don’t have that much in the market and they are trying to preserve for their retirement so they are not a burden on the STATE. Some though have zillions in investments and they if not treated in a reasonable way will find another way to keep their money to pass down generation to generation. Life Insurance policies are one example. I am not one of the zillionairs ha however I do know what they can do if forced. So again. For those who say have less than 2 million leave them alone. For those who are well over that maybe they should pay a bit more…compromise on this and find a percentage they will go for or you will argue forever ha. WA can do this. You need money to make money as a county, or a city. And those who have it spend it. Those who don’t do not, by no fault of their own pay those sales taxes, etc. Think about it before you leap on this I say to our Governor. Compromise brings Unity.

  2. Rent affordability is a major problem and income-based rent needs to be enacted immediately. Living within your income budget prevents becoming homeless.

    1. I agree with Christine. I believe we do have section 8 or did. I think the problem is finding accommodations that accept this as payment. This was income based but you had to be at a pretty low percentage etc. Finding landlords and or apt complex owners (many from out of state) who will accept this payment is the issue. I rented out my house in IA when I moved here, I chose HUD. It was a young woman with 3 small children. She was a great tenant. We went on to eventually sell the property. So how do you get people who own these spots to accept a reduced rent or rent for a reduced amount? You can’t take possession of anothers property?? I agree with you but how do we get this done? I believe in the past it was 200% percent below poverty level? Interesting and needed as minimum wage or much higher individuals or families simply cannot afford the rental amounts in our area of Snohomish County and beyond.

  3. I’m uneasy about the notion of the state preempting the cities on local zoning and density issues, and it sounds as if the Governor and others favor preemption. We need to be thinking about how to properly accommodate growth, but those considerations should be left with the cities. If you have concerns about this, please contact your elected state officials and let them know.

    1. I totally agree with Mr. Teitzel. If ownership of property was as it is in a Socialized Country this would be the norm. However we are not Socialized in the USA yet and I doubt we ever adopt a total policy like that here or anywhere. Maybe someday but this is not the day. To have zoning as suggested and quick permitting etc. is only going to enrage citizens who do not share that philosophy. I understand but to plan by overbuilding for 20 years in the future is silly to me. Our infrastructure is not even close to ready. Our Broadband is not adequate, our electrical grid or our water filtration systems. OR our roads and streets. Do we want brown outs? I don’t think many would. We are doing much and can do more but I say take it slow.. as elders pass more property will be available. Edmonds should remain Edmonds and the governor should not be a factor in our decisions. Some things are state mandated but what isn’t, should be left to our community as it is in so many other communities in out county and state.

    2. Dave, the Governor is wrong on this. How could he possibly know the diverse housing needs of our community and every community in the state? Sadly, in my opinion, our local Olympia reps seem to represent the Olympia view and do not take into account the residents voices in our district any longer. Answering email and communication seem foreign to Olympia reps unlike some on our own City Council who respond and listen. Olympia reps seem out of touch. Happy to be corrected if perception and experience with the reps from Olympia is inaccurate.

  4. I tend to very much agree with Dave on this issue. If we are going to turn over all zoning and things like fire fighting and even policing to the state or regions of the state, what is the point of having cities at all? We’ve reached the point of the various jurisdictions fighting over making the basic rules and who gets to control the taxation issues to pay for all the services we demand in increasingly unsustainable measure. The real problem is over population and too many people all wanting to live and work in the same desirable areas for recreational and esthetic pleasure. As more and more people crowd in; the quality of life goes down somewhat for everyone. Allowing open zoning and more and more high rise housing will just increase gentrification and make things more expensive for everyone. In Seattle’s Ballard, allowing two or more homes to be built on formerly single family only plots has just created two or more million dollar homes on lots where there was once only one million dollar home.

  5. I agree taking out the “we the people” and replacing it with it with “this is what you must do because we told you so” is authoritarian something I believe the leaders in our region prescribe to.

  6. We don’t have an affordable housing problem; we have a too many people making zero or not enough money to afford any kind of housing problem; all trying to live in the same space. We have a tax system problem and a favoritism of the wealthy problem with a rapidly disappearing middle class. Property and sales taxes are skyrocketing in WA. State while ultra high incomes and capital gains incomes are protected by unfair and very regressive tax laws.

    Welcome to Reagan land and hope you enjoy it. Democrats in WA. want to put band aids on artery bleeds and that ain’t going to work either. Fair wages, fair taxes, a growing and prospering middle class and getting back to some true democracy and rules that help ordinary people rather than corporations might solve the problem or at least go along way toward the goal. Taking most of the profit out of both legal and illegal substances would also be helpful, but the last thing we will ever try. We really do deserve just about what we have based on who and what we vote for.

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