Legislative candidates in the 32nd District all agreed Tuesday that education is the state Legislature’s priority, but they differed on how to provide the money.
Candidates for two positions in the district spoke at a candidate forum Tuesday at the Richmond Beach Congregational Church.
The event was sponsored by the church’s Peace and Justice committee.
Many tied support for public education to questions about social issues such as mental health, homelessness, and inclusion/ exclusion.
They were divided about how to fully fund education in the state, which has a shortfall of $3.5 billion.
Both 32nd District positions in the state House of Representatives are up for election this year.
In Position 1, incumbent Democratic State Rep. Cindy Ryu faces challengers Keith Smith, an Independent from Snohomish County, and Alvin Rutledge, a Republican from Edmonds.
In Position 2, incumbent State Rep. Ruth Kagi, a Democrat, faces Republican David Schirle, Democrat Wesley Irwin and Libertarian Alex Hart.
Schirle had a previous engagement and sent a surrogate. Hart did not respond to requests to attend.
Position 1 candidates had a range of suggested funding solutions.
Independent Keith Smith sounded some familiar themes in education funding, talking about eliminating waste and inefficiencies and only spending on programs that work. Ryu responded that for all the six years she has been in the Legislature, lawmakers have been working on exactly this and there isn’t much more to cut. She said the state needs to find new sources of revenue.
Acknowledging that voters are not supportive of a state income tax, she suggested a business income tax on earned income, and closing the loopholes that give large tax breaks to developers and major employers.
Smith suggested reforming the criminal justice system and not incarcerating so many people for minor offenses, with the savings being directed to education.
Republican Rutledge said that the answer is “No” to a state income tax and suggested that pension reform for state employees would be a large source of revenue for schools.
In the Position 2 race, Kagi said that our tax system is regressive and needs to be reformed, but we could start with a tax for the top 5 percent of wealthy individuals and corporations. The tax breaks for the corporations should be examined to see if they are benefiting the public and if they are not, they should be eliminated. She acknowledged that the public doesn’t trust the Legislature and talked about the need to help people understand the benefits of a graduated tax.
Democratic challenger Wesley Irwin took this a few steps further, saying that the state gives about 36 billion dollars in “corporate welfare,” about four times what is needed to fully fund education, including reducing student college debt. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, corporations are not people, he said, and we need a progressive, peaceful revolution for real change.
Irwin took a couple of jabs at Kagi, saying that she voted for charter schools. She responded that she voted against charter schools, but the citizens voted them in. She chose to continue funding for an existing charter school, rather than close it down.
Republican David Schirle’s surrogate, Janna Anderson, answered questions on his behalf. She said that there are so few wealthy people that “bleeding” them wouldn’t bring in enough revenue to fund education, and asked why they should be penalized for what they earn. Schirle’s position is to reduce the size of government because less government means less taxation and a freer life for citizens. She said that money is pouring into education and the schools are still declining. Money is not the issue and we should get the Legislature out of education.
After the Aug. 2 primary, the top two vote-getters in each position will go on to the Nov. 8 general election, regardless of party.
The 32nd District includes the city of Shoreline and part of northwest Seattle, Woodway, south Edmonds and nearby unincorporated areas of Snohomish County, the city of Lynnwood and part of Mountlake Terrace.