Editor’s note: In this final round in the debate, Eric Robertson claims the Seattle Times printed a “retraction” concerning its editorial endorsing candidate Tom Clark. This is incorrect — the editorial has been revised with additional information concerning a 1995 incident where Robertson summoned state troopers when a Black man, testifying for legislators, “looked suspicious”. The full editorial and its revision can be read here: https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/the-times-recommends-thomas-clark-for-the-31st-legislative-district-house-position-2/
With the 2020 presidential election right around the corner, the Courier-Herald has invited the men and women running for the Legislative District No. 31 seats to participate in an in-paper debate.
This is the final round of the debate between Thomas Clark and Eric Robertson, both running for Position No. 2.
Keeping a balanced budget should always be on state legislator’s minds. Where would you propose either cutting costs or finding additional tax revenue in order to keep the state’s budget balanced?
Eric Robertson: Too many Washingtonians struggle with the challenges of high living costs – even before the COVID-19 crisis resulted in lost jobs and small business closures. Raising taxes, especially during an economic downturn, only makes the problem worse. Tax increases are the lazy way out of balancing the budget.
I believe that our state leaders must find smarter budget solutions. That means scrutinizing the budget to ensure the wise use of taxpayer dollars. The state government must deliver services effectively with the resources available. If programs do not produce results, they must be cut. That is basic government accountability to taxpayers.
I will look at every state government program and/or initiative enacted over the past few state budgets and evaluate them based on results. If the programs fail to deliver the intended outcomes, I will fight to eliminate them from the state’s budget. Regular reassessments of programs created by past budgets are essential. Too often government programs overlap, produce too much red-tape, or simply fail to achieve their intended outcome. Allowing these programs to continue in favor of needlessly increasing taxes is a slap in the face to the hardworking people who pay taxes.
I will also fight to ensure that future programs or initiatives implemented in our state budget carry clear success metrics. Establishing key guidelines of success before implementation encourages greater government transparency and accountability. These smarter budget solutions encourage a balanced budget that respects the hard work taxpayers.
I have a proven track record of responsible, smart budgeting. As the 31st LD Representative in 1995, I went through the transportation budget line-by-line, section-by-section with my Republican colleagues. Our meticulous efforts allowed for cuts to ineffective programs that drained government resources. We saved taxpayer dollars from going to waste. The savings allowed us to reinvest in needed road projects without raising taxes, like the SR18 improvements we enjoy today, and a life-saving traffic signal installed in Buckley.
As your representative, I will fight for smart – and just plain responsible – budget solutions without raising taxes. This also includes saving money for a rainy-day fund. Today, too many Olympia politicians are unwisely pushing to empty our state’s rainy-day fund and demanding even more taxes to fund their ever-growing government spending. These actions are not just unwise – they are highly unsustainable.
Let’s be clear, tax collections are up by $20 billion since 2013. There is no excuse for irresponsible budgeting – especially with the quick depletion of our state’s rainy-day funds. Poor budgeting – including higher taxes and raiding our reserves unnecessarily – only inflicts more pain on our hurting communities. As your representative, I will advocate for smart budgeting and greater accountability to you.
Tom Clark: Having had an opportunity to hear from our state legislators, in this case a member
of the minority party Republicans, the point was presented that the underlying revenue base for our state is actually quite healthy. Although I am not an expert on all the details and I maintain great respect for those serving in Olympia who have rolled up their sleeves and dug into the complexities of helping to shape our government, I believe our current crisis can be traced directly to a failure of leadership at the federal level. With no clear and consistent leadership or policies regarding how we all need to work together to minimize the dreadful impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, our state’s economy has been temporarily stifled. In the report I heard, it was pointed out that a few weeks ago the discrepancy between the expected revenue and the expenditure commitments was estimated to be “$9 billion” and the revised estimate (yesterday) was “$4.3 billion.” No one should take that number lightly, but when everyday people hear numbers like that, it is hard to develop a context in comparison to our daily lives. It is important for people to understand there are roles government programs play in our lives that private industry will not take on, not because they are not vital, but because they are not profitable. If you consider the Washington state revenue sources, there is no state income tax, but when you consider the tremendous contribution our state makes to our country, then you realize the federal taxes we all pay, in the Blue States, contribute disproportionately more than those paid by the Red States. (I believe the federal government has a responsibility to help ALL states remain solvent and viable during this unprecedented time.) I believe withholding stimulus relief for purely partisan purposes, is immoral.
At our state level, I agree with the question’s premise that “keeping a balanced budget should always be on state legislator’s minds” and certainly there is great motivation to reevaluate all programs and spending initiatives to determine efficiencies and effectiveness. I also believe that “false austerity” cuts to vital services are both counterproductive and inhumane.
Assuming the minority party’s own assessment of our state’s revenue forecast is accurate, then I believe with reallocation of expenditures and support from our federal government we can weather this storm, but only by working together.
Local news sources were hurting long before COVID-19 hit. How would you, as a legislator, support local news sources if you are elected?
Clark: Local news plays a vital role in our community. Local news has many dimensions that should be appreciated. When we evaluate how we get our “news” we have watched a steady decline in diversity and honest presentation of the events we all share. As we watch local news sources get swallowed up by conglomerates and syndicates, we all are the worse for it.
Again, I will repeat that like many problems we face we need to evaluate the root causes. I believe the underlying economic inequality we see affects local news sources as much as many other aspects of our culture. Raising the Federal minimum wage to $15/hour would be a good start. Providing grants, scholarships or other economic incentivizes to encourage our institutions to support broader support for local news makes sense to me.
I think we are slowly discovering the importance of integrity in our news. It seems intuitive and obvious, but as we see, it is not universally accepted. Opinions are opinions. Facts are facts. We require objective and accurate presentation to help inform our decisions.
I will personally support local news by respecting their vital role and to be forthright and honest in my interactions.
Robertson: We need our local community newspapers to succeed. When I served in Olympia in the ’90s, the press room was full of reporters from across the state to hold us accountable. Legislators and reporters worked together to create government transparency – something that has suffered through the last few years. Today, very few press outlets remain, and that is a big problem.
Without a strong press corps, the public doesn’t know what their elected officials are doing —
and politicians must be held accountable.
I value the role of local newspapers in providing government transparency to the public. For 12 years while leading the Valley Regional Fire Authority, I had a weekly dialogue with the local newspaper the ensure the public and the paper’s reader had access to information on the activities of their fire department. I understand the importance of local newspapers and will continue to strengthen their presence in our communities – and, by extension, strengthen transparency – by providing them much needed access to information.
As a legislator, I pledge to support local news outlets by making myself available to answer questions and creating a positive business environment by fighting to lower taxes. However, we must recognize the world changed very quickly. The rise of social media and smart phones changed the nature of news consumption faster than most news agencies could pivot. Even those that made sweeping changes to their business operations are still struggling to be profitable.
That’s why I encourage those of you reading now to keep reading your local news and subscribe.
If you own a local business, consider buying an ad. Some of the biggest decisions that impact your life are made by the elected officials closest to you. Without our local newspapers, they will be making decisions that no one knows about.
I am open to ideas for solving this critical challenge. Please email me at email@example.com if you have thoughts on what government can do to help.
Robertson: I have the experience needed to tackle the challenges we’re facing and produce the results our communities need. While serving the 31st District from 1994-1998, I fought for government accountability, reform and lower taxes. I ensured our communities had the opportunities to thrive without the heavy burden of unsustainable taxes and damaging red tape. My hard work earned the recognition of my colleagues and, in 1996, I had the opportunity to serve as Majority Caucus Chairman.
I left the legislature to serve my community full time in the Washington State Patrol (WSP). I had the honor of serving as an investigator in Internal Affairs at the WSP and then as commander of the Office of Professional Standards at WSP. I know how to improve law enforcement accountability – I did it successfully as a leader at WSP. You can trust me to fight for the safety of every member of our communities, and against damaging and extreme “defund the police” measures.
Before I cast a vote or share information I find in a newspaper or on the internet, I will always do my research to ensure I’m making the right vote or sharing truthful information. Unfortunately, my opponent did not do that before sharing portions of a Seattle Times editorial, which falsely accuses me of being a racist. After I put the Seattle Times on notice, they took the unusual action of printing a retraction last Wednesday. We live in extremely polarizing times and it is critical that our elected officials lead by example, turn down the rhetoric, and do their jobs serving their constituents. As your Representative, I will fight for you, not divide you.
Clark: I appreciate the opportunity The Courier-Herald has given to the candidates and to the people of our district by publishing these in-paper debates. I hope to communicate a more optimistic view of our future, while acknowledging the mistakes and missteps we find ourselves struggling to recover from. I believe in the nobility and honor of public service, recognizing “the government” is actually us. It is the law enforcement officer, the school teacher, the doctor, the father, mother, brother, sister, friend and neighbor, the native born and the immigrant. It is the farmer, the banker, the computer programmer and the homeless family. I
t is the person we elect to serve us.
People generally fall into two groups. Those who understand and accept change is inevitable and look forward to creating a better future and those who look back longingly to “the way things used to be.” I believe we all need to acknowledge that we are not going back, so who has the vision to help us move forward?
I hope to earn your vote and promise to live up to the oath I will swear to if elected.