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.
The debate will last three weeks. Week one, candidates will introduce each other and answer some questions. Week two, candidates will rebut answers from the previous week, and week three will focus on any remaining questions and final statements.
It’s been a tremendous honor to represent the 31st Legislative District in the State House of Representatives since 2015.
I decided to run for reelection because I want to continue advocating in Olympia for what matters to our community: a strong economy, world-class education opportunities and safe and healthy neighborhoods.
During my three terms in the Legislature, I’ve helped defeat billions of dollars in unnecessary taxes, proposed comprehensive plans to fix our region’s homelessness, mental health and substance abuse crises, and secured funding for local schools, parks and roads.
These priorities are easy for me because I’ve called Washington “home” my whole life. I grew up here in the Puget Sound area and graduated from my local public high school. I had the good fortune of attending Duke University, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics (with minors in Mathematics and History). After college, I moved back to Washington and settled in Auburn. A few years later, I decided to attend law school, eventually graduating cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. Once again, I chose to return home. My wife and I bought a house in South Auburn, where we now live with our two sons (ages 6 and 4) and a new border collie puppy named Scout. Outside the Legislature I practice law, managing a small boutique firm that represents startups and emerging companies here in Washington and around the world.
We now find ourselves in an unprecedented time. As we rebound from this once-in-a-century public health crisis, I’ll use my position in the Legislature to fight to safely restore jobs, stimulate our economy and maintain crucial services for struggling families, all while continuing my efforts to make childcare, college and medicine more accessible and affordable for all Washingtonians.
I’m running for State Representative because I believe in designing a more equitable future for the people of the 31st District and everyone who calls Washington home. The way to do that is through progressive policy that invests in our people and our communities.
I believe that healthcare is a human right, and we have the opportunity in Washington to implement single-payer healthcare for every resident. The climate crisis remains a growing threat to every human on this planet, and while we’ve started to make some progress here in Washington, there’s still a lot of work to do in order to save lives and develop a thriving green-energy economy. Workers create wealth, but are undervalued in our economy. Whether it’s wages that keep workers struggling to pay their bills, misclassification of employees to avoid compensating workers properly, or failing to properly mitigate risks from COVID-19 in the workplace, we need to protect the people who make our economy run. All people in Washington should have access to an excellent education – from pre-k through job training, apprenticeships, or college. We must include full funding for resources like special education and counseling, which our students are increasingly reliant on to find success. And it’s time to reform our regressive tax structure to make a system that is equitable for Washingtonians.
We undoubtedly face difficult choices in the coming months and years as we recover from a recession and work to keep our residents healthy. But we must invest in the opportunities that will serve our people in this recovery and lay the groundwork for a brighter future for Washington. I hope to earn your vote so I can do this work for us in Olympia.
Beyond one of you being a Democrat and the other a Republican, the other stark difference between you both is experience. Should voters put their trust in a fresh newcomer, or someone with some experience? Why?
Young: As the “fresh newcomer” I am here to tell you that I have the experience to excel as a State Representative for the 31st, my hometown district.
My experience is the experience of being raised in Golden Rule Bears, the teddy bear shop my parents owned on Main Street of downtown Sumner. I worked there after school, spent my allowance at the other stores downtown, and enjoyed the community of small-town life. I then watched as shops, including Golden Rule Bears, closed their doors and storefronts sat empty. These small businesses are the backbone of our local economy and heart of our communities. We must ensure that they’re able to survive and flourish. That’s my experience.
My experience is the experience of working as a freelance Stage Manager and Theater Director. Working in the arts requires an ability to accomplish goals with too little time and too little money – these challenges don’t impede us, they inspire us. We can’t accomplish these goals alone; it requires an immense amount of collaboration and listening to identify challenges and develop solutions that are effective and comprehensive. Working as a freelancer means that every three to four months I’m joining a new company, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and quickly determining how to be most effective. This is the work I do every day. That’s my experience.
My experience is the experience of someone who makes each career decision considering how I will maintain access to affordable health insurance. Especially amidst a global pandemic that’s caused the deaths of 2,000 Washingtonians and left hundreds of thousands without jobs, we can no longer deny that healthcare is a human right for every Washington resident. That’s my experience.
My experience is the experience of someone whose life was changed by joining a union. Actors’ Equity Association gives me access to contracts that protect my rights to a safe workplace and fair compensation. These are things all workers should have access to – thanks to my union, I do. My gratitude for this access has led me to volunteer on multiple union leadership committees, where I have written and crafted labor governance. Currently, I’m organizing for stronger accountability to prevent and address harassment in the workplace, because that’s my experience.
Stokesbary: COVID-19 is dramatically altering life as we know it for ordinary Washingtonians. This pandemic is continually requiring our government to solve impossibly complex problems and to make exceptionally difficult decisions.
I have the experience needed to solve these problems and make these decisions. During my three terms in the Legislature, I have sponsored a variety of pieces of legislation that achieved bipartisan support and were signed into law. I was elected into caucus leadership by my colleagues on the first week of my second term and became Minority Floor Leader. Last year I was appointed the “Ranking Member” on the Appropriations Committee, which means I serve as the lead budget writer, negotiator and communicator for House Republicans.
Throughout my time in Olympia, I have obtained millions of dollars in funding for local organizations like Nexus Youth & Families and the Auburn Valley and Sumner YMCAs and for local infrastructure projects like flood control efforts in Sumner and a new sewer system in Carbonado. I have worked quietly behind the scenes to forge consensus and improve policy, and helped defeat many bills that were wrong for our district and our state. In addition to my leadership on the budget, I’ve represented House Republicans in negotiations on issues ranging from data privacy to school funding to homelessness.
But this experience doesn’t mean I lack new ideas or won’t challenge the status quo. Each session I’ve served in the Legislature, I’ve introduced comprehensive and detailed policy proposals to help solve some of our state’s most pressing problems. I have taken on the Governor’s office, state agencies, higher education bureaucrats and powerful special interests. And I haven’t been afraid to cast votes that went against what lobbyists, colleagues or my party wanted whenever it was the right thing to do for the 31st District.
The same political party has controlled the Governor’s mansion—and thus all executive agency appointments—since the day I was born. This means Washington desperately needs fresh perspectives in Olympia who are willing to challenge the status quo and able to develop new approaches to policy. But given the daunting challenges to the state’s budget and economy that lay head, our community also needs experienced legislators, who don’t require on-the-job training and who can hit the ground running on day 1 to champion our shared values. Luckily, voters in the 31st District don’t have to sacrifice one of these for the other this election.
Both of you are big on education: Young mentions fully funding education, and Stokesbary worked on the 2017 McClearly Decision legislation. Do either of you support more funding for education and, if so, where would that revenue come from?
Stokesbary: When I first ran for the Legislature in 2014, the State of Washington was in contempt of court for failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund K-12 education. I promised to work tirelessly to ensure that the Legislature finally fulfilled this “paramount duty” and established a public education system that gives all Washington children—regardless of their race or ethnicity, family background, or zip code—the opportunity to obtain a world-class education.
Once elected, I continually pushed for these ideals. Even as a freshman legislator, I was invited to play a critical role in these policy debates and help resolve the nearly-intractable problems.
When I learned that our convoluted property tax system allowed wealthy school districts to impose lower property tax rates than working-class districts like Auburn, Enumclaw and White River, yet still generate more funding for their schools, I joined others in developing a more fair and equitable approach. And in 2017, the Legislature finally enacted this policy on broad, bipartisan basis. The result was more funding for our local schools AND lower overall property tax rates for local taxpayers. (Unfortunately, this property tax victory was reversed one year later, on a party-line vote that undid much of the bipartisan consensus that was forged a year earlier.)
In 2018, following these actions and others, the state Supreme Court dissolved their contempt order. While I’m deeply proud of the Legislature’s efforts (and my small role in them) on behalf of Washington’s children, more work remains to be done:
• We must continue to provide sufficient funding to school districts to attract and retain amazing teachers and to purchase all the textbooks and technology that our students need to receive a 21st century education.
• We must close a few specific holes in our funding system. Special education has been chronically underfunded and many districts still lack the resources necessary to adequately provide the education to all children that they deserve. Districts without a high school, like Carbonado and Dieringer, are penalized by the new school funding model. And districts with relatively low property values, like most in the 31st District, once again lack the resources that wealthier districts have to fund “enrichment” activities like music, art, drama and sports.
• We must also turn greater attention on outcomes. We need to ensure the additional dollars invested in our state’s public education system are actually improving learning, not just growing school districts’ budgets. We need to hold teachers, administrators and students to high standards. We need to track progress and results, to reinvest in what works while rethinking what doesn’t. And we do so with a particular focus on helping those communities and populations who have fallen behind, to ensure they have the same opportunities as everyone else.
I will continue advocating for these policies in the Legislature, so that my two sons—and every other student in Washington—have access to a world-class education.
Young: In the short-term, as we face massive budget shortfalls from the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that we maintain our education funding. State Superintendent Chris Reykdal joined me for a conversation I hosted called Somebody Should Fix that: Education, where he emphasized how critical the additional funding has been in order to rapidly transition the state to remote learning while keeping our students and educators healthy. Cutting this funding would be a huge mistake for our students and all Washingtonians.
This pandemic continues to highlight the shortcomings in our society, including in our education systems. Students who depend on special education have once again been left to fight for the basic services needed to receive a fulfilling education. These families are used to being advocates for their kids, but we shouldn’t settle for an education system that necessitates this.
As we come out of this pandemic, we must consider education in Washington for what it is – an investment. We’re investing in the future of our residents and our industries by giving students the resources they need to succeed. That starts with making sure our kids have access to Pre-K. Studies show that introducing Pre-K programs has a significant impact on the lifetime achievement of our students. We also need to be investing in post-secondary education, whether that’s job training, apprenticeships, or college, to make sure our students have access to the training they need to provide for themselves and move our economy forward.
With our tax code the way it is – the most regressive in the country – we don’t have a lot of room to increase our taxes that typically fund education in Washington. That’s why we need to reform our tax code and introduce new revenue streams without further burdening our low- and middle-income residents.
You both appear passionate about taxes as well. Young notes wanting to implement a capital gains tax, but Stokesbary is against new taxes, especially in light of COVID-19. Would it be better to implement a capital gains tax, or just focus on eliminating waste from the state’s budget, and why?
Young: Regardless of the recession brought about by COVID-19, Washington has needed tax reform for a long time. We have a structure that places a disproportionate burden on our working people to pay for the critical services that all Washingtonians benefit from, like public education, infrastructure, public health, and mitigating climate change.
Here in Washington, we have a regressive tax structure – the less money you make, the higher percentage of your income you pay to taxes. This system is particularly difficult for our low-income residents who pay as much as 17 percent of their income to taxes. Our low and middle-income residents are chipping in more than their fair share, but the wealthiest Washingtonians aren’t.
From March to June of this year alone, Jeff Bezos saw his wealth increase an estimated $48 billion (with a “b”). In three months. The median income in Washington is $60,000 per year. In three months, one man made more money than a Washingtonian making $60,000 would make in 800,000 years. The state needs 20 percent of Jeff Bezos’ increased wealth -just the increased wealth – during that 3-month period to completely meet our statewide budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apologies to Mr. Bezos for singling him out. He’s not our only super-wealthy Washingtonian, although they’re much rarer than people like you and me. These people have some space in their bottom-line to chip in for the critical programs that make Washington a destination where their workers want to live. That’s why introducing a capital gains tax is the right thing to do for Washington.
The science is clear that a “cuts-only” policy (or austerity budgeting) in response to a recession is a very good way to extend that recession and damage long-term economic growth. Stunted long-term growth hurts Mr. Bezos, it hurts you, it hurts teachers, it hurts construction workers, it hurts nurses, it hurts farmers, it hurts computer programmers, it hurts all of us.
So, it seems pretty clear that there are several things that need to happen in response to this recession to prevent it from becoming a depression. To start, we should absolutely implement a capital gains tax – our working families can’t afford to have sales taxes continue to increase, or property taxes that rise higher and higher, exacerbating our housing affordability crisis in Washington. A capital gains tax infuses our state with the much-needed revenue to maintain as many of our critical programs as possible, and at a level that enables them to be successful. Second, we will need to make some cuts, I don’t deny that. We are in a budget crisis and our leaders have a responsibility to defend areas of the budget that preserve the health and safety of our residents. And lastly, we need some serious support from the Federal government in the form of funding. This funding is necessary to keep our programs running and create good-paying jobs that get Washingtonians back to work, repairing and building the new infrastructure that prepares us for the future.
Stokesbary: The state’s budget situation is daunting. We currently face a four-year shortfall of $8.5 billion. There are many ideas to close that gap and rebalance the budget, but one in particular—a tax on capital gains income—is the wrong direction for Washington.
First, it’s unconstitutional. Capital gains are a type of income, which our state Supreme Court has said is “property” and may only be taxed if everyone pays the same rate and that rate is less than 1 percent. Yet every legislative proposal introduced so far violates both of these requirements.
Second, it’s bad tax policy. Sales tax is the most volatile tax source we currently collect. During the 2008 recession, services funded by sales taxes were decimated. Yet based on historical data, a capital gains tax would be 7.5 times more volatile than the sales tax. We see this in real-time as state budgets in California and Oregon, which depend heavily on income and capital gains taxes, are even deeper in the red than Washington’s.
Finally, it’s bad economic policy. Economists of all ideological orientations agree that capital investment should be encouraged, as this leads to more jobs, greater productivity and higher incomes. That’s why the federal government and most states tax capital gains at a lower rate than ordinary income. If a capital gains tax were enacted here, Washington would be one of only two states in the entire country (along with Massachusetts) to tax capital gains income at a higher rate than ordinary income. We don’t want to discourage capital investments, especially during a recession.
As for the state’s budget woes, some perspective: Biennial state spending was $31.1 billion when Gov. Inslee was elected less than 8 years ago. It now stands at $53.3 billion, an increase of over 70 percent.
Even after the latest tax revenue forecast, the state still anticipates another 8 percent revenue growth next biennium. (That is, tax collections are still going up, just not as fast as we originally thought.) How many families or small businesses are seeing their income increase by 8 percent right now?
The truth is, we can write a balanced budget without raising taxes, simply by spending about what we’ve spent the past few years. New taxes are only necessary for a budget that continues the rampant spending increases of the past 8 years.
That’s not to say closing the budget shortfall will be easy. Many challenges lay ahead. But the problem is significantly harder than it should have been, both because of over-spending and insufficient savings when the economy was hot and because the Governor refused to call a special session this summer so the Legislature could begin reducing spending earlier.
However, raising taxes during a recession, when hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians are out of work, will only deepen the financial pain for many families and prolong our economic recovery. Instead, we need to find budget savings by pulling back in overextended areas and by closing programs that aren’t delivering results or no longer represent our priorities.