Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) and Katie Young (Lake Tapps)

Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) and Katie Young (Lake Tapps)

In-paper debate, week 2: Leg. District 31 candidate rebuttals

This is part two of a debate between incumbent Drew Stokesbary and challenger Katie Young.

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. Last week, incumbent Rep. Drew Stokesbary and challenger Katie Young, both running for Position No. 1, introduced themselves and answered some questions. This week, candidates will rebut answers from the previous week, and week three will focus on any remaining questions and final statements.

You can read their answers from week one in the Sept. 9 edition of the Courier-Herald, or online at www.courierherald.com.

Following Stokesbary and Young will be another three-week debate with Legislative District 31 Position No. 2 candidates Eric Robertson and Thomas Clark.

Both of you are big on education: Young mentions fully funding education, and Stokesbary worked on the 2017 McCleary Decision legislation. Do either of you support more funding for education and, if so, where would that revenue come from?

Katie Young

Katie Young

KATIE YOUNG: Providing the students of Washington with a world-class education is of the utmost importance. It’s an investment in our people and it’s an investment that creates both monetary and social benefits for us all. But there’s a cost to investment and in order for these individual students and society as a whole to see those benefits, we have to pay for a world-class public education.

The McCleary decision reiterated that basic education must be funded by the state. The 2017 solution was the “levy swap” – lower and cap local property taxes at $1.50 and swap them for a higher state property tax of $3.50. But the extreme change in how our schools are funded, where exactly the money comes from, and what it can be spent on, left schools struggling to maintain their programs under the new levy cap. By lifting the levy cap on local property taxes in 2019 to $2.50, districts could let voters decide on whether or not those taxes would increase. The need for raising this cap clearly indicates that our schools are still struggling to fund all of the services that our residents rely on based solely on the state funding.

It is paramount that we critically examine our education revenue to better achieve a more equitable model that doesn’t leave students in districts like those in the 31st lacking for the same opportunities as those students in districts with high property values. As you’ve already heard from me, and will continue to hear from me, our state is in desperate need of tax reform that creates a more equitable distribution of responsibility while funding the programs that invest in our people and communities.

My opponent acknowledges that he wants our students to have a world-class education – as do I – but that requires funding. In one breath we cannot both say that we must cap spending and improve the quality of education. Or if this spending comes from cuts in other areas of the budget, what goes? Infrastructure improvements to alleviate the daily traffic jams on 410 and 167? Public Health Departments that are attempting to keep our residents healthy in the face of a pandemic? Public Lands money that’s used to prevent and fight our increasingly devastating forest fires?

We also need our government leaders to step up and deliver federal aid to our school systems to help states fill these funding gaps, especially in the face of COVID-19. My opponent’s political party in the Senate refuses to vote on critical relief bills that would help us meet our budget gaps without having to hike up taxes or slash critical government programs – like education. Advocating in the legislature is important, but I’d love to see my opponent advocating for the HEROES Act within his own party and alongside Senators Murry and Cantwell so Washingtonians and Washington’s students can get the help we need.

Rep. Drew Stokesbary

Rep. Drew Stokesbary

DREW STOKESBARY:

I’m glad that Ms. Young shares many of my views on the importance of a quality K-12 public education system. I agree that public schools are an “investment” in our kids that will benefit the state for generations to come, which is just one reason why I’ve been such a strong advocate for public education in the Legislature.

Not only do I support Ms. Young’s desire to “make sure our students have access to the training they need to provide for themselves and move our economy forward,” I’ve actually been working on this very issue throughout my six years in the House.

I also applaud her recognition of how hard the families of students with special needs have had to fight, and how the Legislature must fully fund special education (a fact I noted in my own statement last week). This is yet another issue I’ve been working on in Olympia. I have cosponsored bills and budget amendments to increase special education funding. Last year, I helped push through legislation that improved how schools deliver education to their high-need students—including more training for teachers, more supports for families and more inclusion for students.

But as I noted last week, the Legislature ought to pay attention to more than simply how much money is sent to public schools. We should also care deeply about the results of public schools. We need to ensure all of this extra funding is actually improving learning, not just growing district budgets. Teachers, administrators and students ought to be held to high standards. We must track school and student progress so we can reinvest in what works while rethinking what doesn’t. And we ought to closely monitor the opportunity and achievement gaps between different demographics, doubling down when necessary to reduce and eliminate those gaps.

I’m excited by the progress the Legislature has made with respect to public education over the past few years and proud to have played a small role in it. I’m also honored that, in recognition of my legislative work, Stand for Children, one of the nation’s leading educational advocacy organizations, and Public School Employees (SEIU Local 1948), the union representing paraeducators and other school classified staff have endorsed my reelection campaign.

As with many issues, more work—much of it complex, detailed and nuanced—remains. But I look forward to having the opportunity to continue my efforts in support of Washington’s students and parents.

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?

STOKESBARY:

Ms. Young enthusiastically promotes a capital gains tax. As I explained last week, this is the wrong direction for Washington:

Since capital gains are a type of income and the state Supreme Court has ruled for decades that income is “property,” a tax like what Ms. Young proposes violates the constitution’s strict limits on property taxes.

Ms. Young suggests a capital gains tax would allow our state “to maintain as many of our critical programs as possible.” Yet because capital income is so volatile (and dependent on macroeconomic conditions), capital gains tax revenue would plummet during recessions—precisely when many state programs are most critical.

I share Ms. Young’s desire to avoid a depression. But a basic economic principle is that making something more expensive (such as by taxing it) will result in less of it. Reducing capital investment could precipitate a depression, so we shouldn’t be making it more expensive by taxing it.

In addition to these severe policy flaws, the public strongly opposes taxes on income. Indeed, the last ten times when income taxes were proposed via initiative or constitutional amendment, Washington voters rejected all ten. Most recently, 64 percent of voters opposed Initiative 1098, which would have taxed those earning over $200,000 per year. Here in the 31st District, over 74 percent voted “no.” The clear will of the public should be respected.

Like many other Washington politicians, Ms. Young contends we must “reform our regressive tax structure to make a system that is equitable.” Curiously, these politicians’ ideas for “reform” (like a capital gains tax) almost always involve raising taxes overall.

However, I do agree with Ms. Young that working Washingtonians pay too much in taxes. But if we want to help those who just can’t seem to get ahead, no matter how hard they work, the answer isn’t to penalize those who have had the skill or fortune to be successful.

Instead, we ought to finally fund Washington’s “Working Families Tax Credit.” Modeled after the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, this program relieves the excessive tax burden on working families by providing a sales tax rebate. Unlike other government aid programs, it permits recipients to choose how to spend the money, on whatever they believe is most necessary. Unfortunately, this tax credit has never been funded. I proposed a budget amendment last session that would have funded it for the first time, but the amendment was rejected on a party-line vote.

How do we make our state tax structure fairer for working Washingtonians? Reducing their taxes and/or funding the Working Families Tax Credit is far more helpful than raising taxes on “the other guy.”

How do we fill the state’s $8.5 billion budget hole? A capital gains tax is too perilous for our budgetary and economic recovery, not to mention unconstitutional and highly unpopular. Since tax revenue is still increasing, just not as quickly as once projected, the better approach is to reduce spending on programs that are unnecessary, unproven or simply no longer priorities.

YOUNG: Washington needs a tax system that is sustainable and humane.

A Capital Gains Tax is not your typical earned income, like your salary, and exemptions can, and should, be made for profit you might make on selling your house. Simply calling it an income tax and opposing it on those grounds alone is misleading. A Capital Gains Tax in and of itself is not unconstitutional, but there are currently parameters. The Capital Gains Tax that was proposed by Governor Inslee, but not enacted, would have affected only 1.5 percent of households across Washington State and only a few hundred in the 31st District.

I feel very strongly about the importance of tax reform for Washington. I acknowledge that this is a process that will take time and it will take lawmakers who are committed to making a more equitable system that provides excellent services to our residents without strangling them with a disproportionate tax burden. We can and should design a system that limits volatility while increasing equity by diversifying our taxes, so we aren’t reliant on only one type of tax at a very high rate. That is not a system that relies exclusively on income tax. That is not a system that relies exclusively on sales tax. It’s a diversified system that is managed responsibly and aims to produce returns via our next generations.

If a Capital Gains Tax were to be enacted here, it’s true that it would be higher than the income tax in Washington because we don’t have an income tax. What really hurts our economy is gutting government programs that employ our residents and improve lives in a short-sighted attempt to weather a recession – it’s a fact supported by economists and the aftermath of our recovery attempts from the 2008 recession. Let’s not wait around for trickle down benefits to drip out of corporations while our working-class people struggle to afford healthcare and housing. Let’s build our people back up by investing in our communities – reasonable tax policy is how we do that.

My opponent reprimands a growing state budget while paragraphs before they were applauding the increased school funding critical to meet our constitutional directive. That school funding is responsible for nearly half of the budget increase during the past 8 years. We also have a growing population in Washington which generates more revenue than the 2013 population did. So, these “rampant spending increases” aren’t inherently reckless, they’re for critical services our people and communities rely on.

We must take stock of our government programs and determine where our investments in our communities are being successful, and where they’re not. It’s important and it’s responsible. But if a program that was established with the goal of lowering the number of people who experience homelessness isn’t achieving that goal, we go back to the drawing board and work to find a solution that does help us reach that goal. We don’t just cut the program outright and leave residents to suffer.


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