Topics ranged from implementing a school district levy swap and a mileage tax to simplifying business and operations taxes, during a candidate forum held in Battle Ground Thursday.
The event, organized by the League of Women Voters of Clark County, featured candidates that are included on the Aug. 2 primary election ballot, which were mailed to voters July 14. The two candidates receiving the most votes in each race move on to the Nov. 8 general election.
Two local residents are among the three candidates running for Clark County Council District 4 seat.
On the ballot are marketing firm owner Roman Battan, of Camas; Washougal City Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel; and Clark County Planning Commissioner Eileen Quiring, of Vancouver.
Incumbent Tom Mielke announced in March that he would not run for re-election after serving in the position since 2009.
During Thursday’s forum, all three candidates were asked what they would do to remove obstacles to the creation of affordable housing in Clark County.
Quiring, a republican, blamed the problem on high impact fees and government regulations.
“There is actually a false scarcity of land because urban growth boundaries are not being expanded,” she said. “So, it’s a very simple solution by simply expanding some of the urban growth boundary.”
McDaniel, a republican, said the county can use tools like property tax abatement deferral programs to encourage development.
“I believe each city and area essentially has their own challenges,” she said. “We have a bit of a lack of developable land and available land. I think if we open that up and allow developers to do what they need to do, which is build affordable housing, the market will take care of making sure it’s available and affordable.”
According to Battan, a democrat, the solution is for county councilors to be more business-minded.
“I think what a county councilor should be doing is going out and attracting new business investment, and removing obstacles for small businesses to be able to pay livable wage jobs so that we can actually keep up with the rising housing costs.”
In 2013, the Clark County Council implemented a fee waiver program that eliminated permit application fees and traffic impact fees on commercial building projects. The intent was to encourage economic development and create jobs.
Candidates were asked whether this program should be retained or eliminated.
McDaniel said she is not in favor of eliminating all development and impact fees.
“Audits have shown that the fee waiver program really isn’t the main driving force in development in Clark County,” she said, adding that developers she has spoken to would prefer that fees are fair, equitable and consistent for commercial and residential development.
Battan favors studying fees more comprehensively. So far, he said, the waiver program has not been successful.
“Right now, this deferral program is set up to just carve out a certain segment of our business community in commercial development,” he said. “It doesn’t specifically address some of these issues on the residential side.”
Quiring believes the fee waiver program has had a positive impact. Clark County has outpaced other areas of the region when it comes to economic recovery.
“I think it has done some good,” she said. “But we have to look at it and audit it and see what good it is doing, and eliminate those parts of it that aren’t as good as others.”
18th District State Representative Position 1
Running against incumbent Brandon Vick for 18th District State Representative Position 1 are Justin Oberg and Lisa Anderson.
Vick, a Felida resident first elected in 2012, is facing Oberg, a small business consultant from Salmon Creek and Anderson, an organic farmer and watershed steward from Brush Prairie.
According to Oberg, a democrat, providing adequate funding for schools and fulfilling the Supreme Court’s McCleary Decision will require that the state take a critical look at the tax cuts it offers corporations.
“The only solution that I have seen that allows us to pay our bills, give our kids the education they deserve, and is not a burden on working families is by looking at the $30 billion in corporate tax cuts we give in our state,” he said. “Many of those tax cuts are economically profitable, but many of them are not.”
That money, he said, should be reallocated to fund education.
“Under this policy, families will be spending less on their [local] levy, so they will be spending less money on their children’s education, and be getting a better quality education,” Oberg said.
Anderson, an independent democrat, also suggested that education funding could be generated through eliminating corporate loop holes and selling state assets.
“I think the state needs to live within existing revenue like the rest of us,” she said. “I will not support an income tax or any other new taxing scheme.”
Vick, meanwhile, indicated that he favors a levy swap.
According to the Washington Policy Center, using a levy swap the legislature could increase the state property tax for public schools, take money people pay now in local school taxes and redistribute it statewide, while in turn reduce and limit the taxes people pay to local school districts.
“By doing that, everybody has the same amount of skin in the game,” Vick said. “We’re still funding education at the same level, and honestly folks outside of Seattle benefit greatly from a program like that.”
To fund transportation-focused projects, Oberg would like to see the implementation of a mileage tax.
“It is a use tax that I think serves our community in a way that is reasonable,” he said. “But no matter what, we need to be reliable and consistent on how we use this, and completely transparent.”
Vick said he supports setting aside a percentage of revenue growth for transportation infrastructure projects, while also eliminating “unnecessary projects.”
“Infrastructure is key,” he said. “It gets people to work. It gets goods and services from A to B. It’s also more than just roads, it’s electrical, it’s plumbing, it’s all of those things.”
When it comes to pinpointing current government regulations that hurt instead of help the economy, Oberg suggested that the business and operations tax process needs to be simplified and made more equitable.
“Many small businesses are getting taxed at effectively a higher tax rate that larger corporations,” he said. “Why are we not investing in the literal backbone of our community and giving tax breaks to large corporations who are already shipping their jobs to other states?”
Anderson agreed that B&O taxes should be studied, along with the state’s environmental regulations.
“[It would involve] sorting out which regulations are actually effective and help us have clean air, water, earth, and which are just a problem for production and development of business,” she said.
18th District State Representative Position 2
Candidates for the 18th District’s State Representative Position 2 seat include incumbent Liz Pike, a Camas resident who has served in the seat since 2013;
Shane Bowman, a former Battle Ground mayor and one of the city’s current council members; Kathy Gillespie, a member of the Vancouver Public Schools board; and Ilana Brown, a health care administrator from Vancouver.
Pike, a republican, indicated that she’d be in favor of a levy swap to fund education.
“I advocate funding education first, without raising taxes,” she said. “There’s going to have to be a levy swap. I’m OK with that because everybody needs to pay their fair share.”
She is also an advocate of raising teacher salaries, and rewarding the state’s best educators with higher pay.
“Every child in this state deserves the best quality education, regardless of zip code,” Pike said. “And they all deserve an excellent teacher in that classroom.”
While Gillespie, an independent democrat, said the elimination of corporate tax exemptions is the path to the state fully funding basic education, Brown said the focus should not be on the number of dollars.
“We should be talking and thinking about how to ensure that every child in our state receives a quality education,” said Brown, a democrat. “We should be talking about raising teacher salaries. At the end of the day it’s not about the number, it’s about the children in our schools.”
Bowman, a republican, believe’s fully funding education should be the top priority. While he didn’t give specific solutions to close the funding gap, he did say he doesn’t think a levy swap is the answer.
“While that’s a key word that we use, that’s still a tax,” he said. “If you ask the people of Camas if they would be supportive of a levy swap for a school district such as Battle Ground, where we’ve had a hard time passing levies, they may not like that. I don’t think [a levy swap] is the best answer; I think it’s the easy answer.”
The candidates were divided on how to fund the state’s transportation needs.
Gillespie said the legislature has a history of raiding funds that were intended to support transportation infrastructure.
“It’s because the legislature has found a way to not live within its means,” she said.
Pike suggested the state fund the most needed projects first. She is opposed to gas taxes as a method to do it.
“The state of Washington has gone about funding transportation with the wrong approach,” she said. “We need to start funding transportation with a partial pay-as-you go method and a little bit of bonding.”
Brown, on the other hand, would support implementing a mileage tax.
“At the end of the day the state, especially the county delegation, needs to work together to address this,” she said. “We need to bring back our fair share to Southwest Washington, with whatever funding [mechanism] we decide on.”
When asked which government regulations dampen the economy, several candidates brought up the B&O tax.
In addition, Pike highlighted addressing the workman’s compensation insurance monopoly and Department of Ecology reform as important issues.
“We have to take a very big microscope and go through every state agency,” she said.
Gillespie said her approach would be to examine current regulations thoroughly, before passing judgement on them.
“Rather than paint a broad brush and say that all regulations are bad, I’d like to take a more intellectual approach and say let’s look at the evidence,” she said.
Brown described B&O taxes as having a negative impact on small businesses.
“Small businesses are working hard for our communities to provide goods and services, so they should not be negatively affected with this tax,” she said.
Bowman supports taking action to make Washington more business friendly.
“I don’t like government being involved in my business,” he said. “But we need to make Washington more business friendly if we want our economy to thrive.”