Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nearly 5,000 join for virtual town hall

Phones across the 37th Legislative District began ringing at about 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Those who picked up were invited to join a “tele-town hall” with state Rep. Eric Pettigrew. Nearly 5,000 people opted to stay on the line, a record high participation rate for a midsummer town hall event.

Over the next hour, Rep. Pettigrew was able to take questions directly from people participating. By simply pressing *3 on their phone keypad, participants were placed in a queue where they had a chance to speak one-on-one with him. Everyone on the call was able to listen in to both the question and the representative’s response. Question topics covered education funding, transportation, health care and human services. One participant expressed concern about cuts to funding for gang intervention programs. Another asked whether tax breaks should be given to companies that outsource jobs.

Each year, Rep. Pettigrew holds a live town hall in the district, usually around the middle of the legislative session. These town halls generally draw a maximum of 250 people, but often attendance tops out at around 100 or so. While he will continue to hold the live events, which he says are an important way to connect with people, he says tele-town halls are a way of engaging a higher number of constituents, giving them the option to participate in a town hall without even having to leave their homes.

“I want people to know that I’m here to listen to them,” he said. “My job is to represent them, and in order to do that, I need to be able to hear their concerns and know about the challenges they face.”

Feedback from the event has been overwhelmingly positive. Those who did not have a chance to ask their question live had the option to leave a voicemail for Rep. Pettigrew, and he is now busy going through the voicemails and getting back to people.

The 37th Legislative District includes Rainier Valley, Madrona, North Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, Mt. Baker, Leschi, Columbia City, southern Capitol Hill, Skyway and parts of Renton.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are the costs of our transportation and capital projects about to go up?

Maybe. That's the word from State Treasurer Jim McIntire who sent a letter this week to Washington's congressional delegation asking them to move swiftly on a solution on raising the national debt limit to avoid a major default.

Why is our state treasurer worrying about the national debt talks?
"...our state's access to capital and our credit rating may soon be threatened by federal gridlock on the debt ceiling. Turmoil in the U.S. Treasury market will surely move investors in municipal credits to the sidelines if there is uncertainty about the impact of federal paralysis on each state's credits. And it will not be possible to finance major construction projects or execute refundings to save taxpayer dollars without an adjustment in the federal debt ceiling.
Essentially, if the federal government fails to strike a deal on the debt ceiling, it could make it harder and more costly for state and local governments to finance projects.

State and local governments use various financing tools to pay for things like new schools, bridges, and major freeway projects. Bonds are one of the most essential tools for state and local governments. The Pew Center on the States points out that state and local governments issued $433 million in long-term municipal bonds just in 2010. The Center also describes how some of the targeted spending cuts could adversely impact state- and municipal -run programs related to housing, higher education, homeland security and more.

Congress has one week left to reach an agreement.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rep. Chris Reykdal on the court challenge to I-1053

When I was sworn in as the new state representative from the 22nd Legislative District, I took an oath solemnly swearing to support the Constitution and laws of the state of Washington. That Constitution also guarantees a people’s initiative process, which is held sacred in our state. I will always defend that right in accordance with the Constitution.

There is a real question, however, whether Initiative 1053 is in accordance with the Constitution. There is concern that I-1053 did not attempt to amend state law; it attempted to amend the state Constitution, something I take very seriously.

Article II, Section 22 of the state Constitution clearly vests the powers of lawmaking in the Legislature with a simple majority. I-1053 requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to not only raise taxes, but also to close outdated and unproven tax preferences/loopholes. We all know our tax code desperately needs modernization, but I-1053 makes it nearly impossible to bring about changes. Under I-1053, just seventeen out of 147, or 11 percent of our legislators, control our tax code. This makes it all that much easier for the powerful lobbyists of those that benefit from the most egregious tax exemptions and preferences to target their influence, no matter what the voters of Washington tell us.

This last session many of us attempted to close an inappropriate tax break on large Wall Street banks to fund education for our youngest learners. That effort received a Constitutional majority of legislators who were elected by the people to represent them. Sadly, a minority of House members were able to block its passage.

Now, a coalition of educators and organizations, and some House Democrats who supported the bill are challenging I-1053 and we are looking to the courts for guidance on the matter.

Whatever the outcome, we must get past the simplicity of partisan politics in our state if we are going to make meaningful gains in education, public safety, human services, and other core functions of government. At times this will require cutting some programs as we did this year, and sometimes it will require raising taxes when appropriate.

We can have meaningful tax reform, a balanced budget, and a more effective state government if we legislators are allowed to perform our Constitutional duty. But we cannot make progress without the courts ruling on this matter once and for all. Our Constitution is a sacred document and the rights granted in it should not be altered without a clear constitutional amendment. Not the right to bear arms, the right of free speech, nor the right of taxation by a majority of elected legislators.

I look forward to the Court’s consideration of this legal challenge to I-1053. More importantly, I look forward to working with House and Senate members, the Governor, citizens, and key stakeholders in building a more rational and responsible approach to State Government taxation.

Chris Reykdal
22nd Legislative District