Candidates for the 30th Legislative District tackled issues ranging from gun safety, to school funding and homelessness in Federal Way during the Mirror’s forum on Wednesday at the Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club.
The forum featured all six candidates vying for seats in the district, including state Position 1 incumbent Mike Pellicciotti (D) against Linda Kochmar (R); Position 2 incumbent Kristine Reeves (D) against Mark Greene (R); and state Senate incumbent Mark Miloscia (R) and challenger Claire Wilson (D).
The event, which was live-streamed on the Mirror’s Facebook page, gave the candidates an opportunity to respond to some of the biggest questions facing their would-be constituencies.
As a legislator, how will you address homelessness in Federal Way? Give at least two specific examples of solutions you will champion.
Kochmar: Homelessness is a problem that stems from many areas including mental illness, addiction issues, as well as people facing a job loss. “This is a big issue, a multifaceted issue,” she said. She does not believe building small home communities is the answer, though. Kochmar wants to incorporate community-based health care for those suffering from mental illness, as well as initiate 24/7 rehab facilities to help homeless people who struggle with an addiction, she said. This would include transitioning mentally ill people from hospitals to the community, so they can continue seeking assistance with housing and medication.
Pellicciotti: Pellicciotti sees homelessness as a statewide issue, and said many of his colleagues see this as the top issue in the areas they represent.
During his time as the 30th District’s state representative, Pellicciotti said he’s helped maintain housing need grant funding, helped secure state funding for disabled individuals, and assisted in helping fund programs such as FUSION and the women and children’s shelter to help combat homelessness.
Pellicciotti said that in previous years it was difficult to focus on this issue since the Legislature was being held in contempt of court because of the McCleary decision, and now that that is no longer the case, lawmakers need to look into increasing mental health funding.
Greene: Homelessness is a two-fold problem. This includes mental health issues, which are exacerbated by life on the streets, therefore it’s important to get people into homes as soon as possible, he said. The other factor is a lack of work ethic, he said, adding that “Some people think they are too good to work menial labor jobs.”
His solution is for the state to join together with private businesses to build 500 YMCA-style buildings with job programs and educational programs.
Reeves: Homelessness is the outcome of an economy that’s not working for everyone. Reeves stated she worked to champion funds for transitional housing, such as $5,000 for FUSION and $1,000 for Mary’s Place. Although the real problem derives from lack of leadership when it comes to permit allowances, she said.
“The state can continue throwing money at the problem, what we really need is leadership at the local level because if we don’t permit the constructions of houses … we’re not going to end up solving the problem,” she said. “Supply and demand aren’t meeting in the market right now and that’s really the critical issue that we need to fix.”
Miloscia: He noted three years ago Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency with homelessness — and things have gotten worse. Seattle is the No. 1 problem, he said. Homelessness in our state has gone down but it’s gone up 30 percent in King County and it’s caused by the “bad policies” coming out of Seattle, including the city’s allowance of drug use. He’s introduced seven bills that address the root causes, including the the failure to build housing in King County and the movement towards the legalization of heroin and heroin injection sites.
“Until Seattle gets its act together it’s going to get worse and worse in the suburbs and adjoining counties.”
He said legislators need to get people into treatment and ensure we have a system that holds people accountable.
Wilson: Wilson said homelessness is a public health issue. “Families should never have children living in their cars, living in fifth wheels or living outside laundry mats.”
She would utilize her skills in intervention and prevention to address the root causes of homelessness. This involves looking at access to education, health care, employment opportunities, child care options for families, addiction services and affordable housing.
How should the Legislature address gun safety?
Kochmar: Kochmar supports gun storage safety and citizens rights to own firearms, but also has concerns about the safety and sale of them.
“I don’t believe we need to be selling AR-15s to anyone, I don’t see why we need to have that done.”
During her 14 years as a City Council member in Federal Way, she helped implement uniformed officers in Federal Way’s High School, and she said it may be time to look at doing the same thing in junior highs.
Pellicciotti: As a King County prosecutor for over a decade, Pellicciotti said he has seen the horrors of gun violence. To help increase gun safety, Pellicciotti said he supports an evidence-based approach, such as that found in Initiative 1639. If passed, this initiative would prevent people under age 21 from purchasing firearms.
“In north Washington, a teenager walked in and bought an AR-15 from Cabelas despite being under the age of 21. This initiative will fix that.”
Greene: He said whatever the public would want him to do is what he will “basically” do.
“But we have a Second Amendment,” he said. “And I will never just throw out the Second Amendment based on majority rule.”
The amendments to the Constitution are a bill of rights, he said, and the solution needs to come from a focus on mental health and making sure people have stable, uplifting lives.
Reeves: Reeves is a self-proclaimed “pro-second amendment Democrat,” but events in the last two years have changed her viewpoint. She grew up in Eastern Washington, where everyone was entitled to, and did, own a gun, she said.
“As somebody who sat in the mall a month or so ago while gunfire was going off with my 3-year-old daughter sitting in my lap, and immediately thinking ‘oh my God, I have to figure out if this is going to turn into a mass shooting or not,’ has influenced my thinking on this.”
She’s not looking to take away anyone’s guns, but rather is most interested in making sure responsible gun owners have the opportunity to own guns, while ensuring those who are not fit to own a gun, don’t.
Miloscia: We have to look at the data, the metrics and take an evidence-based approach, he said. It’s a multi-faceted issue that can’t be solved with an initiative.
Wilson: She supports I-1639 and responsible gun ownership. “I would say we have metrics — we’ve had hundreds of people die, hundreds of children that have died from gun violence and I believe that’s a metric enough. One person is too many.”
Given the current levy system where zip code is a predictor of success, how will you ensure our Federal Way students will receive comparable funding to students in other cities like Mercer Island?
Kochmar: The levy system uses a formula that was created in the ’70s, Kochmar said, and it needs to be revisited.
She also talked about the McCleary decision, which was supposed to establish equalization across the state.
“It’s tried to do that but its not done, we still have an issue,” Kochmar said. “Especially in Federal Way, with equal salary.”
She presented an idea to help with funding for special needs students that would include a grant that follows the student throughout their grade school education.
“If a grant follows a child that doesn’t speak English or have special needs, then I think that our schools will be more equitably funded.”
Kochmar also suggested providing teachers with a housing allowance depending on where they live rather than what school district they teach in.
Pellicciotti: Since the Legislature was held in contempt of court for not funding basic education, steps have been taken to move forward, including $1 billion in funding to remove the Legislature from contempt of court.
“What I did vote against was the regionalization system that is treating our area unfairly under the McCleary proposal.”
Pellicciotti worked with Reeves to put forth a bill that would help fix the valuation issue the school district is facing.
Greene: There are many realms to the educational system and they don’t all necessarily have to be run by the government, Greene said.
We have libraries, private institutions and charter schools, he said, and we should take advantage of the full array of educational opportunities.
“I think the emphasis on money is important,” Greene said about educational funding. “But on the same token, it also can be over emphasized.”
We need to ensure all the localities in Washington are fully funded and have the money they need, he said.
Reeves: I’ve never been in favor of a levy-swap system, Reeves said noting she’s more interested in meeting the constitutional obligation to fully fund K-12 education. While McCleary, by definition, fully funded K-12 education and appeared to get out of the Supreme Court order, ultimately there is a lack of funding for special education and school counselors.
Reeves said she was the first legislator to introduce a bill to fix the regionalization factor that Federal Way school district faces, opposed to neighboring districts that receive more money.
“Teachers should not only be able to afford to live in the areas they teach, but be compensated fairly even when there’s only a three mile difference,” she said, noting she has demonstrated her commitment to this issue and will continue to fight for fair wages and quality education for students in Federal Way.
Miloscia: The state needs to fix the regionalization factor, but raising the local levies is not the solution. We need to focus on funding school programs better, including special education and early learning. “But as far as making sure we have the same amount of money as Bellevue, politically that is virtually impossible unless you want a state takeover for an entire education system …”
Wilson: The Legislature created unintended consequences when they did the fix on McCleary. There are four areas that the state needs to work on that have negatively impacted scholars and parents of Federal Way Public Schools: the regionalization factor (23 out of 25 school districts in King County receive 18-24 percent and Federal Way was one of the two that didn’t, only receiving 12 percent); levy equalization due to the levy system; special education funding; and assessed evaluation.
How will you hold Sound Transit accountable to complete the Tacoma Dome Link Extension project on time, and on budget?
Kochmar: Kochmar believes the Sound Transit Board Members should be directly elected by citizens. She also said the funding formula for car tabs needs to be revisited, rather than having it based on current MSRP.
She also took time to express a wish for Pellicciotti’s bill to have done more to return money to taxpayers.
Kochmar said it’s difficult to hold Sound Transit accountable because they are not elected, and said in past years when she was a councilmember Sound Transit’s light rail plan did not include Federal Way.
“Do I trust Sound Transit, not for a minute.”
Pellicciotti: To hold Sound transit accountable, Pellicciotti said the answer was to pass house bill 2201, regarding collection of motor vehicle excise tax that was approved by voters in 2016. “What I realized is there was no oversight or accountability related to Sound Transit, and that includes the valuation of cars” he said.
Bill 2201 would return $708 million back to taxpayers but also keeps the light rail on track so Federal Way can connect to other areas in the region.
Greene: “I agree with Linda, that we need to have the board members elected by the people,” Greene said about the Sound Transit leadership.
Sound Transit is run by the people, funded with taxes paid by the people, so we need to make sure they are listening to you, Greene told the crowd.
Creating a bill to propose direct election of the board members would be a possible solution, he said.
Reeves: A lot of folks in our district rely on public transportation to get to and from work every day, Reeves said, noting she cosigned on Pellicciotti’s transportation bill.
“The frustration is really about folks turning it into a political issue, rather than a problem-solving issue,” she said,. “What I’m most committed to is getting back to problem-solving over partisanship.”
Community interests, economic development opportunities need to be kept in mind, while ensuring public transportation gets where it’s supposed to be on scope, on time, and on budget, she said, all while holding the elected officials accountable.
Miloscia: Sound Transit is a mismanaged agency with billion dollar overruns. Their officers need to be elected, not appointed. The state needs to perform a series of audits on the agency. “Right now they are out of control and there’s nothing we can think about unless we do some radical change to keep them on time and on budget. They have a history of not doing that at all and being basically self-opaque to everybody … People are fed up with Sound Transit.”
Wilson: Projects need to be completed on budget and on time. The agency needs to be transparent with taxpayers as projects move forward so there are no surprises “because that’s what continues to haunt us every time we get news, the news is it’s going to be longer and it’s going to be more money.” She said the state needs to work with Sound Transit and not stand against them.
During your term, what do you plan to do about ongoing citizen concerns about the Sea-Tac Airport expansion, including the potential environmental impact?
(This question was only asked to the Position 1 and 2 candidates).
Kochmar: Kochmar said that while she was a Federal Way city councilmember, she worked to stop the second airway expansion.
“We were totally overrun by Sea-Tac Airport,” she said. “They will totally overrun us again unless we combine the south sound region cities along the water to fight them.”
Kochmar instead believes there should be a second regional airport in Everett to help deal with the increased air traffic.
“There are people who cannot sleep at night because of the planes going overhead,” she said. “And I can tell you there is nothing worse than a plane crash in your neighborhood.”
Pellicciotti: Pellicciotti does not support the airport expansion, and said during the past two years one thing he’s done to help this issue is passing a study from the University of Washington to go over health impacts in the area, as well as a separate analysis the effects of increased noise and vibrations from aircrafts.
Pellicciotti said he has introduced a bill to expand mitigation zone for this issue to Federal Way, which he said would be the first time the city would be included.
“It’s not just commercial traffic that does need to go to Paine Field, we also need to start moving cargo traffic to Moses Lake,” he said.
Greene: “I’m not for expansion of Sea-Tac,” Greene said.
Many people in the district have said to hold the line on taxes and live within our means, Greene said.
“If this airport has been good enough for us for however long the present areas have been maintained, then it can be good for another ten or twenty years or so,” he said, hammering down on his point that he will not support any tax increase and won’t be working for any expansion of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Reeves: Showing her transparency, Reeves told the crowd her husband is a pilot for Horizon Air.
“I’m actually really concerned that there might be ethics complications for me to be proactively engaged in this conversation, because there may be a direct conflict of interest because of my husband’s employment,” she said. She commended Pellicciotti’s lead of meeting with community members and working to find the right answer to the problem, while including that she follows Pellicciotti’s lead and will continue to do so.
Senatorial candidates ask each other a question
During the event, Miloscia and Wilson had the opportunity to ask each other one question. Miloscia told Wilson that the school district’s test scores have been dropping the past six years and there are safety concerns in Federal Way schools. What are you going to do to fix the problem, he asked.
Wilson said over the last seven years the district’s graduation rates have increased steadily and in 2018 the rate is at 86 percent – the highest it has been in Federal Way.
She said you can look at any data points in many different places, but people will find that the district and scholars are making measures of progress all along the way.
“So I’m at a wonder at what test scores that you might be looking at because we are doing the best we can do with what we can.”
Miloscia rebutted that “the numbers don’t lie. The last six years our test scores have dropped by almost double-digits below the state average.” He said the first thing you have to do is admit you have a problem and then solve it.
Wilson then asked Miloscia a question. She said one of the areas where they both differ is the issue of reproductive rights and choice for women. She asked him what his stance was on that given Kavanaugh’s recent appointment to the Supreme Court.
“I’m pro-life; I’ve always been pro-life. I’ve been consistent on that – my constituents know that,” Miloscia said.
Wilson rebutted that as an elected leader, her job would be to represent the constituents of the 30th District. “And that means representing individuals that may believe differently than I … But as a constituent there are many people in this legislative district who do not see themselves represented in legislation when choice and when access to resources and services for women is being voted against by you in the Legislature. And that is a big issue given the state of what’s happening federally that we continue to protect women in the state of Washington and I know there are many people concerned about that.”