Candidates grappling for the 30th Legislative District’s state House seats came together at the Federal Way Mirror’s annual debate on Wednesday, answering community questions on topics like crime, economic development in the wake of Weyerhaeuser’s departure, and low-income housing. About 130 community members attended.
Rep. Linda Kochmar and Mike Pellicciotti are running for Position 1. Rep. Teri Hickel and Kristine Reeves are running for Position 2.
Preferred Freezer and Orca Bay Seafoods project
Pellicciotti said he’s strongly opposed to the proposal for a fish processing center on the former Weyerhaeuser campus that’s now owned by Industrial Realty Group. He said there are few places along Interstate 5 that makes one say, “That’s pretty,” but Federal Way is one of them. Economic development decisions should be a priority, he said, as should be bringing young professionals to the city, adding that nearly everyone he’s spoken to while going door to door has likewise opposed the project.
Kochmar also voiced opposition to the processing center. She cited the past concern of residents who opposed a Valley Cities addiction treatment and rehabilitation center, saying that she jumped into action and it’s not there. Similarly, Kochmar said she joined locals opposed to a methanol plant in northeast Tacoma, and that project too was halted. Kochmar said she’s trying to do what she can with the warehouse but said there are legal issues involved. On Weyerhaeuser’s departure to Seattle, Kochmar said it’s her goal to make sure other businesses don’t follow suit and suggested developing a master plan for the former Weyerhaeuser property.
Low-income housing in Federal Way
Kochmar said Federal Way is becoming the “dumping ground” for low-income housing in King County, a retread of the area acting as the county’s “dumping ground” prior to incorporation, and said she’ll do what she can to prevent that from happening just as she did what she could as one of the “founders” of Federal Way. Ultimately, she said it comes back to jobs and her support of the transportation revenue package, which will bring well-paying jobs to the area.
Pellicciotti responded that Kochmar was involved for 14 years on the City Council “when a lot of these planning depositions were being laid out.” He said it’s important to recognize what’s in the public’s interest and where the Legislature is going to be putting tax dollars.
“We’re certainly not going to be putting tax dollars to corporations to create incentives for them to be developing, but that’s certainly not anything that I’ve heard is in the public’s interest here,” Pellicciotti said, adding that he ultimately believes decisions in Olympia can make a difference on the issue.
State income tax/wages
Both candidates opposed a state income tax, but have slightly different views on raising the minimum wage, although both appear to support it.
Kochmar said there needs to be a starter wage for 16-18 year olds who are being passed by for adults.
“When I was widowed, I was making… I had three small children, I was making minimum wage,” Kochmar said, pointing out that she of all people knows what it’s like to make minimum wage. “That was $5 an hour, and I got 50 cents extra because I didn’t get paid benefits. I went back to school.”
Kochmar said she thinks the minimum wage is a starter wage and the initiative does not include anything for youth who need jobs.
“They can’t get them because if we raise the minimum wage – which is fine, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna pass – we do that, they’re going to be hiring more adults,” she said. “We need to solve that problem so that we can get jobs for our children. They’re selling guns, they’re selling heroin. They’re getting lost.”
Pellicciotti said this was another item on which he and Kochmar agree, and he pointed to a Seattle Times interview in which he said she said she would be voting on increasing it. He said one of the things the district needs to be doing is making sure they bring revenue into the community as quickly as possible.
“We’re still holding with, like I said, we have pension money and other money that’s being served as a means to develop an economic base but until we bring in as much revenue as quickly as possible into the community, we’re going to have some very serious challenges of allowing the business community to continue to develop,” Pellicciotti said.
Crime in Federal Way
Pellicciotti said public safety is the priority going forward in Olympia and more needs to be done at the state level.
“Four years ago the Legislature got rid of probation,” he said. “There’s a governor report for little to no money for taxpayers, we could re-institute it. The Legislature’s been asleep at the wheel for the last four years. We need to bring about changes to address these issues.”
Kochmar pointed out she helped build Federal Way’s police department and municipal court, and she said she’d like to seek more public safety-specific grants to improve training for police officers and fund more aid for the Washington State Patrol.
Questions from the audience
While members from the audience got to ask their own questions, which ranged from Obamacare to charter schools, the most controversial one was whether or not Pellicciotti lived in Federal Way. Doubt about his residency has been a repeated topic of mailers sent in support of Kochmar.
Pellicciotti said he lives at The Reserve Apartments and isn’t surprised he was asked the question after seeing all the Kochmar supporters at the debate. Still, he said, it’s important to focus on the issues and not on attack campaigns.
Kochmar said Pellicciotti is the one doing the attacking and noted the mailers were not sent by her.
“Mr. Pellicciotti, you’ve attacked me on five different occasions this evening, and I don’t believe I’ve done that,” she said. “What I have done is corrected you where I thought you were incorrect.”
Kochmar said she also believes, at the end of the day, it’s about who’s sitting in the legislative seat.
“When the speaker of the House comes to you, if you are sitting in my chair, and you are going to press that button either red or green to vote and you’re voting the wrong way, you will have the speaker of the House, which he’s done on a number of occasions, come out from his office – everything will stop because of his total control – and point his finger at you until you vote his right way,” Kochmar said. “It has happened; I’ve seen people cry.”
Just as she said at the Chamber forum, Hickel said the best way to equitably fund education would be through a levy swap. She said 28 percent of the school district’s budget comes from local dollars, and she said that, unlike Seattle, Federal Way doesn’t have the business base to help take the cost burden off local money. She said a levy swap helps to even the playing field among school districts.
Reeves said the only way to reliably increase education funding without other social programs, such as Medicaid and W.I.C., falling behind is to grow all economic areas in the city at an equal rate. Reeves said if things grow at an equal rate, education has a better chance to thrive.
Federal Way economic development
Hickel said that, with Weyerhaeuser’s move to Seattle, the space and opportunity left behind creates an opportunity. She said industries such as medicine, courts and workforce development all have a chance to occupy the former corporate site, adding that workforce development is key to economic development – particularly for youths who decide not to go to college.
Reeves said she would work to create a balance within the city to provide a variety of job opportunities. If elected, Reeves said she will work to create more job trainings and apprenticeship programs in order to create employment opportunities for all Federal Way citizens, even those who choose not to go to college.
Crime in Federal Way
Hickel said the recent instances of violence in Federal Way made her sick and said every resident has the right to feel safe, adding that it was no surprise to learn that the murder suspect in custody was “a bad egg.” She said she wants to work with law enforcement on cell phone communication interception for youth involved, or potentially involved, in gang violence.
Reeves said she believes violence is the end result of those faced with hard circumstances like broken homes and high poverty. Reeves said that if the city had a stronger economy, the frequency of violent crimes would be considerably lower. Reeves said there needs to be an economic structure in place that works for everyone.
Hickel said she would vote against the project due to the “outrageous” expenses associated with the transportation project. She said she would reconsider her position if a smaller, less expensive package was proposed.
Reeves said that, since she’s a working mother who uses public transportation, she will vote for the project. Reeves said working parents need a variety of transportation options.