VANCOUVER — Four candidates running for positions in the 49th Legislative District this election season talked about fully funding education, how to address mental health issues, traffic congestion and more during a candidate forum on Thursday. This forum was the last of four put on by the Neighborhood Association Council of Clark County (NACCC).
The Oct. 20 forum was held at the Vancouver Community Library. Candidates who participated in the forum included Democrat Sharon Wylie, who is running for reelection as state representative Position No. 1; Democrat Monica Stonier and Democrat Alishia Topper, who are both running for state representative Position No. 2; and Democrat Annette Cleveland, who is running for reelection as state senator.
Wylie’s opponent, Democrat Kaitlyn Beck, dropped out of the race, leaving Wylie running unopposed. Cleveland’s opponent, Republican Lewis Gerhardt, was not present at the Oct. 20 forum.
One of the main areas of focus during Thursday night’s candidate forum was how each of the candidates planned to fully fund education, and if they thought they could do so without raising taxes.
Wylie said education cannot be fully funded without raising new revenues. She mentioned that the state has been seeing an increasing amount of money from marijuana sales, but said that those revenues alone would not be enough to fully fund education.
“We should be considering a capital gains tax and some sort of corporate income tax,” Wylie said. “We also need to do everything we can to move to toward a less regressive tax system.”
Topper said the state has really done an injustice since around the late 1970s when it comes to funding schools. She said she is willing to look at all funding options, and brought up that there has been a lot of talk about a “levy swap,” which has been somewhat controversial.
Sharon Wylie: http://www.sharonfor49th.com/
Monica Stonier: http://monicastonier.nationbuilder.com/
Alishia Topper: http://electtopper.com/
Annette Cleveland: http://www.annettecleveland.com/
Lewis Gerhardt: http://lewis4senate.com/
“This may be a year where there’s enough pressure to look at our regressive tax system,” Topper said.
Stonier echoed the thoughts that education cannot be fully funded without new revenues. She also said she does not support a levy swap.
“One of the things I know is hurting teachers right now is that they are required to get new professional certification after a certain number of years, but now there’s also a new evaluation system in place that they must comply with in addition to the professional certification,” Stonier said. “I know that takes away from time spent on the students and the classroom.”
Cleveland said she believes everyone should have access to quality education and quality jobs, and that the “good news” is that there is a general agreement within the Legislature that the state needs $3.5 million to fully fund education. However, there is no agreement as to where that revenue will come from.
“Last year, I supported a proposal for a capital gains tax that would only affect the 7,500 richest Washingtonians,” Cleveland said. “I don’t support a property tax increase.”
In regards to how they would each reduce traffic congestion between Washington and Oregon, and how they would pay for it, each candidate addressed the idea of the Interstate 5 bridge replacement.
“There’s one project that percolates to the top (when talking about fixing traffic congestion), a replacement bridge between Oregon and Washington,” Topper said. “To fund an I-5 bridge replacement, we need lean practices within our current construction, and there needs to be some form of a user fee/toll.”
Stonier said she has always supported a replacement I-5 bridge. She said that without a coalition of people who understand the legislative process, it will be impossible to see a transportation package for this come forward.
“This project will require partnerships across the states and across levels of government,” Stonier said.
Cleveland said that one of her top priorities over the last four years has been trying to find a solution to replacing the I-5 bridge.
“I supported the Columbia River Crossing project because it was the solution we had in front of us to solve the problem of congestion,” Cleveland said. “We all need to agree, we need to share a common goal and then what the process is that we can agree to and agree on how to support it.”
Wylie said she was also a strong supporter who fought for the replacement of the I-5 bridge.
“I never stopped working on this project and a lot of people who have worked on it in the past have been coming together to work on a new plan,” Wylie said.
Wylie talked about a proposal for a possible utilities tax for electric vehicles and the gas tax that could possibly fund the replacement of the bridge.
Mental health issues in the state was another hot-button topic for the candidates at the forum, as they were asked what they believe some of the problems with mental health are and how they would propose fixing them.
Stonier said she is committed to making sure she helps bring people together who are experts on mental health and who are going to work on the issues in the state.
“I’m interested in making that (mental health) one of my main priorities,” Stonier said.
Cleveland said she believes the state needs new models of care in regards to mental health, more education and that primary health care and mental health care need to be more integrated.
“Behavioral health services is the only area where we wait until people are in the final, grave stage to offer any help,” Cleveland said. “We need to change that.”
Wylie said that during the last budget cycle, for the first time ever, she voted against the final budget because of the fact that $25 million that was going to go towards integrating health care and behavioral care was “swept away back to the Legislature.”
“I intend to go back and fight for more revenue and resources for mental health care,” Wylie said.
Topper said this issue is something she’s been working on as a Vancouver City Council member and working with Vancouver Public Schools.
“We need to look beyond our current model and look at a system change,” Topper said. “As a council member, I worked hard to decriminalize homelessness. We need to put more resources into getting these people (those who are homeless because of mental health issues) the help they need.”