WEST SEATTLE, Wash. -Nearly sixty people spilled into the High Point Community Center to hear from State Representatives Eileen Cody and Sharon Nelson and State Senator Joe McDermott.
The audience was split evenly amongst men and women with the ages ranging from the early twenties to senior citizens. The majority of the crowd was above forty years of age and the atmosphere of the poorly sounded room was attentive and cautious.
The congresspeople first gave a presentation based on their respective committees and how they were combating the challenges facing: education, health care, and the state budget.
Senator McDermott gave a summary of how the state house and senate works including a brief reminder about how bills turn into law and he connected the inactivity of some of the laws on the books due to budget constraints. He used examples from education such as Initiative 728 concerned with restraining the size of classrooms and informed us of its non compliance due to the immense budget shortfalls which have made hiring more teachers a non starter.
Representative Sharon began talking about the mortgage crises in and the inadequate responses from both the federal and state sides. She then jumped to a possible revenue stream that of lifting the tax write offs and loopholes of large scale companies renting public land for their business and refineries. The large scale companies have nearly three million dollars in tax breaks.
The last Representative Eileen Cody, spoke mostly of health care and of the startling fact of prescription medications being widely abused and over prescribed. Washington state is number one in the number of prescriptions per year and in this state more people die of medical overdose than by traffic accidents.
She also spoke of the budget cuts that would have to occur in health care and elucidated the nearly 40,000 people that have lost state sponsored health insurance since this new budget went into effect in 2009. She also spoke of some of the additional challenges in Mental Health that the state faces after making the availability of Mental Health services increase.
After a short PowerPoint presentation of the state's budget woes the floor was then opened for questions and the hands shot up like a third grade classroom asking to go outside to play. The questions were a range of economic, political and accusatory commentary.
Initiative 960 was raised again and again as proponents of the initiative complained about the suspension of the tenants of the initiative for the next two years. The initiative, which passed by exactly 51%, states that any and all tax increases in Washington State have to have a two thirds super majority. This of course makes any attempt to raise revenue in the state extremely difficult and therefore during this time of recession has been voted on to be suspended.
Opponents of the initiative hailed the change and encouraged the lawmakers to support a state income tax to be more equitable. Low and middle income earners pay in effect more taxes than more affluent earners with a sales tax only model.
The questions began to get more random as marijuana, other illicit drugs, privatising liquor stores and closing all tax loopholes, including the tax exemption for food in Washington state, started to be suggested by taxphobic constituents. Some reverted to repeating their comments about the "lawmakers not listening to the will of the people," and claiming that if an income tax was enacted they would stop spending money, totally.
The congresspeople were patient and forgiving, yet they did not allow falsehoods or ignorant statements to go unanswered. They also encouraged those in attendance to contact them in any way convenient to them, but they said they preferred email that was personally written.