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State budget, economy top concerns expressed to House GOP

YAKIMA - Republican representatives from the state legislature came to the Yakima Valley Wednesday for what they call a "listening tour."

And the town hall format meeting, held at Yakima's Chamber of Commerce, delivered plenty for legislators to hear.

"This is an opportunity to bring Olympia east of the mountains," said 15th District Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, "and for us to hear people's concerns as we head into session."

Based on anonymous sticky notes posted by audience members on white poster board, the top concerns expressed last night were budget and government accountability, jobs and the economy, health care, as well as education.

Some in the audience called for a "back to basics" state budget while others asked for no increases in real estate excise taxes. Absentee voting also was noted as a possible avenue for voter fraud.

Suggestions for job creation included incentives for small business start-ups and drawing high-tech companies - and jobs - to Central Washington.

The public encouraged state representatives to find a way to address fuel costs. That included researching other means of supporting state transportation besides the gas tax.

The call went out from the audience to address the high number of uninsured workers in the state of Washington. Specifically, finding incentives or insurance pools so that small businesses can offer health insurance to their employees. The public also told legislators to preserve Medicaid.

Other unique health care savings ideas included rolling back B&O taxes on chemotherapy drugs administered in a doctor's office.

One suggestion to help school funding was to eliminate sales taxes on purchases by school districts. "That would give them an immediate 7 or 8 percent discount," said one audience member.

Concerns about the WASL were expressed, particularly for the class of 2008, which is the first required to pass the test for high school graduation.

House Minority Caucus Leader Richard Debolt of Chehalis assured the crowd that Republicans would pursue measures to make the WASL more flexible. That includes a WASL vocational education track.

"We need to do something," Debolt said. "As it is now a kid could ace the SAT but fail the WASL and not even graduate from high school."

Newhouse and Bruce Chandler, 15th District Representative from Granger, indicated they have been visiting and listening to Lower Valley residents throughout the summer on these and other issues.

"First and foremost government has to control costs," Chandler said of feedback from his constituents.

He also expressed a commitment to pursuing water storage issues such as Black Rock during next year's legislative session.

Newhouse said he will pursue concerns his constituents expressed regarding drug problems in the valley. "People are alarmed about marijuana farms," he said.

Regarding economic development, Newhouse said success stories like the Port of Sunnyside are encouraging signs for the Lower Valley. "In the big picture we're trying to create a climate in the area that encourages businesses to locate here."

Not only will all three local legislators, including 15th District Rep. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside, take summer-long "listening tour" notes back to Olympia, so too will legislators from last night's town hall meeting.

"We will take these ideas to Olympia," said Debolt. "Keep in contact with us to find out how they're progressing."

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