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Education, health questions dominate town hall meeting

Questions about health care, levy equalization funds and education in general dominated the telephone town hall meeting held by Reps. Bruce Chandler and David Taylor last night (Thursday).

The hour-long radio call-in format conference call allowed the representatives to take questions from a variety of citizens in the 15th Legislative District. The first question was about levy equalization, which would be hit hard by Governor Gregoire's proposed budget cuts.

A caller identifying himself as Doug Dearden, Superintendent of Trout Lake School District, asked the lawmakers what their positions on the issue are.

"I can tell you flat out that I'm 100 percent supportive of maintaining levy equalization," said Taylor. "It is absolutely an equity issue for me. Our district in particular has a lot of property poor school districts and levy equalization is going to be the only way we can continue to fund education as we have been."

Chandler was reassuring, stating, "It's important to keep in mind that the governor's proposal is the beginning of the discussion, it's not the end." He also indicated that the funding cut does not have the votes to happen.

"I think the governor's proposal ignores the fact that school districts and local governments have actually been dealing with real reductions in spending and not simply smaller increases in spending like at the state level," said Chandler.

During the call, Chandler repeatedly reminded listeners that state budget revenues are actually increasing by two billion dollars from the last budget.

"I'm concerned because while my constituents struggling to get by with lower incomes or flat incomes, the legislature is struggling to get by with a 7 percent increase," he said. "And I know that all my friends and neighbors would love to be struggling with a 7 percent raise right now."

Taylor's message during the call was to return government spending to what the constitution requires.

"I tend to look at the constitution and look at how we should be funding and what are the core functions of government, and I always go back to protecting public health, protecting public safety and education," Taylor said in response to a caller question about help for seniors being reduced.

"And looking at public health, that includes taking care of the most vulnerable in our society. Those who physically can't take care of themselves. That needs to fall someplace, and I believe that falls on the government."

Another caller asked about basic education, citing the concerns of the Sunnyside School District losing $6 million from its budget.

Chandler responded with sympathy for the districts. "As far as reforming or clarifying the definition of basic education, as I think you are probably aware there's a court case pending, and quite honestly it's very difficult to get the legislature to act until the court makes a ruling on that case."

One caller asked how government had become so dysfunctional, and argued that as a businessman, if he moved funds from one account to another like the legislature does, he would be in jail.

"It is true that in the last four years the governor and the legislature have robbed an amazing number of dedicated funds and even shifted capital money from the capital budget into the operating budget," responded Chandler.

"And those are the things that have made the so-called deficit bigger than it otherwise would have been. It's like using your credit card to go to the movies or something where two hours later the money is gone and the experience is over but you still gotta pay the bill. We are working hard to oppose all the gimmicks that have been used over the last few years to build the budget and to really push for living within our means," said Chandler

The Wolf Management Conservation Plan was also a topic of interest to callers, who worry that the reintroduction of gray wolves would cause a downturn in prey species, which would have an economic impact on communities that depend on hunting to bring in revenue.

Also, a proposal by the Governor to raise the sales tax by 0.5 percent was met with disapproval by the callers.

"One of the problems with the governor's proposal is that the sales tax hits people unevenly, it's considered one of the most regressive taxes in our tax system," said Chandler. The next caller asked, among other questions, when a progressive sales tax would be put in place, but Chandler didn't have an answer.

The final question, like the first question and many in between, was asking why school budgets were being cut. As the hour ended, callers who didn't get a chance to ask questions were urged to leave voicemail for the representatives.

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