State Rep. Jim Moeller is already predicting the sticking point that will keep lawmakers in Olympia next June: raising the sales tax by one penny or by two.
“Every cent the sales tax goes up, it raises about $1 billion,” said Moeller, a Democrat from Vancouver.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Columbian’s editorial board Monday, the Democratic lawmaker from Vancouver said the tax increase is the answer to the state Supreme Court’s mandate to adequately fund the state’s public schools, at an estimated extra cost of $3 billion.
If re-elected, Moeller said, he envisions coming back to the people of the 49th Legislative District after the session ends and explaining, “This is what we needed to do. This is how we are going to reduce levies. This is how we are going to pay for the education of our children.”
His Republican challengers in the district’s Position 2 House race had a different take. Neither thought raising taxes was the solution.
“School boards should not be in limbo, whether they are going to get $9,000 per student or $7,000 per student and have to change their budgets as they go along as they have for the past several years,” Hazel Dell resident Lisa Ross said. It’s time to “fund education first.”
Carolyn Crain, also vying for the House seat, agreed that state lawmakers should pass the state’s K-12 budget first.
“If that means you take money away from other departments, some other space, that’s what it means,” she said, adding that she believes the Washington State Department of Transportation could be one of the agencies that needs a harder look.
Here’s where the candidates for the 49th legislative district stood on other issues; answers have been edited for brevity.
Moeller: “The (Columbia River Crossing) is dead as far as we’re concerned. I think what we need to do to get our share (of projects) in Southwest Washington is to stand up as a delegation and say, ‘This is not acceptable to us. We can’t simply pay an additional 10 or 11 cents gas tax and not expect we’re not going to have the projects in the 49th or Southwest Washington.” On the bistate bridge coalition organized by Republican lawmakers Liz Pike and Ann Rivers, he said, “My impression is: What a way to strike when the iron is ice cold. … There’s no money. There’s no federal money. There’s no state money.”
Ross: “The bistate bridge coalition is good; they should be looking at other bridges because as long as there are only two, we’re trapped.”
Crain: “That (Interstate 5) bridge is as stable as heck. … We don’t need to destroy a perfectly good piece of equipment. The corridor is maxed, the structure is not.” On the bistate bridge coalition: “I don’t appreciate back-room discussions, and I would prefer the (coalition) would be open conversation, with publicized meetings, allow the people to come, even if they aren’t going to speak, even if they are going to listen, be the fly on the wall.”
State income tax
Moeller: “I think it’s less regressive, yes. And, at the same time, eliminate the sales tax or cut it severely and put those rates in the constitution, so people have to vote on that change in the rates.”
Ross: “Jim thinks the only way you can increase revenue is increase taxes. Coming from a business world, revenue are sales, so you increase sales by getting more people to buy. His solution would always be raise prices, raise prices, but if you keep raising prices, people will stop buying. … People will move away. We want people to come here, people to work here.”
Crain: She’s in favor of amending the constitution to mandate a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature before taxes can be raised.
Sales tax exemption
Moeller: In favor of ending the sales tax exemption for Oregonians and residents of certain other states with no sales tax. “I think that’s the big lie, that it would hurt local business.”
Ross: Is against ending the exemption. “We need to increase our revenue. I think the revenue of someone buying something in a Washington store is worth more than losing the bit of sales tax on that purchase.”
Crain: Against ending the exemption. “The answer is no. I don’t want to give away that exemption. I would rather keep it.”
Moeller: Disagrees with a proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. to build an oil shipping terminal at the Port of Vancouver.
Ross: Supports the project.
Crain: Agrees with the terminal project, assuming it is operated safely.