During an interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board, state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, described the education funding package approved by lawmakers last year as a “very clear solution” that was “spot on and very defensible.”
But he said that while the package (which satisfied the so-called McCleary court mandate to fund basic education) appropriated “more than enough money,” he said the Legislature isn’t done with the issue.
Despite pumping billions of dollars into local schools, teachers in multiple Southwest Washington school districts took to the picket lines this summer to protest what they said were still inadequate salaries.
The McCleary funding package relied on an increase in the state property tax rate, which caused property owners to see a spike in their property tax bill this year. Property owners were promised tax relief the next year as a lid is placed on local enrichment levies. Vick said that he expects school districts to approach the Legislature asking that the local levy lid be increased.
“For me, that’s a nonstarter,” said Vick. He said that the Legislature instead needs to stick to the package’s “parameters” and deliver on relief promised to taxpayers.
Chris Thobaben, a first-time candidate who is challenging Vick as a Democrat, faulted the agreement for not getting into details and being passed at the “11th hour” (a characterization Vick pushed back on).
“The problem was they had a failure to appreciate the complexity of local school funding,” said Thobaben, a supply chain consultant and reserve officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He called for teachers’ salaries to be determined by a “pricing index” that he said would avoid divisive negotiations.
In addition to education funding, the candidates also discussed oil terminals, climate change, gun control and other topics.
Oil and climate change
Each candidate had a different take on the demise of the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. The oil terminal would have been the country’s largest rail-to-marine oil terminal but was stymied by the election of Don Orange, a foe of the project, to the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners last year. Gov. Jay Inslee later rejected the company’s Application for Site Certification. Earlier this year, the port commission canceled the lease for the project.
Citing the possibility of a devastating oil train derailment and health risks, Thobaben said he supported turning down the project.
“We want long-term employment opportunities,” he said. “The oil terminal would have given a short-term boost and a long-term risk. And that long-term risk is only levied upon the people who live in our community.”
Vick said that his position has always been that he would support the project if it cleared the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which voted down the terminal last year. But he said that if there was a large facility at the terminal, it would have generated enough tax revenue that property taxes would have gone down and the city of Vancouver wouldn’t be considering a head tax on businesses and nonprofits.
He also said that the terminal is an industrial port meant for a large project that would be big “and probably a little bit dirty.”
“We can’t move enough Subarus and windmill turbines to make that piece of property valuable,” he said.
Climate and energy
Both candidates acknowledged that climate change is real.
“I think it would be foolish to say humans don’t contribute to climate change,” said Vick.
But he said he didn’t support Initiative 1631, a ballot measure that would place a fee on carbon emissions in the state. He said the measure would increase costs for families while exempting large polluters. He also faulted it for not providing enough accountability for how revenue generated by the measure would be managed.
Thobaben said the initiative would put new costs on the “businesses of today” but he said that doing so would spur new economic development.
“There is nothing that will create more jobs and opportunity than creating tomorrow,” he said.
He also expressed support for nuclear energy, which he acknowledged is not a popular position in his party.
“We are effectively handing over our future economy and the tools of the trade to other folks because we’re not willing to lean forward into what needs to happen,” he said. “And this is a step to levy fees on those industries that contribute most heavily to our current situation.”
The candidates were also asked if they thought the country has a problem with gun violence and if they supported Initiative 1639, a gun control measure that will appear on the November ballot.
Thobaben said the country has a gun violence problem that’s rooted in “poverty and desperation.” He said that desperation comes from mental health issues and socio-economic problems. He said that I-1639 “misses the mark” with how it defines an assault rifle. But he said that he approved of how the initiative would impose requirements on how gun owners store their weapons.
“Storage of a weapon is one of the most important actions a gun owner can take,” said Thobaben.
Vick said he opposed the initiative, calling it “very poorly thought-out legislation.” He also took issue with how it defines assault rifles, its potential to create a firearm registry and what he said are storage requirements that are too uniform.
“We have a people problem in some areas, whether you want to call it mental health problem or a poverty problem or whatever,” he said. “The factor is the gun is the tool and the attitude is the problem and that’s what we have to address.”