Gregerson, Burrage debate 33rd District race for state Legislature


Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

To listen to the audio from our Candidate Forum, click the “Play” button above.

by Jack Mayne
Photos by Michael Brunk

Critical money needs for schools and local government were at the crux of the debate between State Rep. Mia Gregerson and candidate Jeanette Burrage at a forum on Tuesday’s (Sept. 30) for the 33rd District race.

Mia Gregerson, in her opening statement, said she is at the place in her career where “I really wanted to give back” and the area of policy is where I could be most valuable.”

She is a SeaTac City Councilmember elected by fellow members to be Mayor of the city until after the next election in 2015. She said she was an orphan adopted in Taiwan and she grew up first in Enumclaw, and is now one of four generations living in the SeaTac area. She has a 20-year old daughter now attending the University of Washington.

Jeanette Burrage is a Des Moines City Councilmember, a former legislator and judge.

“I am running for state representative because I want to help people,” Burrage said in her opening statement.

She said she was a Scout den mother while in high school because there was no one else available and went to Highline College before going on to get her law degree and serving for five years as a King County Superior Court judge. She was a Republican state representative in 1981 and 1982.

City Council seats
Burrage said she would give up her seat as a member of the Des Moines City Council if she is elected to the Legislature. Her Council term runs until the end of 2015, as does Gregerson’s.

“We have lots of good people in Des Moines to take my place,” Burrage said.

“One of the reasons I am running is because I’ve noticed that the state has made it more difficult for cities to fund police and roads and things that we need by keeping revenues that used to go to the cities. I want to bring small city views to the Legislature and try to get restored the money that was taken away … from all the cities with the liquor tax.”

Gregerson said her decision on retaining her city position “is still unclear.”

“I am not sure because right now I am the vice chair of the (House committee on) local government and I recognize there are a lot of voices I am able to come back home and speak to being in local government.”

Being partisan
Gregerson said it first caused her “a bit of concern” when asked if she could make the case for being a Democrat in the Legislature versus a nonpartisan city council member.

But she noted the House Democratic majority in the past session passed a budget that would have financed public schools more fully, as required by the state Supreme Court’s decision in the McCleary case.

If people think about supporting “homeless, hungry children in our community, then you will see that the Democrat forces are very strong in supporting those values.

“I am very, very proud to be a Democrat,” Gregerson said.

Burrage said she thought “Republicans will look more to the future, do long-term planning to make sure that our children get educated whether in colleges or trade schools so they will be able to get jobs here.

“Right now, Microsoft and other big companies are importing people with degrees that are available here. We need to be sure that our kids get the jobs that are available here. We also need to make sure there are jobs by supporting businesses and not making taxes so outrageous that businesses aren’t able to open or go out of business.

“People sometimes get the idea that Republicans don’t care about people (but) I want to assure you that I do and so do the local Republican that I know,” Burrage said.

Burrage on school money
The two candidates were asked about the Legislature’s attempts to increase common school financing as required by the state Supreme Court.

Burrage said the Legislature made a first step during the past session and that the state’s economy is improving “so we will have some additional revenues to put into education.”

She said more dollars must go to the colleges so that students can afford to attend them, but that the state should not take “whatever federal dollars are offered because they come with a lot of strings.”

“I think we are going to have to make some tough decisions which may mean some cuts in things.”

She said over the last 30 years that education, including colleges, has gone up nearly 300 percent but “everything else has gone up nearly 600 percent so there has been a trend towards doing other things besides education.”

The state should now “reverse that” and put dollars where they will do the best for education, Burrage said, including putting more money into colleges. She said she would fight against spending state dollars to become eligible for federal grants or for matching funds.

Gregerson on school money
The state budget is “our precious document on how to support our values,” Gregerson said.

But it will not be “on the backs of professional (employee) development or it’s not going to be on the backs of not being able to capture the federal dollars that we want to reduce classroom sizes,” Gregerson said. “It is not going to be kids or concrete – we need to pass a transportation package.”

So much money is needed, but so little is available, so she said a legislative joint committee has already agreed there is a $66.6 million sum that can be used plus tax loopholes that can be closed to raise revenue.

Increase minimum wage?
The push by some groups, especially the Service Employees International Union, for local city increases in the minimum wage from the state’s current $9.32 could go to the Legislature.

Seattle has legislated a $15 per hour wage to become effective over a period of time, while SeaTac voters last November approved a $15 an hour minimum for some hospitality and transportation workers. That wage will increase to $15.24 next year.

Burrage and Gregerson were asked if they would support a statewide minimum wage in the $15 range.

Gregerson said the issue should be discussed by the Legislature, but she supported a general view that the current state minimum is too low.

Burrage said she believed in the free enterprise system and does not think it is the job of government “by fiat to declare what individual business owners are going to pay their own employees.”

Burrage said businesses would have to cut other expenses in order to pay the higher rate if it did go into effect. If minimum pay rates are increased, it should only be by the state, not local jurisdictions.

Work with opposition
Both candidates said they could work with legislators of the opposite party to craft laws that would benefit the most people.

Gregerson said that after her first one-year term, “almost everything I did was working across the aisle – there is no way you are going to get four bills through with the environment we had last year without working across the aisle…”

Burrage brought up the state gasoline tax, suggesting some possible changes because that tax does not increase with inflation, only on the number of miles driven, “so that every few years, the Legislature looks at raising the gas tax.”

Instead, she suggested looking at a different way to collect money from driver, perhaps a sales tax on fuels. That approach, however, would require a state constitutional amendment, “but I think that would make the gas tax more stable.”

She said she has heard that there is a proposal by a Democrat member of the Legislature “so I would be happy to work with them on that.”


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