Michael Harthorne
State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles discusses problems caused by Washington's tax structure at a May 30 town hall meeting.

Legislators meet with residents about 'difficult' session

Address school assignment plan, the Alaskan Way tunnel and the homeless in Ballard

Because of the state's $6 billion revenue shortfall, 36th District Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles said the recently concluded legislative session was the hardest anyone in Olympia had been a part of.

"It's really not a pleasure being here talking to you about this really very difficult session," she said to the approximately 20 attendees at a May 30 town hall meeting. "We knew we were in a bad shape economically."

At the meeting, the 36th District legislative delegation – Kohl-Welles and Representatives Mary Lou Dickerson and Reuven Carlyle – discussed the session as well as issues affecting the Ballard area.

Dickerson said the session was disappointing because of the deep spending cuts that had to be made.

All three legislators voted for the budget, but not happily, Kohl-Welles said.

"I don't think any legislator is proud of this budget," she said.

Kohl-Welles said the state is at a disadvantage because 52 percent of the state's funding comes from the sales tax, one of the most regressive tax structures in the country.

Some legislators looked to pass a bill for a temporary sales tax increase to stave off some of the cuts, but could not because of Initiative 960, passed by voters in 2007, requires a two-thirds legislative majority to increase taxes, Kohl-Welles said.

She said the legislature tried to put a referendum for a temporary tax increase, with credit for low-income families, to a popular vote to get around the initiative.

There was high support for the referendum, but that support dropped as the recession wore on, and it became apparent the referendum couldn't pass, Dickerson said.

"I shed a few tears because that meant that some healthcare programs would continue to be cut," she said. "And, for some people that could be a matter of life or death."

Carlyle addressed a number of challenges, some met and some not, that face the Ballard area.

Carlyle said there is a perfect storm brewing in Ballard stemming from problems with density, transportation and crime, and it is starting to get serious in the neighborhood.

For example, he said the conflict over the SHARE homeless shelter at Ballard's Calvary Lutheran Church raised questions about the city's plans for the homeless.

Carlyle said he is disappointed that the city cannot ensure background checks for shelters that are located in 100 percent residential neighborhoods.

The looming changes to the Seattle Public Schools assignment plan will have a huge effect on the 36th District, Carlyle said.

He said 80 percent of children in Seattle Public Schools live within walking distance of a school, but 60 percent of them are still bused to and from school. That is not sustainable financially or in terms of building a working community, he said.

"We have to make neighborhood schools work," Carlyle said. "It's essential."

He said he is proud there will be an open waterfront with the coming Alaskan Way tunnel and that Dickerson worked hard to fight for access to the tunnel from northern neighborhoods.

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The everpresent store-bought water bottle

It seems that most public meetings have these bottles as shown in the photo. I'm suggesting we start a campaign to BYOWB or Bring Your Own Water Bottle. Surely, we all have one available. Wouldn't that show restraint and frugality?