Coffee with the Candidates: Brett Phillips running to represent his home
For Brett Phillips, the 36th District is not just a place he is running to represent in the Washington State Legislature. It’s home.
The 36th District race is packed with candidates this year, including legislative aides Evan Clifthorne and Sahar Fathi, Port Commission President Gael Tarleton, longtime political activist Linde Knighton and Majority State Director Noel Frame. They are running to take the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle.
The Ballard News-Tribune recently grabbed a cup of coffee with Phillips at Uptown Coffee in Magnolia, the neighborhood where Phillips grew up.
He attended the school just down the road, Catherine Blaine Elementary, played little league baseball and became an Eagle Scout with local Troop 80.
He is a fourth generation resident of the district, he said, starting with his great grandfather Joseph Robinson. Phillips is the only candidate to have grown up in the area.
“I have a deep resonation with this community,” Phillips said.
After attending the William and Mary College in Virginia, where he studied Government and Business Finance, Phillips returned to the Pacific Northwest after he realized that’s where his roots were, he said.
Back in Seattle, he worked on King County Executive Ron Sims’ Global Warming Task Force and, more notably, founded the Department of Sustainability at Unico Properties.
Through Unico, Phillips cut company-wide energy consumption by 14 percent and reduced carbon emissions by over 15,000 metric tons, which is nearly the equivalent of 2 million gallons of oil being burned a year.
Phillips was also cofounder of the Seattle 2030 District, which received recognition as one of the founders of President Obama’s Better Buildings Challenge, along with the City of Atlanta and the City of Los Angeles.
Unico was Washington State’s 2011 Green Business of the Year.
Education is listed on the campaign website as one of Phillips’ top priorities.
Washington State is failing its constitutional requirement to fund schools, Phillips said. He said he wants to see more revenue devoted to K-12 and higher education.
“We’re falling behind, there’s no doubt,” Phillips said. “We have one of the highest educated work forces in the country, yet our high school graduation rates and performance are among some of the lowest.”
He would not choose sides in the battle between education reform groups and teachers unions. Rather, he said he wants to see more discussion and compromise between the two.
“We need more voices in Olympia willing to bridge that ground, bridge that gap, when it comes to education,” Phillips said. “That’s the kind of leadership I’ll bring.”
While Phillips supports some aspects of a teacher evaluation system, he also respects seniority and thinks teacher evaluations should take seniority into account. Phillips said that teachers could benefit from constructive feedback.
Phillips does not support the charter schools initiative.
Phillips said he believes Washington does not need a job plan just for right now, but for the future as well.
Phillips is the only candidate to have created such a jobs plan, he said. Other candidates only talk about how they have acted as job creators in the past, he said.
Legislators need to focus on what can be the next catalyst for jobs.
“What is that next great economic job cluster?” Phillips asked. “I think it can and should be in clean and efficient energy and transportation technologies.”
Phillips said he thinks job creation starts with education. While Washington is home to robust aerospace, biotechnology and global health markets, many Washingtonians’ educational backgrounds don’t match up, he said.
“We right now import 25 percent of our 4-year degree employees,” Phillips said. “That is a disservice to our kids and a disservice to our taxpayers.”
Phillips believes that Washington needs to reform its tax system. Currently the state has the third highest sales tax and has one of the most regressive systems in the country, he said.
“We need to get to a more broad-based revenue system that is diversified and hedges against economic downturns,” he said.
This could include elements of a high earner’s income tax or a capital gains tax, he said. But most of all he wanted to start a conversation about the subject so Washington can move toward a more progressive system, instead of sticking with the old.
The over-reliance on property and sales taxes, he said, have led to many of the devastating cuts the Legislature has seen in recent years, which have added up to billions of dollars in losses.
“That’s unsustainable, and in some ways immoral,” he said.
Agenda for the first year
If elected, Phillips said he would work on three pieces of legislation in the first year:
• Pass the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. The PACE program would finance retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and would help create jobs, Phillips said.
• Pass the Reproductive Parity Act. The Affordable Care Act needs to be rolled out in Washington and women need to be fairly represented in it, Phillips said.
• Pass a local option vehicle excise tax for King County. King County Metro is in a declining condition and is facing 17 percent in service cuts. Revenue needs to be passed in order to keep the vital transit service alive and strong, Phillips said.