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Vehicle Tax, Schools Top Debate Locke Blasts Craswell For Suggesting Elimination Of Motor Vehicle Excise Tax

Sat., Oct. 12, 1996

Eliminating the motor vehicle excise tax, as Republican Ellen Craswell has proposed in her campaign for governor, could mean “toll roads at every intersection,” Democrat Gary Locke said Friday.

In their third debate, Locke also said statewide standards for student achievement, opposed by Craswell, are necessary in a growing economy.

“We should not have to have our businesses providing basic education to our high school graduates,” said Locke, King County executive since 1994.

Craswell, a former state senator from Poulsbo, said local control with minimum state involvement is the best policy for government generally.

“I think the control must be returned to the parents and their local elected school boards who were elected to represent them, to run their schools, and I think know better what the schools in a community should be doing,” she said.

Unlike the second debate two nights earlier, the Eastside Chamber of Commerce breakfast session was not carried on television, and Craswell’s Christian fervor was barely mentioned.

Traffic congestion, schools, job training and growth management were key issues for the 150 to 175 people who attended the hourlong debate, sponsored by Microsoft Corp. and the Journal American.

One of the first audience questions was how Craswell would finance road work.

“Doing away with the motor vehicle excise tax doesn’t necessarily mean cutting those funds that are going to local transportation. That is a responsibility and an obligation that the state has,” she said. “It’s the source that I was complaining mostly about.”

She said cutting that tax, the business-and-occupation tax and the state property tax would rev up the economy, boosting revenue from other sources enough to cover at least some of the difference.

Craswell also proposed more competitive bidding, eliminating wage requirements, eliminating sales taxes on public transportation projects and “encouraging private investment in transportation projects.”

Practically all major road work is already put out to bid, Locke said.

“Are we to turn over all future highway projects to the private sector and say, ‘You pay for it, and you charge the public for your investment?”’ he asked. “Are we therefore to say that by eliminating the motor vehicle excise tax … we will have toll roads at every intersection, every corner because the private sector will do it and the private sector will charge the public for the use of our roads?”

He said his top priority as governor would be educational access and quality from kindergarten to graduate school. Locke supports the statewide achievement standards that were mandated by legislation in 1993.

When a questioner asked what should be done to improve access to community colleges, Locke suggested higher tuition for out-of-state students at four-year colleges and universities, more efficiency on campuses, top priority for educational funding and better telecommunication links so students at any school could benefit from classes at other sites.

Craswell zeroed in on community college remedial classes, saying basic skills are the job of elementary and secondary schools.

She also said she was amazed that the Legislature even considered the Growth Management Act, which requires land-use plans that meet specified standards in each county, and was shocked when it was adopted.

“In every community that I’ve gone to, people are saying, ‘Get rid of it,”’ she said.

Locke said the law should be retained but might be modified to allow more flexibility in rural counties.

“What works in King County is not necessarily the answer in other parts of the state,” he said.

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