BEN OAKLEY, Republican
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
Washington State is at a crossroads. Having worked in the Legislature the last three years as the Legislative Aide to Rep. Kevin Parker, I have the experience and energy to bring sustainable and effective leadership to Olympia. I helped write and pass a Medicaid fraud reform bill in 2012 that could save the state $300 million. I have worked in the private sector, been an executive director of two non-profits, and most recently worked in the Legislature, so I have the ability to bring a responsible balance to Olympia at a time when division and partisanship is plentiful.
2. What is the first bill you hope to sponsor or co-sponsor next session?
A Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget in our state. Our citizens must live within their means and the state must live within its means as well.
3. Do you agree with the state Supreme Court ruling from January that said that the state is not adequately funding basic education? Do you agree with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s assessment that tax increases are needed to meet the requirements of the ruling?
I do agree with the court that the state is not meeting its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. This does not mean we need more money in the system. Reform in the system is needed, not new taxes or revenue. We have an adult-centered education rather than a kid-centered system. We must reform the system so the resources we currently have go to the classroom, not downtown in administration. Unfunded mandates need to be repealed to get the resources to the teachers and students who deserve it. Our top-heavy system is in serious need of reform.
4. Do you support the voter-approved rule that stipulates that the Legislature can only approve a tax increase when each chamber supports the increase with two-thirds majorities? Should the state Constitution be amended to require two-thirds votes to approve tax increases?
Yes, I support the will of the people who have repeatedly asked the Legislature to live within its means by requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. The State’s General Fund has 7.5 percent more revenue this year over last year. We have the resources we need, but must reprioritize where we spend taxpayer dollars. I would also support the constitutional amendment requiring the two-thirds majority to raise taxes. Again, the voters have repeatedly spoken on the issue.
5. The Legislature decided in 2011 to reduce the eligibility for the state’s Basic Health program and thousands of people were kicked off the plan. Benefits of the program also were reduced, including the elimination of adult dental coverage. Should the level of services of the program be cut, maintained or increased? If you support increased services, would you be willing to raise taxes to pay for the improvements?
The Basic Health Plan was originally designed to be a safety net for citizens who were low income and needed temporary coverage until they could get private market insurance. In the economic good years, we significantly expanded the program to include folks who were not the most vulnerable among us. We have now brought the program back to where it was intended to be: to cover the most vulnerable temporarily until they got back on their feet and were able to get coverage through work or purchase independent coverage.
6. Do you support same-sex marriage?
In 2009, the voters supported the Domestic Partnership law granting all rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples and the Legislature will respect that vote of the people. As a man of the faith, I simply cannot support a change in the definition of marriage in state law. Also, the bill that passed the Legislature earlier this year was similar to other bills passed in other states, which does not protect the religious freedoms of individuals, churches, and businesses in our state that now can be subject to civil lawsuits.
7. Current plans for completing the North Spokane freeway call for its interchange with Interstate 90 to expand I-90 to about 20 lanes wide, including onramps and service roads, in a portion of the East Central Neighborhood. Do you support this configuration? Would you support asking voters for a state gas tax increase if it included money to help complete the North Spokane freeway?
Completing the North Spokane Corridor as planned is a must for economic growth. Hopefully, Federal Tiger Four grant monies will help cover a large portion of the project, but the state will need to support it as well. Spokane must be assured that the NSC will get funding before any new gas tax is proposed and it must go to a vote of the people. Structurally, we must address the state’s inflated prevailing wage system that adds 20-30 percent of unnecessary costs to each project. Resources would be greater for projects and a new gas tax may not be needed.
8. Do you support the legalization of marijuana for adults, including for recreational purposes? If not, do you support the legalization of marijuana for medical use? How would you address the conflict that currently exists between state law allowing marijuana for medical use and federal law banning it?
No. I support the current federal law and the enforcement thereof.
9. Do you support the state’s current laws relating to collective bargaining among government workers? If not, how should those laws change?
I support worker choice, as it should be up to the individual whether he or she decides to join the union and pay dues. State workers should be allowed to collectively bargain, but we should allow this to be an option.
10. State funding for the Northwest Museum of Arts and Cultures has been significantly cut in the last few years. Should the state’s current financial support to the museum be increased, maintained or decreased?
It would be my goal to see the MAC become fully sustainable without state funds. I supported the move last year to keep the current funding from the state going through the Heritage fund, but I do think we should be looking for more local investment to create sustainability for this great local resource.
11. Would you support the creation of an income tax to reduce or eliminate the business and occupation tax or cut other kinds of state taxes?
No. The state income tax has been voted on and rejected by the voters. Also, the state Supreme Court has now ruled 6 times that an income tax is unconstitutional.
12. Do you support the state law that allows local governments to install red light enforcement cameras?
13. Should the state allow the creation of charter schools?
Yes. Although not a silver bullet to fix our education issues, public charter schools have proven to bring competition and overall strong results for students at a less cost to taxpayers. We must support our public schools fully as the state Constitution mandates, but having this public charter option will be good for our state, our teachers, and our students.
14. Do you support the state law that allows local governments to form districts that can add a fee of up to $20 to vehicle license charges without a public vote to pay for improvements to local streets? If so, would you support increasing the amount that could be charged without asking voters?
No. Out of respect for the taxpayer, I would only support these districts and their ability to increase tab fees if the voters had the direct vote in this tax increase. I would not support a proposal that gives the opportunity for this tax increase without a vote of the people at any amount.
15. College tuition at state-supported institutions has soared in recent years. The Washington State University Board of Regents recently set the typical undergraduate tuition for 2012-2013 at $11,305. That’s up from $5,812 only five years ago. What should the Legislature do, if anything, to deal with the sharp increases in collection tuition? Would you support capping tuition increases at state universities?
Higher education funding has been one of the largest failures of the Legislature over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, Washington spent $1.3 billion on higher education; today we spend $1.1 billion. As a state, we must reprioritize our funding to higher education so middle class families can afford our state institutions, including our community colleges. If the Legislature would reprioritize its budget to include more funding for higher education, we simply would not need to “cap” tuition rates, and tuition rates would be more affordable for students and families.