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Editorial: Billig right choice to fill Brown’s Senate seat

The retirement of Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has scrambled the 3rd Legislative District. Brown delivered for the region. Before her, Jim West did the same from the 6th Legislative District. That was a nice run for Spokane, but we will probably lose some clout now.

Andy Billig and Nancy McLaughlin are vying to replace Brown. Both are solid candidates and solid citizens.

McLaughlin, a Republican, serves on the Spokane City Council, where she’s been a champion of small businesses and small government. She’s hitting those themes heavily in this race. Her advocacy of reforms in unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation would help make the state more competitive. Her call for a harder line on public employee pay and benefits would help free up money for important priorities, such as education and transportation. As a city councilwoman, she understands the heavy burden that the state’s binding arbitration law for public safety workers puts on taxpayers in lower-income communities such as Spokane.

She is charged with being an ideologue, but seems to have become more pragmatic over the years. She has not signed one of those inflexible no-tax pledges, and she’d be supportive of a ban on studded tires, or imposing a charge of some sort to recoup the costs of road damage. However, her overall approach on transportation is too weak for the challenge at hand. She wants the state to dissolve unspecified programs and divert other spending to road projects. She would oppose an increase in the gasoline tax and is against strategic tolling on West Side highways, calling that “social engineering.” She doesn’t advocate much in the way of boosting user fees.

McLaughlin says shrinking the size of government will free up money. Even if that were to occur, it would take a long time. The state’s transportation and education needs are too urgent to wait.

Like McLaughlin, Billig is a business owner, running the Spokane Indians baseball team. As a business leader, he has a more moderate perspective than most members of the Democratic caucus. In his two years in the House, he has demonstrated an ability to work from the middle to get results. He sponsored legislation to ban river-polluting phosphorus in lawn fertilizers, getting some Republicans to vote with him. He took the lead on an aviation biofuels bill. He helped rescue Sally’s House, a nonprofit children’s shelter, from cuts in state social services.

Billig isn’t afraid to discuss a reform in the business and occupation tax in concert with a small income tax (the 1 percent levy already permitted by the state constitution). We agree that such changes would be a boon to businesses in border cities like Spokane. We wish he drew a harder line on government spending and stood stronger for reforms that would help businesses. On the other hand, his strong advocacy for transportation and education would boost commerce in the state. His advocacy for a medical school in Spokane is also critical. We prefer his more moderate positions on legalizing same-sex marriage and the possession of marijuana.

Billig is a smart, hard-working legislator. We think he deserves to step up to the state Senate.

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