Andy Billig, Q&A on 15 topics
ANDY BILLIG, Democrat
1. Why do you feel that you are the best candidate?
I have a successful record of delivering results on the issues most important to our community: jobs, health care and education. Job creation is my top priority, and I am uniquely qualified in this area with 20 years of experience leading a successful small business and a positive record in the Legislature. I am committed to supporting great public schools, protecting women’s reproductive health rights and safeguarding the Spokane River. As State Senator, I will continue to advocate for our community values of justice, freedom and equal opportunity while maintaining a clear focus on jobs and a prosperous Spokane for everyone.
2. What is the first bill you hope to sponsor or co-sponsor next session?
My top priority will be passing a responsible, balanced budget that prioritizes job creation, properly funds education and protects our community’s most vulnerable citizens. I will continue to listen to constituents and fight for budgets that reflect our community’s values. I will build on the results from my first term in the Legislature where I played a leadership role in passing bipartisan, balanced budgets that delivered for Spokane. Specifically, I worked to secure Spokane’s new four-year medical school and sponsored a job-creating transportation budget, which includes programs like Safe Routes To School and progress for the North Spokane Corridor.
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 agree with the Supreme Court ruling. I see education from the perspective of a parent, a community leader and an employer, and I am committed to fulfilling our constitutional duty to properly fund education. I remain focused on securing the resources necessary to insure we have great public schools for all children in our state. It is clear that we need increased revenue to meet the state’s obligation to fully fund education. Additional revenue could be realized through reform of our tax system or additional state revenue that results from a growing economy.
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?
The Washington State Constitution is clear that taxes can be raised with a simple majority vote of the Legislature. I have taken an oath to uphold our state Constitution and I cannot support any measure that violates that Constitution. I am not in favor of a constitutional amendment on this issue, because the super-majority requirement undermines our system of representative democracy and allows a small number of legislators to block the will of the majority. I support the principle of majority rule and the basic tenants of representative democracy.
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 (BHP) is successful and particularly important for Spokane. BHP increases access to health care for people who would otherwise be uninsured. Without BHP, the cost of care for the uninsured eventually falls upon those who have insurance, raising premiums on families, governments and businesses. The value of BHP particularly hit home when I was doorbelling recently and met a woman named Dawn who told me BHP saved her family financially and saved her life. Using existing resources, I support increased access to BHP, which will improve quality of life and save money.
6. Do you support same-sex marriage?
I support equal rights, including the right for two people in a loving, committed relationship to marry, regardless of sexual orientation. I also believe it is important for religious institutions to have freedom to decide how they want to handle this issue. The Marriage Equality Act that passed gives religious institutions the final word on solemnizing unions within their faiths and protects the religious freedoms guaranteed in our state and federal constitutions.
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?
This is the right time for transportation investments. We can create immediate construction jobs, which helps our working families and businesses now while also building the backbone of our region’s future economic vitality. I support the North Spokane Corridor and eventually hope to see the full plan completed. For now, we should focus on an interim connection strategy that connects to I-90 more quickly so our region can realize the economic benefits of this project as soon as possible. I would support a transportation revenue package if it includes funding for road maintenance and projects in Spokane including the NSC.
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?
Our current marijuana laws are not working. I support efforts to clarify and harmonize the conflicting local, state and federal laws and enforcement levels. I have advocated for the federal government to reclassify medical cannabis as a schedule II drug so it can be dispensed for medical purposes similar to other prescription drugs. Once the federal conflicts are resolved, further legalization for adults makes sense. We will reduce crime from illegal trafficking and increase control so minors have less access. Additionally, the state could fund important programs or lower other taxes if state taxes were added to legal marijuana sales.
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 current law in this area. I value the contribution of our teachers, state troopers, public health workers, correction officers and the many other members of this community who serve the citizens of our state, and I support their right to speak with one voice. Over the past two years, as we worked to balance the budget, we needed to reduce salaries for state employees and increase the amount they pay for health insurance. Collective bargaining provided a way for the state to achieve these savings effectively, efficiently and fairly.
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?
The MAC is an important asset to our community and I was proud to play a part in saving the MAC from devastating cuts last year. In its role as the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, it is appropriate for the MAC’s state funding to continue at some level, but it is also important for the MAC to continue working on contingency plans in the event that state support is reduced in the future.
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?
Washington’s current tax system is in need of reform. The current system is subject to volatile swings, relies too heavily on the regressive sales tax and a B&O tax that can be onerous for small businesses. I support a comprehensive overhaul that will make Washington’s tax system more stable and fair while providing adequate revenue to fund essential state services. As we work toward a smarter tax system we should not eliminate any of the possible solutions from consideration.
12. Do you support the state law that allows local governments to install red light enforcement cameras?
Decisions on red light cameras should be left to local governments, which is consistent with the current law.
13. Should the state allow the creation of charter schools?
The data is clear that charter schools perform no better than public schools and there is a risk with charter schools since they divert public education funds to private organizations and away from our current public schools. Our education priority should be properly funding our public school system. There are times when we need extra flexibility for schools because of a particular community need. In these cases our state has many current options available such as Innovation Schools or other creative, solution-orientated schools like the successful On Track Academy in Spokane, which has an impressive 95 percent graduation rate.
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?
Providing roads and a responsible transportation system is one of the most basic functions of government. I support local governments having the tools to maintain our community’s roads. Transportation Benefit Districts are one of the tools local governments should have at their disposal if they so choose. Any possible increases in the TBD limit should be modest. Whatever the limit, I support the right of local communities to determine the specific amount of any TBD fee that they may decide to create in order to improve their streets
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?
The future of our state’s economy demands that we maintain accessibility to college while preserving the quality of our higher education institutions. I support increased funding for our four-year institutions and community colleges so we can cap tuition increases in the future. In addition, we must continue to fund State Need Grants at a pace that exceeds tuition increases so we ensure that low-income students continue to have access to higher education. Higher education funding is a smart investment for our state as it improves quality of life and fosters job creation.