There was no large raucous crowd chanting their support for the Affordable Care Act or immigration at state Sen. Michael Baumgartner’s town hall meeting Saturday.
Instead, a mostly polite group of about 100 people gathered in the auditorium of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on Saturday afternoon to ask questions about education funding, a state income tax and the increased minimum wage.
Baumgartner, a Spokane Republican representing the 6th Legislative District, encouraged the audience to speak passionately. “It’s even OK if you yell at me,” he said.
He spoke briefly about education funding and said he voted for a Republican plan to “equalize” funding across the state. The plan to have each district across the state get the same amount from a statewide property tax levy would reduce the tax rate in Eastern Washington but raise it for “rich districts” in Seattle and Bellevue, Baumgartner said.
“It does make it equal,” he said.
Critics say the plan would significantly hike property taxes on the West Side of the state and remove local districts’ control of school funding.
Baumgartner expects a lot of arguing and debate about K-12 education this session. “Regardless of what you hear right now, the budget will end with Democrats and Republicans agreeing and a lot more money for K-12 education,” he said.
Several people in the crowd spoke in support of an income tax or a capital gains tax to raise more money for education.
“When it comes to the sales tax, the burden is on those who don’t make as much money,” said Barbara Baumgarten. “It seems quite upside-down.”
She said Republicans always want to cut health care and social services and questioned whether those programs would see cuts in order to fund increases needed in education. She urged Baumgartner to “stick your neck out and do what’s right.”
Baumgartner said he does not support either an income tax or a capital gains tax. “I just think it would be bad for the state’s economy,” he said.
“We can’t just support Amazon and the West Side of the state,” said Baumgarten. “They are much more wealthy than we are. I care about what you’re going to do to fight for us.”
Shasta Ruddock, a high school teacher in Cheney, got in a brief debate with the senator about the initiative voters passed to reduce class sizes. Baumgartner said the Legislature only applied it in K-3 classes because it’s more important to focus on younger students.
Ruddock said smaller class sizes are important for all ages. “I have illiterate students, Mr. Baumgartner, and I’m at the high school level,” she said.
Baumgartner also argued that the class size initiative wasn’t about class sizes at all, but instead allowed schools to spend more money on teachers. Ruddock pushed back, saying the need for smaller classes justifies the hiring of more teachers.
Josh Goodley, who owns two child care centers, said 80 percent of his 240 kids are on state-paid day care through the Department of Social and Health Services. He urged Baumgartner to consider raising the amount the state pays per child in light of the recent increase in the minimum wage.
“There’s a real crisis in child care,” he said.
Goodley said half the child care facilities in Spokane County could close within the next year if nothing is done. He said his businesses are losing money every month. “There’s no way we can sustain this,” he said.
Baumgartner said the issue needs to be addressed, but believes the answer is to overturn the minimum wage initiative that voters passed last year. However, that requires approval from two-thirds of the Legislature.
“We’ve been unable to get there so far,” he said.
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