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Liias, Heck agree on tax reform, disagree on health care reform at lieutenant governor debate

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 13, 2020

Candidates for the state’s No. 2 executive position, lieutenant governor, agreed during a debate Monday night that Washington needs to reform its tax system, do more to combat racism and hold large companies like Boeing accountable for the breaks they get.

But while state Sen. Marko Liias and U.S. Rep. Denny Heck are both Democrats, they disagreed on the best way to improve health care and clashed over who would be better at improving the level of political discourse as the state’s next lieutenant governor.

Heck finished first and Liias second in the state’s top-two primary in August. A Republican, Joshua Freed, is attempting a write-in campaign .

During the debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and The Spokesman-Review, both candidates said they would support a capital gains tax as a way to fill a possible drop in state revenue from the economic slowdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

The state is projecting a shortfall of $4.4 billion in the 2021-23 biennium and while that could change, “new revenue will be needed in all likelihood,” Heck said. The state’s current tax system is regressive, which means lower-income people pay a larger share of their income than the wealthy, and Heck’s goal would be for it to be less regressive.

He said he has sponsored past efforts to enact an income tax.

Liias said he would support raising taxes on the wealthy and reducing them for low-income residents, with working-family tax credits and closing tax breaks for large corporations.

He’d back a higher- income tax system, starting it somewhere in the $250,000 to $400,000 annual income range.

Both were critical of the recent announcement by Boeing to close its 787 assembly line in Everett while keeping its South Carolina line for that plane open. Liias called the decision insulting after the Legislature “broke speed records” to revise Boeing’s tax rates to avoid European tariffs earlier this year. Next year, lawmakers should review the preferential treatment the company gets, Liias said.

“It is clear they can’t be trusted,” he said. “It is time for the company to get the message they need to be a better partner to their workers and to the state.”

Heck said the state should not offer Boeing tax concessions without contingencies and should have made that change earlier this year, as it was adjusting tax rates as the company requested.

“They had the perfect opportunity to do that … but they didn’t,” he said.

Both agreed the country struggles with racial inequalities, with Liias saying the police and prison systems need serious reforms. Heck said the state needs to provide better access to jobs and education to address those inequalities, and when combating racism “housing is a good place to start.”

On changes to health care, Heck said he supports expanding the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, and creating a “public option” through the government for people who don’t get insurance through their job and can’t afford individual plans. It’s the fastest way to reach the goal of having everyone covered.

Liias said he supports a universal single-payer health care system like Medicare for all to “break the linkage between employment and health care,” which are an even bigger problem in the pandemic when people are losing their jobs.

Making incremental changes means continuing existing disparities, he added.

As the officer who presides over the Senate and chairs the committee that decides what legislation comes to the floor, both contended they would be better equipped for that job.

Heck has been in Washington, D.C., for the past eight years, Liias noted, where Congress has been unable to pass a new plan for pandemic relief. Leaders need to get together rather than blaming each other, he said.

“We don’t need more of the finger-pointing in D.C. politics in the state Capitol,” Liias said. “We could us a little bit more of the bipartisan spirit and can-do attitude we see in Olympia back in the other Washington.”

Heck countered that while Washington, D.C., politics can be toxic, he has a record of pursuing bipartisan legislation.

“When I talk to my neighbors, they’re not very pleased with Washington, D.C., but they ain’t all that pleased with Olympia, either,” he said.

Jim Camden, who wrote this report, also served as the debate moderator.

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