Town hall meeting packs Kent City Hall

  • BY Wire Service
  • Monday, March 16, 2009 7:29pm
  • News
Shawn Seeger of Burien addresses a group of local state senators Saturday with a question about cutting protection for wild salmon. Seeger and more than 100 people attended a town hall meeting in Kent to discuss shortfalls in the state budget.

Shawn Seeger of Burien addresses a group of local state senators Saturday with a question about cutting protection for wild salmon. Seeger and more than 100 people attended a town hall meeting in Kent to discuss shortfalls in the state budget.

More than 150 people packed Kent City Hall Saturday morning for the opportunity to share ideas about how to deal with the state’s forecasted $8-billion budget shortfall.

“We’re all in the same boat, and I’m going to ask everyone to grab an oar and row like hell,” said State Sen. and Majority Floor Leader Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, one of three state officials running Saturday's event.

Her meeting co-organizers were sens. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, who chairs the Senate Health Care Committee, and Klaudia Kauffman, D-Kent, vice chair of the Senate Education & Early Learning Committee.

Most who of the visitors who spoke asked the senators to spare their programs from additional cuts, though a few offered ideas about how to increase state revenue.

Kevin Casault of Covington earned applause and laughter when he suggested closing state-run liquor stores. He argued that selling licenses to private owners was a better way to make money because there are no store-operation costs for the state.

Constituents also repeatedly discussed changing the tax system from its current sales-tax emphasis to introducing a state income tax.

That conversation was spurred by a presentation from Eide, who explained Washington’s sales-tax system is based heavily on consumption.

“We’re in a recession so our sales-tax revenue has fallen, and fallen fast,” she said.

The best way to change the tax system is through initiatives, she said, referring to the impact activists have made using initiatives.

Not everyone agreed that the system needed to change - some saying they didn’t want to pay any more taxes.

One woman argued that in terms of class discrimination, the state sales tax is well balanced with the federal income tax.

Keiser spoke to the audience about her disappointment with health-care cuts. About 104,000 people in the state lost health care because of the new budget, she said.

“We’ve really struggled to maintain public health,” Keiser noted.

Kauffman gave an update of her work in education issues. She’s been working on a new model for schools funding, and also helping to develop a system that would track students academically on a statewide level, she said.

Constituents and group representatives showed up in strong numbers. Guests filled seats normally reserved for council members and people stood in the doorway.

Representatives of domestic-abuse programs, crime victims’ compensation and various health-care services spoke. Their message was the same: we’ll make do with what money we have, but please don’t cut our programs.

Many spoke on their own behalf, giving their preferences on budget cuts, supporting public health-care programs, transportation issues and asking for more wildlife protection.

The meeting merited high marks from one local official.

“I want to encourage them (the senators) in listening to the constituents,” said Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, who showed her support by attending the meeting. “That’s part of the solution…to get out of our silos and work together.”

The Kent meeting was one of two the senators organized, with the first one being Friday in Federal Way. That meeting also drew upward of 150 people, according to Eide's office.

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