Addressing jobs and the economy is a top priority for local state lawmakers and their constituents as revealed in a Telephone Town Hall Meeting presented by District 7 legislators on Jan. 31. The meeting was hosted by Representatives Shelly Short and Joel Kretz, and newly appointed Senator John Smith, during a 105-day legislative session in Olympia.
More than 350 attended the teleconference and 51 percent of those callers voted in the instant poll that jobs and economy should be government’s top priority over state budget, education, health care, and public safety.
Kretz said that it is his priority as well. “Our focus is on creating jobs, streamlining government, getting people back to work,” he stated during his closing remarks following the one-hour question and answer session.
Sen. Smith said this is the first time in 8 years that Republicans have the majority in the State Senate and that could mean more chance for change as legislators continue working toward solutions to ongoing state issues. Democrats still lead the House of Representatives.
“Solutions come from home,” Smith said referring to the reason for the long-distance meeting.
Washington State wolf recovery efforts, gun control and education funding were also top topics during the “community conversation” where each legislator had a chance to respond to questions from constituents throughout the district, with a few coming from Chewelah.
Many callers thanked Rep. Kretz for introducing legislation on wolf expansion to the west side of Washington. He said if those lawmakers want wolves recovered, they should be able to have them on that side as well. However, it has been refused a hearing and has not received positive support from those legislators, Kretz said. One Town Hall participant asked that they also look into controlling the Cougar population since they can be as detrimental to livestock as wolf herds.
Another person suggested the Department of Fish and Wildlife should have regional control and not be completely controlled by Olympia government since the issues can be so varied. Kretz agreed.
Sen. Smith has also submitted three bills to the senate about wolf control and local authority if wolves are found to be a threat in an area. The bills would give property owners right to protect their livestock or pets, and the sheriff and commissioners necessary control in appropriate situations.
During the Town Hall meeting, there were also inquiries about ways the government plans to ensure safety in schools considering the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings that happened in Connecticut in December.
Kretz said all the members of the house have different ideas on how to address this growing issue of gun safety and control. He said they are fortunate to have a survivor of the 1990s Columbine school shooting in their caucus to help find solutions.
Rep. Short said the focus should be less on gun control and more on looking into ways to help people such as those suffering from mental health illnesses.
“I’m fighting for the second amendment with everything I’ve got,” Smith said referring to the right to bear arms.
Kretz also added that they should tighten up gun laws for those who violate them. For example, he said juveniles are allowed five gun-related offenses before any real consequence.
Fifty percent of the Town Hall participants say they should pass a separate education budget before any other budget as part of the Fund Education First idea initiated by recent court rulings. Twenty percent said they should not approve that separate budget first and 30 percent said they were not sure.
Rep. Short said she supports funding education first.
“Children should get the first dollar not the last dime,” she said. However, Short said she understands that education is competing with every other funding source that is also important.
Smith said he feels like they can fully fund basic education first within the existing budget and will not have to raise revenues to be able to accomplish that goal.
He said he believes there are ways to streamline the government to make it more efficient and cost-effective but still maintain current programs. It’s not about cuts he said, but about “capturing savings.”
Finally, 80 percent of callers for the District 7 meeting said they would not support a 9 cent gas tax for funding transportation projects.
Rep. Short said they would like to see the North South Corridor finished in Spokane and do not like seeing funds tied up in other projects waiting on decisions to be made but she is optimistic about the discussions she has heard from the transportation committee lately as they find a better way to utilize the taxes.
Smith said raising taxes is not the solution for finding more funding, especially as the 7th District already has the highest fuel prices in the state.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff