Constituents from Washington’s 2nd legislative district piled into the Yelm Community Center Saturday to hear local lawmakers discuss this year’s big-ticket topics, which included discussion on new taxes, drafting biennial budget proposals, the McCleary fix to fund basic education and local transportation projects.

Washington’s 2nd legislative district include portions of Thurston and Pierce County; the district includes the Cities of Yelm, Graham, Orting and most of the unincorporated territory around Mount Rainier. 

During the town hall, Washington state Sen. Randi Becker, R-Olympia, and state Reps. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, and J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, also gave a unanimous reiteration that they would fight against new taxes and bills that impede on citizen rights, which include anti-Second Amendment and enforced vaccination bills.

“We’re going to be asked to vote yes on new taxes, I don’t think any of us are going to do it,” Wilcox said. “And we’ve heard pretty clearly from all of you that you’re paying up.”

Of course, that might be easier said than done with a Democratic-led House and Senate. The House recently released a $52.6 billion budget proposal that would rely on $1.4 billion in tax revenues. A Senate budget proposal was not available by presstime. 

During the town hall, Wilcox also said new taxes aren’t necessary because he believes there’s enough revenue coming in to cover expenses and projects for the current two-year budget cycle. 

Wilcox is the House Minority leader, and Barkis works on the House Transportation Committee, the Consumer Protection and Business Committee and the Housing, Community Development and Veterans Committee. Becker is a Republic Caucus Chair and works on the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, Rules Committee, and the Ways and Means Committee. 

On the Second Amendment and Vaccines

Becker said personal rights of people are under attack. She said she supports Second Amendment rights and believes that gun-free zones are vulnerable areas within our community. She said everybody has the right to protect themselves. 

“I’m a gun-tottin’ nanny,” Becker said. 

Wilcox and Barkis said they were in agreement with Becker. Wilcox said he opposed I-1639, a state initiative that was voted into law by the public during the last midterm election. The Initiative implements restrictions on purchase and ownership of firearms, and adds background checks, waiting periods and storage requirements, according to the initiatives digest. 

Lawmakers were also unanimous in their scrutiny of mandatory vaccination legislature. 

“Even though I hope that all of you get vaccinated… I do not believe that we should force you to do that in a way that is coercive,” Wilcox said. 

Becker echoed this sentiment. Having spent over 24 years in the medical field and in favor of them, Becker said she doesn’t believe the Legislature or governing bureaucracies should have authority over who receives vaccinations.

“I believe in the individual human rights,” Becker said. “I feel that people should be informed. Is it something that you want to do or is it something you don’t want to do?”

On Transportation

Barkis said he expects construction on the next phase of the Highway 510 bypass to begin later this year. The Highway 510 bypass, also known as the “Yelm Loop” by state transportation, is a transportation project decades in the making that creates an alternative route around the City of Yelm. 

WSDOT officials were not available for comment. According to documents on the project’s website, construction is slated for early 2022. 

Barkis said fixing the Vail Road-Highway 507 intersection is another priority. Barkis said the three of them briefly spoke following an accident that threw a vehicle into the Centralia Power Canal late last year, drowning two Yelm men. An investigation by the Washington State Patrol hasn’t yet determined a cause of the accident. 

Although the state has seen an increase of transportation spending, Barkis said there has been a decline in revenue because of efficiencies within the transportation sectors and a push toward electrification because of gas taxes. He also said there is a lot of infrastructure the state needs to follow up on. 

“With transportation, we have a lot to do,” Barkis said. 

The Democrat-led House recently put forth their biennial $9.9 million transportation budget. The budget includes funds for hybrid ferries and highway improvements. 

With regards to larger projects, Barkis also said there’s a lot of overlapping studies and government oversight that inhibit efficiencies and possible cost savings.

“We look at a project and we put it on a 10-year timeframe. In the time limit to do that, the construction is this piece. The rest of it is planning, studying, environmental, SEPA, you name it… it just takes so long. And our own agencies are fighting against each other and holding each other up,” Barkis said.  

Wilcox humored his seatmate in good faith, who he says has been very active in Olympia.

“Don’t get into a car with Andrew unless you want to hear what every road, bridge and sign costs,” Wilcox said. 

On McCleary and Funding Education

School districts across the state have recently been feeling the bite from McCleary. This week, the Rainier School District announced it would have to cut about $500,000 from its labor force in order to balance next year’s budget — this cost was accumulated, in most part, to last year’s raise and benefit negotiations, but was partially influenced by McCleary. 

Despite not knowing where the Legislature could land on McCleary by the end of the session, Wilcox said he and Barkis recently voted for the latest McCleary fix that would cap tax rates on property-poor districts. The fix would raise the state property tax rate a little bit and drop the cap on what you can be charged on a local school tax. 

“(It) sets the schools on a reasonable path for financing in the future,” Wilcox said. “Our plan is to take the low-value school districts, where you have low property values and often the rate was much higher, and put a cap on those.”

Wilcox said with the record breaking revenue the state is producing, him and most lawmakers are in agreement that the state should reinvest funds back into special education programs, which are heavily underfunded statewide.

Saturday’s town hall was also well attended; lawmakers noted the crowd’s size was the largest they’d seen in recent years. Well over a hundred people were in attendance. 

Yelm Mayor JW Foster said this year’s town hall was well attended and very engaging to the public. 

“It’s great to see the people turnout. People want to be apart of the process,” Foster said. “This was an excellent opportunity for the people of Yelm to see their Legislators, face to face. It was two hours of excellent information.”

If people still had questions following the town hall, or if people simply weren’t able to attend and meet their local delegates, Foster said he encourages them to contact the office of their respective senator and representatives to get those questions answered. 

With about a month left within the session, both the House and Senate have started work on drafting their chamber budgets. Once finished, they will work to negotiate a final budget. According to the Legislature’s website, the session is set to end April 28. 

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