In the middle of a legislative session, it can be difficult to remember that politicians are representatives of the people and not just bureaucrats arguing about important bills in the far off land of Olympia. This stereotypical image was shaken when state representatives Linda Kochmar and Carol Gregory as well as State Senator Mark Miloscia stopped by for a Milton Town Hall meeting on March 14 to find out what issues the citizens are most interested in.
“You need to develop an ongoing relationship with your elected officials,” Miloscia said in his opening remarks. “We are not experts on 100 percent of these issues. We need to hear from you. If we don’t hear from you, we don’t know how to vote.”
Luckily, the town of Milton had plenty to say, as the city council chamber was filled with people with questions regarding the big issues in the capital.
“This is one of those things about democracy that I really love – you get to talk directly to your elected representatives,” Mayor Debra Perry said.
A lot of the conversation was dominated by the transportation package bill that could see the completion of SR-167. While completion of the highway is something people want, many questions remain about the bill, including if a gas tax is the best way to go about funding and how businesses that would see a huge boost from the project are contributing to the cost, as well as if all the costs are necessary. Further questions were asked about how bicyclists and electric car owners would foot their share of the bill should the gas tax included in the bill be enacted.
“It’s an economic development question too, not only transportation. It’s how to we benefit through a transportation system. I don’t know the answer to how others add their resources to this issue but I’m certainly going to look for it. I’m interested in what you say because it’s an interlocking now of many things, and how south King and northern Pierce really affect our economy. These are critical issues,” Kochmar said.
Another issue discussed was that of women’s equality and what representatives were doing to close the wage gap.
“We have not addressed the question of pay equity in this state since 1943. That’s when I was born, and this is how far we’ve gotten. We have a long way to go,” Gregory said.
Miloscia believes part of the answer lies in women entering fields that have been male dominated in the past.
“How do we get women into the non-traditional areas, engineering, software, high tech? Right now we don’t have the numbers. We have to encourage our daughters to go into those fields that will make the big dollars and drop down the barriers and encourage them from the youngest age to go into these quote-unquote ‘non-traditional fields,’ and then make sure they have adequate access to the courts so they can sue them when they can prove it,” Miloscia said.
Another hot button issue was that of education, including the McCleary decision and how to turn around the public education system with all the funds going toward it and whether or not a voucher system would be a good idea.
“We have to fund our schools but we do have to get them better. A key determinant in school districts is keeping the parents happy. We don’t do this enough in our state. We don’t care enough about the children that are dropping out,” Miloscia said. “You don’t invest $4 billion into an organization and don’t expect accountability, don’t expect results.”
Residents brought up Sound Transit, and how a light rail from the Tacoma to Seattle area would do wonders for the city, and what the status is of a potential station.
“I want to make sure our money is put to good use. I want to make sure everyone gets something, hold their (Sound Trinsit's) feet to the fire and make sure we get our money’s worth,” Kochmar said.
Another question involved bill 2147, which would hold the legislature responsible for growing the aerospace workforce by 100,500 by 2040, which means the state audit and review committee would asses whether or not that goal is on track, and whether or not there is a growth in high-wage employment. The citizen wanted to know what Olympia planned on doing to hold Boeing accountable for their tax exemptions they may ask for in the future, and encourage them to grow their jobs rather than increase layoffs.
“Put this kind of accountability in the law in the first place. You can’t do it retroactively,” Miloscia said.
The town hall session made one thing abundantly clear: with 200 bills currently being poured over by congress, not everyone can be an expert on every subject. It’s the voice of the people that has to influence the votes, and successful town hall meetings like the one are a step in the right direction.