News Olympia’s Senate Majority Leader Says…
posted by January 25 at 16:40 PMon
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) held her weekly press availability yesterday afternoon. Each week, the Olympia press corps gathers around the couches and chairs in her office (there were about 10 of us) and she fields questions. It’s an informal sessionócasual, friendly, and candid.
I have focused mostly on Seattle legislators and mostly on the House in the past, so I don’t have any relationship whatsoever with Sen. Brown. This was the first time I joined the session or have interviewed her in person. (I think I’ve talked to her on the phone a couple of times).
First impression: What a breath of fresh air. Brown has a great vibe. Sure, she dances a little bit around questions (like most politicians), but she didn’t seem to have a defensive bone in her body; she’s calm; and seemed happy to fill people in as best she could. In short, she seemed comfortable with herself and her opinions.
I had two questions for her. I wanted to know how she felt about Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen’s bill to change Sound Transit into a roads and transit agency.
(I’m nervous about the idea because I think it could undermine further light rail expansion. Part of the proposal calls for a new elected board. Who knows what agenda regionally elected board members would have? Also, Haugen’s proposal calls for making the new agency’s funding sources available for both roads and transit projects. On one level this is a good thingóit would allow some money that can currently only be used for roads to be used for transit projects. However, this is a two-way street: ST’s funding sources for transit projects would become available for roads too. That seems like a betrayal of what voters did when the voted to create the transit agency in 1996.)
Sen. Brown didn’t address those issues, saying simply that she thought it was “promising that [Sen. Haugen] put the proposal on the table. I think she’s trying to create a dialogue about where do we go from here in the failure of Prop. 1.”
She made it clear that part of the proposalósnuffing RTIDówas a good idea. “We shouldn’t just let RTID continue,” she said.
It seemed that the real appeal for Sen. Brown was the part of Haugen’s proposal that would allow regional transportation districts to form all over the state. Brown is from Spokane and is interested in a regional transportation agency there, it seems.
My other question had to do with the housing trust fund. While Gov. Gregoire has proposed upping the fundówhich supports low-income housingóby $50 million this session to $130 million, House Speaker Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) wants to add another $50 million. Does Sen. Brown support that idea?
“The Senate’s not going to want to go further than that,” she said, explaining that she supported the Governor’s $50 million request, but no more. “That would be hard to come by,” she said.
Also of interest: Brown was asked about the family leave bill. The Senate passed a comprehensive family leave bill last year only to have the House scale it way back (and kill the funding).
Brown said this: “I believe we could get the votes to do that again. [But] we’re not going to do that this year unless we knew they were going to go there in the House…or if we had an agreement with the House.”
House spokeswoman Melinda McCrady reports that Speaker Chopp and Sen. Brown are currently is discussions about family leave and there will be an executive session on the bill in the House at 6pm on January 29. McCrady says, “There’s no final decision on the House side about family leave. Not yet.”
Brown was also asked about a state level tax rebate based on the feds Earned Income Tax Rebate. She seemed gung ho about the proposal.
Funny moment during this part of the interview. Sen. Brown was praising the tax rebate idea as a way to give low-income tax payers a break in our regressive tax system. She cited property taxes. One reporter pushed her: “Property taxes? Regressive?” Sen. Brown explained that a larger percentage of poor people’s income (it’s about twice the percentage, actually) is sucked up by property taxes than for high-income tax payers.
Another reporter asked Sen. Brown about Sen. Eric Oemig’s Bush impeachment legislation and Sen. Brown said there was “value and legitimacy” in the issues that Sen. Oemig is raising but she’s not interested in spending floor time on the issue.
She also said she supported legislation that could halt Glacier Northwest’s strip mining expansion on Maury Islandólegislation that is also moving through the House at the behest of Vashon Island freshman legislator Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-34).