The 2013 session of the Legislature opened last week in Olympia with budget issues – such as court-mandated funding for public schools and the ever-present debate over taxes – expected to be front and center for the state’s lawmakers.
In the following question-and-answer session with the Dispatch, state Rep. J.T. Wilcox explains how he sees issues shaping up.
Dispatch: What do you hear from your constituents as wide-ranging issues they’re most concerned about, and what are the solutions you hope to bring to them?
Wilcox: First, I am hearing from a lot of people to hold the line on taxes. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I am proposing the House adopt a rule that says the chamber will agree to not pass a tax unless approved by a two-thirds majority. Voters have reinforced this over and over, but it is being challenged in court by some of the very same people who serve as lawmakers in the House. I think it’s important to follow the will of the people and not put further burden on working families.
I am also hearing a lot of concern about potential changes to gun laws in light of the school massacre in Connecticut. The majority of our district wants to ensure we uphold the 2nd Amendment, and I strongly believe in the right to protect yourself and your family. Especially in our rural areas, people need to feel safe when often times law enforcement is 30 minutes or more away. I have also been talking with school officials and the sheriff and they are reviewing their own emergency plans to ensure they are as prepared as possible to keep children and teachers, like my wife (a teacher), safe. They are the experts, and I will listen carefully to them.
Dispatch: Do you have any other issues that you believe will dominate the session, and what is your approach to them?
Wilcox: The budget will be the center of focus. Despite all the talk about a $900 million shortfall, due to an improving economy and increased fees, revenues are actually $2 billion more than the last budget period. I believe we must fund education first, then all other priorities. With recent Congressional action, almost everyone who works will see more of their paycheck go to the IRS, so in our Washington we must be cognizant and not put further burden on working families.
Funding education to be in compliance with a Supreme Court decision will also be part of the discussion. This isn’t just about dollars, it’s also about reforms and results. I think funding education first will really take the politics out of the classroom to ensure our kids are put at the top of the budget list.
As House Republican floor leader, I will be proposing rules for the House chamber that require we fund education first before any other budget, as well as that there be a two-thirds requirement to pass tax increases. I encourage constituents to contact their lawmakers at (800) 562-6000 and ask them to support these rule changes. A vote will be taken in the next week.
Dispatch: In your first two years as a legislator, what lessons or insight did you pick up that will help you in this session and the next two years?
Wilcox: I spent my first two years really paying attention to how the process works and listening to my constituents so I can represent them the best. I have learned there really are two Washingtons. The rules are made by Seattle legislators for Seattle. While they work for Seattle, many don’t work in suburban and rural areas. It’s critical in suburban and rural areas that we work to have a larger voice for our neighbors. The rules should reflect our needs as well as the needs of Seattle.
Dispatch: With a new governor, what sort of working relationship do you anticipate between him and the Legislature?
Wilcox: I was glad to hear Governor Inslee say he doesn’t support increasing taxes. House Republicans will be joining him in that and helping him to keep that promise. Personally, my relationship with him will be dependent on how he treats the suburban and rural areas of the state.