Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib and State Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, held a town hall meeting at the Orcas Island Senior Center on July 12 to discuss the newly adopted budget and other community hot topics.
To start the discussion, Habib explained what it is he feels his job as lieutenant governor entails. He said that in his mind there are five pillars to the job. First, he must preside over the state senate. Typically, the job requires state senators to raise their hands to get the attention of the presiding lieutenant governor, however, since Habib is blind from a rare childhood cancer, he said a special system has been developed for his circumstances. When senators wants his attention, they push a button that prints out their name in braille.
“[My parents] had this belief that I could do everything,” said Habib. “What if we treated every single student as if they preside over Senate?”
Habib also has a working relationship with Governor Jay Inslee (pillar two) and he is involved in economic development and international relations (pillar three). The final two pillars are what he can do for the people of Washington state, primarily veterans and the disabled and how to encourage college education.
Ranker spoke about the state budget, which was adopted at the last minute on June 30, preventing a government shutdown. He said that while many people showed concern for the state parks being closed over the July 4 holiday weekend, he was more worried about losing the housing and childcare vouchers that help single mothers.
“The fact that we were up against that line was freaking us out,” said Ranker.
Ranker said that Senate Republicans refused to talk about the budget until it got dangerously close to the signature deadline. The Senate Republicans requested multiple taxes on businesses, he said.
“Not all tax breaks are bad,” said Ranker. “In the end … we had a budget that represents core values.”
Along with the $7.3 billion that the state has allocated to pay for k-12 public education (see story on page 2) comes a property tax increase to help pay for it. Because of that, Ranker is concerned that communities will vote to not increase property taxes to assist local causes.
“We’re not alone. I am totally focused on addressing that this next year,” said Ranker.
Ranker then switched his focus to the Affordable Care Act and the possible repeal that may impact it. He said whatever tax break may come from eliminating the ACA would be a “drop in the bucket.” Medicaid would be highly impacted, facing a several billion dollar deficit, he said. If the ACA is suspended, however, Ranker said that the state will “beef up” Apple Health to help maintain the level of care for people on Medicaid.
Next on the table was college affordability. Ranker spoke about how prior to the 2008 recession, four out of five jobs did not require a college degree. Following the recession, four out of five jobs now require a degree. He said that he believes apprenticeship in a field should count toward a college degree.
He added that businesses in the state, such as Microsoft, are finding it difficult to find qualified Americans to fill job vacancies. Habib said that he believes colleges should bank credits, instead of it being a binary system where either you get your degree or not.
Attendee Ethna Flanagan asked how Ranker and Habib plan to resolve the workforce shortage for early childhood education.
“If we’re going to pay for childcare, it’d be better to pay for early childhood education,” said Habib.
He said that the future of jobs is going to be taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.
Ranker and Habib also briefly touched on their support for Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ issues and disapproval of the travel ban presidential executive order.
“We know what your values are – let’s make sure we stand up for those,” said Habib.