5th Dist. State Senate: Four more years or someone new?

Democrat Phyllis Huster is challenging Republican state Sen. Cheryl Pflug in the general-election race for a four-year term to represent the 5th Legislative District, which encompasses Maple Valley, the Sammamish Plateau, Issaquah and Snoqualmie Valley.

Democrat Phyllis Huster is challenging Republican state Sen. Cheryl Pflug in the general-election race for a four-year term to represent the 5th Legislative District, which encompasses Maple Valley, the Sammamish Plateau, Issaquah and Snoqualmie Valley.

With the election looming Nov. 4 and all eyes on the economy, the candidates discussed their plans for boosting economic development in the district, coping with the projected $3.2 billion deficit in the next state budget, and other issues.

Pflug, a Maple Valley resident who has represented the 5th District in both the Senate and House of Representatives, said that after growing up in the area and raising four kids, she has the advantage of understanding the community.

She said she has been successful working with Republicans and Democrats alike, pointing to healthcare-related legislation she had written that Governor Chris Gregoire incorporated into a healthcare bill.

A former nurse, Pflug said she’s worked toward making healthcare more affordable and effective. She wants to bring down the cost of private insurance for young workers who can’t afford it, and also encourage insurance companies to pay for more primary care. She said managing chronic problems through primary-care visits avoids expensive trips to the emergency room and contributes to a stable workforce.

“Ten, 20 years out, you’re making a huge difference in healthcare costs, because people are not having to have bypass surgery or amputation of diabetic limbs,” she said.

Another priority for Pflug is changing state regulatory processes to improve the business climate. She said businesses often wait unacceptable lengths of time for permits, and state agencies sometimes have competing or contradictory rules.

Pflug also said the state needs to invest in alternative energy sources and transmission infrastructure, making it easier to move boats and people. “Where we make our money is at our ports, loading and unloading,” she said. “It just flat-out doesn’t work if you can’t get stuff to the port and east.”

She favors a State Route 520 bridge replacement with a bigger structure, and she opposes a Sound Transit proposal to reconfigure Interstate 90’s reversible lanes to accommodate light rail.

She would fund transportation improvements by reforming the state-run ferry system and taking some money from the general budget.

Pflug also wants to overhaul the school transportation formula, which provides funding on a per-pupil basis.

“We have problems in communities like ours that have to deal with hills and freeways that divide school districts. That means we have to buy buses with bigger transmissions, and we have to have more buses because there are longer routes,” she said.

Huster, who moved here from Georgia about two years ago, is targeting “incumbents that have been in office so long that they’ve forgotten what the voter wants.”

The self-described “moderate Democrat” said she ventured into the political world working on Democrat Howard Dean’s presidential campaign several years ago and has been involved in politics ever since.

“Frustrated and angry” by what she considers a lack of representation by Pflug in Olympia, Huster said she could work more effectively with the majority political party in the Legislature – Democrats – to serve her community’s interests.

She said capitalizing on the 5th District’s natural beauty could give the area a shot in the arm.

“Let’s build a tourism industry, and let’s tax tourist dollars to enrich our local community,” she said. “And if we could get federal dollars to sponsor green jobs right here in our own district, then we’re recession-proofing ourselves.”

Huster said she would decrease payroll taxes and healthcare costs for businesses worth half a million dollars or less. “We’re counting on Microsoft to grow jobs, but (large) companies are the first to cut jobs during a bad economy. So we have to sponsor that innovation from the bottom up,” she said.

While she sees “no magic bullet” to get the state budget on the right track, “we’ve got to make it stretch, we’ve got to focus on our priorities, and maybe we have to do things that are kind of creative,” she said.

Her plan would include procurement reform. For example, if numerous school districts are buying the same book, she proposes that the state help them negotiate a bulk rate.

She said she would also look at “more efficient ways to tax.” For instance, rather than taxing alcohol by volume, she would move to have it taxed by price. “If somebody buys a $400 bottle of wine, I think we tax that at a $400 rate, instead of the same as an $8 bottle,” she said.

Her other ideas include closing corporate tax loopholes, vehicle registration fees so users directly support road improvements, and redesigning the state lottery.