Specific differences about the gas tax, police reform and the long-term care tax emerged between 47th Legislative District Senate candidates Bill Boyce, R-Kent, and Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, during a debate in Renton.
Boyce wants to suspend the state’s 49 cents per gallon gas tax to help people combat higher prices.
“We need to put the gas tax on pause and give people some money back,” said Boyce during the Monday evening, Oct. 24 debate at the Life of Victory Church.
Senate Republicans proposed during the 2022 legislative session to suspend the gas tax as prices starting to rise but Democrats rejected the bill at the Senate Transportation Committee level.
Kauffman agreed gas prices are high but said the state gas tax helps pay for transporation projects across the state and to take that tax money away would mean less funds to spend on needed repairs.
“Roads and bridges and ferries are all part of the system,” said Kauffman, who initially declined an invitation to the debate due to a travel/scheduling conflict. “We can’t not fix them. …bridges need repair, the ferry system needs to be repaired. All the funding goes to transportation.”
Washington has the third highest gas tax in the nation, according to Forbes.com. Pennsylvania has the highest at 57 cents per gallon while California is second at 51 cents per gallon. The federal gas tax is 18 cents per gallon.
In addition to the state gas tax, the two candidates differed on police reform laws adopted by the Legislature.
“It’s really important to have police reform taking place,” Kauffman said. “It was decades overdue. We don’t want to see more George Floyd incidents coming up.”
Kauffman said she favors the limits on police pursuits. She added accountability and law enforcement needs to be balanced so officers can do their jobs in a responsible manner.
Boyce said that police reform “went too far.” He also said the Blake decision by the Washington Supreme Court in 2021 that struck down the state’s main drug possession crime has caused more crimes, including property crimes against businesses.
“We cannot respond to incidents because meth and fentanyl are legal,” Boyce said.
After the Blake decision, legislators passed a bill that makes drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Additionally, before someone can be charged with a crime, they must be diverted to services at least twice.
These changes to the law will only be in effect until July 1, 2023 unless the Legislature or voters change the law again.
“There will be some correction,” Boyce said. “Crime is a problem and we are trying to correct it.”
A question about the state’s long-term care tax split Boyce and Kauffman as well. The program is on hold, but essentially a mandatory payroll tax on workers would be used to fund a lifetime limit of $36,500 to help pay for long-term care.
Kauffman said she supported the program and that it’s a smart plan to look at long-term care.
“Long-term care is not just for a generation of people growing older,” Kauffman said. “It’s for people born with disabilities that require long-term care. …it’s for veterans who require it. It’s not just for what folks call the baby boomers. It’s something as a society that we need to address.”
Boyce opposes the long-term care tax.
“My first act would be to repeal it,” Boyce said. “It’s just another tax on the taxpayer.”
Boyce said the system is already broke because there’s not enough money to support it. He said the cap of $36,000 would only cover a few months at a long-term care facility.
“Let the taxpayer keep money in their pocket,” Boyce said. “With tax after tax, we’ll be like California and people will be moving out of this beautiful state.”
An audience member asked the candidates what they would do to help bring back small businesses, many of which were impacted by the pandemic.
Kauffman said the Legislature reduced B&O taxes for small businesses and provided grants and loans.
“It’s something I’d work on locally (with) local businesses and what is best for them,” Kauffman said.
Boyce said the first thing he would do is restore public safety because so many small businesses are hurt by property damage to their buildings from people breaking into them.
“We need to hold people accountable,” he said.
Boyce said car dealerships need a break from the state B&O tax.
“The B&O tax is killing them,” he said. “It’s based on the value of the car and has nothing to do with profit. It needs to be based on profit and not the value of the car.”
Chambers of Commerce serving Kent, Covington and Auburn and ilovekent.net sponsored the debate. Renee Radcliff Sinclair, TVW CEO and president, was the moderator. Braver Angels Washington helped prepare the questions. The group works with local communities by holding workshops, debates and public presentations designed to bridge the polarizing political divide in the country.
The 47th District covers all of Covington and parts of Kent and Auburn.
Boyce, who is the Kent City Council president and a former Kent School Board member, has raised $469,801 and spent $327,147 for the race, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. His largest expenditure is about $90,000 on Comcast cable TV advertising.
Kauffman, who was the District 47 senator from 2007 to 2010, has raised $335,127 and spent $287,850. Her largest expenditure is about $125,000 on Comcast cable TV ads.
The winner on Nov. 8 will replace Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, who decided not to seek reelection after four years in office. Das narrowly defeated Joe Fain, R-Auburn, in 2018.
Boyce won the August primary with 45% (13,734 votes). Kauffman had 27.2% (8,222 votes) to barely beat fellow Kent Democrat Satwinder Kaur at 27.1% (8,157 votes).