What’s a voter to do when two candidates vying for the same office run on virtually identical platforms? That’s the dilemma facing voters in the 46th legislative district, where Position 2 is up for grabs now that Rep. Phyllis Gutiérrez-Kenney is retiring.
Progressive Democrats Sarajane Siegfriedt and Jessyn Farrell are both heading campaigns built upon tax reform and a call for additional funding for education and human services.
Both of these first-time candidates believe one thing sets her apart: experience.
Both candidates support tax reform. It is an easy sell in the 46th, which encompasses Greenwood, Northgate, Lake City and Laurelhurst: In 2010, the 46th was one of only five legislative districts where a majority voted in favor of levying a 5 percent income tax on state residents earning more than $200,000.
“We call ourselves the ‘Fighting 46th,’ ” Siegfriedt said.
Siegfriedt said she’ll continue to fight for an income tax, an idea she thinks might be better received in 2016. Part of her immediate tax reform package would include a serious review of corporate tax exemptions and a 5 percent capital gains tax, which would charge a fee on any profits gained from selling property, stocks and bonds, on the top 3 percent of filers.
As the current chair of the King County Democrats Legislative Action Committee, which is the party’s advocacy arm, Siegfriedt said she feels she has enough experience in Olympia to push through tax reform. The committee has also helped her forge political connections with key decision makers. With an MBA that led to 23 years in the corporate sector, Siegfriedt said she puts her deep understanding of tax and revenue structure to use as a member of the King County Board of Equalization, which hears property tax valuation appeals.
Farrell also said reformation of the state’s tax structure was necessary, since relying on a sales tax when times are tough makes creating potential revenue a volatile situation. “We need to make the [revenue] pie bigger,” she said. Like her opponent, she’s on board for a high-earners income tax and a capital gains tax. But Farrell said she’s also interested in exploring a carbon tax, based on British Columbia’s revenue-neutral carbon tax. She’d like a local version of the tax to begin gradually, so people and businesses could get used to the idea, and to protect low-income families by offering them a tax credit.
The carbon tax idea stems from Farrell’s experience working on transportation issues, which included three years serving as chair of the nonprofit Transportation Choices Coalition. During her tenure, she assisted activists in passing transportation-oriented legislation, along with helping to secure more than $25 billion worth of investments to help bicyclists, bus riders, train riders and pedestrians, she said. Farrell, who currently works as a lawyer, said it was necessary to build coalitions to raise those funds. That experience will be valuable to her as a potential legislator, she said.
Increased revenue would also do more to bolster public education funding and bulk up funding for social services, because a child’s home life can impact his or her school day, Farrell said.
“You can’t separate the human services and education budgets,” said Farrell, a mother of two young children.
Siegfriedt, who has an adult son, said she believes the same, noting that education and human services are the largest and second largest funding packages, respectively, in the state’s budget. A low-income housing advocate for almost 20 years, Siegfriedt served on the board of the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance. She said that if elected, she’d go to Olympia with the goal of becoming a “housing champion.”
Housing advocates may be welcomed in the district, since Lake City residents are debating the merits of the city of Seattle’s plan to turn the site of abandoned Fire Station 39 into affordable housing. Both candidates agreed Lake City and the entire district need housing that suits every economic strata. Each said if she made it to the State Capitol, she’d be a strong advocate for affordable housing: “I’m not backing down off low-income housing,” said Siegfriedt; “We really have to have a strong commitment to housing diversity throughout the district,” Farrell said.
Siegfriedt said the one factor that should draw voters to her corner is her experience. In 2002, she lobbied for full-time drug and alcohol treatment, part of a legislation package that reduced sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders. She’s served on the board of Solid Ground, a local nonprofit working to fight poverty. And she regularly participates in numerous lobby days in Olympia during the legislative budget session, when Democratic voters can meet their legislators. She believes this reveals her to be the better candidate. “I really have a passion for the legislative process,” Siegfriedt said.
Farrell, on the other hand, said her passion for building coalitions and experience with grassroots activism set her apart. Working with Transportation Choices Coalition, she said, taught her that people with different ideas and agendas can come together to solve problems, a lesson that would serve her in Olympia. If elected as state representative, she said she would set a really broad table, one that invited many people to sit down and participate: “Because this is how we really do make change.”