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State spending focus of forum

Lowe, Rolfes debate at candidate forum.

BREMERTON – After a week of sour economic news, candidates for the 23rd Legislative District’s Position 1 spent the bulk of a Tuesday morning “Eggs and Issues” forum fielding questions on state spending and taxes.

Incumbent Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge) and challenger Mark Lowe (R-Bremerton) also drew distinctions over transportation, growth management and education before a crowd of about 40.

Lowe said the state has a spending problem, rather than a funding problem.

He said the state’s payroll has been expanded with unnecessary positions, which could be trimmed to shrink the state’s budget. He said he would push for the privatization of state programs such as liquor control, which he doesn’t believe government should be involved in.

Lowe said he would not vote for new taxes.

Rolfes said many new state jobs created were to staff prisons and schools. She said jobs will likely need to be cut as Legislature balances the state budget, but she said lawmakers will need to maintain staff in key services. Rolfes said the economic climate is not right for tax increases.

On transportation, Lowe said the Department of Transportation needs new management, and more gas tax money needs to be spent on expanding and replacing aging highways in Kitsap County.

Lowe, a retired Navy officer, said David Moseley was a poor choice to head Washington State Ferries because he lacks maritime experience. He pointed to the state’s bidding process for new ferry construction as an example of mismanagement. Bidding should have been open to firms beyond Washington, he said, to draw more competition and shipbuilding expertise.

Rolfes said Moseley was a good choice for WSF. He brought community relations skills to the job, she said, something lacking with previous ferry secretaries hired from within the system. She said the Legislature has made progress in making WSF more efficient.

As for bidding on new ferries, she said the state has safeguards in place to ensure a competitive bid, and that it was right to keep the process in-state.

“We want them built in Washington,” she said. “We don’t want to ship our jobs to Mississippi or the East Coast.”

One citizen asked whether the candidates would support rescinding the Growth Management Act, which regulates new development in the state.

Lowe said the GMA is an encumbrance on private land owners that blocks potential affordable housing developments.

“We need to take the GMA and throw it away,” Lowe said.

Rolfes said the GMA contains needed safeguards for the environment and groundwater, but could be improved to work better for both developers and environmental protection efforts.

“Before we throw out the GMA, we need an alternative,” she said.

Candidates were asked whether they would consider replacing the WASL with a different standardized test.

Rolfes said the Legislature has succeeded in scaling back the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to be less demanding on students and staff, while raising education standards.

She said she would be open to considering forms of testing that would give parents and teachers more concrete metric for measuring student progress.

Lowe said the WASL, and K-12 education in general, is too abstract. He would like to see it replaced with a standardized test similar to the Iowa model formerly used in Washington.

One point Lowe and Rolfes agreed on was funding for the Kitsap Sustainable Energy and Economic Development project, a Port of Bremerton initiative to create a clean energy business center in Bremerton.

Both candidates said the project had received enough state funding, and that it was time for the port to carry the plan through.

About forty citizens turned out for the forum, sponsored by the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce.

The next forum, featuring state senate candidates Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge) and Connie Lord (R-Poulsbo), will be held 7 a.m., Aug. 30 at the Cloverleaf Sports Bar & Grill, 1240 Hollis St., Bremerton.

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