May 03, 2004

Ron Sims (D WA-Gov.)

Ron Sims says he’s having a great time on the campaign trail for governor. The King County Executive says that it’s “time to have a set of state values.” And three main values he wants to focus on are education, transportation, and quality of life. Sims says investment in these areas will create jobs in Washington, and that nowhere else in the developed world do people see them as separate issues from job and economic growth.

Sims says that every business needs smart, skilled workers, and that the world is becoming more competitive at a time when the state is reducing its investment in education. If funding isn’t increased, he says the state will face a crisis in 2007 when the largest graduating class in state history gets out of high school. Without preparation, it will force tuition increases and caps on the size of the student body.

According to Sims, the education budget has been cut every year, at every level, for 13 years. And he doesn’t point the finger at any one party in Olympia, saying that there’s been a bipartisan effort to reduce education funding since the early 90’s. He says that whether you look at student need, inflation, or the percentage of the state budget, education spending has gone down over more than a decade. And he says there have been consequences.

Sims says the state’s high school graduation rate has gone from 78% to 62% in 11 years, and that those percentages are even more dismal for minority students. Washington State, he says, is 35th in class size, and that the state’s university teachers are in the lowest third of peer pay nationwide. He says that 40% of teachers quit within 5 years, and that his own niece was able to make more in her second year as an airline stewardess than she would have been able to make as a fifth year teacher. But Sims says the pay issue doesn’t affect only teachers, and that all school support staff is underpaid.

Still, Sims doesn’t suggest that funding is the only problem schools face. He says the No Child Left Behind act and the WASL tests have created an assessment ridden system that squeezes out arts, language, and technical education. He gives the example of an eastern Washington school in one of the state’s prime dairy regions that was told to drop agricultural engineering from the curriculum. And he says that the tests discourage students, with many dropping out of school if they don’t perform well. Sims says the tests aren’t an outcome, and that the “Houston model” only works to improve scores because students drop out.

Sims says that when he was in school, no one would have thought that he’d rise to become King County Executive. In order to realize the incredible potential that every student has, he says they should all be treated as future presidents and Nobel prize winners. He says the problem is that the state doesn’t seem to act as if it’s raising anyone important.

As a second point, Sims says businesses require a transportation system that moves goods and people around easily and well. He says competing regions are all investing in transportation to improve their business climate.

Sims describes the transportation situation in the state as stagnant, and says that we just need to get moving again. He says that no governor has ever directly intervened to resolve local disagreements so the state could get projects moving, and that as governor he would make it a priority.

The third main issue Sims says needs to be moved to the forefront is quality of life, as measured by the health of both people and the environment. He says they’re important for drawing and keeping businesses by maintaining the human resources needed to attract them.

Sims says, “We don’t have to spend one more dollar on healthcare” in order to have better care for state residents. He favors an outcome-based system, one that would cover wellness and preventive care. Sims says chronic disease maintenance, getting doctors the most current medical information, and focusing on the quality of care could cut costs up to 40%. He says that improving access to healthcare isn’t an issue of money, since the U.S. now spends more on healthcare than any other country.

To maintain the beauty and health of the Puget Sound and our rivers, Sims says the state has to begin the process of restoring them. He says the “Puget Sound has been degraded for 20 years,” and that the Spokane river has been polluted since he was a child. Many of the state beaches can no longer be clammed, and the Sound is in danger of no longer being able to support oysters and Orcas. While he says those problems can’t be fixed in a year, the state can get on the right track.

Sims says that cutting state funding through tax cuts takes away the opportunity to provide world-class education and environmental responsibility. But at the same time, he says that you can’t tell people on fixed incomes that they don’t pay enough tax. He says low-income residents of Washington state pay more in taxes than the low-income residents of Alabama.

Sims wants to reform the state tax structure. He says the reliance on sales tax should be cut, and business taxes changed. Washington is the only state with a Business & Operations tax, which he says takes away from gross receipts, whether there’s a profit or not. Sims says the system should be replaced with a value-added tax that would only look at actual profits.

Additionally, because increases in property tax revenues are fixed at 1% per year, Sims says that reliance on them builds a structural deficit into state funding. With inflation typically running at 3-4% per year, revenues can’t keep up with expenses.

When it comes to individual taxes, he says the current system hammers the poor and middle class the most. Sims would like to look at options for a progressive tax structure that would reduce the burden on households that make under $200,000 a year.

But Sims is proud of what King County has accomplished. He says that right now, local governments are better prepared than the federal government to handle security in the event of attack. King County is currently one of the highest rated counties in the nation, and the training, practice, and procedures followed by emergency services here have been well designed to prevent or reduce the impact of an attack. He says there’s no reason the county’s successful policies couldn’t be extended to the rest of the state.

In response to questions about the current lawsuit against the county to determine if the Defense of Marriage law is unconstitutional, Sims says he favors the plaintiffs. According to Sims, there are 4,000 federal regulations that apply to marriage, including regulations regarding pensions, insurance, custody without dispute, and inheritance without dispute. He says civil unions are a limitation of rights, and that “there’s no such thing as half of a civil right.”

Sims’ parents were the president and vice president of the Spokane NAACP. He remembers when people kept saying they weren’t ready for integration, open housing, and outlawing discrimination on the job. But he believes that, as Martin Luther King said, “If it’s the right thing to do, it’s always the right time to do it.”

Find out more about Ron Sims at his website.

Posted by natasha at May 3, 2004 11:41 AM | WA Politics | Technorati links |