Two city councilmembers, three ballot initiatives in the spotlight @ 34th District Democrats’ April meeting

April 10, 2024 11:59 pm
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 |   West Seattle news | West Seattle politics

By Sean Golonka
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Two Seattle city councilmembers — District 1’s Rob Saka and citywide Position 8’s Tanya Woo — appeared tonight at the monthly meeting of the area’s largest political group, the 34th District Democrats, talking about ongoing city issues including transportation and the contested minimum wage for gig workers.

Saka and Woo’s appearances come as the city, with a council dominated by first-year members, is in the midst of a major year for long-term planning, with an update to its 20-year comprehensive plan in the works and an eight-year $1.35 billion-or-more transportation levy set for the November ballot.

Also tonight, the 34th DDs voted to oppose a trio of Republican-backed statewide initiatives headed for that same ballot, including proposals to repeal the Climate Commitment Act – major environmental legislation designed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions – and to repeal the capital-gains tax.

Saka and Woo talk transportation, public safety, more

Saka, who was elected to represent District 1 last November, said his legislative agenda in his first year “has largely been set for me” as chair of the transportation committee in a year the city is pursuing a new transportation levy, valued at “a minimum” of $1.35 billion.

The proposed levy, a property tax that would cost the median Seattle homeowner about $36 per month (up from $24 under the expiring levy), would be used to fund a variety of major transportation projects. One West Seattle project the levy could fund is new paving on Fauntleroy Way SW “to keep [the] roadway functional during light rail station construction and support future improvements.”

Saka described Mayor Bruce Harrell‘s draft proposal as a “framework,” and said he sees “a lot of key areas” where he aligns with the mayor, but that he hopes to see “the more granular-level details in the proposal.” Saka specifically showed support for the opportunity to expand sidewalk infrastructure and called the city’s current pace of filling in missing sidewalks “unacceptable.”

“We need to do better in that space,” he said. “It’s an accessibility issue, as well, with differently abled people. And it’s a safety issue. It’s an equity issue. It’s a climate and sustainability issue. We want to encourage as many people as possible to take public transit.”

Saka also said he would soon be releasing his 100-day report, recapping what he has done in his first 100 days in office.

Woo, appointed to the council in January and running to keep the job at least another year, updated attendees on the draft One Seattle Plan, a once-in-a-decade update to the city’s comprehensive plan for growth and development. She encouraged members of the group to submit their feedback (the deadline is May 6).

Read more here about the plan and a city-hosted open house last week in West Seattle.

Woo also spoke about the city’s efforts to address public safety, highlighting a Seattle Fire Department pilot program allowing paramedics to administer buprenorphine, a medication provided to patients being treated for opiate overdose or dealing with withdrawal.

In response to a question about whether the councilmembers support the minimum wage for gig-based delivery workers that took effect in January, Saka called it “well-intended” but said he believed it was “having some unintended consequences.”

Major delivery companies responded to the ordinance by adding a $5 delivery charge in Seattle, which they argue is necessary to meet the wage requirement.

“I think it needs to be fixed,” Saka said, though he added he does not believe it should be repealed entirely and that the legislation the council requested to address the matter is not yet finalized.

Woo said her main focus was “how do we take away that fee” and “how do we help our bicyclist messengers … and help the people who are most affected.”

Also asked whether they would support a “fee cap,” Saka and Woo demurred, saying they would need to see specific legislation first, though Woo said, “I think the cap is a great idea.”

Opposition to statewide ballot initiatives

In a pre-meeting program, several presenters highlighted ongoing campaigns to oppose three different ballot initiatives backed by State Republican Party Chairman and state Rep. Jim Walsh. The initiatives include:

I-2117, which would repeal the Climate Commitment Act, a landmark piece of environmental legislation that imposes annual limits on greenhouse gas emissions for major emitters, like utility companies, and that requires them to buy allowances for each metric ton of their emissions.

I-2109, which would repeal the capital-gains tax, a 7% tax on the sale or exchange of long-term capital assets above $250,000 (now adjusted to $262,000), including assets such as stocks, bonds, business interests, and other investments.

I-2124, which would allow employees and self-employed individuals to opt out of paying the payroll tax and receiving benefits from the long-term care program known as WA Cares.

Later in the meeting, members of the 34th DDs voted to endorse each of the “No” campaigns opposing the initiatives.

The initiatives have notably been funded primarily by Brian Heywood, a Redmond entrepreneur who last year spent millions of dollars to support signature-gathering efforts to qualify those three initiatives and three others meant to roll back Democrat-backed policies and put in place conservative priorities.

During the legislative session earlier this year, the Democrat-led Legislature approved three of those initiatives — which removed some restrictions on police pursuits, established a ban on income taxes in Washington, and created a “parents’ bill of rights” that allows parents to access various medical, academic, and disciplinary information related to their children. The Legislature left the remaining three, listed above, to advance to the ballot.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, a Democrat representing the 34th Legislative District and the State House Majority Leader, said during the meeting that the six initiatives “somewhat overshadowed” the work done in the recent legislative session.

“Three of those we passed, none of which we felt great about, although two of the three we didn’t think really had any actual policy impact,” Fitzgibbon said. “We didn’t think they really changed current law and were really more messaging strategies by the Republican Party.”

Fitzgibbon said the change to police pursuits “does have an impact” and “rolls back some of our police accountability,” and he noted he voted against that initiative.

About the three remaining initiatives, Fitzgibbon voiced his opposition, saying they would “do significant harm.”

Treasure Mackley, executive director of Invest in Washington Now, a group that originally supported the passage of the capital gains tax in 2021, told attendees about the stakes of repealing the tax under I-2109, saying that it has made the state’s tax code “more fair and just” and noting the major funding it brings for education in Washington.

Mackley highlighted that Washington was long considered the state with the most regressive tax structure in the country, and that with the passage of the capital gains tax, Washington has moved down to second-most regressive, according to the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy.

Supporters of I-2109 have described the capital-gains tax as a form of an income tax, and argue it is therefore unconstitutional. However, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled the capital gains tax is an excise tax and is constitutional.

Backers of the No on 2117 campaign said the repeal of the Climate Commitment Act would “take away billions of dollars” that can be invested throughout the state. Last year, the state raised $1.8 billion from auctioning emissions allowances, also called cap-and-invest auctions.

Michael Charles, with the No on 2117 campaign, also emphasized the importance of garnering support specifically from the 34th DDs.

“It’s really important that we run our numbers up as high as we can here in King County, and so we need your support,” Charles said.

Diane Bedwell, with No on 2124, described WA Cares as a “safety net for a majority of Washingtonians … just like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security,” and Bedwell warned that passing the initiative would “harm people with pre-existing conditions,” who are helped by the program. Supporters of the initiative have described the payroll tax as overly burdensome, and say the current maximum benefit from WA Cares ($36,500) is inadequate.

Alongside the individual “No” campaigns, an umbrella coalition, Defend Washington, is working to oppose the three initiatives.

Backers of the “No” campaigns additionally offered criticisms of Heywood’s multimillion-dollar contributions to qualify the initiatives for the ballot.

“We cannot let conservative mega-donors be the ones that are dictating what we should be doing from a policy perspective in Washington state,” Charles said.

WHAT’S NEXT: The 34th District Democrats typically meet on second Wednesdays. The group’s next meeting is scheduled for May 8. Watch for updates between meetings at

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