The Urbanist Elections Committee based our endorsement decisions on questionnaires we wrote and invited state legislature candidates in the Seattle metropolitan region to fill out. We follow up on those questionnaire responses with follow-up Zoom interviews. Below are the responses by Sharlett Mena, who is running in Legislative District 29, Position 2 against Steve Kirby who has held the seat since 2001.

What lessons about government revenues and fiscal priorities from the wake of 2008 would you apply in responding to the Covid-19 crisis? (200 words or less)

In 2008, we saw the government once again rely on notions of “trickle down economics”. Trickle down economics never has, and never will work. We cannot make the same mistake again. Washington has the most regressive tax system in the nation, with the lowest earners paying almost 18 percent of their income in taxes and the wealthiest paying just 3 percent (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy Washington). While this is bad in the best of times, we cannot continue to tax people into poverty for state revenue. We need relief for our families, and we need to close tax loopholes to ensure corporations and executives are paying their fair share. We need a wealth tax, capital gains tax, and a carbon fee. It’s not right that community health centers and public schools are battling for funding scraps while the wealthy pay almost nothing. To fully fund services and priorities, we will need to generate new, progressive revenue. We must also get people back to work. I support funding clean water and transportation infrastructure projects that create union jobs here at home and move us toward a more sustainable future. I believe we should be bailing out people over corporations.

Would you vote for a bill that ends the ban on rent control in Washington? Why or Why not? (50 words or less)

Yes. It’s time we start recognizing housing as a human right. Rent control as well as “just cause” eviction laws will be a vital tool in our fight to ensure everyone in Washington has secure housing. As a renter myself, I will be a champion for renters’ rights in the legislature.

What role do you see the state playing in enacting land use reform, and what should that reform prioritize? (200 words or less)

The state must play a role in creating more eco-friendly, diverse, and accessible communities; we cannot assume the private sector will take on these goals without legislative action. The Growth Management Act was a necessary first step in urban planning in Washington State. However, we cannot continue to sit idly by as our cities continue to sprawl, communities are priced out of their homes, the number of homeless individuals in our state rises, and accessible means of mass transportation remain few and far between. We must act now, and act fast. We need to prioritize putting an end to single-family home zoning, and begin focusing on building affordable housing in conjunction with expanding our transportation system. I will rely on the expertise of urban planners and activists as we begin to legislate these goals.

What should be the major components of a climate package? (50 words or less)

We need to pass a clean fuel standard, explicitly grant authority to the state to regulate emissions, implement a carbon fee, and expand our public transportation system, and invest in green jobs and commit to a just transition. Finally, we must approach the issue with environmental justice in mind.

What should be the top strategies for the state to fix the cycle of segregation, disinvestment, gentrification, and unaffordable housing in our cities? (200 words or less)

The detrimental effects of historical redlining– like many systemic issues surrounding race– persist today. Though zoning reform is an excellent first step in undoing some of these harms, it is not enough. The government played an integral role in creating this purposeful cycle of segregation, gentrification, and unaffordable housing, it must play an equal role in dismantling it. In the Legislature, I will work with communities and urban planning experts to ensure we are properly addressing these concerns. Along with zoning reform, I plan to advocate for: Housing First policies; aggressive inclusionary housing policy (make affordable housing a mandatory addition to all development projects); reexamining how we allocate tax cuts to developers and its impact on gentrification; remove the ban on rent control in Washington State; and implementing a wealth tax to fund the creation of union built social housing.

What’s your roadmap to fixing educational inequities in Washington state? How can Washington state comply with its constitutional duties regarding education? (200 words or less)

I understand what it is like to work against the odds. I come from a family of immigrant farmworkers. I did not speak any English when I started school. It was hard, but with a little help from public services and a lot of hard work, I became the first person in my family to attend and graduate college. Though I am a success story, we are still far from fully and equitably funding schools and closing the opportunity gap. In Washington, the graduation rate for students of color and Native Americans trail behind the national average. If we want to achieve 100 percent graduation, we need to prioritize education. We must continue to invest in: early learning; smaller class sizes; professional development opportunities and training for teachers (especially in racial competency); and mental and behavioral health counselors. To fund these goals, we must not only create more progressive revenue for the state through means like a wealth tax, but ensure that funding is equitably distributed.

Do you think Washington state should have an income tax? If yes, what is the legislative path? If not, would you pursue any tax reform? (100 words or less)

Yes. I support an income tax but our primary tax reform goals must be to implement a capital gains tax and a wealth tax, all with healthy household exemptions. Wealth taxes are already legal in our state’s constitution so its legislative path, though still difficult, is more straightforward than the path for an income tax. We must also close tax loopholes that allow businesses like Amazon to pay so little.

While California and Oregon have passed a clean fuels standard aiming to meet their climate goals, Washington did not, as the bill stalled out last session. Would you vote for it? If not, what is the route to meeting our climate goals? (150 words or less)

Absolutely. The transportation sector is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. While the state has made strides in combating climate change through bills like “100 percent clean,” we will not meet our new, ambitious goals reduction targets without addressing transportation emissions. Additionally, I support granting the Department of Ecology the authority it needs to implement its Clean Air Rule. Finally, we must continue to build coalitions with other states and team up to meet emissions reduction targets under the Paris Climate Agreement. Climate change is a global problem. Yes, we have to do our part, but we cannot defeat this challenge alone.

What percentage of the state’s transportation budget should be for alternatives to cars, such as transit, biking, and pedestrian infrastructure? (100 words)

We need congestion relief. The population in this area has increased over the past several years and is indicated to keep growing. Anyone who has driven to Sea-Tac airport on I-5 understands there are too many cars on the road. Highway expansion, expressways, and bridges, can help alleviate some traffic congestion, but we need to shift our primary focus and investments to public transit options to get more cars off the road. I cannot predict exact percentages, but in office I would be a champion for investing in vehicle alternatives.

What should be a higher priority: electrifying personal vehicles or reducing the number of trips made in personal vehicles? Explain how to achieve your priority. (50 words).

Both. We are currently seeing significant traffic reduction which has helped reduce air pollution. I am hopeful that organizations will continue to encourage remote working after we recover. However, people have to get to school, doctor’s appointments, and more. We need to continue to invest in clean, robust public transit.

The Urbanist Elections Committee’s Take: Vote Mena

Read our endorsements article to see our reasons.

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