PORT ANGELES — The two North Olympic Peninsula candidates for the 24th District state Senate seat took opposing positions Tuesday on increasing the state minimum wage to $13.50 an hour.
Democrat Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim said he supports statewide Initiative 1433, while Danille Turissini of Port Ludlow, who calls herself an “independent GOP” candidate, is against it, they told the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast gathering at Joshua’s restaurant.
The initiative, which would increase the wage from $9.47 to $13.50 an hour by 2020 and guarantee workers receive paid sick leave, is a shoo-in for passage Nov. 8, according to the Association of Washington Businesses.
Van De Wege is a Clallam County Fire District 3 firefighter in his fifth two-year state House term.
Turissini is a former newspaper reporter and editor for The Daily and Sunday Review in Towanda, Pa. and co-founded EDC Team Jefferson in Jefferson County.
Turissini, whose husband, Dave, is a bus operations manager for Sound Transit, said in an email later Tuesday that she quit her job as the grassroots director for the Family Policy Institute of Washington to run for the state Senate.
Turissini and Van De Wege spoke for an hour before 45 breakfast meeting participants under a format that did not include time limits for candidates’ responses to the audience’s questions.
Van De Wege, the House Democratic Caucus’ majority whip, did not specify how much the minimum wage should increase from the present $9.47 an hour.
“I don’t know what it should be, but I support the initiative,” he said.
Van De Wege said I-1433 campaign organizers approached business groups telling them that if they were “willing to cut a deal” with initiative organizers on a wage increase that the Republican-controlled Senate could pass, the organizers would abandon their initiative efforts.
“The [business] groups did not want to negotiate,” Van De Wege said.
“My feeling on a lot of interest groups that represent small businesses is that they do not always have the best interest of small businesses.”
Turissini said she supports a not-one-size-fits-all minimum wage.
Contending that even a $15-an-hour is not a livable wage, Turissini said the owner of a coffee shop in Chimacum told her that if the initiative passes, employees would be fired.
“I support sick leave, but not a mandate,” Turissini added.
“We need to start going at this more outside the box and include business people in … the solution.”
Asked about the overall level of taxation and raising or lowering taxes, the candidates laid out their differences there, too.
Turissini said she “can’t pledge to never raise taxes” but that the government is taxing citizens for things they are not “constitutionally required” to pay for, citing the impact of special-interest groups.
“The people should be talking to legislators about what is in the best interest of the district, not a party boss,” she said.
Turissini also criticized state funding for Planned Parenthood that totalled $58 million for the 2015-2016 biennium.
“It’s not even about abortion,” Turissini said.
“They offer very few services,” she said, adding Planned Parenthood pays its national CEO $590,000.
In Washington state, the CEO makes at least $272,000, according to an American Life League report.
“I get that those are competitive wages, but there should be a cap on those kind of expenditures,” Turissini said.
Van De Wege said he is opposed to a state income tax but supports a capital gains tax.
He said legislators streamlined government and dramatically cut state services during the recession and more than once urged audience members to contact him to identify wasteful spending.
“Whether or not tax money is wasted by government is somewhat objective,” he said.
“In Washington state, roughly we have as many tax exemptions as taxes we collect,” Van De Wege added, saying he was willing to consider eliminating some exemptions to raise revenue.
“We need to do a better job of making sure the tax exemptions we have out there are creating jobs and doing what they are supposed to do.”
The Legislature, he added, still must find $3 billion to fund the State Supreme Court’s McCleary-decision mandate to fully fund K-12 basic education-programs.
Turissini said she supported changing the business and occupation tax from applying to gross income to applying to net profit.
“I’m open to thoughts on that,” Van De Wege said, adding he does not have a personal opinion on the proposal.
Turissini said in an email Tuesday that she was asked to run for the position by Spokane Valley Republican Sen. Mike Padden on behalf of the Republican leadership.
In her closing statement she said she is not running to represent the Republican Party.
“I’m running to represent you,” she said.
In Van De Wege’s closing statement, he encouraged the audience to contact him and thanked them for their vote.
The Senate seat is open after the retirement of longtime legislator Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, a Democrat.
Legislative District 24 covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern part of Grays Harbor County.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].