PORT ANGELES — Sequim’s two candidates for a 24th District House of Representatives seat staked out opposite positions on imposing a capital gains tax and increasing the minimum wage during an amicable general election forum Tuesday.
Position 2 state Rep. Steve Tharinger, 67, the longtime incumbent Democrat, said he’s for the increases, while John Alger, 62, who filed as an “independent-GOP party” candidate, said he’s opposed.
The two spoke at a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Port Angeles Business Association at Joshua’s Restaurant in Port Angeles.
Voters in the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County, will be mailed ballots for the Nov. 8 general election on Oct. 19 — nine weeks from today.
Tharinger, a three-term former Clallam County commissioner bidding for a fourth two-year state House stint, and Alger, a retired Air Force captain, presented their ideas before 40 breakfast meeting participants in a format that did not include time limits for responses to audience questions.
Tharinger took the majority of the more than an hour allotted for the program.
In his opening statement, Tharinger said as a county commissioner and state legislator, he has focused on seeking “pragmatic solutions.”
Alger is an Aberdeen native who has lived on the North Olympic Peninsula for 18 years and is new to running for political office.
He said he looked for a candidate to run against Tharinger at the request of someone he identified later as Danille Turissini of Port Ludlow, who was at the forum.
Turissini is an “Independent GOP Party” candidate running for a 24th District state Senate seat against 24th District state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim.
Alger said friends urged him to run against Tharinger after Alger found “no takers” to run for the position.
Tharinger “is an honorable man,” Alger said.
“We have a difference of opinion.”
Unlike Alger, Tharinger favors imposing a capital gains tax that would be levied on profits from the sale of property, not including a primary home, and profits from investments, for which there would be deductions for individuals and couples.
Tharinger said Washington is among the top states in economic activity but also has one of the most regressive tax systems, one over-reliant on sales taxes.
“This is really about the hedge-fund operators, the guys who are making money out of making money,” Tharinger said.
He said lawmakers must come up with $3.2 billion to meet the demands of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision in which the state must fully fund basic education costs for K-12 grades — and asserted that a capital gains tax could be part of the solution.
Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis is losing doctor applicants who walk through Port Angeles and Sequim schools “and say, ‘I am not raising my family here,’ ” Tharinger said.
Alger said the McCleary decision is a result of the Legislature’s failure to take responsibility for its duties under the state constitution.
Alger would not add taxes to fund McCleary, he said.
If revenues must increase to fund education, “then let’s take it from somewhere else,” Alger said.
“We may have to cut customer services somewhere.”
Alger said a capital gains tax is a half-step removed from an income tax.
“I don’t agree with a capital gains tax, and I’m scared of an income tax,” he said.
Alger agreed with Tharinger that sales taxes hurt lower-income wage earners but said he did not know how to relieve the burden.
He said he would be willing to work with Tharinger, regardless of who is elected, to make the sales tax “more equitable for folks at the bottom end of the economic ladder.”
Tharinger told the breakfast meeting that a $15 minimum wage like that mandated in Seattle “would not work out here.”
Tharinger said he supported Initiative 1433, which would increase the minimum wage from $9.47 to $13.50 by 2020, and says employers must offer paid sick leave.
Alger said $13.50 an hour is too high for employers in Quilcene, Hoquiam or Amanda Park.
Alger said the minimum wage should be set at “the local level,” explaining in a later interview that the decision should fall to cities and counties.
But for businesses, that would be “an accounting nightmare to try to keep track of that,” Tharinger said.
“A uniform policy is more effective and more easily managed.”
Alger also said he favored a “tax holiday” for business startups, adding that he’s been told that would be unfair to existing businesses.
He also promised to learn more about the business and occupation tax, on which a meeting participant questioned the candidates.
“My learning curve is still almost vertical,” Alger said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].