The Garfield Book Company hosted a town hall meeting Saturday where Washington State Senator Steve Conway made himself available to citizens of the 29th legislative district.
The senator invited anyone who lives or works within Tacoma, Lakewood, Parkland or Spanaway to attend the meeting and address any of their concerns about the community.
Key hot-button issues on the agenda included the transportation budget, K-12 education funding, environmental issues and the development of more family wage jobs.
“No one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” Conway said. “We need to continue our work in developing more family wage jobs and using what we can in this state to encourage development of those family wage jobs.”
Conway said he is working on passing a bill that would fund the completion of State Route 167, connecting SR 167 to SR 509 and Interstate 5. The project’s completion should relieve congestion, move freight faster and allow easy access to the Port of Tacoma.
“Completing SR 167 between the Port of Tacoma over to I-5 is so critical for the development of the port,” Conway said. “It has the potential to add so many new jobs.”
To fund the project, the 29th legislative branch has suggested raising gas prices, which Conway supports.
Tacoma resident Pam Pratt voiced her disapproval for the proposed gasoline tax increase.
“It’s not fair to low income senior citizens,” she said. With the growing popularity of electric cars, Pratt said those who purchase less gasoline should pay a higher tax along with higher licensing fees.
Conway’s proposition would raise the gas tax by about 10 cents per gallon, but could potentially raise enough revenue over the next two years to implement a higher quality public transportation system and allow the state to repair many of the roads in Tacoma and Parkland to include the SR 167 project.
Pacific Lutheran University senior Jenny Taylor, president of the Grass Roots Environmental Action Now club, asked Conway why he co-sponsored a bill that would rework the definition of renewable resources in Washington state.
The bill would reopen the Centralia Coal Mine that closed in November 2006. At the time of closure, the mine employed 600 workers.
“We can’t keep investing in jobs that rely on fuel sources such as coal that will be gone within the next few decades,” Taylor said. “We should instead invest money into solar panel companies. There are currently five in our state, all at full capacity, which demonstrates that we have a lot of demand for that.”
Conway said Washington is not generating enough tax revenue to invest in expensive projects that do not produce very many jobs.
“I agree that coal mining is not our future,” Conway said, “but it is a short term solution to a much bigger problem in this state — lack of jobs. While I care about the environment, I care more about people being able to provide for their families in today’s troubled economy.”
Conway’s message was clear: creating jobs is his most passionate endeavor, and developmental projects will create those jobs.
“I was involved in helping PLU in developing the project across the street,” Conway said. “The reason why PLU was able to begin that project was because I got a bill passed that allows a 10-year exemption on paying property taxes. The balancing act of that bill is that PLU is committed to providing low income housing and some retail investment in that project.”
According to Discover Parkland, the completed Garfield Station construction will include a series of retail shops along Garfield Street to the corner of C Street. Above the ground-level retail shops will be a new apartment complex with 104 residential units.
Conway, who was a former history professor at PLU from 1981-82 before pursing a career in politics, expressed his love for the school.
“PLU is a great university. It has great professors and a great reputation,” Conway said. “The problem has always been in neighborhoods around PLU — they have always really been dying neighborhoods. What we are trying to do is help PLU develop this immediate area right around the campus so that it reflects the great beauty and overall greatness of this university. I am really happy to have been a part of that.”