Taxes were at the top of the agenda at a forum for candidates running for 16th District state representative Tuesday night.
Incumbent Rep. Laura Grant, D-Walla Walla, and challengers Terry R. Nealey and Kevin Young, both Republicans, and Reagan Independent David C. Roberts all vowed they'd vote against raising any taxes for Washingtonians when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
In fact, there was little to distinguish the four candidates during the 90-minute forum at Columbia Basin College other than party affiliation.
Grant used her status as a Democrat to try to distinguish herself from the pack, arguing that it benefits Eastern Washington to have representation in the majority party.
Nealey said he's the most experienced, having served as Columbia County prosecutor.
Young said he's the most conservative and has experience as a businessman and home-schooler.
Roberts said he's sick of politics as usual and wants to overhaul the bureaucracy in Olympia to save tax dollars.
The forum was hosted by grass-roots group Campaign For Liberty, which sprang from the ashes of Republican Ron Paul's failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Questions written by Campaign for Liberty members included explaining how the Growth Management Act was harmful to economic liberty and prosperity, which state policies encourage illegal immigration and what taxes each of the candidates would repeal if elected.
No one seemed to think the Growth Management Act was a good idea for Eastern Washington, having been designed to control urban sprawl in larger cities such as Seattle.
Young called it a "bad deal" that infringes on personal liberties, while Grant, Nealey and Roberts criticized the bureaucracy that resulted from the legislation.
"It is a bureaucratic nightmare," Grant said.
On immigration, Young said he'd cut social services to undocumented immigrants, and likened them to stray dogs.
"If you feed a stray dog, he'll stay," Young said. "If you don't feed him, he'll go home."
Roberts said he supports the idea of immigration, but wants people to enter the country the right way.
Grant and Nealey both said they recognize that food growers rely on seasonal labor and something needs to be done to ensure that workers are available.
"We need a system where they can come in, work and leave," Nealey said.
When it came to taxes, Roberts said he wouldn't lower taxes right away because of the state's budget deficit, but that he'd like to look at possible changes to the business and occupations tax.
Young said he'd reduce taxes that affect businesses to help make them prosperous again, arguing if businesses are successful, the state will have the revenue to support its budget.
Nealey and Grant agreed the business and occupations tax needs reform to help businesses. Nealey also said he'd limit the growth in property taxes in the state.
None of the candidates said they'd support a personal income tax.
The four will face off in the primary election on Aug. 18. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election on Nov. 3.
-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com