Burien’s Joe Fitzgibbon Wants To Add His Younger Voice To Legislature
by Jack Mayne
Joe Fitzgibbon’s statement in the state voter’s pamphlet says that he “will bring a fresh perspective and a strong voice to change Olympia.”
That sounds like a big ambition for a 24-year old with limited real-world experience, and some say he hasn’t enough experience to be in the Legislature. But he does have some interesting experience, including being a member and chair of the Burien City Planning Commission, and working in county government and the Legislature for Rep. Sharon Nelson, who is creating the vacancy by moving from state representative to state senator in the 34th district.
“We have a Legislature that has not always taken a long-term view of the problems faced by our state and we will be dealing with those consequences for a long period to come. I’d like to go down there (to Olympia) to deal with these problems in a long-term way. That includes our transportation problems and not jus delaying and delaying until there is a crisis mode like the South Park bridge,” he says, adding that his view of the Legislature up close (on Nelson’s staff) that views of problems in Puget Sound are not taken “very seriously”.
Fitzgibbon also says the Legislature should have a diversity reflective of the make-up of the state, noting there are not very many “young voices” in its makeup. He says he would bring a voice for “younger folk” to the table.
He suggests he wants to help get a dialogue going amongst members of the Legislature. Something he says surprised him in Olympia was that legislators on both sides of the aisle often were “dismissing out of hand any idea that came from the other side – there is ‘no way I would vote for that because the sponsor is a Republican,’ or a Democrat.”
“That is not the perspective I will be starting from,” he says. “I think we should not be asking if we can get political advantage from something, but is it good for the state.”
He suggests he can say both sides should be heard from in order find solutions.
When he worked for Nelson in the last session, Fitzgibbon says she worked with legislators from Pend Oreille County over mitigation paid for a dam there, owned by the City of Seattle. “Legislators from very different perspectives came together “and got something accomplished.”
That, says Fitzgibbon, is the kind of thing he would do to solve difficult state problems.
He says he supports, in general, the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct but worries about the lack of access from the Viaduct to downtown Seattle.
“I have real concerns about what that will mean for people from Burien and West Seattle to get into downtown,” Fitzgibbon says. “That is going to be one of my top priorities will be how are we going to maintain access to downtown from people in this region with the tunnel going forward.”
He says he would also vote to remove the present “ill-conceived” requirement that Seattle must pay any cost overruns that the tunnel construction may incur. Even if the requirement is no voted away by the Legislature, Fitzgibbon says it is unlikely to ever be enforced.
The candidate says he opposes Initiative 1053 on the ballot next week that would reestablish the requirement that any tax increase be passed by two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature. Fees can be increased with by a majority vote of the Legislature.
But if it passes, he says we “can still get things done,” probably by sending any transportation financing plan to a vote of the people whether 1053 passes or not.
“If the voters say no way, then that is what we have the initiative process for.”
He says there could be ways of decreasing incidents of fraud in the initiative process.
“The initiative process is an important check on government, but I think we can have better rules.”
On transportation, Fitzgibbon says he would support legislation keeping gas tax monies in the area from which it is collected. He adds that the Legislature can give local governments more financial tools so that badly deteriorated roads in city and county areas can be better repaired and maintained.
One project that needs attention is completion of the interchange between Highway 518 and Memorial Drive.
“That is a long-standing project that the City of Burien has been interested in for a number of years and would really open up redevelopment of northeastern Burien where auto dealers are relocating,” Fitzgibbon says. “That is a huge opportunity for generating economic activity” and even though it is in the 11th district, he says it is important for his constituents.
Because the governor cut equal amounts from all state agencies, that can cause more to need to be spent later, and he says his focus would be to find ways to get people back to work and getting them off more expensive programs. He is worried that cuts now made or to be made will do long-term damage to the state.
He is not happy about it, but the Legislature is likely to be looking at areas where there are no mandate preventing cuts. One area would be voter approved increases in teacher salaries and even class size reduction programs, not protected as mandated basic education programs is, he says.
Fitzgibbon would look to perhaps cutting “large costs associated with pensions for retired state employees” who “game the pension system to earn more than the system was intended to pay.” For example, he notes that some have retired, gotten their pensions, than have gone back to work, sometimes doing the same job as before they retired.
“I would be looking at that area for cuts,” he says.
If the income tax on high earners is approved by voters (Initiative 1098), Fitzgibbon says he would not vote for any changes extending it to other income earners without referring it to the voters for approval.