Elections

Smell test: Fact-checking claims about Jesse Young, Larry Seaquist in Gig Harbor legislative race

An ad paid for by the Washington State Republican Party touts the accomplishments of state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor on one side, while criticizing his opponent, former state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, on the reverse.
An ad paid for by the Washington State Republican Party touts the accomplishments of state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor on one side, while criticizing his opponent, former state Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, on the reverse.

One of the most competitive legislative races on the ballot this year is the contest between state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, and his former seatmate Larry Seaquist, a Democrat who is looking to return to the Legislature after losing his re-election bid in 2014.

Direct mail ads peppering the district praise Young’s record on taxes, fighting toll increases and securing new money for schools, while criticizing Seaquist’s legacy on some of the same issues.

Claim 1: Direct mail ads funded by the Washington State Republican Party claim that tolls tripled while Larry Seaquist was in office. Meanwhile, the reverse side of the ads say Young halted toll increases on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Facts: After the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened in 2007, tolls rose periodically over the next few years to keep up with bond payments tied to construction of the new bridge.

In 2007, toll rates to cross from Gig Harbor to Tacoma cost $3 for cars paying cash at the tollbooth and $1.75 for cars using electronic Good To Go passes.

Tolls held steady during part of Seaquist’s time in the Legislature, from 2009 to 2011.

But by 2014, the last year Seaquist was in office, the tolls had reached $5.50 for tollbooth payments and $4.50 for cars using Good To Go passes.

That’s an increase of 85 percent — less than double the original toll amount — for those paying in-person at a tollbooth, and an increase of 157 percent — somewhere between double and triple the original toll amount — for those using electronic passes.

By 2014, the last year Seaquist was in office, bridge tolls had reached $5.50 for tollbooth payments and $4.50 for cars using Good To Go passes.

Tolls rose again between 2014 and 2015, the first two years Young was in office.

But Young was one of the lawmakers who worked to ensure that bridge tolls wouldn’t rise in 2016, by helping negotiate $2.5 million in the state transportation budget to cover the bridge’s debt service. It was the first time in four years that the tolls didn’t rise.

Conclusion: Mostly true. The ad slightly exaggerates toll increases during Seaquist’s tenure, but it is accurate to say tolls nearly tripled for drivers paying with electronic transponders. The ads ignore the years that tolls rose when Young was in office, however, as well as years they didn’t rise while Seaquist was in the Legislature.

Claim 2: With Larry Seaquist in office, “taxes increased.” Meanwhile, Jesse Young “put $4.5 billion more into classrooms — with no new taxes.”

Facts: During the height of the economic recession, state government was faced with multi-billion dollar budget deficits.

In 2010, a majority of state lawmakers approved a combination of cost-cutting measures and revenue increases to help bridge the gap. New revenue measures that year included a temporary increase in taxes for certain service businesses; a temporary 50-cent tax increase on beer; and new temporary taxes on soda, candy and bottled water.

Seaquist voted against the legislation that included those tax increases, as well as the overall budget that year. Voters rejected the tax increases on soda, candy and bottled water at the polls that November.

However, Seaquist supported several other tax increases during his time in the Legislature — including a proposal in 2013 to increase the state’s gas tax by 10.5 cents per gallon to fund transportation projects, which ultimately didn’t pass.

Since Young has been in office, Republicans have controlled the state Senate and have blocked most tax increases proposed by Democrats. Young voted in favor of one of those budgets holding the line on taxes in 2015. Young also voted against increasing the gas tax by 11.9 cents per gallon as part of the transportation package lawmakers approved last year.

As far as the claim that school funding has increased by $4.5 billion while Young has been in office, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The Republican Party’s ad appears to be crediting Young with school funding increases the Legislature passed in 2013, before Young was appointed in January 2014 to fill a legislative vacancy.

While total state funding for public schools has increased by about $4.5 billion since the start of 2013, some of that reflects work the Legislature did before Young took office.

Since Young took office, state funding for public schools has increased by about $3 billion in the state’s two-year budget, from about $15.2 billion to about $18.2 billion.

While total state funding for public schools has increased by about $4.5 billion since the start of 2013, some of that reflects work the Legislature did before Young took office.

Conclusion: Half-true. While Seaquist supported some tax increases while in office, he voted against some of the taxes that proved the most unpopular with voters during that time.

Young, meanwhile, can claim to have contributed to an increase of about $3 billion in school funding, not a $4.5 billion increase.

Claim 3: With Larry Seaquist, “tuition doubled,” while Jesse Young “cut college tuition, making it more affordable for families.”

Facts: Tuition costs at the state’s largest universities did roughly double between 2007 and 2012, the first several years Seaquist was in office. During Seaquist’s first year chairing the House Higher Education Committee, in 2011, he and a majority of the Legislature supported a budget that raised tuition by about 34 percent over two years.

The Legislature subsequently froze tuition at state colleges and universities during the last two years Seaquist served in the Legislature, a move he supported in 2013 by voting yes on a budget that included the tuition freeze.

After Seaquist was unseated, Republicans led a successful effort last year to cut college tuition at public colleges and universities. Young voted with a majority of lawmakers to support the state’s new two-year budget that included the tuition cut.

Conclusion: True. While Seaquist was in office, tuition roughly doubled at the largest state universities. Since Young has been in the Legislature, lawmakers have cut tuition.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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