Community

Liz Lovelett

Focus on climate action

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

In early 2019, Liz Lovelett joined the ranks of the Washington State Senate, stepping up from her role as an Anacortes City Council member, and taking along her signature passion for climate action.

The environmental and social issues facing her district and state are challenging. Lovelett focuses on the big picture:

“Like all parents, I’ve tried to balance school, work and health concerns in these difficult times,” she said. “With so many local families struggling economically with job loss or displacement, small-business owners facing devastating loss, and workers in our hospitals and clinics overwhelmed, we need the state to be a partner in recovery. We have to do better for workers and small businesses, with immediate relief and long-term reforms of our tax code and safety net.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a civil rights crisis and an environmental crisis and an educational crisis,” Lovelett laid out the work ahead. “Those are all big enough reasons right there. We also have a backwards tax code that needs to be revised and revisited continually, so I’m working with a lot of different progressive revenue teams to try to figure out how to avoid some of the more painful cuts to the budget that would really make it so that our more vulnerable folks in our community would be in even more precarious positions—so, yeah, working on a carbon tax, working on state inheritance, working on a complete tax reformation group. Urgent work. I gotta get back and get it done.”

Lovelett’s influences came early.

“I would say the book that influenced me the most I read when I was 8 years old. I’d heard about the—you know—ozone layer when I was in first grade, and decided to save the planet after that. And so, when I was 8, my parents gave me a copy of a book called 50 Things Kids Can Do To Save The Planet. I’ve been living that ever since.”

During her time in office, Lovelett has pursued those early values, serving as vice chair of the Senate committee on environment, energy and technology.

She also serves on the senate’s transportation and local government committees. Even in her first term in the senate, the Democrat hasn’t shied away from significant legislative achievements.

“My big bill last year was a program called C-PACER,” she explained—Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience (C-PACER) Financing. “It’s a commercial property assessment based on clean energy and resiliency, and it’s a different kind of funding mechanism for private capital to go into either commercial or municipal buildings to do deep energy retrofits or also partner with new construction.”

“In areas across Washington, many people don’t have the opportunity or capacity to invest in solar energy and are being left out of the green economy. By creating a buy-in option, we would create opportunities to access sustainable energy,” she said.

Her Senate Bill 6222 is designed to create a public-private partnership that can help to fund high-cost, long-term projects aimed to improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Additionally, C-PACER can provide local jurisdictions with a financing tool for various public safety projects such as seismic upgrades.

Other instruments like C-PACER can provide access to capital and financing, creating new opportunities in sustainable policy and growth.

“Most economic recovery packages through history have really focused on infrastructure, because it fixes so many problems at once,” Lovelett explained. “It fixes employment opportunities and getting people into the trades and good-paying jobs, it helps make sure that our roads and culverts and sewers are running the way they’re supposed to, and really gives us an opportunity to upgrade the environmental efficacy.

“A key piece of economic recovery,” Lovelett believes, “will be in green infrastructure—so making sure that we’re investing in public transit. One of my favorite projects is ferries, so continuing the work of hybridizing our fleet and ensuring that we have good service for folks.”

Lovelett recognizes that economically and socially, life under COVID has sent a shockwave of pain, stress and frustration through her district. And it also has exposed and widened cracks that were already there in our social justice and community health systems.

“The pandemic has laid bare just the in equities we have in our communities—and especially in our rural areas around access to proper internet bandwidth,” she said. “And now that so many people are working from home and we’re looking at new ways of modeling how our workforce can be employed at distance and from home.”

The pandemic exposed weaknesses in emergency and security response, particularly for at-risk populations. Lovelett supports improved and continuous training for police and emergency responders.

“I think we’ve been successful in showing a model of community-based policing,” she said. “We end up with a lot of dangerous situations, but a lot of it has to do with just training, and for most police officers to go through their basic training, you know it can take up to a year. But some of these more advanced kinds of de-escalation protocols help show how to deal with folks in our community that are suffering from a mental health or behavioral health incidents.”

All of this costs money, and the state faces financial hardship resulting from the pandemic.

“Government can’t fix everything,” she reflects, “’cause there’s too many problems out there and not enough resources, so that’s why I’m really focusing on progressive revenue reform.

“As a sales-tax-based state, taxes are very regressive in Washington—so proportionately the lower your income, the higher percentage of your income you’re going to pay in the form of taxes. I think for most cost-burdened households it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 to 20 percent of your total income,” she said. “Then for our most affluent people in Washington, they are paying dramatically less in the form of taxes.

“I know it’s not a popular concept,” she reflects, “but most other states have an income tax. For me the only way I want to entertain the idea of an income tax is in the presence of a complete overhaul of the system where we’re either eliminating or reducing sales tax dramatically, really looking at the way property tax affects people and try to find reductions there so that we can have more targeted revenue streams that are capturing some of the immense wealth that is in Washington. We have a couple of the biggest corporations on Earth located in Washington and want to make sure that they’re being taxed appropriately.”

Lovelett received 69.3 percent of the vote in the 40th Legislative District primary, a district that includes Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan counties. Her opponent, Republican Charles Carrell, declined to be interviewed for this article.

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