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Hacks & Wonks

Feb 25, 2021

Today we are joined by a Hacks & Wonks fave, Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley! She hit the ground running as a legislator for the 37th District, and joins us to talk about what we might see coming through in the remainder of this 2021 legislative session, and how you can help advocate for policies you want to see passed. Hot topics include correcting Washington’s State’s backwards tax codes, preventing gentrification, public safety and policing, and how the 37th District uniquely needs effective environmental legislation.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii. More information is available at



Look up your legislators by name, and see everything Rep. Harris-Talley is working on, here: 

Learn about how committees work with our previous guest, Senator Joe Nguyen: 

Learn about the tax specifically on billionaires before the legislature here: 

Get to know Washington State’s tax system generally here: 

Find House Bill 1494, focused on the anti-displacement property tax exemption, here: 

Get to know the Working Families Tax Credit, and what it seeks to achieve, here: 

Learn about the Pathways to Recovery Act here: 

Read about “Energy for All”, or House Bill 1490, which would attempt to ensure that low income folks don’t have their power and water turned off here: 

Get to know the Washington State Growth Management Act here: 



Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and provide behind the scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes. 

Today we are thrilled to have Representative Kirsten Harris-Talley from the fighting 37th Legislative District. Welcome, once again, to the show.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:01:00] Thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be here with you, Crystal.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:04] Absolutely, and a pleasure to have you. And I will tell you, there actually is no other single legislator that - I have conversations in many different coalitions and different contexts - and I tell you, universally, people are just like, "That Kirsten Harris-Talley is just so inspirational and motivational." And as more and more people have gotten to hear you and know you - certainly the appreciation of you being known for coming out of community, certainly bringing community into the process with you - combining that with the knowledge and experience that you have through working through political and legislative systems before, but being able to speak to and lead with principles and articulate values in a way that we often have not heard on the local level. So I know I certainly appreciate that. People from across the spectrum of issues and coalitions appreciate that - so again, just thrilled to have you here today.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:02:15] Oh, thank you. I love the people, so it's good when they see that and love me back and the work because we need each other to do the work. We really do. So that's important to hear.

Crystal Fincher: [00:02:26] Absolutely, and so I guess we'll dive into the work. What is happening with the legislative session right now? Where are you at, and how are we progressing on the most important priorities?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:02:37] Oh, that's a big question. I mean, the biggest contributor, I think, to answering that question, right, is that we're in the first of its time and kind remote session. So the terrain of how the work moves - it's all new. In some ways, I think that has leveled the playing field for those of us - me and other colleagues who are coming brand new into the process this year - with our colleagues who've been there in previous cycles in that we're all learning these new systems simultaneously at the same time.

What that meant that is that out the gate, there was a high recommendation, and I know it was covered pretty well in the media as well, for us to be really thoughtful about what bills we were bringing forward. Usually, you just put it all out there. You're on the floor. We separate the priorities from those that we can let go of. But this year, we knew we had to focus in a different way. What that has meant is that substantively, I think the context of the conversation has been elevated to really rise to this moment - what the needs are of this moment. Because of course, we're doing remote session because all of us are trying to survive a pandemic. And all of the repercussions of that and what it means for every system we engage with in public, private, and personal space is being tested.

So for me, that meant really focusing on the committees once our committees were assigned - what voice and what community voice would I be bringing to that process and how are we going to organize? And so I'm on three committees. Finance - we get to discuss questions of revenue, what dollars are we bringing in, who's paying it, and tax equity and structure. What are the laws that then make that possible? Environment and Energy - where we get to talk about climate, impacts on the environment. This year is the first year of the biennium where we're talking about the Growth Management Act. We have not visited the Growth Management Act in almost three decades - a really deep conversation about how do we work with our planet as we build the spaces we need to live as humans - an overdue conversation. But also energy and talking about what is the energy future and what are we going to do about it now? And then the third committee I'm on is Children, Youth, and Families.- and they are anything that relates to children and families that doesn't happen in Education comes to that committee. So it's a lot of issues and I'm concentrating there on juvenile justice, childcare needs, and homeless youth needs.

So really, I feel honored that our caucus sought to put me in places I already was doing work in community and could really hit the ground running. And the biggest call of this moment this cycle to me, is the question of revenue. How much revenue are we going to raise? And then budget - where are we going to spend it? We're still dealing with the fact that we have, while it is a shrinking picture of deficit, there is still the last projection of $2.8 billion, with a "b" deficit in our budget. And what that means is every service that the state provides, we are $2.8 billion from being able to sustain those services. So that's not thinking through the new policies or new ideas that we have that we also want to pay for to have implemented. So for me, that's the critical question. And we have some really exciting things in the mix for that conversation this leg session.

Crystal Fincher: [00:06:00] Well, there are very exciting things in the mix. And certainly, from the 37th District, you have a broad mandate to support a lot of those policies, whether it's capital gains tax, wealth tax, a variety of things on the table. So where do each of those proposals - or what is still possible or looking likely?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:06:24] So I'm really excited that we, out the gate, have been having two really important conversations in this moment from day one. Equity and justice has been the lens that we're trying to apply to every bit of policy happening. But the second conversation is just starting from the reality that we are dead last - State #50 - when it comes to tax equity and we are in a completely upside down tax code. When you break that apart, there are two reasons we're in an upside down tax code. We're not raising enough revenue. And the folks we raise that revenue from - low-income families, middle-class families - we are disproportionately paying more than everyone else, even though we have really, really, really rich people here. That means we're paying almost 18% in taxes while the richest among us pay 3%. Six times as much tax. So that consideration of - get revenue in so we can spend good dollars in good places to help good people. But also this thing of who's paying that tax responsibility and how do we address that so that we're not having those with the least resources paying the most?

And so the wealth tax proposal is really exciting to me. Our new chair this year, Representative Noel Frame, has introduced the first of its kind wealth tax. It is structurally well within our constitutional rights in Washington State where we have a number of tax exemptions. It is another tax exemption. It is a tax exemption that gives you an exemption for the first billion, with a "b," dollars you make. Once you have a billion plus one or more dollars, you would pay a 1% tax. I don't know about you, but I don't have any tax where I only pay 1%. That's a really, really low tax rate. And then from there, we look at how many of our neighbors would be impacted. Only 100 of our neighbors make a billion plus $1. So the rest of us, up to a billion, we're exempt from this tax. And then of those 100 people, I was overwhelmed to see, when we had the fiscal note in the hearing, that it would generate $4.8 billion. That's an exciting proposal. 100 people paying a 1% tax - paying in $4.8 billion to help hundreds of thousands of neighbors statewide. That's the kind of conversation where you're talking about filling that $2.8 billion deficit and having $2 billion to dream with as we build back better what our economy can look like out of this crisis point. So that's a really exciting proposal to me.

And then I immediately started thinking through what is the tax responsibility neighbors in the 37th have that also matches what other folks in the state are struggling with? And we know here what we witnessed in 2006, '07, '08, and '09, was a rapid acceleration of gentrification and displacement of our neighbors. What we saw when the economy turned then was aunties who owned their houses outright being pushed out because they couldn't afford the property taxes anymore on the assessed value of their homes. So I introduced House Bill 1494 with accompanying HJR4204, which is a constitutional adjustment that would make it legal within our constitution to give an up to $250,000, quarter million dollar, tax exemption. It's called the anti-displacement property tax exemption. And in essence, it would be applied to the state portion of your property tax - whatever the assessed value of your home, you take off that first up to $250,000 and only have to pay for the state portion of your property taxes what was left in the assessed value of your home. It's a game changer when we think about what it is that folks are stewarding in property tax responsibility. And for me, it's about really addressing the needs of Black, Brown, Indigenous folks who want to stay in their communities and find themselves being pushed further and further out, as well as our neighbors in rural areas who are experiencing the same thing as those land values are assessed at higher and higher values too.

So really trying to address the structural issues and have justice and equity at the center of those decisions as we talk about it. It's a really different conversation than I've ever heard us have before. And I'm really ecstatic about the possibilities as we have more and more neighbors really stand up and say, "These are the right answers for us in this moment."

Crystal Fincher: [00:10:32] Yeah, absolutely, and appreciate your leadership. One thing - we had a conversation with Senator Joe Nguyen not too long ago and he brought up the point - we are having very different conversations. When we were faced with an economic challenge like this previously, similar to this, the conversation was around austerity and cuts, and just what we were not going to do for people. And how we had to do less, even though people needed more. And we discovered that we paid for that choice in very negative ways, and that you don't do less for people when they need more - you find ways to do more. And to make sure everyone's paying their fair share so that we can support everyone who needs it. So this is certainly just a different conversation and perspective that I think new leaders like you have brought into the legislature. And from my perspective, it certainly is welcome.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:11:30] I think a great example of that is another proposal in this revenue space, the Working Families Tax Credit. For the first time with that proposal, we're making sure that some of our undocumented neighbors are included there. To your point, a very different consideration of how you take care of people. And I appreciate what you brought up and what Senator Nguyen brought up. There is actually nothing more expensive at the end of the day than austerity. It costs exponentially more to cut and reinstate things and have that loss in our communities than to just find a way to take care of people in the moment. So I'm glad that we're having that different conversation this time.

Crystal Fincher: [00:12:05] So am I. And one thing I am wondering is - for this immediate crisis, as you had alluded to before, with COVID and people struggling, businesses struggling, people without jobs, what is coming in terms of relief? What have you been able to work on there?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:12:26] Definitely, the property tax consideration is one of those considerations. The Working Family Tax Credit, for folks who don't know, we've had that actually legally on the books for a number of years, but we've never had a funding mechanism behind it. And each year, I think we've really deepened the conversation and improved what it is to have that tax credit. In essence, it's the dollars that you pay in to government and the system - us giving a little bit of that back to you as a cash incentive. And what we know, when we've seen this implemented in other parts of the country, folks who are struggling know exactly where those dollars will be of best use to their communities and their families, whether it's making up a car payment, paying gas to get to work, buying that computer or software your student needs to be on online school right now, making sure that the elder you don't get to be with as you're social distancing has the groceries they need - whatever that solution is, it's a way for us to give some dollars back. This year, there's a structural mechanism for the size of your family that actually increases the amount that you could get back up to $950. That's nothing to sneeze at for a lot of families - that can do a lot of good very quickly for folks. So that's a form of relief that's really immediate, can help everyone, and can be invested in a lot of different ways that will help our economy and individuals and families at the same time. 

And we also have had already a number of votes with consideration of the CARE dollars from the federal level. As folks will recall - in 2020, every state got a draw down from the Feds of dollars to help steward us through the moment, but we had a very short window to spend it. Before the administration changed on the federal level, we thought any unspent dollars were not going to be available. They were able to change that very quickly in January when we had the new presidential administration come in. So we've already voted on a $2.2 billion package of those relief dollars that have already started to be moved into systems and communities to immediately create relief. And that's everything from utility bill subsidies that folks are using to keep the lights on right now, to some of the education considerations that families need as we're looking at all the considerations, to some of the healthcare infrastructure for vaccine distribution - a whole spectrum of issues were there. So we've already gotten those dollars cared for out the door. It's one of the first votes we took, but we're continuing to have proposals and votes come up to give some support to small businesses as well.

I know here in the 37th, I have been heartbroken to see how many of our Black, Brown, Indigenous, women-owned, immigrant and refugee-owned businesses have shuttered or closed, some temporarily, but too many permanently. And we want to make sure that there's relief there so that those places that are made up of our neighbors here in our community - that those businesses are weathering this storm too. So we're going to continue to have those conversations and you're going to see some fast and furious votes, I think, in the coming weeks on all of those relief pieces coming out as fast as we can get them on the floor.

Crystal Fincher: [00:15:18] Excellent. And I also wanted to talk about the suite of public safety bills and bills to address the disproportionate policing, the police brutality, and just trying to make our entire community safe, and keep our entire community safe, and not have public safety interventions right now put people further at risk. What is going to happen? I mean, certainly a lot of bills were introduced with a lot of fanfare and hope. And are we still seeing that full suite moving through? Are some getting through and others not? What is still on the table? And what can people who feel very passionately about these do to help get those across the finish line?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:16:09] I love this question. I love that we get to ask this question. It's just another mark of how unique the conversations we are having now. And I just want to say out the gate, I am one of four Black legislators who came into the legislature on the House side, and we also have Senator T'wina Nobles in the Senate, the only Black member in the Senate right now. It has doubled our Black Member Caucus. We now have a total of nine Black representatives statewide serving. Our Member of Color Caucus in the House is now wholly a third of our general caucus. That has been advocates on the street, folks in electoral spaces - building a bench, making sure that we're staying centered on representation mattering. And that's why we're having these kinds of conversations right now.

I am an out and proud abolitionist - I believe in a day when we will end slavery and the way it's been reincarnated into our incarceration system. We also have for the first time in our legislature with Representative Tarra Simmons, someone who has been on the inside incarcerated, and now is an advocate and lawyer in this policing justice space. So I just wanted to say that the container for this conversation is a bold, beautiful container that we all built together over a long period of time. And I am ecstatic about all of the bills that we are seeing. And we're seeing them in Children, Youth, and Families, the committee I serve on - juvenile justice considerations happen through that committee. We've already made a lot of adjustments and considerations there.

There's conversations from advocates that they're like, "We don't want to see institutional incarceration for youth anymore." At the state level, that means we need to move to electronic monitoring systems to get more youth to stay in their home communities. And I want to eventually see us move away from that as well, because what we don't want is a new Jim Crow that has us incarcerated in our own homes with surveillance. So there's a number of bills at all the intersections of those issues. 

We have a qualified immunity bill that would open up what it is in civil space, outside our government systems, to be able to hold police officers and systems accountable for deaths and injury that happened in violence in the field to folk, families. What it is to really think of those as restorative actions for families impacted by police violence are huge. It's a really different conversation than we've ever had before. 

We also have a number of bills that are looking at our court systems. What do the sentencing pieces look like? I'm really proud to have signed on with Representative Davis for the Pathways to Recovery Act, which is looking at a behavioral health solution for substance use disorder, for folks who really want to find a path to healing and recovery there. So we're not criminalizing them instead. One of the biggest feeders into our incarceration system is our War on Drugs and what that has looked like for communities and who is and is not being pushed into our systems.

And then we're also having some contextual conversations about the school to prison pipeline with re-looking at our truancy laws and other things. So almost everywhere we're having the conversation. As far as which bills have had the most traction, I'm seeing a lot around pieces where there's community oversight and community voice, which is, I think, right where we need to start those conversations. Certainly here in Seattle, we've had this conversation about community oversight for a long time - we have the Community Police Commission and others. So I'm really excited that I feel like that's a place I really want folks to continue to put energy - where communities get to have voice for themselves about what it looks like to build the bridges between law enforcement and community, as we continue to dismantle these systems and build more towards care.

Crystal Fincher: [00:19:39] How can people help the cause?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:19:42] That's my favorite question. That's my favorite part. So I'm someone - I truly believe the best policy is when we work with community and decision-makers are allowed to help shape their ideas into policy and get it over the finish line. Hands down, every time that happens, we have the best policy. So I would say, find those legislators that you know are championing the things you care about. We have this great portal on our legislative website, You can look up any bill by the sponsor name - so by our last name. So if you want to look up all the bills that I've talked about today that I was the prime on, you can just search for Harris-Talley. 

What's great is it gives you an overview of the bills and which committee, part of the process, that bill is in. And then you can click on that committee and it lets you know who are the legislators in that body who get to make the decisions for that level of the work. So you can do everything from signing in PRO - so if it's in a committee, you can just sign it and say, "I'm for this." Or "I'm against this," depending on what your stance is. You can do written testimony this year for the first time. So if you have a story to share, and I find those so compelling - it's really helpful when I can share those with other colleagues who don't get to sit in on the committee conversations.

And then you can also sign up to do Zoom-based testimony during the hearings. It's an opportunity to give a face and a voice to your story, your context. What I love in remote session, one of the pluses - we have interpretation services available to folks right there. So no matter what language is your primary language, you can engage. But also for folks who wouldn't be able to travel with the weather and the pass and everything in Olympia, we're hearing from neighbors from all over the state. So it's really broadening who can give voice to what we're making decisions on. So I really invite folks to do that.

Yeah. And then the other piece is we really do read our emails. So if you write into us, tell us "Yes," tell us "No," tell us why you feel the way you do. We really do track that and respond and take that as a litmus of how our neighbors are thinking about these issues. And the last piece that's so important, that's so much less about talking to us as legislators, talk to your neighbors. Talk to them about what they care about. If you know some bill's moving through, or you can share with them that something's happening in a part that really impacts their life, make sure to get the word out. That's the piece for me - making sure that folks know what's happening, how they can contribute and give voice to it. And so often, we're not able to reach folks as quickly as you can reach your own neighbors. And it makes a huge difference.

Crystal Fincher: [00:22:16] Absolutely. And we will include links to both your list of bills and to just a primer on how people can sign in to testify and just navigating through that whole process, in addition to a full text transcript of this show in our show notes. So people can refer to those in the podcast version of this when they hear it and can find all of those resources there. I also wanted to ask about what's going on to address the climate crisis and everything from dealing with extreme weather and wildfires, to air pollution, cleaner energy? Just the full suite. Broad action is necessary on that - as if we don't already have enough to deal with, you're having to multitask on addressing these big, major systemic problems. What's looking likely?

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:23:11] I am, of course, an advocate for a Green New Deal, because I do believe that we can take care of our people, our economy, and the planet simultaneously. I love the idea of a just transition. That's why I was ecstatic about Washington STRONG as an economic solution around what we can do to really reverse the damage to climate change and find a new path. And one of the very first bills we heard was the Clean Fuel Standard consideration - a big deal for neighbors here in the 37th. We have the worst air quality in the entire State of Washington, in no small part because of our proximity to roads and airplanes and airports. A clean fuel standard is about every mode of transportation that we have to take - transit, car, and plane - and what kind of fuel we're using and whether or not it's literally killing the planet and us.

And so to have a conversation about a clean fuel standard and what that means for bringing in more refineries and clean fuels production in-state, so we're also not having to do negotiations over international and state lines for what our fuel sustainability is in-state, really amazing conversations. We also talked about natural gas and that infrastructure of natural gas within buildings and what it is to move to a green building standard as well. And so have voted both of those bills out of committee on the House side. And as you noted, there's some companions on the Senate side, which means we'll probably have a conversation of how to reconcile the solution on that, versus whether it'll happen, which is really important.

And then I also introduced, when it comes to the energy consideration, a bill in partnership with community - 1490, House Bill 1490. And it's really looking at the fact that during this time with COVID-19 moratorium, we've made sure that no matter anyone's ability to pay, we are not disconnecting people's electricity or heat. I grew up - I'm the oldest of four children. I grew up very, very poor, amongst many, many poor neighbors in rural Missouri. And many times over my lifetime as a child, experienced what it was to have our utilities shut off and what it was to try to make it through the day. And certainly, I can appreciate as a parent now - I literally could not do my life if we did not have electricity right now with COVID-19. My children could not go to school. I could not go to work. I could not apply for a job. I could not check on my neighbors and other folks who I can't be next to because I'm social distancing as we keep each other safe. It is literally a lifeline to folks to have these basic needs. And what I love is that Front and Centered, Puget Sound Sage, and others - have formed a statewide coalition talking about - we need to think about energy differently. And is this actually a right that folks have? And what is it to continue to care for our neighbors?

So I'm really excited about this bill. We had a great hearing this year. We're going to continue to refine and make this bill even stronger over interim. I would love to have neighbors as part of that conversation. We'll probably have a couple of community sessions to talk about this issue and how it impacts neighbors here. So a lot of really big questions. And then for the first time this year, what I'm really excited about with the Growth Management Act conversation - the Growth Management Act is a state level act that actually tells us prescriptively - how do we make decisions in concert with our planet and environment when we're building everything from roads, to bridges, to housing infrastructure, to parks and recreation, everything we build and have input on? And for the first time, we have environmental justice as a definition within the Growth Management Act to really get us on that path of community-led - Brown, Black, Indigenous community-led - perspective on what it is to think of a justice frame, a social justice frame, along with our environmental work.

Crystal Fincher: [00:26:57] Well, and that is just so exciting to me. And kind of on the face - to a lot of people may like, "Growth Management Act? What is that?" But as a former land use and planning board member at the municipal level myself, it really is the lens through which you are required to make all decisions. So to be able to have that in policy and institutionalized is major. Going into the session, there were lots of places and people saying Black Lives Matter, but how to turn that into policy, how to show that with your work? And that is certainly a big step towards doing that. So I thank you for just making the process more accessible, for understanding the importance of working along with community, and just for being you - I appreciate that. And allowing so many other people to see themselves in the legislature and to see how it works when they're heard and how to navigate through it.

So no secret, I am a Kirsten Harris-Talley fan. But I do think that you show what is possible when you lead with values and you make an effort to bring everyone along with you. And if we continue to show that that produces winning coalitions and even better policy - and that when we help people, they support policies that help - and you don't have to continue to try and bash people over the head to make them vote for something on the promise that it might help, and maybe we'll deliver a promise, but saying "You had my back. So I will continue to make sure you can pass policy that helps." So I appreciate that and taking the time and just thank you for the time that you spent, and we'll keep an eye on things in the legislature. And of course, put all of the links to what we've discussed in the show notes today.

Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley: [00:28:53] Thank you. Thank you for continuing to keep these dialogues happening and keeping us all connected. I have deep appreciation for you and this entire team and what you all bring with this show. It's one of my favorite political shows. So thank you so much.

Crystal Fincher: [00:29:10] Thank you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type in "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe, to get our Friday almost live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced during the show at and in the podcast episode notes. 

Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.