In between a Bremerton Rotary Club appearance and a meeting with the Suquamish Tribe later in the day, Kilmer – who recently began his fourth term in Congress and his first committee chairmanship – sat down for an open-ended interview that ranged in topics from how Congress uses technology, to the affordable housing crisis, to what he called “Toxicity” in the current political discourse, to the President’s emergency declaration to build a southern border wall.
So one of the things we’ve been asked to look at is how Congress uses technology, but specifically things like how do you protect cyber security? We have people who reach out to our office who have issues with the IRS, or with the VA or with immigration or what-have-you. You saw an international negotiation on the Paris Climate Accord, to say let’s have every nation try to do their part to address climate change. What role do you see Congress playing in what many people call a crisis of housing affordability nationwide? My understanding is that HUD funding has been flat.
Speaking of growth and development. We have a development group called the West Sound Group that is taking advantage of Opportunity Zones on the Bremerton waterfront. It provides them a tax credit and they’re developing upscale apartments and a hotel. That was part of the President’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Did you support that legislation, and if not, why not?
We do a bunch of small business outreach because frankly, most of the job growth you see comes from existing business just growing. So we’ve spent a bunch of time here in North Kitsap just meeting with local employers.
The Opportunity Zone provision was a standalone bipartisan bill that I was one of the co-sponsors of. And I’ll talk about the value of that. That I absolutely supported.
The broader tax bill I did not support, in part because I didn’t think it was in the best interests of the folks I represent. Most of the benefits went to the very wealthiest Americans. That’s not really my district – I don’t represent Silicon Valley or Seattle for that matter. I represent a lot of middle class families that unfortunately over the long haul may see their taxes go up as a consequence of that bill.
On top of that, I think we’ve got to get a handle on our long term fiscal challenges as a country – on our debt. And blowing a $1 trillion to $2 trillion hole in the national debt I think is actually a real problem. Again, with the vast bulk of those benefits going to the wealthiest Americans who frankly don’t need a huge tax cut. I think middle class families and Main Street employers could use some help, but that’s not what this bill was about.
The rationale behind the Opportunity Zones program was to say, how do we drive more private investment into areas that are being left behind economically? So that there’s an incentive to invest in communities, so that they’re seeing economic opportunity too?
You look at the district I represent – I don’t represent Seattle. Seattle has been booming to the point that it has a growth problem – it has housing affordability challenges, you sit in traffic every time you’re up there. Most of the district I represent has a jobs challenge, not a growth challenge. I talk to people all over this district and most people say, ‘I don’t want our main export to be young people.’ I want to make sure we’re providing economic opportunity to people here in our community.
As somebody who does work to appropriate money the old fashioned way, so to speak – do you think Congress will stand in the way of that emergency declaration? One, under our system of government there’s a separation of powers where Congress has the power of the purse. The administration has the power to work with Congress to try to make sure their priorities are reflected, but this is a dangerous precedent – to say, ‘Well, I know Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate just negotiated a spending agreement.