U.S. congressman Adam Smith, the representative for Mercer Island, visited the Mercer Island VFW Hall on Monday, June 24, for a question-and-answer session.
Smith gave the audience of around 30 a run-down of the current situation in Washington, D.C., including what Congress has been working on.
Frank Sorba, the commander of VFW Post 5760, said members expressed their gratitude for Smith taking the time to visit and talk.
“We are grateful that he took the time to speak with us, and it may have been a good start to getting a better understanding from our Congressional representative,” said Sorba.
Smith explained that the sequestration cut 10 percent across the board, and that the military has been a big part of those cuts because it accounts for so much of the country’s spending. Those cuts are now translating to furloughs and layoffs for military personnel and less training.
On immigration, Smith said Congress is working on a broad bill that would increase security, help create a pathway for undocumented workers to become legal citizens, and to create a better system for legal immigration. Since Smith’s visit, the bill was passed by the U.S. Senate, and was heading for discussion in the House of Representatives.
“We need a better immigration system,” he said, explaining that the system is far too complicated and takes too long for companies wishing to bring employees in from other places.
On the issue of tolling, Smith said it’s not going to happen this year, but that in the future the conversation will continue because the revenue for roads and transportation is simply not there.
“The gas tax is a set amount and the revenue from it has gone down as people use less gas,” he said. “Because there is less revenue, it’s likely tolling will have to be part of the conversation.”
Smith said the one problematic part of the I-90 tolling situation is that the money from tolling would go to pay for a different road, instead of the one where the money is being collected.
Mercer Island City Council member Mike Cero attended the meeting and thanked Smith for his letter asking the state for a study on tolling.
“It’s a bad policy for the nation, and we appreciate your support,” he said.
Smith said the state will ultimately decide what to do, but because the tolls are being considered on a federal highway, the Federal Highway Administration will be asked to approve or deny the plan. He added that there is precedent for the state’s getting permission from the FHA.
“There is not precedence for using money to pay for another road,” said Smith.
A member of the audience asked if the FHA would make their recommendation prior to the state’s decision, which would help save the state and the City of Mercer Island money on various studies. Smith didn’t believe they would, but understood it would help save money in the long run if they did.
Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, when asked about the situation in Syria, said it concerned him and that there was no easy solution.
“Syria is a huge problem, and the Middle East is exploding into more dysfunction than usual,” he said. “I do not believe the U.S. should be involved. We’ll still have a bloody civil war. It’s a terrible situation. Some problems just don’t have solutions.”
Smith also answered questions concerning Congress’ ability to work together and to help eliminate and lower waste, starting a discussion that would have lasted much longer than the time available.
“With regard to the federal budget sequestration, waste and fraud in the government, his answers left many of us frustrated, as he clearly stated there is no meaningful resolution being discussed to the current sequestration of the budget,” Sorba said. “The gridlock in Washington, D.C., continues and we believe America’s best interests are not being well served by this behavior on the part of all of our elected officials.”