EYE ON OLYMPIA: State Senate passes proposal for budget

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — Weeks of 12-to-14-hour days have at last subsided for the North Olympic Peninsula’s state senator as the Senate passed last Friday its version of a complete 2013-2015 state budget proposal.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said in a Saturday interview the Senate adjourned at about 8 p.m. Friday after working through dozens of proposed amendments and passing a final budget 30-18.

“We came up with a budget that there were a lot of compromises in,” said Hargrove, who sat down with fellow Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee to develop the budget.

“We worked really hard to get it out, we got it out, and I’m very pleased.”

Hargrove represents the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County, alongside State Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, both Sequim Democrats.

The focus of the Senate’s roughly $33 billion state budget was funding K-12 education, Hargrove said, as mandated by a state Supreme Court ruling handed down last year, called the McCleary decision.

To answer this funding call, the Senate’s budget allocated about $1 billion to fund state education, including $240 million for the state’s learning assistance program — nearly doubled from the precious biennium budget — designed to help under-achieving students.

The Senate budget, however, called for no new revenue, meaning increases in funding in budget segment had to be made up with reductions in others.

“I still do believe there are some holes in the budget, but having said that, it was probably the most opened and bipartisan process we’ve ever had,” Hargrove said.

While continuing or increasing funding for some social services programs, Hargrove said, others took serious cuts, including a temporary housing program for the poor and disabled that took a $80 million hit from a previous-biennium budget of $140 million.

“[These programs are] not gone, but they won’t work with what’s left,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove said he’ll continue to work to find funding for these programs as the state budget process progresses.

“That’s going to be a real priority for me,” Hargrove said. “At some point in time, I think we’ll have to address a few tax loopholes to make things work.”

The Senate’s budget proposal now moves to the House for debate and vote, but not before budget negotiators there finish work to release the House’s version some time this week.

Rep. Tharinger said the Senate’s version is a good starting point, but the House’s budget will differ in one key way from the Senate’s: State representatives likely will not shy way from new revenue sources secured through the elimination of certain tax incentives, or loop holes.

The House Finance Committee, which Tharinger vice chairs, will be tasked with ferreting out specific incentives, such as those aimed at helping technology companies grow in the state, that might not be needed anymore.

“It seems like a fairly easy choice to close some loopholes that are helping companies that are well- established,” Tharinger said.

“There will be places where revenue is injected in there that the Finance Committee will present based on closing these loopholes.”

Tharinger said a complete House budget will likely be released this Wednesday, get a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee and then move to the floor of the House for debate and vote Friday or Saturday.

Rep. Van De Wege could not be reached for an interview last week.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 07. 2013 6:17PM
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