By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Peninsula Daily News
OLYMPIA — The State House’s version of a proposed 2013-2015 biennium state budget passed more or less along party lines last week, something that came as no surprise to the North Olympic Peninsula’s two representatives.
“That’s pretty understandable at this stage of the game,” said State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim. “We didn’t expect many Republican votes.”
The proposed $34.5 billion biennium budget passed 53-43 in the House on Friday evening, Tharinger said, after about 25 amendments were debated and three minor ones enacted.
Tharinger, State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, also of Sequim, and State Sen. Jim Hargrove represent the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.
The House proposal points $1.3 billion at K-12 education in order to meet a State Supreme Court requirement to adequately fund state education and pays for it mostly through eliminating or lowering 15 tax exemptions and renewing some taxes, set to expire this year.
“We’re not creating any new taxes,” Van De Wege said in a Friday interview. “We’re just closing some exemptions and extending some taxes.”
In a Saturday interview, Tharinger said the exemptions the House proposal repeals include preferential business and operation tax rates for tour guides and insurance agents, the latter of which the House proposal estimates will generate $46.1 million over the 2013-2015 biennium.
The proposed budget also reinstates an estate tax for married couples whose homes are worth more than $4 million, Tharinger said, when currently only single people with homes worth that much pay the estate tax.
“Right now, you could say the law discriminates against single people because they would have to pay that,” Tharinger said.
The House budget proposal estimates the estate tax change will generate $160.3 million for the state over the next two years.
Van De Wege said he was particularly pleased to see enough funding go toward mental illness, with $31.3 million aimed at improving the state’s mental health system.
“Mental illness is something we need to make so many inroads with, so it’s good to see investment there,” Van De Wege said.
Additionally, Van De Wege said the money aimed at education, including $225.4 million to reduce K-3 class sizes and
$91.5 million for all-day kindergarten, will go a long way toward preparing Washington’s children for the future.
“[The education funding] will make our children better able to compete in the world,” Van De Wege said. “I think we’re giving our kids those tools with those investments.”
Sen. Hargrove did not give many specific comments on the House’s proposed budget, only saying that he’s looking ahead to next week and the collective budget discussions among senators and representatives from both parties and Gov. Jay Inslee.
“I’m just interested in sitting down and working out the differences and fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities,” said Hargrove, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee, “and going home in a reasonable amount of time.
“I’m in a pretty good position to kind of nudge those things along.”
In a Friday interview, Hargrove said his past week in the Legislature involved hearing and reviewing proposed legislation necessary for the Senate’s proposed budget plan to become a reality, such as a bill that would allow the state Department of Corrections to “rent” county jail beds for an inmate sentenced to a prison term but given credit for time served.
Currently, if someone is convicted of a crime and sentenced to a year or more in prison, that person is automatically sent into the state corrections system, Hargrove explained.
But if that inmate gets credit for time served in a county jail, served while waiting for the trial to begin, for example, that inmate could end up only serving a few months in a state prison, unnecessarily using already-stretched prison resources, Hargrove said.
The bill, which passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee last week, would require the state Department of Corrections to contract with local jails for certain low-risk offenders who are entering the last 12 months of their prison term.
“It keeps us from having to open some new prison units for a couple of years,” Hargrove said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.