By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said the Senate is expecting to hold a press conference today during which a Senate bipartisan budget will be presented.
Hargrove, the ranking Democrat on the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he has spent most of days since the 2014 legislative session began working with Senate Republican leaders on a proposed supplemental budget.
“Which of course has taken 12 to 14 hours every day for me,” Hargrove said Friday.
Hargrove said he could not speak much about the Senate proposal before it’s officially released, but said it mostly contains adjustments for spending changes not expected in the larger 2013-2015 biennium budget passed last year after a marathon legislative session.
Examples of such increases in the Senate’s proposal include more money to refill the state’s forest fire accounts, which were depleted by an active fire season last year, Hargrove said.
Once the proposal is released, Hargrove said he does not expect his work load to lighten in the coming week.
“Most of my effort will be kind of herding cats, to make sure that the people who have issues with this, that or the other thing in the budget will have their questions answered,” Hargrove said.
Gov. Jay Inslee released his 2014 supplemental budget proposal, with $200 million in new spending, in December, according to a Jan. 28 Tacoma News Tribune article.
Hargrove, along with State Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, both Sequim Democrats, represent the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.
In a Friday interview, Tharinger, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee and sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said his chamber is expected to release its own supplemental budget proposal Wednesday or Thursday.
Tharinger said he has not been as immersed in developing the House proposal as Hargrove with the Senate’s, though he expects there to be some additional money for mental health programs to coincide with a bill trying to coordinate mental, physical and chemical dependency care.
“As we look toward this coordination, I think we need to put some dollars to community-based aspects of care,” Tharinger said.
In other 24th district news, a Senate bill cosponsored by Hargrove that increases the amount certain rural hospitals, including Olympic Medical Center, get reimbursed from Medicaid for outpatient payments passed the Senate on Feb. 17 in a 47 to 1 vote.
“Senator Hargrove has done really great work, and we really appreciate him getting it through the Senate,” Olympic Medical Center CEO Eric Lewis said Friday.
The bill would raise outpatient Medicaid reimbursement rates for those hospitals from 55 percent to about 70 percent, Lewis explained, which would mean a $1 million annual reimbursement increase for the center.
Lewis said Forks Community Hospital and Jefferson Healthcare are defined as critical access hospitals and get 101 percent of outpatient costs reimbursed through Medicaid, a state-run program for low-income people with half funded by the state and half funded by the federal government.
The bill now makes it way through the House, where Tharinger and Rep. Van De Wege have said they plan to help the proposed legislation make its way through.
“I think [Tharinger] and I will definitely work on the issue,” Van De Wege said.
“[The bill] seems like it’s in a pretty good form.”
Lewis said Tharinger worked to get Olympic Medical Center $100,000 per year for Medicaid outpatient reimbursement in the 2013-2015 budget after a house bill increasing the rate failed to gain traction last year.
“We couldn’t get the bill passed; that was meant to be an interim thing,” Lewis said.
“What we want is a multi-year fix to this issue.”
Tharinger said he’s hopeful the Senate bill will survive in some form in the House.
“I think we’ll be able to address those reimbursement rates for those hospitals,” Tharinger said.
“I think we’ll get a solution, I’m just not exactly sure what that will be.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.