Eye on Olympia: Legislative session ends with wins, setbacks for Peninsula legislators

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — The 60-day legislative session that ended last Thursday at midnight produced both triumphs and disappointments for the North Olympic Peninsula’s three elected leaders.

Legislators walked away from the state Capitol with a bipartisan state supplemental budget, and the 24th District’s senator, one of the chamber’s longest-serving members, was in the thick of budget discussions right up until the end.

“[The] number one goal for me was getting it done in 60 days, after six months last year,” said state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, referring to last year’s marathon combination of one regular session and two special sessions that lasted into June.

The $155 million supplemental operating budget passed 85-13 in the state House and 48-1 in the Senate last week, a margin in both chambers Hargrove said is almost unheard of.

“I think the two highest vote totals ever, I think in anybody’s memory,” said Hargrove, who has served in the state Senate for 21 years, preceded by eight years in the House.

Hargrove said he’s satisfied with the $58 million the supplemental budget sets aside for the state’s obligations under the McCleary decision, a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling named for a Chimacum resident that mandates the state fully fund basic education by 2018.

Education down payment

Hargrove added, however, he ideally would have liked to see more money raised toward the estimated $1 billion to $2 billion per biennium the state will have to raise for education, a sentiment echoed by his colleagues in the state House.

“Some of us would have liked to make a little larger down payment on that obligation,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim.

Tharinger and Hargrove, along with Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim serve the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

Van De Wege said Friday he would have liked to see some long-standing state tax exemptions, such as a 90-year-old break for oil companies related to transferring the resource, deleted to help raise more money for education.

The supplemental operating budget did not close any existing tax preferences, Hargrove explained, nor did it create any new ones.

Van De Wege said not funding education enough in the supplemental budget will make next session’s 2015-2017 biennium budget talks all the more challenging.

“Those were some disappointments, and I think it sets us up for next session being extremely difficult,” Van De Wege said.

Reimbursements for OMC

One unanimous high point for the 24th district’s legislators, however, was final passage in both chambers of legislation that will increase Medicaid reimbursements for outpatient services to Olympic Medical Center, or OMC, from 55 percent to 70 percent.

The bill, which designates OMC as a sole community hospital, now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

“We worked with the governor’s office, and they’re supportive of doing it, and I don’t think there will be any problems,” Tharinger said.

Hospitals officials have said this will mean a $1 million annual reimbursement increase for the Port-Angeles-based facility.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the tremendous efforts of our local elected officials who pushed the sole community hospital bill through the legislature,” Eric Lewis, the medical center’s CEO, said in a prepared statement released Friday.

The bill will apply only to OMC and Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen, if the Aberdeen hospital converts to a publicly-run facility.

Other sole community hospitals in the state include facilities in Centralia and Moses Lake.

The 24th district’s three legislators agreed securing more support for OMC was a team effort.

“It took, I think, all of us,” Van De Wege said.

“It was nice for all three of us to coalesce around one big project.”

No supplemental capital budget

In the negative column, all three of the North Olympic Peninsula’s legislators expressed dismay that a supplemental capital budget did not pass this session.

“It’s very, very disappointing,” Van De Wege said.

Hargrove said his Democratic colleagues in the Senate tried to put the supplemental capital budget up for a vote after it passed the House, but the Senate’s mostly Republican majority ultimately rejected the move for a full Senate vote.

“The Republicans in the Senate, for the first time in 20 years, didn’t support a capital budget,” Tharinger said.

Landfill bluff money

In particular, the lack of a supplemental capital budget means $5 million earmarked for the city of Port Angeles for help with its $19.6 million effort to shore up a bluff keeping garbage built up in the city’s shuttered landfill from falling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca will not come this year.

One half of the $5 million would have helped bring down the overall cost of the project to the city, City Manager Dan McKeen explained, while the other half would have allowed the city to shift more garbage than originally planned.

“We are extremely disappointed that the legislature could not pass a supplemental [capital] budget,” McKeen said.

Not affected, however, is $3.9 million in funding assistance the state Department of Ecology has pledged to the city.

“We’ve been very pleased with the effort provided by the Department of Ecology to assist the city,” McKeen said.

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

Last modified: March 16. 2014 7:47PM
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