By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND — The 24th District House delegation was asked about two-boat ferry service, plans for Fort Worden and the state budget process during a special town hall meeting with about 90 people earlier this week.
The one-hour session was at the Port Townsend Community Center on Wednesday.
“Over the past few years” since 2007, “we have cut over $12 million from the state budget and reduced the state workforce by 14,000 people,” said state Rep. Steve Tharinger, who appeared with fellow Sequim Democrat Rep. Kevin Van De Wege.
“This has taken place while the population has grown and has also aged, so we need more services, but we are still trying to fund the state at 1984 levels.”
Tharinger and Van De Wege represent a district that covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
The two representatives made the trip during a break in the legislative budget process and planned the meeting, which was followed later in the day with a similar meeting in Sequim, a situation that displeased Gene Farr of Port Townsend.
“I am going to take the role of the adult in the room and say that giving us 24 hours' notice for this meeting is grossly unacceptable,” Farr said.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves. When you do it this way, people get the impression this is a 'check the box' meeting and you really don't want any feedback.”
When Tharinger pointed out that many people attended, Farr responded, “There would have been a whole lot more if you had advertised.”
The Sequim gathering drew about 75 people.
Port Townsend City Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval, who is a former mayor, urged that the Legislature maintain two-boat ferry service between Port Townsend and Coupeville, which is offered from May 12 through the summer — and continue to view state Highway 20, which leads to the ferry terminal, as an important part of the highway system.
“There isn't a lot of new money that can go into transportation, but I do think we will be able to maintain the status quo,” Van De Wege said.
“The service that we have now should remain.”
Said Tharinger: “The current budget does include two-boat service, but maintaining this level is an ongoing challenge.
“Increased funding for transportation usually got pretty good support until the need to fund education added $1 billion we need to find.
“Until that gets sorted out, it is hard for anyone to focus on the transportation piece.”
Tharinger said two-boat service in the summer most likely would remain, though some of the later evening sailings could be cut.
Van De Wege said he is confident that an amendment to a State Parks funding bill that would require legislative approval for any agreement between the State Parks system and private entities would be removed.
That would clear the way for the Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority to jointly manage Fort Worden State Park with the parks system.
“I think we'll be able to get that out,” Van De Wege said.
“We've been talking to Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who put in the language, and he just has real concerns about giving away parks and the management of parks.
“We are in the process of explaining that the PDA is a way of saving that park,” Van De Wege said.
The plan is for the PDA to manage an educational campus while the state oversees state park functions.
Tharinger said budget difficulties were exacerbated by the state Supreme Court's McCleary ruling that mandates the state fund basic education by 2018.
He suggested that closing tax loopholes was a way to accomplish this.
“One of the loopholes we can close has to do with giving high-tech development exemptions to companies like Google and Amazon,” he said.
“I think it's smart to close this exemption as a way to fund education and use it to fund math and science programs. The lack of people with adequate math and science training is one of the things that are holding our economy back.”
Van De Wege said one area that will be funded is support for community colleges, which should benefit plans to fund the renovation of Building 202, expected to be finished in 2014, for Peninsula College and Goddard College on the Fort Worden campus.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.