By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“It's been kind of an interesting Legislature this session. It's been a lot of booze and pot,” said Tharinger, who with fellow Sequim Democrat Van De Wege represents the district that covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
The legislators' stop at the Sequim Library on Wednesday night followed a meeting with constituents in Port Townsend earlier in the day. There, they met with about 90 people, who focused primarily on the state budget.
While struggling to balance a budget, legislators in the present session — which will end April 28 — have been tackling new ways to regulate the marijuana market legalized by voters in November while also looking to replace liquor funding lost for cities when the industry was privatized, Tharinger said.
“We're basically trying to fund the state at 1984 levels,” Tharinger said.
Cuts since 2007
Since 2007, state government has cut $12 billion in spending and is employing 14,000 fewer public employees, Tharinger said.
Van De Wege noted the state Supreme Court's McCleary ruling, which calls on the Legislature to fund basic education by 2018, adding a suggested $1.7 billion annually to school district budgets until then.
The House budget adds nearly $1.3 billion for K-12 education this year to meet the requirements, said Van De Wege. Most of that funding comes from closing tax exemptions and extending business and beer taxes.
“We are about to change public education,” he said.
He listed House proposals to provide $225 million to reduce the sizes of classes from kindergarten through third grade, another
$461 million for basic operation expenses, $144 million for student transportation and $91 million to fund all-day kindergarten.
“That's huge,” Van De Wege said.
“As a parent, I can tell you [children] are just sponges. The more you can put in front of them, the more they'll soak up.”
Both representatives criticized the Senate budget proposal's method of tackling education funding, saying it robs funding from other programs, such as a dedicated tax on phone lines for 9-1-1 emergency service.
The plan, Tharinger said, is “unsustainable” and “bad policy.”
Van De Wege added that the area's timber economy could be used to help add money to education.
Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, who also represents the 24th District, was one of a minority of Democrats who worked to develop the Senate budget.
Sequim Mayor Ken Hays asked the legislators to help restore liquor tax revenue lost by the privatization of the industry in 2011.
He said the city had lost a great deal of revenue and will be strapped with further reductions.
Tharinger said a bill is working its way through the Legislature now to create a “liquor legacy fund” that would restore the 50-50 split of revenues from liquor sales.
Both representatives addressed a failed bill that would have required more background checks for gun buyers.
“I felt it didn't really do a whole lot,” Van De Wege said, explaining that he voted against the bill because it would have created a registry of legal gun owners.
Tharinger supported the bill, he said, because “it is necessary.”
Pearl Rains Hewett pressed the duo to bring more industry to the North Olympic Peninsula, saying Clallam County's economy is suffering from a “failure to thrive” due to regulations from the state departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife.
“They consider everything that happens in Clallam County to be a harm to the environment,” she said.
Van De Wege said drawing manufacturing jobs to the area is “a daily battle.”
Both noted the high median age of people in Sequim, 57.9 years, and the 24th District, saying that helps provide lots of service industry jobs.
“I think one of the things that can employ a lot of people, that you don't really see, is health care,” Van De Wege said.
“Not all of those jobs are great jobs, but that employs a lot of people.”
Tharinger said the high age of the district creates a high demand for government services.
He noted, though, that the area has a lot of wealth, and time that is donated in ways that don't show up in economic statistics.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.