District 24 legislators: Needs outweigh available funding

OLYMPIA — A better-than-expected state revenue forecast for 2017-21 did little to buoy the hopes of 24th District legislators who will dig into newly unveiled capital, transportation and operating budgets this week.

State Rep. Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat, said he is not optimistic that $5 million will be made available for a Morse Creek curve safety barrier during the legislative session that ends April 28.

“Money is so tight that there’s not a lot of money for new spending,” he said Friday.

State revenue will increase by $307 million for the 2017-19 biennium and $553.5 million for the 2019-21 biennium, according to a report last week from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

The council, a group created under state law to provide lawmakers and the governor with independent quarterly forecasts, announced its predictions Wednesday.

Capturing sales taxes on online sales by out-of-state vendors added $115 million alone to total revenues.

But there are too many needs for the unanticipated revenue to put a dent anywhere but funding in areas such as mental health, health care and especially education, said the Democratic lawmakers who represent District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County.

Draft House capital, transportation and operating budgets for 2019-21 will be rolled out today , Chapman said.

Draft Senate operating and capital spending plans also will debut this week after the House budget, state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege said Friday.

The Sequim resident is a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which develops operating and capital budgets.

“The forecast looks good,” Van De Wege acknowledged.

“That money was already spent, unfortunately,” he said.

“It was essentially already spent on mental health needs, health care and education.

“We are upside down with all the needs we have.”

Chapman was of a similar mindset.

“Every extra dollar is going in for the McCleary fix,” he said of fulfilling the state Supreme Court mandate for full funding of basic education.

He expected to know today if funding is available for the Morse Creek curve improvement on U.S. Highway 101 east of Port Angeles.

There have been 250 crashes including four fatal vehicle crashes on the sweeping, steep “S” curve since 2008.

Seven motorcycle crashes have occurred there since 2014, including the June 18 wreck that killed 19-year-old Brooke Bedinger of Sequim. Her family has been lobbying hard for the safety improvement.

“The fact that I haven’t heard anything doesn’t give me hope,” Chapman said.

“Usually, I would have had a few more questions from the budget team to get more information on the project.

“I’m not expecting it to be in the budget, I’m not hopeful.”

Nor does Chapman expect local school districts to be able to keep timber money generated in their districts or hospitals such as Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles and Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen to receive millions in Medicaid reimbursement “backfill” funds.

“It’s not going to be good news for the 24th,” Chapman said.

State Rep. Steve Tharinger, the Port Townsend resident who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee, said the unexpected revenue “definitely helps meet some of the needs of the state.”

Those will include reimbursement rates for supported living in nursing homes, but other needs are more pressing, he said.

“All the additional revenue we’re seeing to this point is going into our K-12 obligation for McCleary.”

Van De Wege said the Senate is working from a draft 2019-21 general fund budget that is less than Democratic Gov. Jay Inlsee’s proposal.

Inslee’s approximately $54.6 billion spending plan, more than half of which is for K-12 education, is “essentially a framework we work off of,” Van De Wege said Saturday.

“This year, he raises all kinds of taxes that we are never going to raise.

“It puts us in a tough position, because a lot of people like to see state spending, and we are not gong to spend nearly what he spends.

“We will not be able to fund those programs.”


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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