State Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend joined state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, left, and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, right, to review the 2019 legislative session Tuesday at a breakfast meeting. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

State Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend joined state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, left, and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, right, to review the 2019 legislative session Tuesday at a breakfast meeting. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Legislators tell of reduced college tuition program

Olympic Peninsula lawmakers review past session

PORT ANGELES — A need-based, free or reduced college-tuition program funded by a surcharge on high-skill businesses was lauded Tuesday at a Port Angeles Business Association meeting by three 24th District state legislators who voted for it.

State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend — all Democrats — highlighted the new Workforce Education Investment Act during an hourlong rundown of the 2019 legislative session that adjourned April 28 at the PABA’s breakfast meeting.

Peninsula College President Luke Robins said after the meeting that college officials will be getting the word out about the Washington College Grant program at information meetings this summer.

It replaces the State Need Grant program, which Robins said has fallen short of funding all students who qualify for assistance.

The surcharge is expected to raise over $1 billion over four years for grants to low- and middle income students.

Some revenue-generating measures failed during the legislative session, such as a capital gains tax and a tax on home and auto insurance to fund state Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to fight wildfires, the lawmakers said.

“This year, it’s looking like it’s going to be a pretty bad fire year in Western Washington,” Van De Wege said.

But HB 2158, the higher education grant program, was a highlight, they said.

“This is an example of making investments and getting out ahead of the need,” said Tharinger, a cosponsor of the legislation.

“Those of you in business know there’s a huge gap in the technical, skilled-trade workforce.

“We are making the investment up front for the schools to create this opportunity.”

Low- and middle-income state residents will grant maximum awards of $4,108 at two-year colleges such as Peninsula College beginning in September, according to the Washington Student Achievement Council, a state agency (www.wsac.wa.gov).

It begins in the 2019-20 school year for public higher education institutions, covering one-third of students — 6,000 students statewide — not covered by the Need Grant program.

The program goes into full effect and becomes a guarantee in the 2020-21 school year, guaranteeing full tuition to students who qualify if they earn a percentage of median family income.

There were 200 students at Peninsula College this year who qualified for the state Need Grant who could not receive the aid, Robins said.

“It was never fully funded, so whoever got there first with a need got funded,” he said.

“When the money is gone, it’s gone.”

In 2019, a family of four can make up to $64,000 annually to qualify for some grant support.

In 2020, a family of four can make up to $92,000 to qualify for some grant support.

A single person can make up to $33,500 in 2019 and $47,500 in 2020 to qualify for some support.

A family of four with a median family income of up to $51,000 will get full tuition.

Big technology companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook will cover the bulk of the cost of the program, Chapman said.

Amazon endorsed the bill.

“We have a long history of supporting local education,” the company said in a statement.

“We welcomed the constructive dialogue on H.B. 2158 and are supportive of the outcome that delivers increased funding for higher education in Washington State.”

Microsoft also supported the bill.

“We’re proud to have supported HB 2158 because it will help recession-proof higher education in our state and expand access, especially for those from low and middle income families, to the broad range of post-secondary education opportunities that kids in our state will need to succeed in the future,” the company said in a statement to GeekWire.

It will be funded by a Workforce Education Investment Surcharge imposed on selected businesses based on a percentage of their business and occupation taxes.

Businesses affected include legal services, architecture and engineering services, medical services and software publishing companies.

The highest surcharge is imposed on advanced computing businesses with a worldwide gross revenue of more than $100 billion, according to the Senate report on the bill (tinyurl.com/PDN-2158Report).

“The surcharge is 66.66 percent of the total amount of taxes payable by the business on activities that are taxed under the business and occupation tax rate for services,” according to the report.

“At the end of the day, I was wiling to say, for our kids, we are going to put them first if it means it’s Microsoft and Amazon who will predominantly pay” for the program, Chapman said.

Appropriations from the account for 2019-21 include closing the Need Grant wait list, $60.8 million for increasing nurse educator salaries and $14.4 million for completion of the Washington State University medical school.

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

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