PORT ANGELES — State Rep. Steve Tharinger and John Alger disagreed on funding for public education, taxes and Planned Parenthood during a League of Women Voters of Clallam County forum.
The two Sequim residents are running in the Nov. 8 general election for state representative Position 2 in the 24th Legislative District, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
In 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled the state must adequately fund K-12 education. The ruling became known as the McCleary decision, named for the lead plaintiff, Stephanie McCleary, who is the human resources director for Chimacum Schools.
In 2014, the court held the state in contempt and imposed a $100,000 fine per day, a fine now totaling more than $36 million.
“We need to get this McCleary thing straightened out,” Alger, a Republican, told people at the forum at the Port Angeles Library.
“Because the Constitution says that it is [the] paramount responsibility of the state, that has got to be our No. 1 issue and we’ve got to get that cleared up.”
Said Tharinger, a Democrat: “I think that we still have these challenges around education, but we have been doing some work.”
While both men said funding public schools is a priority, they disagreed on ways to provide the money.
During a call to the public for questions, Jim Stoffer, Sequim School District 2 board member, asked whether the candidates “believe in new taxes” to provide adequate funding for education.
“If so, please describe specific new taxes you support,” he said. “If you don’t support new taxes, please describe specific programs you would cut in order to fully fund education.”
In response, “what I would like to see us do,” Alger said, “is zero-base the budget so that every dollar has to be justified and we don’t have extra dollars running.”
Additionally, “levy equalization, where all property taxes are leveled across the state, can provide” the extra funding necessary, he said, with “no new taxes.”
Said Tharinger: “When you talk about zero-based budgeting, that zeroes out all the programs and then you rebuild them all. I think that is contrary to what he is saying about maintaining basic services and actually is a budget exercise that I think is not that helpful.”
The working number to “establish parity and equity and strengthen our school system as our paramount duty is about $3.2 billion,” Tharinger said.
That is “roughly 10 percent additional dollars into our budget,” Tharinger said.
“I don’t think it is realistic to think that you are going to get that by cutting other programs. If your view is just no new taxes, no additional revenue, I don’t think that is helpful. We are going to have to look at additional revenue.”
Contradicting his earlier statement, Alger said, “we might have to look at an increase tax, and it would be most equitable to use the property tax system because it is a state constitutional mandate. Let’s just bump that property tax across the entire state.”
Marilyn Harbaugh of Port Angeles later asked where the two “stand on the state getting involved in restricting women’s health access.”
In response, Alger said, “I am not in favor of” providing funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that receives government funding, largely federal but also including state Medicaid reimbursements, as well as private contributions and operating revenue. It provides family planning services and offers abortion, which generally is not covered by federal funds.
Tharinger said, “I support Planned Parenthood. I support the full array of services that they provide.
“I think it is just a fundamental need that they meet when other agencies don’t. I think it is important for us to make sure we have strong family clinics with access to women’s health care.”
Alger replied, “Women’s health care is key, but I don’t want it to become a euphemism exclusively for abortion because I am not an abortion supporter, but it seems to me that is what we hear oftentimes. Women’s health issues or women’s health care equates to abortion. That is why I draw that line.”
Planned Parenthood provides “a broad array of women’s health care services,” Tharinger said.
“I think abortions are a part of that service, but it is such a small part of that service.”
Video of the debate forum will be posted online at www.lwvcla.org.
Another forum is planned this Tuesday. It will be from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the county commissioners’ meeting room (Room 160) at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.
The forum will feature candidates for District 2 county commissioner and for Superior Court judge.
Commissioner candidates are Randy Johnson of Port Angeles, who filed with no party preference, and Ron Richards, a Port Angeles Democrat.
Candidates for Superior Court judge Position 2 are Brian Coughenour, who was appointed to the post in 2015, and Dave Neupert, a District Court judge pro tem who retired from Platt Irwin Law Firm in December, both of Port Angeles.
The League of Women Voters also plans forums planned Oct. 12 and Oct. 17.
The league has posted on its website a Port Angeles Business Association debate between Democrat Mike Chapman of Port Angeles and Republican George Vrable of Port Ludlow, who are running in the general election for the state representative Position 1 seat. Vrable has declined to attend a league-sponsored forum.
Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.