Eye on Olympia: Chapman sees end in sight

OLYMPIA — Rep. Mike Chapman thinks negotiators likely will reach agreement within two or three weeks of the second special session called by Gov. Jay Inslee last week.

Chapman, one of two House representatives for the 24th Legislative District — which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County — made his comments Friday.

Inslee called the state Legislature back for a second special session just minutes after the first one ended last Tuesday, calling state lawmakers back to finish their work on a two-year budget that must satisfy a state court mandate on education funding.

The second session began minutes after skeleton crews of lawmakers adjourned almost-empty House and Senate chambers.

“Legislators need to start making the hard decisions necessary to amply fund our schools and do so in a way that protects the ability of the state to provide for the most vulnerable among us,” Inslee said at a news conference.

Chapman had said earlier this year that legislators are likely to watch closely for the state’s June revenue forecasts from the Office of Financial Management before making any announcements.

The OFM releases tax revenue forecasts four times a year. In March, OFM forecasted that revenue collections through the middle of 2019 are expected to increase by about $571 million — $258 million more for the current two-year budget ending June 30 and $313 million more than originally forecast for the upcoming 2017-19 budget.

Another optimistic forecast might reduce how much the Legislature needs to raise to support the general budget and fund public education.

On Friday, Chapman said he did not think the revenue forecasts would change that much.

While most of the 147 members were back home in their districts during the first 30-day special session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers met several times a week to negotiate policy surrounding education funding.

Inslee lamented that the first special session produced no budget resolution or an answer to the Supreme Court’s 2010 McCleary decision mandating full funding of public education.

“Late movement has produced too little and moved too slowly,” Inslee said. “We need to finish the final and most difficult job of funding our children’s education.”

He expected to call budget negotiators from both legislative houses to his office for talks.

The governor said that a short-term budget, called a continuing resolution, will not be acceptable if the House and Senate negotiators fail to reach an agreement within 30 days.

Should the two houses fail to reach agreement, the state government will shut down. Inslee said plans are underway for that possibility.

The two houses, said Inslee, need to adopt a “reality-based approach” and “buckle down” for real negotiations. By “reality-based,” Inslee said he means an approach which has some chance of achieving consensus.

In short, the Republican majority in the Senate has proposed a state property tax which would replace local levies. The Democrat-led House has proposed a tax on capital gains.

If not the capital gains tax, which Inslee backed earlier this year, he suggested several other approaches are possible. He said a carbon tax, which he has backed, is “worthy of consideration” and “might be something that comes into play.”

He also floated the idea of an excise tax on high-value real estate sales as a budget revenue device — offering as an example an extra fee on the sale of a $3 million house.

The Senate Republicans’ plan, said Inslee, is unfair because he said it would raise property taxes on about 40 percent of Washington while others might net a decrease.

He said he would be willing to consider some kind of property tax adjustment mechanism that funded education more fairly.

Chapman represents the 24th District along with Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim.

Bills passed, signed

Chapman expressed pleasure as Inslee signed HB 1283, a bill that the local representative sponsored. It passed the House 98-0 and the Senate, 49-0.

HB 1283 will eliminate an administrative burden on county tax treasurers who are currently required to collect anticipated taxes on newly divided properties prior to recording the documents with the county auditor.

Under this bill, the property taxes will be paid when they are due, eliminating the pre-payment of property taxes.

Chapman also attended a signing ceremony with Inslee following the passage of HB 1149, which exempts public transit vehicles equipped with bike racks from the 3-foot vehicle front extension limit.

Tharinger celebrated Inslee’s signature on HB 1520, which is designed to support rural hospitals.

House Bill 1520 allows rural hospitals participating in a pilot program to explore new approaches to health care services. It also gives those hospitals the security they need to return to their current status as critical access hospitals if the pilot program doesn’t work for their community.

“In rural Washington, hospitals are the foundation that health care is built upon,” Tharinger said. “This legislation will maintain payments for Critical Access Hospital essential services, such as emergency and primary care, while they innovate and transition to quality and value rather than strictly volume.”

Olympic Medical Center and Jefferson Healthcare do not participate as they are too large for the program. Forks Community Hospital could not be reached for comment.