Peninsula legislators set sights on goals

Morse Creek safety, health care, daylight saving time among issues

OLYMPIA — State Rep. Mike Chapman began drafting a budget request to fund Morse Creek curve safety improvements last week as the legislative session began its 105-day term.

The Jan. 14 to April 28 session will be dominated by dollar signs.

With Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2019-21 operating budget of approximately $54.6 billion awaiting legislative ministrations, the 24th District Port Angeles Democrat joined his district colleagues in welcoming new lawmakers to the Capitol campus and brewing new funding requests and legislation.

The 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and the northern half of Grays Harbor County, is represented by a North Olympic Peninsula Democratic Party trifecta of Chapman, Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, both state legislative veterans.

For their parts, in interviews Thursday and Friday, Tharinger touted legislation to create long-term health services accounts while Van De Wege teamed up with a Republican on a bill to adopt daylight saving time year-round — and rained skepticism on Inslee’s spending plan.

On Chapman’s plate is a budget proviso, which he pledged to submit while in Port Angeles on Jan. 8, that would fund a landscaped safety median on U.S. Highway 101 at the Morse Creek S-curve dip east of Port Angeles.

It’s where four fatal vehicle crashes and seven motorcycle crashes have occurred since 2008, including the June 21 death of 19-year-old motorcyclist Brooke Bedinger of Sequim, whose mother, Kim, and other community members have been key to prompting action.

Chapman is a second-term legislator and former Clallam County commissioner newly named to the Rules Committee, the newly named deputy whip for the majority Democrats and already a member of the Transportation Committee that will consider his proposal.

He met with Transportation Committee leaders last week and expects to formally submit the spending request by Feb. 8.

It might help that the chair is Jake Fey, a Tacoma-area 27th District Democrat who knows the winding curve well because he is a former Port Angeles resident and a Port Angeles High School graduate.

“He’s very familiar with the project,” Chapman said.

Chapman estimates the median divider would cost $5 million.

Chapman also introduced HB 1348 to lower the manufacturing tax rate to spur economic growth. The bill has been referred to the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, of which he’s a member.

“There’s very strong support already to help manufacturers in small, rural communities,” Chapman said.

Tharinger, starting his fifth two-year term, continues to chair the powerful Capital Budget Committee and serves on the Appropriations and the Health Care and Wellness committees.

Concentrating on health care in an interview Friday, Tharinger, also a former Clallam County commissioner, heard a bill in his first week that helps residents establish funds for long-term care services.

Geared toward taxpayers roughly 35 to 55 years old, it would allow them to build an account to pay for those services, Tharinger said.

It could pay for a family caregiver, travel or body care.

“It’s like a state-run Social Security program for long-term care services,” Tharinger said.

“If someone paid into the account, they could pay a family member for that care.”

Tharinger said the House has yet to dig into Inslee’s budget proposal, which has about $4 billion more than projected revenue.

The budget increases by 14 percent while state revenue is expected to increase by about 9 percent, Tharinger said.

“That 5 percent delta is the challenge,” he said.

Costs are built into the spending plan for education, as required under the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling; health care for education workers, and maintaining salaries for state employees.

Tharinger said revenue-generating options include establishing a capital gains excise tax on financial transactions and imposing a graduated real estate excise tax.

“Our options are cutting current services and not meeting our obligations, or looking at revenue,” he said.

“There are some concerns that the revenue pipeline will not be as robust, and that’s also kind of a challenge.”

Van De Wege, chair of the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources and Parks Committee, also serves on the key Ways and Means Committee and the Health and Long Term Care Committee.

The Sequim firefighter, a former five-term state representative, teamed up with Sunnyside Republican Sen. Jim Honeyford, and Democratic Sen. Sam Hunt of Olympia on SB 5139 and SB 5140. Honeyford is the prime sponsor.

Congress would have to first amend the Uniform Time Act to allow states the option of establishing year-round daylight saving time. California voters approved making the shift in the Nov. 6 election.

The switch would cause a longer dark period in the mornings in the winter, and sunlight would last longer in the evening.

“I have a little concern about it getting lighter later in the winter,” Van De Wege said, citing worries about children having to wait in the dark for morning school buses.

“Staying light longer is probably the biggest thing I hear about, and people like that.”

Van De Wege and other senators on the Ways and Means Committee “are digesting what the governor proposed in his budget,” he said.

“We’re working out those initial formulation stages.”

Van De Wege wasn’t confident about lawmakers raising $4 billion in revenue.

“We’re not going to do that,” Van De Wege said, still lauding Inslee for providing a starting point.

“It helps to establish a framework, I’ll give him that.”

Inslee’s budget would fund more mental health services, Van De Wege said.

“I think there may be proposals around revenue to fund mental health that I would be able to support,” he said.

“What those are, I’m not ready to say yet.

“I’m just not ready to talk about revenue at this point.”

Van De Wege said he still does not support establishing a state income tax.

“There are different funds, and different proposals, and they don’t really get nailed down until the end of April, until they finalize all those budgets,” he said.


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