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Van De Wege discusses 2009 session

Funding for education, budget cuts, the Growth Management Act and upcoming water laws toped the list of topics discussed at Washington state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege's town hall meeting Dec. 9 in Sequim.

About a dozen Sequim residents prodded the representative for his perspective on the issues as well as hints to what may come out of the 2009-2010 biennial state budget.

Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said balancing the budget, which currently is paying out more than it has coming in, will be one of the top priorities in next year's long session.

"There is a solid belief that (the budget shortfall) could be $6 billion by the next official forecast on March 18 ... and there is no doubt in my mind that there will be entire state agencies and programs that will go away next year," said Van De Wege.

"Now these are forecasts, so we will monitor these as well as the real numbers as they come in to make the best decisions we can. These will be difficult decisions. But in an economic crisis like this, we must bring spending back to within our means."

He said there are certain programs the state cannot do away with, such as basic education or funding to pay back bonds. There are also activities the state will not cut even though it has the ability to, such as jail services, Van De Wege added.

"When you add up what we need to fund, it still makes up a huge portion of the budget we already have," he said. "So we're looking at everything else very carefully."

Van De Wege said the Puget Sound Partnership, a recently formed state agency dedicated to coordinating cleanup efforts and mitigating policy in and around the Puget Sound, could be one of the agencies to go away.

Funding toward higher education may experience large cuts as well.

"It's disheartening to think (high school) graduates will not have as many opportunities in community or tech schools as others have had in recent years," he said.

The Legislature learned from the state's two prior economic crises, he said. In 1930, lawmakers focused many of their cuts in education, which had long-lasting effects Van De Wege said he and other state legislators hope to avoid. Similarly, in 1980 the Legislature cut preventive funding, which resulted in a large rise in crime rates.

Some projects he hopes to expedite are the U.S. Highway 101 widening project, working out the state ferries issues and creating capital projects throughout the district.



Education

Several Sequim School District representatives pressured Van De Wege to be a voice for rural districts that they say will feel any cuts to education funding the most.

"The Joint Taskforce on Basic Education Finance will be releasing recommendations on how basic education should be defined and this could really affect how you cut education funding because you are required to fund basic education," said Sequim School District board president Sarah Bedinger.

"When you cut funding, we're forced to go out locally and ask residents to fund services basically a second time, which really makes it a hard sell."

School District superinten-dent Bill Bentley was joined by other board members in asking for the continuance of I-728 funding and requesting that some mandates be relaxed if funding is cut.

"I think we need to protect schools that are in Sequim's position and I am sure we can come up with some proposal that would weigh cuts if I-728 money is in fact put on the chopping block," Van De Wege said, indicating the Washington Assessment of Student Learning may be up for discussion.

"People who believed in the test didn't want it to go away and put more money into it. But popularity has dwindled, I'm not a fan, and in this economic climate, maybe WASL cuts are on the horizon."

Van De Wege said the specifics would be worked out in the Legislature and that he was expressing his stance as the area's representative.



Legislation

Van De Wege said he will propose a vegetation management bill to give utilities the ability to better control vegetation growing along power lines in hopes of curbing major power outages.

Another bill he plans on proposing would provide some tax incentives for renewable energy efforts. The incentives would be designed to replace others due to sunset next year.

"I plan on pursuing a homestead exemption close to the same proposal as before but with increased support," Van De Wege said. "There will be more to come. We have all the way until the end of February to file legislation."









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