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Tharinger, Van De Wege recall long, tough session
It was a long session — an extra, extra long session — but in the end, the Washington Legislature managed to create a balanced budget.
In fact, for the first time in years, there was some good news.
That’s the word from 24th Legislative District representatives Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, who together provided a wrap-up of the 2013 legislative session to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The two appeared before a packed house at Sunland on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Tharinger said it wasn’t easy — they were faced with a $4 billion gap in a budget of about $32 billion.
Tharinger, a Democrat, said “political machinations” in the Senate didn’t help either, as two Democrats joined forces with the Republicans to create a Republican-led Senate for the first time in a decade.
Republican senators, he said with a smile, had “some pent-up … concerns.”
“It was a real challenge politically.”
The Democrat-led house brought some ideas to the table, including closing tax loopholes and cutting exemptions. That included doing away with tax breaks for some very big companies, including Google and Microsoft. Tharinger said the breaks were intended to lend a hand to small companies, but at this point, “taxpayers don’t need to subsidize them.”
He said he considers many exemptions and loopholes “a cost to the state.”
In the end, though, the Senate wouldn’t agree.
Fortunately, the Legislature also got some good news, Tharinger said, including the first positive revenue estimates “since I’ve been in the Legislature.”
He was first elected in 2010.
Stretching it out
The Legislature couldn’t come up with a budget by the end of the 105-day regular session. A first special session also proved fruitless. But driven by the possibility of a shut down of state government, during the second special session the legislators found common ground.
Perhaps most importantly, Tharinger said, the budget provides the additional funding for K-12 education required by the state Supreme Court through its “McCleary Decision” while not making further cuts in support of higher education.
The McCleary decision resulted from a suit filed by Chimacum resident Stephanie McCleary who said the state failed to meet the constitutional requirement to amply provide for the education of the children.
Tharinger admitted the operating budget doesn’t represent a perfect solution. “It swept funds from the capital budget,” he said. “That’s not a good long-term strategy.”
More on education
Van De Wege also was pleased the Legislature was able to find funding to better support K-12 education. He said he’s particularly excited that money was found for some all-day kindergarten programs and to help keep K-3 classes small.
The work isn’t done yet, he said. Through the McCleary Decision the Supreme Court is requiring increased funding for K-12 education for six years.
“Over the next six years you’ll hear a lot about the McCleary Decision,” he said.
Like Tharinger, Van De Wege was pleased to note the state found additional funding for the state’s colleges and universities, including the community colleges.
He said before the recent economic downturn students paid approximately one-third of tuition costs, with the state picking up the balance. Students now pick up two-thirds of the cost.
“We’ll never get it turned back,” he said, but added the Legislature is hoping to lend students a bigger hand.
He also said he was pleased the Legislature found $50 million to put in the College Bound Scholarship Program, which provides money for low-income students who in middle school and high school meet certain academic standards.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.