Local legislators plan to focus on the economy, transportation and education this year, with the 2014 legislative session starting Jan. 15.
Members of the Coastal Caucus — state senators and representatives from Districts 19 and 24 — addressed about 150 constituents in the Rotary Log Pavilion as part of Greater Grays Harbor’s Legislative Send-off Tuesday. Former House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler introduced the lawmakers, all of whom are Democrats, explaining the difficulties of working at the Capitol during the current political climate.
“No matter whether you agree or don’t agree, they’re doing the best they can,” Kessler said.
Veteran senator Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam had an especially difficult 2013 session as a member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee, trying to pass a budget through a Democrat-dominated House and a Republican-dominated Senate.
While the Senate technically had a Democratic majority, Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, crossed party lines and joined the Majority Coalition Caucus, composed mainly of Republicans.
“I feel like I’ve worked hard my entire career,” Hargrove said. “But it all pales in comparison to getting the budget done. It was six months of 12-hour days.”
The veteran senator said he’s optimistic about the coming session, given that revenues are increasing and Boeing will likely continue operating in Washington, thanks to a vote by union members to approve their contracts.
“The best Christmas present I had was that the Machinists approved their contracts,” Hargrove said.
Sen. Brian Hatfield of Raymond said he would like to see transportation funding directed at the Aberdeen area, referencing the backups caused by trains near the Olympic Gateway Mall. However, he said the Senate is unlikely to pass such a measure with the Majority Coalition Caucus in control.
“I’m very skeptical that we can get a (transportation) revenue package through,” Hatfield said, referencing a group of Republicans who won’t vote for increasing revenue under any circumstances.
“Despite what they say, the Majority Coalition Caucus is not bipartisan,” he added.
Rep. Dean Takko of Longview said he likely wouldn’t vote for many proposed transportation projects, as they’re largely located near the Puget Sound or in Eastern Washington.
Hatfield, a member of the Ways & Means Committee, also said he hopes to set aside more funding for K-12 education — specifically teacher salaries — and funding for rural drug task forces.
Rep. Steve Tharinger of Sequim said his goal is to help secure funding for some of these projects through the House Finance Committee by closing tax exemptions for large, well-established companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon.
“We have a lot of places where we can invest that money besides Boeing, besides Microsoft,” Tharinger said.
His cohort, Rep. Brian Blake of Aberdeen echoed these sentiments, saying he hopes to find a way to invest in local jobs — especially family-wage manufacturing jobs.
All of the legislators agreed on one thing: the 2014 session will likely be centered on preparing for coming years and future challenges.
“I think the Majority Coalition Caucus and the Great Recession have brought us into a place where we’re looking more into the future,” said Sequim Rep. Kevin Van De Wege.