Chapman, Forde talk East Aberdeen rail separation, environment and economic growth

As incumbent District 24 State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and his challenger Sue Forde, a Republican from Sequim, campaign ahead of the November general election, both spoke with the Daily World about some of their plans for the upcoming 2021 legislative session.

State Budget

Facing a state revenue shortfall in the billions, Forde said she doesn’t favor a “one-size fits all solution” solution with “across the board cuts.” Chapman said the recent turnaround in the state’s economy will allow the Legislature to “cover the current budget” without any cuts.

Across the board cuts would “hurt some agencies and programs that are necessary,” said Forde, adding, “This is an excellent time to review all state agencies for overlap, waste and (possible) streamlining.” She favors a “zero-based budget, where each agency needs to start at ground zero with their budgets,” a process that could take years but would force each agency to take a hard look at their priorities.

Chapman believes the state’s rainy day fund could be used to make up for revenue shortfalls in the current budget cycle, which runs through June 30, 2021. In the next biennium, expecting the economy to pick up with recovery from COVID-19 setbacks, he believes a budget can be drafted that makes a little more use of the rainy day fund so programs won’t have to be cut.

“My position is not interested in increased funding or increased revenue,” said Chapman. “We have to live within our means and let the economy, especially in rural economies, rebound.”

School funding

Chapman said he voted against a property tax increase as the main mechanism to fund schools, and did so “because I was concerned it would leave rural school districts behind. Urban school districts are property rich. Rural districts are property poor but natural resources rich, mostly in fisheries, timber and aquaculture. What I’ve continued to advocate for is when a district has a timber harvest in that school district it should get the lion’s share of the revenue.”

He said he’s also looked at giving districts flexibility in local levies, “but the problem there is it’s another property tax. I think revenue generated from natural resources needs to be directed straight to schools within the district, that’s one way to get away from property taxes.”

“Smaller districts always seem to get left behind while the I-5 corridor funding is great. It’s not a fair way to do it,” said Forde. “I really think it’s time for a different path in education.”

She said the people in the district she’s spoken to are frustrated with the state of education and she recommends a “school choice” proposal, “where the money follows the child and gives parents the responsibility for choosing what schooling is best for the child. That would open up some competition and also reduce costs.”

She’s talking about school funding following students to private and religious schools and for homeschooling, “whatever works for the individual child. I think that would raise the level of education standards and bring down the cost to taxpayers.”

Pandemic response

Both candidates believe a special session of the Legislature should have been called and take offense with the terms “essential” and “non-essential” workers.

“I was one calling early on for a special session and was very disappointed the governor refused to call one, in essence rendering the Legislature non-essential workers,” said Chapman. “I was also frustrated that initially he determined so many of our small businesses, especially in rural districts like ours, as non-essential. I said all along, if a small business owner is the primary bread winner for the family, that’s pretty damn essential.”

Forde said a temporary safety shutdown early in the pandemic was appropriate, “but then a little time went by and the governor started to shut down small businesses in particular, picking winners and losers. It’s just heartbreaking to see what’s happened with small businesses. Economically, it’s been a disaster, and socially too I think it’s been a disaster.”

Chapman said once it was found that the virus was airborne and masking was the key to preventing its spread, small businesses should have been able to open right along with the big box stores deemed essential by the governor and allowed to continue to operate from the start. “We shut down too hard and opened too slowly once we realized what the key was.”

“The governor is acting like a dictator,” said Forde. She said there are proposals to limit the governor’s emergency power to a certain number of days, not months. “I heard that some of the legislators have a bill that would propose, if we ever get back into session, a maximum of 30 days. But to have the governor go on and on like this, that’s just wrong.”

As for schools reopening to onsite learning, Chapman believes, “It shouldn’t be an edict from the governor. This is a decision for local school boards and health officials, end of story. I support local control, local superintendents and principals of each school making those decisions, like they always have made during flu season, measles outbreaks, even during times of bad weather.”

Forde used her county, Clallam, where cases are low and only one death reported, as an example. “There is no reason to not start reopening counties like ours that don’t have what is going on in Seattle and some other areas. It’s way past time to be reopening economies and schools and small businesses as soon as possible. We’re seeing harm to our society and especially our kids right now.”

Aberdeen rail separation

The East Aberdeen Rail Separation project, which would change traffic flow to reduce conflicts with train traffic, is a priority for both candidates.

“That project looks critical to address congestion and help encourage investment in the Port and the local economy, and heaven knows the local economy needs support,” said Forde. She said she would be “rattling peoples’ cages on both sides of the aisle to get projects going that mean more family wage jobs.”

Chapman said his number one priority as a member of the House Transportation Committee, for Grays Harbor, is to “finish funding the initial studies and get a budget” for construction of the project, then “work with federal and state transportation dollars to get this project fully funded. It is the number one economic development transportation project for the community.”

Regulations and the environment

Chapman called the withdrawal of global mining company BHP’s permit applications for a potash facility at the Port of Grays Harbor “a gut punch to the community.” He said the Department of Ecology’s failure to give any kind of timeline to the company for an end to permitting requirements likely played a major role, along with a lack of support from the governor’s office.

“We’re fighting to rebuild the rural economy and we (local legislators) met with BHP and said this would be a great fit,” said Chapman. “We need the support from the executive branch when those of us in the legislative branch are doing our damnedest to recruit business to our districts. I lay the blame with the executive branch.”

Chapman said he and other local legislators think area-specific legislation creating an opportunity zone of sorts, “specifically just directed at our district” to provide relief from over-regulation, often based on the needs of the I-5 corridor’s environmental protection, could be an option.

Chapman said “we have one of the most pristine environments on the planet Earth” in the 19th and 24th districts, and “as a generation we’ve done a great job (protecting the environment). “It’s time to give us a little relief economically … from the legislative and executive branches to grow jobs,” and said a balance needs to be struck between environmental projection and economic development.

Forde agreed. “There is a balance and we’re not in balance right now. There are way too many regulations and rules and too many agencies, unelected and unaccountable, that need to be reined in.”

Forde looked through the gauntlet of documents BHP was required to fill out for various permits. “There was a whole page long of just the titles. One of the documents was like 164 pages, for one document. We need to streamline the process and use some common sense.”

She continued, “We can take care of our environment and have economic development, but we have gone overboard with too much of this excessive thinking that ‘we don’t want humans here’ and ‘let’s keep it so clean that nobody can work.’ None of us want an environment where we have polluted water or air, but in our case there are excesses in over protection with our agencies.”

She agreed with Chapman, that “People who live in rural areas can take care of our environment. We live here for a reason. we love our surroundings and we want to keep it that way.”