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Rural county bill dies late in session

"A bill died in the waning hours of the legislative session that would have provided more than $400,000 annually to Island County in economic development funding.The bill would have declared Island County rural, and let it keep certain sales tax receipts that presently go to the state. That revenue could be used locally for economic development.Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said the money was needed for infrastructure to support economic development, specifically citing a sewer system for Freeland.Thirty-two rural counties in the state are eligible for the sales tax credit. The bill would modify the law to include counties that are smaller than 225 square miles.The bill's death in the House of Representatives divided 10th District legislators down party lines. Republican Representatives Kelly Barlean and Barry Sehlin blamed Democratic Senator Mary Margaret Haugen for not rallying Democrats in the House to support the bill.In a joint news release, Barlean and Sehlin expressed regret that Sen. Haugen was unable to convince her Democrat colleagues in the House to bring the measure up for a vote.Haugen countered that the bill passed out of the Senate three times with a unanimous vote each time, and legislative leaders had agreed that the House would approve it as well. As late as Thursday afternoon I was assured that the bill would pass, she said.What happened? According to Haugen, Barlean at the last minute insisted that the House approve a bill he introduced (HB 1628) rather than Haugen's bill (SB 5082). Both provided the same benefit to Island County.At 7 p.m. Thursday, Haugen said, she received a call from House Democratic leadership that Barlean wanted his bill approved and the Republicans would not pass the Senate bill. Neither party budged and the bill failed to pass before adjournment Friday.I did not, and would not, stand in the way of (Barlean's) House bill, Haugen said. This issue is too important for Island County to play the 'I want the credit' game.Haugen said she was truly disappointed by Barlean and Sehlin's statement that she was responsible for the bill's failure in the House.Barlean simply blamed House Democrats for not supporting his bill. Barry (Sehlin) and I lined up the Republican votes needed for either measure, he said. Unfortunately we didn't get any help from the other side of the aisle.The bill may still have life. Governor Gary Locke has called a second special session of the legislature to deal with transportation issues. Haugen is among the legislators negotiating the agenda for the upcoming session.I will do everything in my power to get the rural counties bill on the list of bills to be considered, she said.County gets its backfill moneyIsland County won't be facing a budget crisis this year thanks to money provided by the Legislature.In April, Commissioners Mike Shelton, Bill Thorn and Mac McDowell expressed alarm that the proposed House budget eliminated backfill money approved in the aftermath of Initiative 695, which slashed the motor vehicle excise tax the county was dependent on for substantial funding. The Legislature later provided backfill funding to cover 53 percent of that loss which, in Island County, was over $700,000.At one time during this year's session of the Legislature, the backfill money was threatened. But it was included on the final budget approved last week. I'd like to publicly thank all three of our legislators, Shelton said, referring to Reps. Barry Sehlin and Kelly Barlean and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen. "

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