I'm sitting in the House hearing on a proposed .3 percent sales tax hike, HB 2377.
The proposal, from Rep. Eric Pettigrew, would raise just over $1 billion in three years. Much of that money would be steered into health care: mental health services, hospitals, nursing homes, public health programs and the state's Basic Health Plan, which provides coverage for thousands of low-income folks. To offset the hit to low-income families, it would also send millions of dollars in state tax rebates back to people who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
The plan would only take effect if voters approve it in November.
The crowded hearing room is full of health care providers, officials and lobbyists representing nurses, hospitals, adult day health programs, public health, etc. They all support the plan as a critical lifeline.
A hospital official said that if the bill passes, hospitals will still see a state budget cut of $110 million over the next two years. Without it, that will be $350 million.
Dianse Sosne, with SEIU 1199 NW, said that proposed budget cuts would tear the state's health safety net apart. That means mothers, babies, and elderly people ending up in emergency rooms, she said, and more mental health patients ending up in jails, prisons, under bridges and on the streets.
"And ultimately those costs will fall on taxpayers," she said.
Among the few voices opposing the plan: anti-tax initiative promoter Tim Eyman.
Eyman blasted the proposal, saying that legislative budget writers are protecting non-essential state programs while asking voters to approve a billion-dollar tax hike to stave off cuts to people needing health care.
"Have you no shame?" he said.
"You are fooling no one," he told lawmakers. "...The best thing you can do for the poor and the middle class is to stop taxing them to death."
Pettigrew and many of the advocates will hold a press conference about the proposal later this morning.