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Eye On Olympia

At “Homesick for Spokane” gathering, local childrens’ advocates urge budget cutters to look elsewhere…

Armed with barbecued chicken and ribs, children’s advocates from Spokane made the pilgrimage to Olympia Monday to urge local lawmakers to look elsewhere when making billions of dollars in budget cuts.

Setting the theme: tin cups, apples for a nickel, and a song: Bing Crosby’s 1932 classic, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

“We decided that because everyone’s kind of depressed anyway, we’d kind of go with the theme of the Great Depression this year,” said Marilee Roloff, president and CEO of Volunteers for America. She’s helped organize the annual event – dubbed “Homesick for Spokane – for a decade.

One after another, local advocates urged that their programs be spared. Protect kids and vulnerable families, they said. Help abused and neglected children, runaway teens, foster kids and children in need of free health care. Take the cuts from administration and middle management, some suggested, or increase health care costs for state employees instead.

“This is the toughest we’ve ever seen it in terms of surviving, but we will survive,” said Robert Faltermeyer, executive director of Excelsior Youth Center.

They urged lawmakers to try to keep in-home parent education, to eliminate school-lunch fees for poor kids, and to protect the social safety net for the homeless or disabled.

”I don’t think our community is ready to see what would happen when all those people get dumped out of that net,” said Roloff.

Lawmakers warned that state’s $8 billion budget shortfall is dire.

“People need to know that bascially every decision we make is a choice between two bad choices,” said Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said that even after deducting billions of dollars in federal aid, draining most of the state’s rainy-day fund, foregoing employee raises and other savings, she’s still left with a $3.5 billion budget problem.

“And I don’t have anything else on the list,” said Brown.

It’s “more than likely,” she said, that Olympia will be coming to voters with a tax proposal “and saying what kind of Washington do you want to live in?”

First, Rep. Timm Ormsby added, lawmakers will put together a budget that doesn’t include any new taxes.

Lawmakers will “put that out and see what kind of stomach the public has for that,” he said, “and go from there.”

In case you’re wondering what the photo is:

During the Great Depression, the old Schade Brewery, vacant because of Prohibition, became a soup kitchen for hundreds of transients camped near the Spokane River.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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