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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: Frank Chopp

Losing money on every kid: Lawmakers propose two competing ways to improve child care….

Whoops — forgot to post this earlier. From the print paper:

With state child care subsidies well below the actual cost of caring for enrolled kids, some Spokane-area workers and lawmakers say it’s time to give the industry more clout.

How? By unionizing the child care workers and letting them collectively bargain with Olympia for higher rates, paid training and other improvements.

“In this environment, you have to be able to provide some leverage for us to act on a priority,” said state Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. He said the normal state budget process, which is essentially a tug of war among lawmakers and interest groups, has let child care rates lag well behind costs.

“We’ve let that model work for a long time,” Marr said. “The fact is that it doesn’t work.”

“It’s basically to give us a voice,” said Marci McLaughlin, owner of a Spokane Valley child care center.

The union structure would be unusual, McLaughlin said, with both workers and child care owners teaming up to bargain with the state. Under the plan, the state would deduct a yet-to-be-determined “representation fee” from payments to child care centers and pay it directly to the union.

Other lawmakers and child care centers say the simplest fix is just to increase the rates.

“If we really want to get money to child care centers, let’s get it to them,” says state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. He’s backing a bill, SB 5506, that would boost rates to 75 percent of actual cost.

That simpler plan “bypasses a very expensive and unnecessary middleman,” said Tom Emery, a Puyallup child care center owner. He’s the spokesman for the Washington Child Care Alliance, which includes dozens of centers opposed to the collective bargaining plan.

Unemployment checks: adding $45 a week is on fast track through the capitol…

With unemployment levels nationwide at the highest rates since 1992, Washington’s House of Representatives on Friday voted to temporarily boost benefits for jobless workers by $45 a week.

“An extra 45 bucks can mean a meal’s on the table for the kids,” said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.

The House overwhelmingly approved the plan, 91 to 2. All local lawmakers voted for it, except Rep. John Driscoll, one of four House members excused from the Friday session.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said she expects the Senate to approve the same plan next week. Gov. Gregoire is expected to quickly sign it into law.

“Our understanding is that if we’re able to get this to the governor’s desk by Feb. 16th, that the benefit increase could start in May for unemployed workers,” Brown said. It would last through Jan. 3, 2010.

National unemployment stands at 7.6 percent, up nearly half a percent from last month. Washington’s jobless rate last month was 7.1 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Spokane, it was 7.4 percent.

“Behind all these numbers are real people, and they need help,” Chopp, D-Seattle, told reporters Friday at the capitol.

Current unemployment insurance benefits in Washington range from $129 a week to $541. The state pays those benefits for up to 26 weeks; federal emergency aid can extend payments for up 

Brown, Chopp say they’ll fight for GA-U funding…

From the print paper this morning:

A few years ago, a homeless woman named Lee Ann Winters was nearly run over by a car while walking across a downtown Spokane intersection. She yelled at the driver, saying she was in a crosswalk and had a green light.

“What does it matter?” she recalls the driver yelling back. “You’re homeless!”

Now 52 and living in her own apartment, Winters is worried that the homeless will be dismissed the same way by state lawmakers looking to cut spending.

A program called General Assistance for the Unemployable that once provided Winters a critical lifeline – health care and $339 a month – is among budget cuts that state officials are considering.

GA-U now benefits about 21,000 people statewide, including about 1,400 in Spokane County, who are deemed too physically or mentally disabled to hold a job. The program is intended to provide short-term help for people transitioning to long-term and largely federally funded assistance programs.

In December, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested that state lawmakers eliminate the program, which would cost taxpayers $411 million over the next two years, saying the state must solve its budget mess without raising taxes…

 

(snip)

…As the Legislature tries to write a budget for the next two years, GA-U has two key allies in Olympia: Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp, the two most powerful lawmakers in the state, both with roots as anti-poverty activists.

“We’re going to make it a high priority to preserve that funding,” said Chopp, D-Seattle. “It is a matter of life and death in many cases.”

Brown, D-Spokane, says it would be foolish to throw people off the program only to see them on the streets and turning up for expensive last-resort care in emergency rooms, shelters and jails. There may be reductions, she said, but “we’ll try to moderate it.” She’s floated the idea of saving money by changing the way the health coverage is administered.

The big question, however, is whether the state’s budget problems will override legislative leaders’ hopes to keep the program going. November’s state revenue forecast stunned lawmakers, slashing nearly $2 billion from what was expected. Similar forecasts are scheduled for March, July and September.

Click on the link above for the complete story.

Catching up…

From the print paper:


Each January, by tradition, Washington’s top lawmakers choose theme songs for the upcoming session. Most are lighthearted.

Speaking to reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown read from a Bob Dylan song.

“Broken hands on broken plows, broken treaties, broken vows,” she read. “Broken pipes, broken tools, people bending broken rules.

“Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking, everything is broken.”

Welcome to Olympia, on the eve of a $6 billion state budget shortfall. Brown and the state’s other 148 lawmakers on Monday will begin a high-stakes battle over what to cut, what to save, and whether they can persuade a recession-saddled public to support tax increases. The state’s budget woes are fixable, Brown says, but it won’t be easy.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said state Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Olympia.

The $6 billion gap is unprecedented, although as a percentage, the state’s faced worse.

“It’s not even remotely close to what the 1933 and 1935 legislatures faced,” said historian Don Brazier. Still, he said, “this is the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve been here 42 years.”

Click here to read the story.

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

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