OLYMPIA — Reaction to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget was swift Wednesday as some of her normal alliles is social service groups and progressive circles denounced it while Republicans gave it qualified favorable reviews.
Fellow Democrats tried to praise her for the effort of compiling a budget that cut $4.6 billion over two years with committing to any of it.
State workers represented by Service Employees International Union, who care for seniors and the developmentally disabled, gathered outside the governor’s office to protest the cuts to key social service programs. They clustered around the exits to the office with empty wheel chairs in which they placed signs predicting the kinds of injuries and problems patients could suffer because of the cuts.
Karen Washington, who works for Chesterfield Services home care in Spokane, said workers who are already struggling to make ends meet, will have their wages and benefits cut, too. In the end, many patients who are able to remain in their homes or with family because of state services will wind up in more expensive settings like nursing homes and hospitals because of the cuts, she said.
Asking the sick and disabled to shoulder so much of the state’s budget problems “is not only not fair, it’s immoral,” Washington said.
Read more reaction inside the blog.
The budget proposal sacrifices critical health care services, the Community Health Network of Washington contended. “The governor made choices that will literally cost people their livelihoods and even their lives,” Rebecca Kavoussi, the network’s assistan vice president of government affairs, said.
The state teachers unions denounced cuts in education programs will hurt students and the state. “The kids in school today won’t get a second chance at a good education,” Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist said. “They can’t wait for the recession to end. We have to plan for the future and that means providing our students with the best schyools we possibly can, right now.”
The budget will cause more homelessness, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance predicted, by eliminating the Disability Lifeline program, which provides health care and small stipends to people who are disabled and not able to work. “The cuts proposed in this budget force low-incom, working people to make impossible choices. Do you pay the rent or do you pay for medical care for your child?” Rachel Myers, executive director of the alliance, said.
Sen. Joe Zarellli of Ridgefield, the Republican’s chief budget expert in the Senate, called the budget a step in the right direction, which uses some fund transfers but avoids “every budget gimmick in the book.”
Republicans will have more cost-saving ideas when the Legislature convenes next month, including changes to the qualifications needed to receive social services, reform of bilingual education and more competition for government services from the private sector.
“The Legislature could do worse by taxpayers than to adopt a budget that is the same general size and shape as this one,” Zarelli said in a prepared statement. “It won’t bring about the ‘reset’ of state government that is overdue, but the governor’s budget looks like a step in the right direction.”
Rep. Gerry Alexander of Olympia, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the elimination of programs was necessary because of the drop in revenues. There will be some changes but “the final budget solution passed by the Legislature needs to look an awful lot like this one.”
Sen. Ed Murray, the Democrat who heads the Senate Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged that the state has “very few positive options” for resolving its budget problems but said Gregoire’s proposal merely sets the terms for the debate. “Today marks the beginning of a process that isn’t going to be an easy one at any point along the way…Precisely what (the budget) will look like in the end is what we have the legislative session before us to determine.”
Rep. Pat Sullivan, the House majority leader, said the state was “out of good options” but the final budget won’t look exactly like Gregoire’s proposal. “How it will differ I can’t clearly say at this point.”