December 25, 2008 in Voices

Group takes heat over Rossi support

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – The Building Industry Association of Washington spent more than $7 million on politics this year, most of it trying to replace Gov. Chris Gregoire with Republican challenger Dino Rossi.

The group’s latest newsletter looks like the kind of thing that would have haunted the nightmares of BIAW officials during the campaign: “Rossi loses gov bid,” is one headline. “What happened on Election Day?” is another. Then there’s “Ecology set to hike fees” and “Costs of a clean Puget Sound dumped on builders.”

The group blames Rossi’s defeat on a tide of support for President-elect Barack Obama. It also points out five key legislative candidates the group backed all won.

“As a leader of BIAW, I and my fellow Senior Officers have taken some heat for supporting Rossi’s lost cause,” wrote the group’s incoming president, Kyle LaPierre. “… Because Rossi lost, BIAW leaders are now subject to armchair quarterbacking and criticism from some who think we should have done things differently.”

He compared the loss to the ancient Greeks’ stand at the gates of fire.

“Just as 300 Spartans in 480 B.C. refused to retreat and seek safety when outnumbered and faced with certain death at the Battle of Thermopylae, BIAW refused to retreat and seek safety when faced with defeat,” LaPierre wrote. “I’m proud of that. I hope the leaders of this association never become so afraid of losing they refuse to fight.”

Feeling the cuts

Budget reactions ranged from “Fight!” to a thumbs-up from liquor-makers.

Washington Federation of State Employees President Carol Dotlich had some words of advice for fellow union members at a recent banquet in Spokane.

“When you see that budget, I don’t want you to overreact to it,” she told the crowd. “I don’t want you to be panicked. I want you to be determined.”

The 40,000-member union is trying to stave off some of the cuts proposed last week by Gregoire, including 2,600 layoffs and suspending all cost-of-living increases for state employees.

The governor’s no-new-taxes budget calls for deep cuts in a variety of state services, including state-subsidized health care, colleges and social services.

Republican lawmakers were pleased, saying that fiscal restraint is long overdue in Olympia.

“Overall, it’s a move in the right direction,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.

Many state officials and advocates for the poor felt otherwise. And some Democratic lawmakers – who will have the final say on the budget – implied that their plans will look a lot different.

Among Gregoire’s proposed cuts: eliminating adult day health programs that help senior citizens and adults with disabilities remain in their homes, doing away with $339-a-month checks and health coverage of thousands of people deemed “unemployable” because of mental or physical problems, and a 42 percent cut in state-subsidized health coverage for the working poor.

Writing on her blog, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she supports Gregoire’s principle of the state living within its means.

“But something sticks in my throat,” wrote Brown, D-Spokane, “when I think about the contrast between the high-flying corporate executives and the mentally and physically challenged people living one step up from the streets” on those $339 checks.

Those unhappy with Gregoire’s budget plan included the Service Employees International Union, which supported Gregoire for re-election. SEIU’s recent initiative calling for millions of dollars in more training for home health aides wasn’t included in Gregoire’s budget.

“We need to ensure that the budget is not balanced on the backs of middle-class and working families,” the union said Friday, “but that the wealth and corporations bear their fair share to help close the deficit.”

Among those pleased by the Gregoire’s plan: liquor makers. Their trade group, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, liked the governor’s proposals to add 10 liquor stores, allow sales on holidays, expand Sunday sales, and allow six “temporary liquor stores” in shopping malls around the holidays.

“In this economy, it’s essential that policymakers take a pro-business approach to raising revenue for the state without raising taxes,” said the council’s vice president, David Wojnar.

We’re named for him but don’t want his teeth

A Western Washington denture-maker is slated for arraignment in Olympia next week, after allegedly billing the state repeatedly for false teeth that she never actually provided.

According to the state attorney general’s office, denturist Nelda Hyatt billed the state’s Medicaid program nearly $2,000 for a set of dentures that the elderly woman who received them described as ill-fitting “George Washington teeth.”

Hyatt never replaced the set, the AG’s office says, and the recipient – a woman in her mid-80s –couldn’t get a new set because state Medicaid records showed that the sale had been completed.

The AG’s office says that in several cases, Hyatt billed for services never requested and dentures never delivered. On a social visit, Hyatt allegedly did a spur-of-the-moment examination on a friend’s daughter, then allegedly billed for both the exam and dentures that never arrived.

Hyatt couldn’t be reached for comment.

Filing still free for unemployment

We’ll be happy to sell you something you can do for free.

That, in essence, is the “service” provided by an Internet company that tries to get laid-off workers to pony up $9.99 for help filing a claim for state unemployment insurance.

Filing for an unemployment check, of course, is free. Most workers can do it online at www.esd.wa.gov or by calling (800) 318-6022.

According to the state Employment Security Department, several Web sites offer to help unemployed workers get unemployment befits for a fee. The sites are not illegal, the agency says, but they can be confusing, inaccurate and unnecessary.

“People who have been laid off can’t afford to be spending money on services they can get from us for free,” said Karen Lee, who heads the department. She encourages anyone who’s paid a third party to file an unemployment claim to file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office at (800) 551-4636 or www.atg.wa.gov.

Richard Roesler can be reached by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com.


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