Washington state may be headed for tougher times, and the state’s budget may reflect them, but programs designed to help people with developmental disabilities should be protected, candidates for governor and the Legislature said Monday evening in Spokane.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and GOP challenger Dino Rossi told a crowd of about 250 people at Spokane Community College that they would protect programs for “the state’s most vulnerable” in the upcoming biennium.
“You are going to have an advocate in the governor’s office in me,” Rossi told the crowd attending a forum sponsored by The Arc of Spokane.
When the state was facing a budget deficit in 2003, he said he refused to write a budget that cut services for people with developmental disabilities.
Gregoire said those programs have increased significantly in the four years she’s been governor, including a 30 percent increase in funding for employment training and a 36 percent increase in special-education programs.
While she can’t promise similar increases next year, she said, “I’m committed to making progress.”
Both gubernatorial candidates, and many of the legislators or legislative candidates, had personal stories to illustrate why they care about the programs and about people with developmental disabilities.
For Gregoire, it was her experience growing up with an adopted cousin who was developmentally disabled, helping him learn to read and write. For Rossi it was an evening he spent with a group of developmentally disabled adults shortly after his election to the state Senate, who amazed him and reinforced a belief that “every soul has a value.”
The gubernatorial candidates didn’t appear together on the stage, but after their speeches, the two wound up at consecutive impromptu press conferences in which they debated the deficit – or lack of it.
“We do not have a deficit today,” Gregoire said. The state has a surplus and a “rainy day fund” that it can tap and cover the cost of needed programs without raising taxes.
But projections show a looming deficit, Rossi said, because expenses are expected to be greater than revenue. He said Gregoire’s in an “alternate universe” where she only wants to talk about the current surplus, not the projections.