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Children’s programs defended

Protecting kids is vital role of state, Spokane group says

OLYMPIA – Armed with barbecued chicken and ribs, children’s advocates from Spokane made a pilgrimage to Olympia on 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: the Depression-era 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, 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 children, and to protect the social safety net for the homeless and disabled.

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

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

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

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said that even after deducting billions of dollars in federal aid, draining most of the state’s rainy-day fund, forgoing 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?’ ”

After a decade, the annual lobbying trip by the local children’s advocates has become a tradition for local lawmakers.

The first year, they bought Domini sandwiches, placed them in coolers and loaded them into the overhead compartments of the airplane they flew in from Spokane to Seattle.

The next year group members decided to go with Longhorn Barbecue, another Spokane mainstay. They found a Longhorn in Auburn and “for a couple of years we pretended it was from our Longhorn,” Roloff said.

Monday wasn’t the first time the group has turned to some theatrics to dramatize their budget concerns. During the dismal 2003-’04 budget years, when the state faced shortfalls and the federal budget was channeling money into the Iraq war, the group got creative. Roloff set up two trains headed for each other. She tied a baby doll to the tracks. The trains crashed right over the doll.

The message: “Our budgets are a train wreck,” Roloff said.

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