OLYMPIA – Managers at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have been telling more than 100 workers this week that their jobs may be axed, a victim of the state’s $8 billion budget shortfall.
On the chopping block: biologists, administrative staff, fish hatchery workers, computer technicians, budget people and enforcement officers. The layoffs would begin in April.
“We made every effort to reduce impacts to public service and to our employees, but there’s just no way to absorb a funding cut this large without a lot of pain,” said the agency’s interim director, Phil Anderson, in a statement announcing the plan. He said payroll and other staff costs are about 80 percent of the 1,550-person agency’s budget.
Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting $35 million from the agency, which has a two-year budget of about $348 million. About 170 positions are affected by the planned cuts; some are already vacant.
Democrats: No, really, it’s bad
The Senate’s majority Democrats are clearly working overtime to spread the word about how dire Washington’s budget woes are. A recent bleak state revenue forecast was immediately followed by a wave of statements, online videos, blog posts and press releases. Among them:
“I cannot tell you how difficult the budget situation has become, and how awful our choices are becoming,” writes Sen. Karen Keiser, Des Moines, on her blog. “… Revenues are falling like a rock. One senator said our roof is caving in and we need to save our foundation, so we’re trying to find lots of big blue tarps.”
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” said Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina. “The challenge we face is simply horrendous,” said Sen. Rodney Tom.
“The impact of what we’re facing is nothing short of devastating,” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island.
“The magnitude of what we’re facing is simply devastating,” said Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. “There just isn’t a way to cut our way out of this without clear-cutting right through our state’s core priorities and basic services.”
“None of us have ever lived through something like this,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island. “I don’t think people get how bad it is.”
And that may be the problem. If lawmakers are to avoid a backlash from deep cuts and win voter support for a tax package to offset deeper cuts they have to be sure the public feels the same sort of urgency that the budget writers do.
Collection agency sued for alleged harassment
The state attorney general’s office has filed a lawsuit against an Everett collection agency, Topco Financial Services, accusing it of verbally abusing debtors.
Collectors allegedly threatened to “bitch slap” one debtor, asked a woman who was undergoing cancer tests “aren’t you dead yet” and cursed at people. People were allegedly berated as “scum,” a “lowlife,” “worthless,” “terrible parents,” and a “loser.”
That’s illegal, according to Assistant Attorney General Shannon Smith. Collection agencies can try to collect debts, she said, but can’t bully people, lie about the consequences or deluge people with harassing calls.
The attorney general’s office has received more than 120 complaints about the company since early 2005. A man who answered the company’s phone recently said that no one there could comment on the allegations.
Idaho’s Department of Finance issued a cease-and-desist order last year, saying the company wasn’t licensed as a collection agency in that state.
Lawmakers honor Japanese-American troops and internees
There were some emotional speeches recently in both the House and Senate, which honored Japanese-American war veterans and the roughly 12,000 Japanese-American citizens who were rounded up and herded into internment camps in 1942 under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
The House passed House Resolution 2009-4617 on the 67th anniversary of Roosevelt’s signing the internment order. The resolution honors the veterans’ and internees’ “patience, heroism, sacrifice and patriotic loyalty.” Watching from the gallery were Japanese-American veterans who served as translators in the Pacific and infantrymen in Europe, as well as people who spent the war behind barbed wire in camps like Idaho’s Minidoka.
Decades later, Congress declared that there was no military or security reason for uprooting the thousands of Japanese families from their farms, homes and businesses. The move, Congress said, could be attributed to bigotry, war hysteria “and a failure of political leadership.”
Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, noted that some neighbors and friends stood by the immigrants, sending books for children in the camps, or writing regularly to the interned families, or keeping pets and property for their return several years later. Still, he said, the internment of U.S. citizens “serves to diminish us all as Americans.”
Sen. Steve Hobbs, who like Marr is Japanese-American, said it was absurd for 70-year-old grandmothers and 10-year-old girls to be considered enemies of the state. And he praised the heroism of Japanese-American military intelligence specialists and the Army’s famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Japanese-American soldiers, many recruited from the internment camps. (Among the veterans of the latter unit: Spokane’s Fred Shiosaki.)
From the Seattle Times, March 30, 1942, front page: “Tears, Smiles Mingle as Japs Bid Bainbridge Farewell”:
“There were mothers with babies in arms, aged patriarchs with faltering steps, high school boys and girls, and some children, too young to realize the full import of the occasion. The youngsters frolicked about, treating the evacuation as a happy excursion.”