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Editorial: No on I-1163 because case unclear, money tight

The question any voter should ask when pondering an initiative is: What’s the problem?

And so it goes with Initiative 1163, which would increase required training for home health care workers at taxpayers’ expense. If you feel like you’ve voted on this before, you’re right. In 2008, voters overwhelmingly adopted Initiative 1029, and the Legislature has delayed funding it until 2014.

This initiative, in essence, says “Do it now!” It does not include a way to pay for it, because that would hurt its chances for passage.

As with the 2008 campaign, the actual problem solved by this expenditure is murky, resting on some anecdotes about poor care. Certainly, the specter of frail elderly patients being preyed upon is disturbing, but it isn’t clear that this is a widespread problem or that it would be solved by this initiative.

Furthermore, the Office of Financial Management’s analysis shows that the administrative costs of implementing the initiative would be $30 million, with a federal grant covering $18 million of that. That still leaves $12 million the state doesn’t have and isn’t likely to have for the foreseeable future.

The Legislature will be called into special session in late November to scavenge for $2 billion more in budget cuts. Among the items on the chopping block will be the Basic Health plan and assistance for the disabled, the unemployed, the mentally ill and the elderly.

Money spent on increased training for members of Service Employees International Union, which is bankrolling this initiative, could be taken from funds that were to go directly to vulnerable citizens.

When I-1029 was adopted, the state faced a budget shortfall of more than $3 billion. Since then, annual budget cutting has become routine and the state has shrunk its workforce. The easy cuts have been made. Only painful ones remain. Funding for Initiatives 1032 (increased teacher pay) and 1028 (smaller class sizes) has also been delayed for lack of money.

Against that backdrop, it doesn’t make sense to spend money on employee training of questionable need to address a questionable problem.

Voters have been sympathetic to the needs of home health care workers, but the union has not made the case that this initiative addresses a need so vital that it supersedes all others.

Voters ought to evaluate I-1163 in that context and vote no.

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