Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

About those polls and focus groups re: taxes that we’ve been hearing about…

Confirmed.

A group of health- and education groups have each kicked in $20,000 each to pay for polls and focus groups to figure out which tax increases would have the best chance with voters. The group has no name, but contributors include the state hospital association, community clinics, Group Health, the Washington Education Association and SEIU, according to Cassie Sauer, spokeswoman for the hospital association.

“All of us felt that the (state budget) cuts, without revenue, are so devastating, especially to health care and education, that it would be irreponsible, immoral and unconscionable to not consider whether we could raise revenues,” Sauer said.

She wouldn’t share the polling data, but said that the results, gathered over the past month, suggest that the public has no idea how deep state budget cuts could go. When told, she said, voters seem willing to pay for some taxes to offset those cuts.

The groups have aimed for about $2 billion in new money, asking people how they feel about certain cuts and certain taxes. Sin taxes — cigarettes, alcohol, candy, gum — seem acceptable, Sauer said.

They didn’t even try asking about a property tax hike, she said. “I don’t think that’s going to be on the table at all,” Sauer said. People are too concerned about losing their homes, she said.

Voters were somewhat willing to consider a sales tax increase, she said.

Interestingly, when the focus groups were asked what might be cut, the only thing most could cite was the recent decision to close some driver-licensing offices.

“People have no clue what the cuts are that are being considered,” she said. “They’re aware that there’s a huge budget shortfall, but they don’t know what’s at risk. When they hear what’s at risk, they’re stunned.”

Sauer said that lawmakers were briefed on the results over the weekend.

“They are definitely interested,” she said.

Lawmakers have repeatedly said that if they decide to try to offset deep budget cuts with a tax hike, they’ll put the proposal before voters. Sauer said the coalition is also preparing for a campaign to convince voters to back such a measure.

In the face of a $10-$23 million budget cut, state trying to decide which parks to close…

Back in December, Gov. Chris Gregoire called on the state Parks and Recreation Commission to come up with 10 percent in budget savings over the next two years. Lawmakers have now asked to see what a 23 percent budget cut would look like. Neither is final, but the statehouse clearly wants to see what deep cuts to parks (and higher ed, etc.) would look like.

At the $10 million level, parks officials have drawn up plans to cut staff, postpone equipment purchases and to try to get rid of 13 state parks. Those parks, ideally, would be given to local cities or counties to take care of. Two other parks would be closed.

Here’s that list:

Parks Proposed for Transfer

1.Bogachiel State Park
2.Brooks Memorial State Park
3.Fay Bainbridge State Park
4.Fort Okanogan State Park
5.Fort Ward State Park
6.Joemma Beach State Park
7.Kopachuck State Park
8.Lake Sylvia State Park
9.Old Fort Townsend State Park
10.Osoyoos Lake Veterans Memorial State Park
11.Schafer State Park
12.Tolmie State Park
13.Wenberg State Park

Parks Proposed to be Mothballed: 

1.    Nolte State Park
2.    Squilchuck State Park.

At the $23 million cut level, things get even more dramatic. Instead of getting rid of yet more

Senate, House pass first round of cuts…belt-tightening metaphor now extended to trousers…

The state Senate and House this morning each approved spending cuts this morning, in the first of what will be several whacks at state spending.

“For those that say you want to cut more, just sit in your seats,” said House budget writer Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham. “You’ll have a chance.”

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, clearly responding to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s criticism of lawmakers’ budget-cutting pace earlier in the week, said that no Washington legislature has ever approved budget reductions this early in a legislative session.

Brown also said lawmakers were proud to preserve a state plan to allow families living on up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($63,600 for a family of 4) to buy into the state’s health insurance plan for kids.

“The sacred cow here is kids’ health,” she said in a press release. “We are keeping a commitment.”

In the House, Rep. Gary Alexander said that the bill there is a first step in state belt-tightening. But he warned that “we’re going to have to go many, many, many notches further.”

Pushing the metaphor further, Alexander suggested that lawmakers might, in fact, have to “take our pants off and go back and purchase a pair that are about three sizes smaller.”

Tough words yesterday from House lawmakers re: the state budget mess…

Get Adobe Flash player
state_budget_tone

There was some blunt talk yesterday from members of a House committee, as officials from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture tried to argue against deep budget cuts that they say will backfire by hurting local fundraising.

In this clip, Reps. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, and Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, respond that things are bad — much worse than expected — and that saying that cuts will be hard “is falling on our deaf ears,” as Darneille put it.

MAC attack turned partly back…

This one’s of interest mainly to readers in Spokane. From tomorrow’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ A controversial proposal to merge the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture with its Western Washington counterpart appears to be dead.

One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers said Thursday that the Senate will not be approving the plan, which was proposed in December as a cost-cutting move by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“The bill is on my desk. It’s not going to be introduced in the Senate,” said Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

So it’s dead on arrival, a reporter asked.

“It is,” responded Brown.

The bad news: torpedoing the merger won’t necessarily shield the museum and its operations from state budget cuts. Gov. Chris Gregoire in December proposed cutting the MAC budget by $524,000 over the next two years, which is about a 13 percent cut. And the state’s budget picture is now believed to be much bleaker.

Stopping the merger, however, would keep the MAC as a distinct organization, separate from the Tacoma-based Washington State Historical Society.

Brown’s comments came on the same day that MAC officials were in Olympia, urging skeptical House lawmakers not to allow the merger or deep budget cuts.

“Simply saying that it’s going to be hard or that it would be impossible is falling on our deaf ears,” state Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, warned CEO Dennis Hession and development officer Lorna Walsh Thursday. “…We’re looking at just the most dire of budget circumstances.”

When Gregoire called for the $524,000 cut, state budget writers thought they faced a shortfall of

Eastern Washington University’s turn: what deep budget cuts would mean…

From tomorrow’s print paper:

OLYMPIA _ When he took over as acting president of Eastern Washington University, John Mason was given a sign for his office.

“Thou shalt not whine,” it reads.

On Wednesday, Mason mostly stuck to that commandment, even as he described how proposed state budget cuts would affect the school and its students.

“I’ve been telling everyone at Eastern Washington University that there is no part of the university that will not be impacted,” he said.

Under the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in December, Eastern estimates that its state funding would drop about $17 million, which is about 14 percent.

Since state revenues have continued to fall below expectations, the Senate has also asked the school to show what it would do in the face of a $25 million – or 20 percent – budget cut.

Trying to write a budget that copes with a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion, lawmakers this week held hearings to find out how officials at each state college would handle deep cuts. No final budget decisions are likely, however, until at least April.

“None of us love the cards we’ve been dealt,” said Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. “We have control over how we play them.”

Under either budget scenario, Mason said, “we will see a reduction in jobs. There is no way that will not happen.”

How many? A minimum of 150 to 225, he said. And those figures assume a 7 percent tuition hike this year and next.

Mason said Eastern would try to protect teaching and learning, but that fallout is inevitable. The

Planned Parenthood staves off cut to family-planning nurses…

Planned Parenthood has managed to un-do a budget cut, convincing lawmakers and the governor to overrule a state agency’s decision to ctop paying for 70 family planning nurses across the state.

The Department of Social and Health Services had decded to end those contract positions today. But heavy lobbying to Planned Parenthood and its supporters reversed that decision, getting the nurses’ contracts renewed through June.

Advocates said the nurses are key to getting birth control information to people, particularly in rural areas with few health resources. They also argued that it was foolish to cut a program that returns $9 from the feds for every $1 spent by the state.

House Democrats propose more than $600 million in cuts for the next six months…

House Democrats have just released a 48 page list of budget cuts that they say will save $640 million by June 30,2009.

Among them: less spending on nursing homes, local mental health treatment and hospitals.

“We know there is going to be significant pain as a result of actions we’re going to have to take, House Ways and Means committee chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said in a written statement.

Here’s the list.

Living within your means…

As my son rejoices at the closure of school for the day, I am thinking about the people in the homeless shelters and using food banks, and the families who created the longest line ever for the Christmas Bureau sponsored annually by the Spokesman-Review. 

So begins a recent blog post by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who’s clearly worried about what the $5.7 billion (or more) budget shortfall will mean to struggling people and families.

Brown was muted in her criticism yesterday of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s all-cuts budget proposal for the next two years. Among those cuts: eliminating adult day health programs that help senior citizens and disabled adults remain in their homes, doing away with $339-a-month checks and health coverage of thousands of people deemed “unemployable” due to mental or physical problems, and a 42 percent cut in state-subsidized health coverage for the working poor.

But the former Senate budget writer also implies that a budget written by the Senate will look a lot different. Brown writes:

I respect the principle behind the Governor’s admonition to the legislature (prompted by press inquiries about alternatives to an all-cuts budget) that “we’ve got to live within our means”.  But something sticks in my throat 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 GA-U. How do they live within their means if we completely eliminate them?

Detailing the cuts…

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s two-year budget plan, released Thursday, suggests closing a $5.7 billion budget shortfall with deep cuts.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest cuts, local cuts, and some new local spending:

Education:

-do away with cost-of-living raises for teachers and other school staffers for the next two years: $349 million.

-eliminate a variety of school pilot programs, including the reading corps, civics curriculum, and math helping corps: $23 million.

-”suspend” about a quarter of the money for class-size reduction: $178 million.

Higher Education:

-across-the-board cuts of up to 13 percent at four-year colleges and 6 percent at community and technical colleges. The colleges can decide what to cut, although effects may include cutting faculty, cutting support staff and offering fewer classes. Savings: $342 million.

-doing away with faculty and staff cost-of-living raises at community and technical colleges: $33.4 million.

Human services:

-do away with the Adult Day Health program, which serves about 1,900 elderly and developmentally disabled people: $20 million.

-reduce nursing home reimbursement rates by 5 percent: $46 million.

-shrink mental health funding for Regional Support Networks: $31 million.

-toughen accountability for welfare recipients and push them into jobs quicker: $30 million.

Health care:

-stop buying vaccines for children not covered by Medicaid: $50 million.

-cut the state’s Basic Health Plan for the working poor by 42 percent and shrink the things it will cover.

-halt plans to let parents buy state-subsidized health coverage if they’re between 250 percent and 300 percent of poverty level. For a family of 4, that’s $53,000 to $63,600 per year. Savings: $6 million.

-eliminate General Assistance for the Unemployable, which provides health care and issues checks of up to $339 a month to thousands of people. Savings: $251 million.

-cut hospital reimbursement rates by 4 percent: $47 million.

Natural resources:

-close 7 fish hatcheries: $7 million.

-close 13 state parks, plus other parks during off-peak seasons: $5 million.

Law enforcement:

-shortening probation and eliminating probation supervision for misdemeanors and low-risk felonies: $69 million.

-shrinking drug and alcohol treatment: $11 million.