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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Key Arena fix draws big names – and a nay plea

Richard Roesler The Spokesman-Review

NBA commissioner David Stern, other basketball big names and a long procession of arts advocates urged state lawmakers to approve a sales-tax package to pay for a new or renovated Key Arena this week.

But not everyone was a fan of Senate Bill 6849. Consider this plea to lawmakers to oppose the measure:

“Members of the committee, my name is David Rolf. I am the president of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) 775, with 30,000 members in the long-term care industry, in every ZIP code in the state.

“I cannot imagine a lower priority for the use of the public’s money than the purpose this bill anticipates.

“This contemplated act of corporate welfare takes place within the following context:

“Incomes are stagnant or declining for two-thirds of households. Health care costs are eating up a greater (percentage) of employee paychecks and employer profits, even while benefits get cut and hundreds of thousands are uninsured. The average home price is now out of reach for an average income family in Seattle. Tuition costs put higher education out of reach for some working families. Fifty-two percent of all baby boomers have no retirement savings besides Social Security and their home equity. And, of course, the impoverishment of nursing home and home care workers threatens the quality of care for tens of thousands of elderly and disabled Washingtonians.

“The profitability of a sports facility should not be a higher priority than the health care of frail elderly people, or education, or housing.

“The indirect transfer of public wealth to private, for-profit sports teams should not be a priority of our government, under any circumstances, at any time.

“If you do pass this bill, we urge you to authorize the use of this tax for housing, health care, arts, education and social services, but not to help subsidize the profitability of professional sports teams.

“Thank you.”

Hospital discounts

Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, wants to force hospitals to give discounts to low- and middle-income people who have no health insurance.

“Most people aren’t even aware that hospitals typically charge uninsured patients two to three times the actual cost of delivering services, then turn around and give bargain rates to insurance companies for exactly the same services,” said Cody, who chairs the House health care committee.

On a largely party-line vote, the House approved House Bill 2574. It would apply to patients earning up to four times the federal poverty level, or $80,000 a year for a family of four. Under the bill, families with the lowest incomes would get the highest discounts.

She said her bill is aimed at preventing bankruptcies caused by medical debts – which means that hospitals are also more likely to get paid back, albeit at the lower rates.

Minimum teacher pensions

Rep. Barbara Bailey’s bill to set $1,000-a-month minimum pensions for longtime public retirees cleared the Senate budget committee Wednesday.

The bill applies to some teachers and public employees who worked for at least 20 years and have been retired for at least 25.

With retirement benefits being calculated on their base salaries from 25 years ago, Bailey said, some of those workers are receiving tiny pensions.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t any factors tied to these pensions that would allow their minimum monthly benefits to be adjusted for inflation or cost of living,” said Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “Many of these elderly retired people are just barely getting by on much less than $1,000 a month.”

Duck …

“I don’t consider someone out in the field using lead shot a hunter any more than I consider Billy the Kid a banker.”

Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, on HB 2958, which would yank hunting privileges for two years and levy a $1,000 fine on anyone violating state rules against lead shot in waterfowl hunting.