Budget Thoughts

This email came to me early in the session in 2010 and was incredibly touching. It’s easy to get involved in the details of the budget in a very technical way and forget the human needs we try to¬†address. As a policy geek I’m perhaps more subject to this than other people.

Dear Rep. Hunter,

I just got done listening to the Governor’s speech and I feel for the first time in my life I must write to someone. I hope you are that someone. I am 53 and my daughter is 19. She has just finished her 1st quarter of college at Western Wash. Unversity. I have worked hard all my life. I have rasied my daughter alone. We are fortunate enough to have health insurance thru Basic Health. Now I hear that it is in jeopardy of being shut down. Please do not let this happen. I am to old to be without insurance and I cannot afford any other. They raised our premiums last year so they didn’t have to let people off the plan. I was hoping that we were safe. Please you must try and find a way to save Basic Health without letting people go. They are alot of people that depend on this insurance. Otherwise most of us would have to go to the ER and end up costing the state more money in the long run.

I am also asking that you find the money to contiune with the state need grants for higher education. Without that money my daughter will have to quit school and end up working some dead end job. She worked very hard in High School so she could go to college. She is the first in our family to ever go to college. She goes full time to school and works part time to have extra money for books and anything else she needs. I know that once she finish college she will do something good for this world, but she depends on the state grants for help. Please find some way to keep those also.

Thank you for reading this and I know that this will be a very diffcult session with some hard choices but education and health care to me are the two most important issues.

Thank you,

<Name withheld by Ross>

Federal Healthcare: Impact on Washington

Washington is ahead of many states in implementing aspects of the federal halthcare bill, and will it will require less state money here than it does in other states. One of our policy analysts put together a short summary of the next steps we’ll be going thorugh as we figure out the implications for Washington.

Getting the details right on this will make the difference between a successful implementation and one that doesn’t work and wastes money. I expect to spend a fair amount of time trying to understand the flow of money as we implement this so that we can plan out how it will work carefully. More information can be found after the jump… Continue reading “Federal Healthcare: Impact on Washington”

Rob McKenna and Healthcare

Earlier this week Attorney General Rob McKenna joined a lawsuit filed by a number of other AGs nationally to attack the new healthcare bill adopted in the other Washington. Here’s his press release on the suit: http://www.atg.wa.gov/pressrelease.aspx?&id=25402

He’s using 10th amendment grounds to do so, and my personal read is that the suit is unlikely to succeed and part of the increasingly dysfunctional way we discuss serious political issues an America.

Many people have suggested that the legislature cut off funding to his office as a result, or that we somehow forbid spending on this particular lawsuit. I don’t support this because I¬†believe it’s important to have an independent AG in Washington, even when he’s wrong. He’s wrong in this case.

I’m not going to debate federal healthcare policy here. This is a vote that happens at the federal level, not at the state level where I represent you. It’s a debate worth having, and we’ve had that for the last year in the newspapers, on the blogs, on TV, and in coffeeshops and laundromats across the country. There isn’t too much disagreement that everyone should be able to have adequate healthcare; the question is about paying for it.

The 10th Amendment is important, but has been used as a platform to launch many seriously loony proposals, including a raft of bills this year that would have:

  • Prohibited federal law enforcement officers from making arrests in Washington unless they had a signed permission slip from the County Sheriff.
  • Required the state to hold all money that we collect on behalf of the federal government (gas taxes, etc.) and use it to fund “unfunded mandates” from the federal government before we send it to them. The bill would also have required private citizens to pay their federal excise taxes into the fund, to be forwarded to the feds if the legislature thought it appropriate.
  • Allowed people to purchase and carry machine guns as long as they were “made in Washington.”

Most legal scholars think McKenna unlikely to prevail. I agree. The voters of Washington elected the guy, and it’s his job to allocate the budget we send him. If he does it in ways the voters don’t support they’ll hire a new AG in 2012. I don’t like his lawsuit, but I don’t intend to interfere in how he spends his budget.

Hobbesian Choices

The chairs of the House and of the Senate budget committees both introduced their budget proposals this week. The committees will vote on them soon, though none of us can say exactly when at this point. Typically the bills are introduced and passed in about 3 days. The minority party always whines that they don’t have enough time to even read the bill before it passes. Not this year. It’s not clear to me that we have the votes to pass the budget in the House Ways and Means committee, nor is it clear in the Senate.

Both budgets make deeper cuts than we’ve seen since the early 80s, and would be like we saw in the depression if it were not for the federal stimulus plan. Our revenue projection would be almost a billion dollars lower if not for the plan’s predicted effect on the economy, and there is about $3 billion in direct aid to the states. It all comes with stringent rules for its use (“strings”) and is hard to track in the budgets.

For the first time in modern history, this budget is less than the previous 2-year budget, by about $1 billion. This is despite significant inflation in the costs we face and increases in population. For example, there are more students in public school, and not just because of population increases. When the economy tanks, people transfer from private schools to public ones, increasing the caseload even more. This happens in other areas too – our Medicaid caseloads are up, as are many other costs of providing the same services we did last year.

What this means is that we won’t provide the same service we did last year. Current budgets include:

  • Raising class sizes and laying off the teachers. We’ll lay off 3-5 thousand teachers from the 728 program. The senate budget cuts it more.
  • Eliminating support for 10,000 “slots” in higher education. This is 10,000 fewer students in Washington that will be able to get a college education.
  • Cutting much the Basic Health Plan, a program that provides health care to low-income working adults.
  • Reducing the rates we pay to nursing homes that take care of our low-income elderly on Medicaid. We squeeze these pretty hard, and they’ll get squeezed harder by this. It will be harder to find a nursing home or other long-term care facility near your home, particularly if you are in our district where the real-estate prices are high.
  • Laying off thousands more workers in other parts of state government.

I can go on. You can find the budgets online if you want, or you can read the news stories about what we’re cutting in the papers, should we still have any next week.

Continue reading “Hobbesian Choices”