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In store for state: Pain, pain and more pain

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 18, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
December 17, 2010 6:10 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had to perform an agonizing arithmetic to come up with a budget for the next biennium.

After the recession and the voters knocked a $4.6 billion breach between revenues and existing services, there was no way to balance the budget without hurting hundreds of thousands of people.

Cut health insurance for the poor, and people will die. Cut crucial education programs, and some children will forfeit their futures. Cut prison funding too far, and predators will go free. Cut food programs, and kids will go to bed hungry.

Cruel options, all. Gregoire’s thankless job was to sort out the cruel from the less cruel, the basic human necessities from the mere important priorities.

What she did has left virtually everyone screaming. Under her budget, a slew of programs – each with a constituency – would be eliminated outright. Others, including K-12 education and higher education, would get squeezed very hard.

Falling into the “merely important” category, for example, were state parks. Washington has traditionally funded a superb park system free to all comers. Gregoire proposes to cut that funding by 77 percent; expect parks to close and user fees to rise.

Another merely important item: state ferries. Expect runs to be eliminated and fares to leap.

Gone entirely: the arts commission, the presidential primary and virtually anything else that creates costs without sustaining life, educating the young, supporting the disabled, protecting the abused, sheltering foster children, caring for the elderly or locking up criminals. Even some of those latter priorities took big hits.

We are most concerned about Gregoire’s proposal to completely eliminate the Basic Health Plan, which was designed to provide medical coverage for poor, working families. Originally created with strong support from Republicans as well as Democrats, it’s been a godsend and lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians.

Its elimination would end insurance for 66,000 people and send big ripples of hurt throughout the state’s medical system. The newly uninsured would turn to expensive emergency rooms instead of their doctors’ offices. Community health clinics – which provide excellent care at low expense – would be devastated by their patients’ loss of coverage.

Some human beings would literally die; others would be treated at an excessive cost that would inevitably be shifted to the rest of the public. If the Legislature’s budget-writers can work a miracle, restoring insurance for the needy who don’t qualify for Medicaid ought to be their urgent priority.

In the meantime, let’s stop blaming Gregoire. She didn’t torpedo the ship; she’s trying to keep it afloat. The dozens of groups now demanding their funding back would be more credible were they suggesting where that money should come from.

They should find someone other than Gregoire to lash out at – Mr. Recession, for starters.

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