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U.S. Senate vote may ease state budget crisis

Post by lesblumenthal on Aug. 4, 2010 at 9:17 am | 8 Comments »
August 4, 2010 9:18 am

WASHINGTON – Washington state would receive nearly $530 million in funding for Medicaid and to pay the salaries of 3,000 teachers who faced the pink slip under a bill the Senate cleared for final passage with a critical procedural vote today.

The funding could allow Washington to avoid a special session of the state Legislature which faced the prospect of imposing across the board cuts including layoffs and cuts in health care and other state services, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash said.

Murray had introduced the legislation which provided $16.1 billion to help states pay for the added cost of Medicaid as more low income people seek medical help because of the recession. It also includes $10 billion to continue school funding begun under an earlier stimulus package.

Washington state would get $320 million for Medicaid and $208 million in school aid.

The Senate today voted 61-38 to end debate on the measure and a final vote is expected Thursday. While 60 votes were needed to cut off debate, for final passage the bill needs only a simple majority.

The House has not approved similar legislation and has recessed until September.

Murray said the legislation will allow Washington state to “avoid layoffs, service cuts or tax increases and it will make sure our children don’t walk through the school house doors this September to larger classes and fewer subjects.”

Murray had overcome some Republican objections by paying for the bill with unspent federal money. Even so, Republicans attacked the measure saying it would lead to permanent “bailouts” for states facing budget problems and was a “brazen attempt” to bolster public employee unions.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement the measure will help the state avoid “drastic” cuts.

“Such actions would have been devastating to Washington state by slowing our recovery and potentially pushing us toward a double dip recession,” the governor said.

Read on for full statements from Murray and Gregoire:

MURRAY FMAP, TEACHER JOBS AMENDMENT TO PASS SENATE; THOUSANDS OF JOBS WILL BE SAVED IN WASHINGTON STATE

Murray Amendment is fully paid for, restores FMAP funding to Washington state, prevents layoffs of up to 3,000 WA teachers

ALLOWS WA STATE TO AVOID COSTLY SPECIAL SESSION

Watch Senator Murray’s speech here

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray successfully introduced an amendment that delivered on the FMAP funding that Washington state expected and needed to avoid a special session of the legislature, be forced to make drastic cuts to state services, or increase taxes. The Murray Amendment also provides support to school districts to allow them to avoid teacher layoffs that would hurt students and schools. Murray spoke on the Senate floor and convinced her colleagues to support her amendment by talking about the Washington state families who desperately need for this amendment to pass. The amendment needed 60 votes to invoke cloture, and it passed on a vote of 61-38. A vote on final passage is expected to take place tomorrow, which would require a simple majority.

“I am proud that I was able to put together a bipartisan coalition that put families and communities above partisan politics and delivered on the support our states need,” said Senator Patty Murray. “This amendment will allow Washington state to avoid layoffs, service cuts, or tax increases—and it will make sure our children don’t walk through the schoolhouse doors this September to larger class sizes and fewer subjects.”

The Murray amendment includes $16.1 billion FMAP investment to help states avoid job losses, cuts to Medicaid, and tax increases. In Washington state this funding helps avoid a costly emergency session of the state legislature or across-the-board cuts to jobs, health care, and state services.

It also provides $10 billion to school districts throughout the country to save teacher jobs so students aren’t forced to bear the burden of local budget shortfalls. This saves an estimated 100,000 teacher jobs across the country, including 3,000 in Washington state alone.

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech follows:

“M. President recently we have had the opportunity to consider several bills here in the Senate to help ease the burden middle class families and small business owners face in this recession.

“In late June, we brought a bill to the floor that would provide key targeted tax breaks including state sales tax deductibility for families in my home state – as well as tax breaks to help end our dependence on foreign oil.

“In July, we introduced a Wall Street Reform bill that included the strongest protections for consumers ever enacted and a guarantee that taxpayers would never be on the hook for bailing out Wall Street again.

“A few short weeks ago, we worked to extend unemployment benefits to help stimulate economic growth and help those in desperate need.

“And then, just last week, we introduced a bill that would have provided a new small business lending fund to help the backbone of our economy – our small businesses – grow and hire.

“A bill that would have jumpstarted community bank lending and small business hiring while saving taxpayers $1 billion.

“M. President, all of these bills should have had across the board support. And in fact, outside of the Senate, they did.

“The conservative leaning National Federation of Independent Business voiced their support for the small business lending fund.

“Hometown community bankers from across my state stood up to support Wall Street Reform.

“Economists of all political stripes got behind the long-proven benefits of extending unemployment. And so many others across the country found common cause with the benefits of these critical bills.

“Bills that would help to: create jobs, put money back in the pockets of taxpayers and small business owners, and ease the difficult choices struggling Americans face every day.

“But at every turn, here in the Senate, we have been opposed by those on the other side of the aisle who seem to have long ago made their own choice about anything and everything that comes to this floor.

“A choice that favors politics over people. Wall Street over Main Street The status quo over the struggles of working families.

“A choice to just say no – No matter what, No matter when, No matter who it hurts.

“M. President I go back to Washington state every weekend. I talk to my constituents—and I try to explain to them what we are working on here in D.C.

“And to be honest, I am having a lot of trouble explaining why when big banks and Wall Street were on the brink of failure and threatening to blow up our economy, Republicans immediately came together to help us step back from the brink.

“But now that Wall Street is fine but regular families and communities continue to struggle—those same Republicans are nowhere to be found.

“Well, I don’t have an answer for these families. And quite honestly I don’t understand it myself.

“But M. President, today, as we all prepare for a final week of votes before we go home to face our constituents, those on the other side of the aisle have one last opportunity to show that this not just about a political calculation. And that people can be put first.

“Mr. President, The amendment that we will soon consider will help: Save jobs, Ensure our kids are not paying the price for this recession, Avoid painful cuts to critical services, And importantly, is fully paid for.

“For every dollar this amendment invests in saving teacher jobs, reducing class sizes, and avoiding cuts to state programs, we have found targeted spending cuts.

“This amendment includes help for states in every corner of this country and will help ensure our most precious resource, our education system, is protected.

“M. President, Every day brings more reports about the continuing wave of layoffs affecting school districts across the country.

“According to recent estimates, over 130,000 teacher jobs will be lost this fall alone.

“In my home state nearly 3,000 jobs are at risk.

“That means 3,000 teachers in Washington state who are right now in limbo.

“Who are spending this summer not knowing if they’ll return to a classroom or a pink slip in the fall. And we have to remember – every time we lose a teacher, it’s not only the teacher and our economy that suffers, it’s the kids in every single one of our states.

“You know, I recently received a letter from a special education teacher named Connie Compton in Kent, Washington who told the story of having to recently say goodbye to a young, talented, energetic music teacher because of budget cutbacks.

“She told me about how this was just one of six teachers her school has recently had to let go.

“And in the letter she talked about how it is the kids, who only get one shot at a music class or an after-school programs, or arts, or sports – or even subjects like social studies and history that are also being cut – that really lose out.

“She also talked about how whether it’s through: Larger class sizes, Scaled down services, Fewer subjects, Or even shortened school weeks—too often it’s our most vulnerable that are paying the price for this recession.

“My amendment is a fiscally responsible way to ensure that our state’s schoolchildren and the hard-working teachers who get up every day to improve their lives aren’t the victims of struggling state budgets.

“My amendment provides $10 billion to school districts throughout the country to save the over 130,000 teacher jobs at risk

“And it does so without adding to the deficit

“And with a prohibition on the use of this funding for general expenses.

“It’s a targeted and responsible way to help ensure that as our kids head back to school our teachers aren’t entering the ranks of the unemployed.

“It’s also a way to ensure that we are not paying a lot more in the long run for adults that have been failed by school systems with too few teachers, and too many cuts to services.

“It’s August and students are about to go back to school.

“We cannot afford for them to come back to bigger classes and fewer subjects and we certainly can’t afford to wait to address this immediate problem.

“M. President another immediate problem facing states like mine is the huge state budget hole left by federal Medicaid payments promised to states but never delivered.

“Without this critical federal funding, these state are now faced with the difficult decision of whether they slash thousands of jobs, raise taxes, or stall economic recovery.

“The amendment we are now considering includes a fully offset $16.1 billion investment to help states avoid job losses, cuts to Medicaid, and tax increases.

“In my own state it will help avoid a costly emergency session of the state legislature or across the board cuts to jobs, state services and health care for so many who have lost it when they lost their jobs.

“In fact, according to the Community Health Care Network in my state without this extension health care services for tens of thousands of Washingtonians will be under threat.

“Failure to pass this amendment could also mean: Lay-offs to corrections officers and health care workers, Cuts to end-of-life care for low-income people, And cuts to state supported financial aid programs – denying up to 5,800 full time students in my state an opportunity to go to our colleges and universities next year.

“It will increase the risk of a double-dip recession and result in reduced consumer spending.

“And ultimately, failure to pass this amendment will lead to more spending, not less, because of an increased demand for: Unemployment benefits, Subsidized health care And food stamps.

“The bottom line is that without this amendment much of the progress states have made to get back on the right economic track will be endangered.

“And this is no time to risk our recovery by playing politics with help for hard-working families.

“M. President, the amendment before us today is the last, best chance for teachers and the economic stability of so of our many states.

“Over the last several weeks we have tried to work with the other side on every concern they have brought to the table, on every bill we have brought to the floor.

“We compromised. And then we compromised again. And then again.

“Today’s amendment is another compromise.

“It may not include all that we would have liked to save jobs and services in states across the country, but it includes enough to avoid jeopardizing our recovery.

“We have done all that we can.

“If Republicans say no again, it is clear that they are putting their interests before the interests of hard-working families.

“M. President, ultimately this is about where our priorities lie.

“Are our priorities with hard working families who everyday have to grapple with tough choices about how to afford the things they need?

“Are they with our home states who are faced with choosing between laying-off workers or raising taxes?

“Are they with our teachers who have been left with no choice but to find a new job without this help?

“Or are our priorities based on political choices?

“Choices guided by polling or party doctrine.

“Choices made long ago – to say no – no matter what.

“Mr. President, this amendment is focused on what we can still do for our constituents and our states.

“Not what we can’t or won’t.

“It’s about solving the big problems that are still threatening our recovery.

“And it’s about showing the American people that when common sense legislation comes before us, we can make common sense choices.

“Mr. President, I am urging my Republican colleagues to put our families, communities, and states above partisan politics—and work with us to pass this critical amendment.

Gregoire praises Senate vote to approve federal Medicaid dollars for Washington state
OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Senate’s vote to approve a bill to extend Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) aid to states, including Washington:
 
“I applaud the Senate for today’s vote extending FMAP support to the states. Moving forward on the FMAP extension means Washington, and many other states, will not be forced to make drastic cuts that would have harmed both our citizens and our economic recovery. The Senate heard that now is not the time to lay off thousands or to eliminate medical services for those who need it the most. Such actions would have been devastating to Washington state by slowing our recovery and potentially pushing us toward a double dip recession. It is important to note that in light of the economy states have already cut their budgets, in Washington state we’ve cut $5.1 billion from the state budget.
 
“While a final vote in the Senate is required, as well as a House vote, I anticipate that they will both act swiftly.
 
“Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were champions of this effort and I thank them for their tireless efforts to protect our people and our economy.
 
“I especially want to thank my colleagues in governor’s offices from across the country who led a bi-partisan effort to assure that this necessary support came to fruition.”

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