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House Democrats offer partial budget fix: ‘Transition’ Basic Health, raid accounts

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Jan. 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm | 8 Comments »
January 18, 2011 2:51 pm

House Democrats today proposed $217 million in budget cuts, including a scaling back of funding for the Basic Health Plan, to continue chipping away at the shortfall in the current two-year budget.

Rep. Ross Hunter‘s proposal also lays out $124 million in fund transfers, a list that mostly mirrors Gov. Chris Gregoire‘s plan but also raids the Local Toxics Account that local governments use to clean up polluted sites.

The House “early-action” bill gets a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. today in the Ways and Means Committee. If it passes, it would still leave about a $260 million problem for lawmakers to solve in the budget that runs through June — not to mention the $4.6 billion shortfall over the next two years.

Only about $18 million in immediate savings comes from ending Basic Health because those who get subsidized health insurance under the program will be moved to something called Basic Health Transition. It’s meant as a bridge to 2014, when broader Medicaid coverage kicks in as part of the federal health care overhaul.

Lawmakers hope to make up the funding cut to Basic Health by “harness(ing) private contributions and federal funds,” according to the text of the bill.

The plan doesn’t end the Disability Lifeline program that provides cash and medical aid for disabled and out-of-work people, as Gregoire proposed. Nor does it follow her proposals to reduce levy equalization to property-poor school districts, or end state health insurance for non-citizen and undocumented children.

“There are still devastating cuts in this proposal, but in many cases we managed to stretch the safety net without breaking it. Our children, elderly, and most vulnerable people remain a priority in this proposal,” Rep. Jeannie Darneille of Tacoma said in a statement.

Here’s the full news release:

House early action budget bill cuts shortfall; preserves basic ed, kids’ healthcare

OLYMPIA – The House unveiled a plan today that takes another $340 million bite out of the current budget shortfall while maintaining current funding levels for basic education and Apple Health for Kids.

“One of our goals going into this process was to protect our children as much as we possibly could,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “We couldn’t save everything, but we really prioritized core services for kids.”

Hunter’s proposal includes $216.5 million in cuts and $123.8 in fund transfers. This comes on top of the $588 million cut last month during the one-day special session.

“This is real progress,” said Hunter (D-Medina). “The problem is getting smaller. We still have a gap of about $260 million to fill for the fiscal year that ends June 30, but taking this action now will mean taking fewer cuts next biennium.”

Levy equalization funds that help property-poor school districts are left intact, according to Rep. Pat Sullivan, House Majority Leader and long-time education advocate.

“These decisions aren’t easy for any of us,” said Sullivan (D-Covington), “but maintaining the current levy equalization was a high priority for our caucus. Schools all over the state rely on those dollars for vital education programs.”

Besides levy equalization, differences from Governor Gregoire’s proposed supplemental budget include several safety net items. Apple Health for Kids and the Disability Lifeline are funded at current levels, and the following services are cut, but not to the level recommended by the governor:

State food assistance

Child abuse prevention

Prescription drug assistance for seniors

Community health clinics

Family Planning services

Mental health assistance

“There are still devastating cuts in this proposal, but in many cases we managed to stretch the safety net without breaking it,” said committee vice-chair Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma). “Our children, elderly, and most vulnerable people remain a priority in this proposal.”

“We recognize our state has a real problem,” said Hunter. “Unlike the lawmakers in some states, we know it’s our responsibility to tackle it early in the session.” His proposal will be heard in House Ways and Means today at 3:30 and could be approved by that committee as early as tomorrow.

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