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State Federation warns legislators Senate budget carries risks to government function, public safety and safety net

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on April 5, 2013 at 11:44 am with No Comments »
April 5, 2013 11:44 am
Sen. Andy Hill
Sen. Andy Hill
Sen. Sharon Nelson
Sen. Sharon Nelson

As we reported previously, the Washington Federation of State Employees and other labor groups reacted with a mixture of relief about pay and worry about healthcare after the Senate released its Republican-crafted budget Wednesday. But federation lobbyist Dennis Eagle went further in an email sent Thursday evening to Senate members who may be voting on the $33.2 billion Republican-crafted spending plan later today.

In particular Eagle pointed to $131 million in unspecified “administrative efficiencies” that are among the uncertain financing pieces of the spending plan – not to mention an assumption agencies will have some $120 million in unspent agency funds left over in 2015. The budget was principally authored by Republican Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond but had “input” from other Republicans as well as Democrats such as Sens. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam and Sharon Nelson of Maury Island.

Eagle warned the efficiency cuts could lead to “higher workloads, diminished customer service, further erosion of public safety, and the closure of parks and hatcheries.”

Of course, Eagle packaged his message with a sweet touch of deference that is customary in speaking to lawmakers, saying at the outset of his message:

Honorable Members of the Senate:

Several Senators have asked us to provide written comment on the proposed Senate budget. As we testified in Committee, there are some positive elements to the Senate budget as well as issues we need to keep working on. We understand the budget is a work in progress and we’re grateful for the effort and dedication that has gone into this process so far.

We hope the following is helpful and we look forward to working with all parties as the budget moves forward.

Sincerely,

Dennis Eagle

He went on to identify a few problem areas, explaining that the budget:

- Eliminates health care coverage eligibility for part-time public employees, requiring these workers to purchase their health care as individuals through the Health Benefits Exchange. The concern is we don’t know the design or cost of these plans, or whether this would result in a significant compensation reduction for thousands of workers.

– Assumes $131 million (NGF-S) in “administrative efficiencies and savings” across all of state government. We are concerned that after $10 billion in budget cuts over the past four years that this will only result in higher workloads, diminished customer service, further erosion of public safety, and the closure of parks and hatcheries.

– Assumes all future expenditure increases for non-education spending will be limited to an “inflation-plus-population growth” formula, with any excess revenue dedicated to education. The concern is the general population is aging, and some caseloads are growing in excess of the proposed formula. The likely result is increased education funding would come at the expense of the safety net.

– Slashes Economic Services funding by more than $230 million (all funds), including the elimination of incapacity evaluations and significant reductions in programs affecting the neediest among us.

– We continue to believe more people would benefit by closing tax loopholes than by further eroding the safety net.

Stay tuned for the Senate vote. Senate Bill 5034 moved out of the Ways and Means Committee shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday. My reporting partner Jordan Schrader had the vote breakdown here. If no vote happens today, it would likely take place Saturday.

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