Last week’s earthquake made life at the state capitol a bit more complicated, but legislators and lobbyists say this legislative session was already in trouble long before the quake made the statehouse uninhabitable.
“Every week, we get news about how the budget situation is getting worse,” said Rep. Shay Schual-Berke, D-33rd District. She was willing to make a few predictions last week: “K–12 education will be virtually the only part of the budget that sees increased funding” because of the two statewide initiatives that mandated increases in state funding for education. The budget also took a dramatic hit from increases in healthcare insurance costs for state workers. Schual-Berke said the only way to increase funding for any other program would be to take money away from some other project.
“At the end of this session, if we have maintained what we have, we will be victorios. If we get anything new, it will be miraculous,” said Sherry Appleton, lobbyist for the Coalition for a Jewish Voice, a few weeks ago. She said the debate may come down to the poor competing with teachers and state government employees for limited dollars.
“Because the governor is the education governor, the burden falls on human services,” Appleton said, with more than a hint of the frustration she is feeling as a lobbyist for mostly social service causes. “Somewhere along the line, we all have to take responsibility for the vulnerable.”
Both Appleton and Remy Trupin, government affairs associate for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, agreed that the No. 1 priority for the Jewish community remains the effort to make sure Medicaid reimbursement rates remain high enough to cover the cost of providing high-quality care at the Kline Galland Center. A law scheduled to take effect soon could cost Kline Galland about $750,000 in lost Medicaid reimbursements. These dollars would have to be made up by either decreasing services or increasing other funding for the Jewish nursing home.
Although both the Senate and House bills on this issue are dead, it looks as if the issue might become part of the budget, according to Trupin. Schual-Berke, sponsor of the now-dead bills, was not able to predict the result of the continuing debate about funding nursing homes at an adequate level.
Three issues of interest to the people being served by Jewish Family Service were still alive when The Transcript went to press on Wednesday.
The first of the three is transitional health benefits for individuals on the General Assistance Unemployable program. This program would allow people assisted by the Seattle Association for the Jewish Disabled to keep health benefits if they find a job.
A bill still in play in the Senate would allow people who are victims of domestic violence or stalking to collect unemployment insurance. Trupin said this issue has come up every year in the Legislature, but this is the furthest it’s ever gotten. It could be approved in the Senate this week, but then it would have to return to the House, where a similar bill was not approved. Trupin also noted that so many amendments have been added to this bill that advocates for victims of domestic violence may become less enthusiastic about supporting it.
A welfare bill that is still alive in the Senate, but hasn’t made it onto the Ways and Means Committee schedule would allow welfare recipients to go to vocational school or other colleges for two years without having to work while they are in school. Trupin said he is not optimistic about this bill becoming a law.
A community-related bill that did not survive past last week’s bill cutoff in the Legislature was a hate-crimes bill that would have allowed judges to take into account an attacker’s perception of his victim’s race, status or class. Judges would have been able to use this criterion to justify exceptional sentences. Sen. Adam Kline, D-37, sponsored this bill in the Senate, at the governor’s request.
Schual-Berke, who is a medical doctor, said she was sponsoring two other important bills that make sense but probably won’t be approved. One calls for a blue-ribbon commission to evaluate the finances and delivery of health care. “I think it’s about time we took a comprehensive look at what we do,” she said, adding that the state employee health-care insurance problem may get people to consider the bill more seriously.
Her other bill she has more dire expectations for: “House Bill 2198 won’t go anywhere, and I think that’s a shame. It’s a bill that asks us to reevaluate the Washington state tax structure.” She said it’s a shame that there isn’t a majority of legislators who think it’s time to look at the state’s tax system. The bill has zero support on the Republican side. “People are afraid and I think that’s crazy. People of the state expect their legislators to have the ability to face the issues.”
She said the silver lining in this year’s state budget crisis is that the government is beginning to look at regulatory reform, streamlining government and energy conservation.
Appleton had not yet found a silver lining when she sat down to talk a few weeks ago. “There’s a lot of gloom here. There is no money. [I-]601 [the state spending limit initiative approved a few years ago] is not even an issue. There is no money,” she said.
Trupin said one of the concerns is that government officials are going to look toward charitable and religious organizations to pick up the burden of services they cannot find the tax dollars to provide. If the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle suddenly became responsible for raising an additional $750,000 to cover lost Medicaid reimbursements to the Kline Galland Center, where would that money come from? he asks.