Budget Report, Part 1: "I Do Not Support This Budget."

By Josh Feit December 9, 2009

At this morning's grim budget press conference in the governor's office (the state is facing a $2.6 billion budget shortfall) Gov. Chris Gregoire announced a budget plan that would not only eliminate the state's $340 million Basic Health Plan (as was rumored), but eliminate the following programs as well:

1. General Assistance for the Unemployable (GAU), an $88.5 million program that helps support 30,000 adults who have medical and mental disabilities that take them out of the job market.

2. Prescription drug assistance for 85,000 seniors, a $7.8 million program.

3. Maternity support for more than 50,000 high-risk pregnant women, a $28 million program.

4. Terminal care hospices, serving about 2,600, a $6.2 million program.

5. College aid for over 12,000 low-income students, a $146 million program.

6. Early childhood learning for more than 1,500 three-year-olds, a $10.5 million program.

7. All day kindergarten for students living in poverty, a $33.6 million program.

8. Children's health care (the Apple Health Care program), for 16,000 low-income kids, at $11.6 million.

There's a lot more on the list, but these—along with Basic Health—are the programs  Gov. Gregoire herself called out in her dramatic speech about "Washington values" that made it sound more like a political pitch than a straightforward budget outline.


"Washington values say that we care for our seniors ... This budget suspends drug assistance for more than 85,000 senior citizens ... Washington values know that healthy moms produce healthy babies ... This budget suspends maternity support for more than 50,000 high-risk pregnant women," Gregoire riffed in Obama-style oratory.

And she concluded: "[This budget] does not reflect my values ... Let me be very clear: I do not support this budget. As required by law, it is balanced. For me it is unjust."

The political pitch? Gov. Gregoire wants to raise taxes to save the programs. Democratic leadership in the legislature has indicated they support new taxes as well this year. (Last year, state senate leadership supported taxes, but house leadership and Governor Gregoire did not.)

To restore core programs like BHP, prescription drugs for seniors, Apple Health Care, and student aid Gregoire said she planned to submit an alternative budget with about $700 million in new tax revenue. That would still leave about $1 billion worth in cuts that won't be restored. (For a full list of those programs, check out part 2 of my budget report tomorrow.)

"In early January, I will introduce my budget," she said. "My budget will restore several of the most critical programs that are eliminated by this budget [including the six listed above]. The only way I can do  that is to find new revenue. [Some] have said, 'Don't look at new revenue.' Are they still going to say that now? I don't think so."

During the post-speech Q&A, KIRO-TV reporter Essex Porter asked the governor if she was using "scare tactics" to gain support for new taxes.

Gregoire responded: "To those who say that, you show me a budget that cuts $2.6 billion," adding, "I don't know of anything over three digits that isn't cut in this budget. I'm trying to tell people the truth. I don't believe in scare tactics."

Gregoire also said she was "troubled" by the idea of waiting until November to put new taxes in front of the voters instead of acting right away.

After the governor's speech and Q&A, Republican state Rep. Gary Alexander (R-20)—who ended up giving the de facto GOP response when he was surrounded by reporters in the corner of the room for a reaction—said Gregoire was "holding the public hostage to a tax increase."

A reporter asked Alexander how the Republicans would handle the $2.6 billion shortfall differently. Alexander outlined most of the GOP themes I noted this morning, such as finding efficiencies over cuts. (Gregoire's budget actually included new efficiencies, such as consolidating rehab facilities, eliminating boards and commissions, merging minor agencies, consolidating agency fleets, consolidating IT services, streamlining environmental permitting, and even taking the GOP up on a reform they suggested to me just yesterday: Putting a time limit, six months, on GAU assistance.)

Alexander did agree with the governor (kind of) on one aspect of her budget: Cutting the Basic Health Plan. (Of course, Gregoire doesn't actually want to cut it.) "That would be the first on the table," he said, explaining that the BHP is a state plan that goes beyond federal requirements. (The GOP rap is that Medicaid provides health care for people in poverty, and the BHP, which serves people at 200 percent of poverty—$36,000 for a family of three—isn't a core service.)

Oddly, though, Alexander said the answer to health care needs was to focus on community clinics. The BHP (and the GAU—which Alexander also said he supported cutting) helps keep community clinics in business.

"The elimination of basic health insurance programs that support low-income people is contradictory to any notion of supporting community health clinics," said Rebecca Kavoussi, a lobbyist for Community Health Network of Washington. "We're required to provide service even if people can't pay. If they don't pay, we can't keep our doors open."

Twenty-five percent of the state's 200,000 uninsured (likely to increase to 1 million people if the BHP and other axed health programs in the governor's budget stay kaput) are served by community health clinics. More than 40 percent of the clients who use community health clinics come from the state's children's health program, the BHP, and GAU.

I have a call in to Rep. Alexander.

Kavoussi was part of a group of social-service advocates who held a press conference of their own immediately after Gregoire's speech just downstairs from the governor's office. The group—which included teachers, nurses, students on financial aid, and low-income and senior advocates—spoke about the "devastating" cuts, but sounded a supportive note for Gregoire, saying they were encouraged that she was coming back with a second budget that would call for $700 million in new revenues to restore things like prescription drugs for seniors, hospice care, and college aid for low-income students.

Janel Brown, a junior at the UW who qualifies for the state's Need Grant program (which helps 20,000 low-income students statewide pay for college) spoke at the press conference. Brown is one of the 7,000 Need Grant students at the UW as part of the Husky Promise. The Need Grant program got hit in Gregoire's budget today, which would remove about 12,000 students from eligibility.

"The Husky promise would have to be broken," Brown said. "I'd have to find a new promise." (Cynical reporter here, but that spiel worked on me.)

Adam Glickman from the Service Employees International Union 775—which plans to help the advocates form a campaign to push for tax increases—said, "We are aligned with the governor that this budget doesn't reflect our values, but it's too early to settle on a specific number [for new tax revenue]. We have to look at this budget and determine what are the most disastrous cuts."

Glickman's SEIU 775 represents thousands of home care workers employed by the state who will lose 50 percent of their health care coverage under Gregoire's budget, leaving the workers, who typically make about $10-an-hour—without insurance.

Jerry Reilly, spokesman for the Elder Care Alliance, also part of the group of advocates, said $700 million wasn't enough.

"This morning the governor said it's time to stand up...I think we have to stand up taller," Reilly said. "Seven-hundred million dollars is nowhere near where we need to be."

Under Gregoire's budget 600 people will lose their adult day health care, a program for which Reilly advocates. And it's not on the "To-be-restored" list.

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