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PubliCola's 2011 Election Ratings: I-1163

By PublicolaPicks October 20, 2011

Sticking with our commitment to be a more objective and balanced source of news (yep, this “liberal” site is the site that broke the story that the state stopped Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee from trying to transfer unlimited “surplus funds” from his federal congressional campaign to his campaign for governor), we’re doing things differently this year than we have in the past.

Inspired by the even-keeled Seattle/King County Municipal League’s approach to candidates (rather than endorsing based on ideology, the Muni League rates based on skill, experience, and policy acumen), we’ve been talking to candidates and interviewing folks on both sides of the ballot measures and coming up with our own ratings.

On ballot measures, rather than telling you how to vote, we’re identifying the best and weakest arguments from both sides.

(Here's our take on I-1125, the tolling measure, and on I-1183, the liquor privatization measure.)

I-1163

I-1163 is a do-over. In 2008, voters passed I-1029, mandating background checks and increased training and certification for long-term health care providers beginning in 2010. Long-term health care workers provide in-home and nursing home facility care for the elderly. The initiative makes the state cover the cost of training for long-term care workers who care for Medicaid recipients. Private caregivers would have to cover the costs themselves.

Facing devastating budget shortfalls, the legislature, along with the health care union (SEIU 775), agreed to delay implementation last year. But then the legislature, without the health care union's consent, suspended the initiative again this year until 2014.

I-1163 would make sure the legislature began funding the training  in 2012 and would also send warning to the legislature not to suspend—or perhaps even throw out—the original mandate.

The Office of Financial Management says the initiative would cost the state almost $18 million over the next biennium. (The training costs $31.9 million, but since it's a Medicaid program, the state would get $14.2 million from the feds for this specific program.)

Biggest contributor to 1163: the Service Employees International Union 775, $1.3 million

Biggest contributor against 1163, Washington State Residential Care Council PAC, $72,000

Best argument for 1163

Increasing quality of care for seniors is good public policy, not least of which because we can prevent catastrophic emergency costs by caring for seniors on a regular basis.

Here's the kicker, though: Abuse citations are up 15 percent since 2008 at adult family homes. The Seattle Times ran a damning story last year documenting horrifying abuses at senior homes. The upgraded training mandate—from 35 hours to 75 hours with a certification test—and background checks (currently, the background check only covers a person's local history, while I-1163 broadens scrutiny to the federal level by tapping into the FBI's crime database) would ensure a professional and quality workforce in an industry that cares for society's most vulnerable population.

Most misleading argument for 1163

Voters already passed this—72 to 27!—in 2008.

Okay. But it's not 2008 anymore. The legislature tabled the mandate because it has had unprecedented budget shortfalls to deal with since then—cutting $15 billion over the past two bienniums. Those kinds of circumstances and emergencies are precisely why we give the legislature agency to suspend initiatives as circumstances change. It's why the Democrats overturned 960 and it's why the legislature opted out of I-728 and I-732.

Best argument against 1163

There's no money. As much as SEIU represents those who are doing God's work, why should one powerful union be able to prioritize its pet issue by pouring more than $1 million into a cause—going over the legislature's head while other valuable programs may get slashed due to the $1.4 billion budget shortfall? Let the legislators decide what to fund or not. It's what they're there for.

Most misleading argument against 1163

Opponents of the measure say the additional training will raise the cost of long-term care, putting health care out of reach and hurting the seniors who the measure purports to help. This is off base for two reasons. First, the $235 training cost is a small price for the long-term investment in a well-trained workforce that will save costs, for example, by keeping seniors out of homes where costs are far higher (about $4,200 a month vs. $1,600 a month) and by helping flag early prevention.

Second, and more important, even if the entire cost to cover the training were passed on to clients who seek private care (the public assistance clients—about 40 percent—are covered by Medicaid), it would only add about $7 to the $4,200 monthly average cost.

Newspaper endorsements to check out: "Yes" on 1163, the Pacific Northwest Inlander. "No" on 1163, the Olympian.
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