ELECTION 2011: When every dollar counts, timing is poor for Initiative 1163

September 18, 2011 

Initiative 1163

This measure would reinstate background checks, training, and other requirements for long-term care workers and providers, if amended in 2011; and address financial accountability and administrative expenses of the long-term in-home program. Should this measure be enacted into law?

q Yes

q No

On the surface, Initiative 1163 sounds like a reasonable and rational proposal. After all who could be against additional training for home health care workers? Who could oppose federal background checks for those 40,000 people who are going into private homes to care for vulnerable senior citizens and disabled children and adults?

It’s with great reluctance that The Olympian’s editorial board urges a “no” vote on Initiative 1163. It’s simply the wrong time to add to the financial burden bogging down the state of Washington.

This economic recession continues to take a heavy toll on the state’s budget. It’s been three years of cut, cut, cut. Thousands of state government jobs have been eliminated. Workers have gone without raises for years then subjected to unpaid furloughs. While their pay has decreased, employees have been called upon to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for medical expenses.

This community has seen first-hand the anguish and heartache caused by budget cuts. But the pain has spread far beyond the halls of government.

College and university tuition rates are skyrocketing, almost to the point of pricing middle class families out of a college education.

Our K-12 classrooms are crowded and teachers have shared in the financial sacrifice.

But, again, it doesn’t stop there. Seniors and low-income families have lost health care coverage. Prescription drug coverage has been forfeited for many of the poor, along with dental services.

Environmental programs have been slashed or eliminated. Parks are being kept open only through a new fee on the Discover Pass.

The Department of Social and Health Services has cut spending and employees who provide direct services to the poor, the disabled and vulnerable, have been asked to do much more with less.

Lawmakers adopt all-cuts budgets only to turn around and find themselves facing yet another revenue forecast predicting fewer dollars flowing in state coffers. Look at Thursday’s revenue forecast which says the state budget that began in July 1, is about $1.4 billion out of balance. We can expect yet another round of budget cuts, with conservatives objecting to any talk of tax increases to offset the loss.

It’s in that horrible economic environment that voters are asked to support Initiative 1163.

It’s a decent proposal. At its core, it increases the amount of training home health care workers must have from 35 hours to 75 hours and calls on the state to pay for that training. The measure also expands existing law from in-state background checks to federal background checks to ensure that those health care workers caring for the sick and disabled don’t have a criminal record in another state.

The primary reason why The Olympian’s editorial board recommends that voters reject Initiative 1163 is the timing.

Proponents and opponents disagree on how much state money is involved. Opponents set the total price tag — when coupling the new mandated training on top of the training ordered in Initiative 1029 passed in 2008 — at $81 million.

That seems inflated in our opinion.

The Office of Financial Management has said the training costs will total $31 million over six years, offset by $18 million in federal reimbursements. Some of the expenses proposed in the new initiative are pushed out to the 2016 biennium, so costs could be closer to $50 million.

To coin a phrase, that amount of money used to be “budget dust.”

No more.

In a state where it’s been one budget cut after another, layoffs measured by the thousands and service cuts across state government, every dollar counts.

And the truth is every million spent in new programs — and make no mistake this initiative calls for new spending — has to be cut from someplace else, whether it’s state employee pay, further reductions in dental or medical care for the frail, increased K-12 class sizes or fewer environmental protections.

We simply cannot afford Initiative 1163 at this point in time. The budget gap is getting deeper as evidenced by Thursday’s discouraging revenue forecast. At a time of drastic budget cuts, we cannot afford the new training mandate proposed in this initiative.

Vote “no” on Initiative 1163.

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