State Workers

Public looks to stop state budget cuts

The Washington State Capitol in Olympia. (Tony Overman/The Olympian)
The Washington State Capitol in Olympia. (Tony Overman/The Olympian)

State workers lost jobs.

Adult day-health centers closed their doors, and relatives of Alzheimer’s patients watched their loved ones’ conditions deteriorate without the care they’d received before.

Disabled children and adults stopped getting help with personal-care activities such as bathing and feeding. And in public schools, leaders dipped into reserves and cut staffing to get by.

Those are just a few of the effects of state budget cuts enacted by the state Legislature this year, and more cuts apparently are on their way in January when lawmakers return to the Capitol.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget director warned of additional cuts this week after a new revenue forecast showed the state is headed nearly $200 million into the red by June 2011. Victor Moore, the budget director, said further cuts of $500 million to $1 billion are needed to balance the books, and Rep. Kelli Linville and Sen. Rodney Tom, both budget-writing Democrats, said streamlining government is the first priority before looking at new revenues.

But cutting more would be a mistake, according to a parade of service providers and recipients of state aid who met in a town hall forum Thursday afternoon in Olympia.

A half-dozen lawmakers led by Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia listened to the testimony and said they would look for ways to broaden lawmakers’ discussion of options next year. Lawmakers cut more than $4 billion in programs including state jobs and eliminating of cost-of-living raises for state employees and teachers as they closed a budget gap of more than $8 billion.

Among the cautions:

 • People who were living at home and receiving help at adult day-health centers, where medical care is provided, are not getting all of that care after a 50 percent cut in funds. A court order has blocked some cuts, but in the meantime a few day-health centers already closed, eliminating 50 day-health jobs in King County alone, said Nancy Dapper, executive director for the Alzheimer’s Association of Western Washington.

Dapper said patients with strokes, head injuries and other chronic conditions are left without the skilled nursing care and other routine care they’d received at the centers.

“People who had been using walkers are now back in wheelchairs,” said Sara Myers, director of the Washington Adult Day Services Association. “We’re seeing the deterioration now.”

Dave Budd, assistant director of Elder Health Northwest, said his group lost 400 clients after closing two programs at its King County operations. They’ve started hearing about former clients, including one who died, many who fell or lost weight and others who had declines in function. “That’s just in two months,” he said.

Dapper questioned the budget trade-offs, saying the state gave up $30 million in matching federal money in cuts that saved $21 million and cut day-health services to about 1,000 people.

She said another $27 million cut in personal-care hours is costing millions more in federal matching dollars for Medicaid, and the result is 5 million hours of care to the elderly and disabled will be lost over two years.

 • Linda Cox, a 19-year veteran social worker for the state, urged lawmakers to go out into state agencies’ field offices to observe what she saw before retiring recently.

“They are not increasing the social workers, but they are having more and more people coming in for social services,” Cox said, explaining that she had worked in a community service office of seven employees that shrank when two staff retired and were not replaced.

“People are overworked, overwhelmed and they are bailing from the CSOs,” Cox said. “I chose to keep my sanity and my mental health. I retired early.’’

In the end, Rep. Williams said the comments about the budget cuts will “drive our decision-making” on the budget in the 2010 legislative session. And he said he wants to follow up with a broader discussion about state tax policy and tax breaks – going beyond a discussion of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1033.

I-1033 would limit city, county and state government’s natural growth in revenues to factors of population growth and inflation, putting extra money into property tax relief.

But I-1033 would not let governments tap into the natural growth of revenues as the economy springs back, making it harder to pay for health care and education, according to Williams and other critics.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688