In 2003, to help provide leadership and vision for our state, FCWPP launched it’s Secure Society Campaign. The intent of the campaign was to remind public officials and the general public of our social task, including specific areas of interest to Friends which need particular attention: criminal justice, health care, the environment, economic justice, and civil rights and liberties. As you know, traditional governmental functions are now seriously under funded and are under siege. It is our continued goal to help put the general task of government in society in perspective, as the basis for a reformed revenue system that will in turn support needed reforms in substantive programs. The first year of the 58th session of the state legislature had a huge cloud hanging over it-the dilemma of balancing the budget by June 30th (the end of the state’s fiscal year) with a $2.7 billion deficit. The budget is always set in the first year of our two-year sessions, with the Governor’s proposed budget at the start of the process. There are basically three ways to balance the state budget: 1) raise revenue; 2) cut programs and services; and 3) financial maneuverings. The Governor and State Senate’s budget proposals were no new tax/revenue proposals; instead they proposed cuts to a variety of health and human services programs. The cuts came primarily in the healthcare arena.
The most important victories for FCWPP this past session were two bills that are now state law: HB1079 (introduced by Representative Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney) and SB5659 (introduced by Senator Shirley Winsley).
HB1079 was the In-State Tuition Bill, an economic justice priority for FCWPP. The bill will allow undocumented immigrants (primarily Latino youth) who have been residing in Washington State, graduated from a high school in this state, and are in the process of becoming a citizen, to access the in-state tuition college tuition rate. Educational attainment is directly linked to earning potential, so this bill is a significant step toward alleviating poverty and hunger in WA, which has the 2nd highest rate of “nutritional”(?), or maybe “food”(?) insecurity in the country. Local Revenue Options SB5659, the local revenue options bill, will allow county commissions or councils to propose increasing local sales tax or property tax rates; voters will then approve or reject the proposals. Every proposal must include specific plans for the use of revenue generated, and revenue will be split 60-40 between the county treasury and municipalities within the county. The local revenue options bill gives counties and cities the tools they need to preserve health and human services. Preserving health and human services and reforming the state’s tax structure were the first and second legislative priorities for FCWPP this year. Healthcare For ten years Washington has been a leader in providing people, especially children, with access to quality healthcare, understanding that preventive care is always less expensive than emergency room care. But as legislators have been desperate to reduce health care spending, low-income adults, children and families have begun to suffer. New children’s health premiums introduced in this year’s legislative session will block access to healthcare for thousands of children. Children’s health premiums will be levied on families making as little As $18,401 for a family of four. Washington is one of only seven states which will impose premiums at this very low-income level, and the premiums levied on these families will be the most expensive in the nation. To achieve a balanced budget, budget writers are counting on 20,000 children dropping off health insurance because their families cannot afford to pay premiums. In addition to cuts to children’s health care, funding for the Medically Indigent Program, which helped hospitals providing medical care to people who are uninsured and destitute, was eliminated. The Basic Health Plan (BHP) was also restructured to provide fewer benefits to recipients, and despite the fact that a majority of Washington voters voted to increase enrollment in the program, BHP will be made available to fewer people.
The “victories” in the environmental arena consisted largely of avoiding damage rather than moving forward. FCWPP lobbied against the “dirty dozen” anti-Growth Management Act bills, and the worst of them were defeated. Unfortunately, we were not as effective when it came to HB1337 and HB1338, two bills over-allocating the state’s waters, which were combined and passed over widespread public opposition in the final days of the special session. While FCWWP’s efforts were not necessary to its passage, SHB1754, which allows poultry farmers to slaughter up to a thousand of their own pastured chickens per year for direct sale to the ultimate consumer, represented a small but significant victory for organic farmers, environmentalists, people concerned about the compassionate treatment of animals, and people concerned about the availability of pure and wholesome food.
It goes without saying that there were many disappointments this session, if not tragedies. The main five are: 1) The imprudent water bills discussed above; 2)The refusal (with the exception of the State House of Representatives) of legislators and the Governor to consider raising new revenue; 3) significant tax exemptions for businesses (Boeing, Wafer Tech, and bio-tech companies); 4) the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Bill (now state law); and 5) the rejection of the Home Care Worker contract. FCWPP supported a proposed citizen commission to annually review business tax exemptions, which would ensure that tax exemptions are effectively contributing to the health of our state economy. The Unemployment Insurance law will reduce unemployment benefits to those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder-many of whom are people of color, women and farm workers. The contract negotiated with Home Care Workers, which would have provided a modest wage increase of a little over a dollar an hour to these severely underpaid public employees and provided them for the first time with health care and other benefits, was rejected by the legislature, which instead approved a small (50 cents per hour) raise and denied them health care and other benefits altogether. Disappointments came from three other issues with which FCWPP was involved: reform of the 3 Strikes Law didn’t make it out of the House; the Food Stamp Fairness Bill-which would have allowed former drug felons, and their children, access to food stamps-failed to pass; and funding for the Small Farm and Direct Marketing program was cut by 75%. As you can see, we need as many advocates as possible in our Meetings to be a united voice for compassion and justice!