Monday, November 1, 2010

Use your voice to help WA citizens with developmental disabilities

Washington citizens with developmental disabilities are struggling through increasingly tough times. The national economic recession that began a few years ago has had a significant effect on the ability of our state and other states across the nation to maintain investments in essential public services. Cuts in the areas of transportation, education, basic health, residential support services, and family support have already had profoundly negative implications for persons with developmental disabilities and their families. Human Service funding is diminishing and continuation of basic support services for our most vulnerable citizens is in jeopardy. The results of the next election could make matters even worse. Six measures on the Washington State ballot will have immediate and lasting effects on our state’s ability to meet basic public needs.

Initiatives and Referendums: Washington State voters are often asked to generate laws through initiatives and referendums. Initiatives are ways to ask the voters to create laws bypassing the legislative process; laws proposed by an individual or a group of individuals who are not elected officials. These proposals are filed with the Secretary of State and must gather enough registered voter signatures to qualify to be on the ballot for approval or rejection by Washington State voters. Referendums are laws passed by the state legislature which are then sent to a vote of the people to approve or reject.

In this election, voters will be asked to consider six initiatives and one referendum while also taking into account that current revenue forecasts are predicting a $3 billion shortfall of the budgeted amount to maintain our commitments to education, communities, health, and economic security. The results of this election could potentially cause great harm to essential public support systems in our state. It is imperative that voters recognize the revenue realities of our state and prioritize essential human services.

Community Human Service organizations, including non-profit organizations, can legally take positions on initiatives and referendums. AtWork!, along with other community employment agencies and The Community Employment Alliance, offer the following information intended to inform our community members about the positive or damaging effects of these proposals should they become law.

Support for Human Service Infrastructure

Referendum 52 - Healthy Schools for Washington
Ref. 52 would use existing taxes to create $500 million of bonding capacity to fix old, unsafe schools. Every school district in the state could get funding through competitive grants. Ref. 52 will also save taxpayers $130 million a year in reduced energy costs once buildings are updated and modernized and it will create 30,000 new construction jobs across our state.

Initiative 1098
A coalition of business, labor, and community leaders designed this initiative to provide essential funding prioritized for education and basic health services. I-1098will raise $1 billion per year by taxing singles who make over $200,000 a year and couples making over $400,000 a year, only about 3% of our state’s population. The majority of other taxpayers will pay less by reducing the state property tax by 20% and increasing the small business tax credit from $420 a year to $4,800 a year. This will help new and struggling small businesses as they are currently required to pay B&O taxes even when they are losing money. I-1098 will eliminate this tax, making it easier for them to keep current employees and create even more jobs.

The income level cannot be changed to include more than those making the income listed above without a vote of the people. There would be regular audits and full public disclosure to ensure the funds are used for education and health services.

Serious Threats to Human Services and the Public Safety Net

Initiative 1100 and Initiative 1105 – Privatizing liquor stores
Currently, $330 million generated from taxes and the sale of liquor fund core public services for both state and local governments such as health care, law enforcement and education. I-1100 stops the state’s operation of liquor distribution by June 15, 2011, I-1105 stops it by November 15, 2011. Over 5 fiscal years, I-1100 is estimated to decrease state revenues between $76 million - $85 million while for that same time frame I-1105 is estimated to decrease state revenues between $486 million - $520 million. If state liquor stores are privatized, that also eliminates one of the state’s current avenues for selling lottery tickets, I-1100 would decrease lottery revenues $1,327,000 over 5 years and I-1105 would decrease lottery revenues $1,194,000. Washington State would have an estimated cost of $313,000 during the next biennium to make the changeover.

Initiative 1053
During the last legislative session the legislature suspended I-960 until the summer of 2011 in order to avoid an all cuts budget. I-1053 would reinstate I-960 and require a 2/3 vote of the legislature in order to raise taxes or create new taxes. If the legislature had not suspended I-960 during this staggering recession it would have had to make severe cuts to public services. If I-1053 does pass, the legislature will have no choice but to cut more services in order to make up for the $3 billion shortfall the legislature is expected to face. This means cuts or elimination of state funded services such as Individual and Family Services as well as Medicaid coverage of dental, vision, therapies and other services.

Initiative 1082 – Privatizing the public worker’s compensation system
Our current public worker’s compensation system is regarded as a national model of efficiency. In I-1082 the insurance industry would like to privatize our worker’s compensation system. I-1082 would allow big insurance companies to prioritize profits over ensuring workers are able to fully recover before returning to work from a work related injury. These companies would look for low-risk, profitable businesses and leave the state with the high-risk businesses, and taxpayers would shoulder the cost.

I-1082 will hurt small businesses as they will not have the power of bigger businesses to get low rates. I-1082 also eliminates the worker’s contribution to the system, which would increase rates for businesses by at least 25% and mean lay-offs for many small businesses. AIG, which was a major player in the collapse of our financial system, is a major player in the private workers’ compensation market.

Initiative 1107
In the 2010 legislative session, legislators worked to avoid an all cuts budget and to protect core public services by passing a small, temporary tax on soda pop, bottled water, candy and gum. Adding about 2 cents to a bottle of water or can of pop brings $352 million to our state over the next five years to help keep education, the Basic Health program and other services from being stripped. The legislature passed this tax only after having to cut $4 billion from Basic Health and nursing homes and suspending initiatives to reduce class sizes in education. I-1107 would repeal this small tax on items that are not essential to consumers. The tax does not affect food products, even though claims are being made to the contrary. It will actually increase B&O taxes for some businesses as well.

Vital support services, including those provided by our community organizations for our most vulnerable citizens, are in peril. Reducing state investment in these services will put these vulnerable citizens at risk. Please pledge your vote and spread the word about how these initiatives affect our state’s vital human service infrastructure. This is not the time to reduce available revenues that sustain essential support services.

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