Friday, January 23, 2009

Public Safety Cuts In the Governor's Budget

Public safety is an area that gets hit pretty hard in Governor Gregoire's proposed budget. According to the House Appropriations Committee staff, the Governor’s budget proposal cuts corrections and other criminal justice programs by $162 million (NGF-S).

DOC Community Corrections (parole) takes the single biggest hit: $77 million. A savings of $42 million is achieved by discontinuing all supervision of “lower risk” criminals after they are released from prison. Another $27 million is saved by reducing the length of supervision for all offenders (except sex offenders) to just 12 months regardless of their risk category.

DOC Institutions are cut by $45 million. These savings include releasing aged and infirm offenders from prison (where will they go?); reducing sentences for lower-level drug offenders; deporting all non-citizen drug and property offenders; and sending parole violators to home detention instead of back to prison.

Juvenile offender programs are cut by almost $24 million (DSHS/JRA). The biggest cut is the proposed closure of Naselle Youth Camp (the largest employer in distressed Pacific County), an institution with a current population of 96 juvenile offenders. NYC is a work camp, with an emphasis on job training and reintegration skills. The budget also proposes closing two JRA community transition facilities.

Most of the public safety cuts the Governor proposes are aimed at programs that are designed to integrate offenders back into society and to reduce recidivism. We are surely going to pay more tomorrow for the savings we might achieve today. Some more examples:

- The Governor saves almost $4 million by eliminating an offender re-entry pilot program in DOC.
- The Governor saves almost $9 million by reducing evidence-based programs in JRA.
- The Governor saves almost $18 million in reductions to alcohol and substance abuse programs, including treatment services for adult drug court offenders.

As any community corrections officer will tell you, these "savings" will be achieved at the expense of public safety. Our communities are going to be a little more dangerous than they are today if these cuts are allowed to stand. -- Dennis

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Legislative Session Pauses

The entire state Legislature came to a grinding halt for about an hour and a half this morning. Hearings and meetings were cancelled. Obligations were set aside. Instead, everyone huddled around the handiest TV to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. It was amazing.

I'll leave it to those more articulate than me to write about the poinancy of Obama's speech. All I can say is for me it was inspirational. Now, it's back to work, as the session resumes its frantic pace.

For me, Seattle P-I editorial cartoonist David Horsey summed up this day perfectly:

-- Dennis

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Other Washington: House Democrats Unveil Economic Stimulus Plan

Back in Washington DC, Congressional Democrats announced their $825 billion economic recovery plan. Thanks to the handy-dandy AFSCME Federal Legislative Report, we have the details:

"On Thursday, House Democratic leaders outlined details of an $825 billion Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act which includes substantial and significant AFSCME-supported provisions. As outlined below, the proposal includes spending to help avert cuts by states and local governments, save or create over three million jobs, provide urgent relief to working families who are struggling to feed their families, pay bills and get needed health care, and it invests in priorities like health care, education, infrastructure and energy that are needed for a long-term economic recovery. The proposal also includes targeted tax cuts.

Several House committees are expected to take action next week on the yet to be introduced package. With Senate Democratic leadership expected to release details of their version of the package shortly, Congress has begun to move towards delivering a single economic package for newly sworn-in President Obama to sign by mid-February. House Republican leaders have already indicated opposition to the size of the bill and spending for public services and jobs. The House Republican leader has offered a Republican alternative that excludes aid to states struggling with budget shortfalls."

AFSCME has issued a call to action urging members to contact their members of Congress regarding this issue. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 1-888-460-0813 and ask to speak to your federal Representative and Senators. You will be transferred to their offices where you can leave a message asking Congress to "pass an economic recovery package that provides substantial state and local aid that will maintain needed public services and help working families."

Details of the House economic stimulus proposal can be found here.

The AFSCME Federal Legislative Report is a really useful summary of what's going on in Congress. The report is e-mailed every Friday and members who are interested in receiving it can sign up here. [Be sure to check the box for the Federal Legislative Report at the bottom of the form.]

-- Dennis

The Governor's State of the State Address

The highlight of the first week of session is always the Governor's State of the State Address. Obviously, the huge fiscal crisis our state is facing right now was going to be going to be the focus and I, along with countless others, was eager to hear what she was going to say on that topic.

The Governor said she had four goals for this legislative session (as quoted from an e-mail sent out to supporters):

"1. Create 20,000 new jobs for working families by rebuilding roads and schools, and creating a green economy for the 21st century;
2. Balance our budget by focusing on basic needs - protection of our children, our schools and colleges, our public safety, our environment and our economy;
3. Reform state government so we can respond to the evolving needs of our state; and
4. Encourage continued generosity among all Washingtonians."

Early in her speech, the Governor described her vision for the legislative session. "We all know our state didn't make this economic crisis," she stated, "and we all know we can't unilaterally solve it. But we cannot just ride out the hard times and then go back to business as usual. Instead, we must renew hope for Washingtonians who are suffering today, and lay -- for them -- a platform for a better tomorrow."

There were two points in the Governor's speech that really jumped out to me as I was listening.

1. I was encouraged by what she said about dealing with the budget deficit. She made it clear she was willing to work collaboratively with lawmakers on issues related to budget and revenue:

"I have proposed a two-year spending plan that addresses the largest budget gap in state history.

This budget contains as much care and compassion as we could muster. But it still hurts real people, and with each cut I chose, I saw their faces. I don’t like this budget, but I proposed it for one simple reason — I must.

Let’s face it. We were dealt a terrible hand by forces beyond our control. We are forced to make unprecedented and difficult choices.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a time for real courage!"

2. I was concerned when she started talking about government reform because, as we all know, the "Law of Unintended Consequences" almost always inserts itself into these kinds of things. Government reform is fine, but what I want to know is if that means there will be fewer layoffs or more layoffs.

"This is our chance to reform state government to make it a more nimble and relevant partner in a new state economy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to reboot!

Over the decades, state government has evolved — layer upon layer upon layer. But too much of what served the people well in 1940 or 1960 or 1990 does not serve the people well in the 21st century...

Today, almost 40 percent of license tabs are renewed online, saving hassles and gas.

We can close 26 licensing offices across the state while extending hours of operation at the 10 most popular locations. We are finding new ways to serve our customers. And customer service is what it’s all about.

Today, 18,000 full-time students at our community and technical colleges are earning course credits online. It would take an additional four community colleges to offer all those classes the old-fashioned way.

Thousands of people go online to check the balance on their food stamp debit card. And more than half of small business owners are filing their state taxes online.

I ask you, if we can serve our motorists, our businesses, our students and our poor with 21st century technology, why can’t we serve all citizens in ways that are more convenient for them, and cheaper and more effective for government?

The answer is, we can. The answer is, we will!"

The bottom line is that I was encouraged by the Governor's speech overall. But it's clear that we've got a lot of work cut out for us in the weeks and months ahead.

TVW has the Governor's speech in it's entirety [scroll ahead about 50 minutes to get to the speech]:

-- Dennis

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Major Heartburn" List

As we've been wading through the Governor's budget proposal we've been putting together a list of the specific cuts and closures that do the most harm to our members and the public. With the understanding that this is very preliminary, this is what we have so far:

1. Elimination of negotiated collective bargaining agreement (WFSE GG contract = $86.5 mil GF-S; WFSE HE contract = $10.7 mil GF-S).

2. Closure of Yakima Valley School/DSHS DD (cuts 139.5 FTEs, displaces 100 extremely fragile people, and yet only saves $1.5 mil GF-S). YVS is a skilled nursing facility. 80% of clients are medically fragile, 20% are high risk. Also lost would be 3,517 days of respite care provided to 369 individuals in 2008.

3. Closure of Naselle Youth Camp/DSHS JRA (cuts 85.5 FTEs, $12.86 mil GF-S).

4. Cuts to Dept. of Corrections (est. reduction of 200-300 FTEs in community corrections; the department is proposing closing Pine Lodge Correction Center in Medical Lake in respose).

5. Cuts to Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (cuts 156.6 FTEs, $19.27 mil GF-S) including the proposed closure of seven hatcheries.

6. Elimination of GA-U program/DSHS ESA (cuts 56.8 FTEs, $156.2 mil GF-S).

7. Closure of 13 state parks (cuts 42.0 FTEs, $3.26 mil GF-S) and seasonal park closures.

8. Cuts to DSHS/Special Commitment Center (reduce number of residential rehab counselors – cuts 32 FTEs, $5.03 mil GF-S).

9. Cuts in Higher Education (scope of cuts unclear).

10. We're also worried about DSHS Mental Health & DSHS Economic Services (scope of cuts unclear) and we're trying to get a better understanding of what is proposed in those two divisions.

Have we missed anything? Do you have suggestions or inside information on the major cuts we've identified so far? Are you willing to help with our lobbying effort in support of these critical services? Then, by all means, please let us know. -- Dennis

UPDATE: Immediately after posting this, I thought of two glaring omissions:

11. Cuts in health care. The Governor's budget proposes cutting the Basic Health Plan by 42% ($252 mil GF-S) and reducing the number of kids who will receive subsidized coverage ($6.1 mil GF-S). Both of these short-sighted cuts will increase the number of people who are uninsured, which will then result in a spike in health care costs and diminished services for everyone.

12. Reduces contributions to the pension system by more than $68 mil GF-S -- a 46.8% cut. Both the taxpayers and state workers are going to be paying a lot more down the road if this cut is enacted.

Preliminary Lobbying Assignments

It's been a crazy week. We've been digging through the Governor's budget proposal to try and understand the depth and breadth of the cuts she is proposing, and we've been scrambling to get ready for the first week of session.

While it's impossible to anticipate everything, we do have a preliminary list of lobbying assignments. Members and staff who have comments/questions/suggestions about a particular issue are encouraged to contact the WFSE lobbyist assigned to that area.

- Child Care
- DSHS Childrens/Foster Care
- DSHS Economic Services (incl. GA-U)
- Early Learning
- Employment Security
- General Government (incl. GA, DIS, CTED, etc.)
- Health Care
- Higher Education
- Labor & Industries
- Parks

- Corrections
- Ecology
- Fish & Wildlife
- DSHS Dev Disabilities (incl. Yakima Valley School)
- DSHS Juvenile Rehab (incl. Naselle Youth Camp)
- DSHS Mental Health
- DSHS Special Commitment Center
- Other DSHS
- Pensions

- Budget
- Collective Bargaining
- WA Management Service
- Ethics/Elections
- Transportation (incl. DOT, DOL, WSP, etc.)
- Coalitions/External Relations
- Afternoon naps

Obviously, we're missing some things. Likewise, we will always be confronted with issues that we didn't anticipate. Still, we're off and running, and looking forward to working with everyone. Please let us know if we've missed something important or if there is anything we can do to help you. And, as long as you've read this far, don't forget to sign up to be a member lobbyist!

-- Dennis

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Town Hall Meetings Coming Your Way!

The House Democrats have posted the following town hall meetings on their blog and Members are encouraged to attend :

Thursday, January 8 in Redmond with Rep. Ross Hunter and Sen. Rodney Tom. 7 p.m. at Redmond City Hall (15670 NE 85th Street).

Thursday, January 8 in Mukilteo with Rep. Marko Liias, Rep. Mary Helen Roberts and Sen. Paull Shin. 6-8 p.m. at Mukilteo City Hall Council Chambers (11930 Cyrus Way, Mukilteo). Topic is about Paine Field.

Saturday, January 10 in Vancouver with Rep. Jim Moeller, Rep.-elect Jim Jacks and Sen. Craig Pridemore. 10 a.m. to noon in the 6th floor hearing room of the Clark County Public Service Center (1300 Franklin St, Vancouver).

Rep. Steve Conway will also be hosting two town halls:
Jan. 31, 2009 at Bates Technical College South Campus Cafeteria (2201 South 78th Street, Tacoma, WA)
10:00 am Noon & February 5, 2009 at Lakeview Elementary School Multi-Purpose Room (10501 47th Ave. SW Lakewood, WA)
6:00 pm 8:00 pm