Saturday, April 25, 2009

More Fun Budget Provisos: Consolidating Natural Resource Agencies

Another proviso in the budget bill that will be of interest to our members is Section 907, which reads as follows:

"The governor shall convene a work group consisting of representatives from the natural resource agencies. The work group shall consider the experience of other states and their organizational structures to identify consolidation opportunities to improve service delivery and reduce costs. The work group shall submit a comprehensive written recommendation to the governor and the office of financial management by September 1, 2009."

It's looking like we're going to have a pretty rough summer and fall, and like next year's legislative session could be every bit as bad as this year. -- Dennis

Final Budget Mandates Study Of All Institutions

Whenever a budget comes out, I always make it a point to skim through the text of the actual budget bill. The Legislature is adept a slipping provisos -- instructions to agencies -- in the budget that can have a profound affect on WFSE members, and this year is no exception.

The final budget compromise this year doesn't close any institutions immediately, but a proviso has been included that appears intended to have that same effect. In the section making appropriations to the Office of Financial Management [Sec. 130] the following subsection appears:

"(4) $500,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 is provided solely for a study of the feasibility of closing state institutional facilities and a plan on eliminating beds in the state institutional facility inventory. The office of financial management shall contract with consultants with expertise related to the subject matters included in this study. The office of financial management and the consultants shall consult with the department of social and health services, the department of corrections, stakeholder groups that represent the people served in these institutions, labor organizations that represent employees who work in these institutions and other persons or entities with expertise in the areas being studied.
(a) For the purposes of this study, "state institutional facilities" means facilities operated by the department of corrections to house persons convicted of a criminal offense, Green Hill school and Maple Lane school operated by the department of social and health services juvenile rehabilitation administration, and residential habilitation centers operated by the department of social and health services.
(b) In conducting this study, the consultants shall consider the following factors as appropriate:
(i) The availability of alternate facilities including alternatives and opportunities for consolidation with other facilities, impacts on those alternate facilities, and any related capital costs;
(ii) The cost of operating the facility, including the cost of providing services and the cost of maintaining or improving the physical plant of the facility;
(iii) The geographic factors associated with the facility, including the impact of the facility on the local economy and the economic impact of its closure, and alternative uses for a facility recommended for closure;
(iv) The costs associated with closing the facility, including the continuing costs following the closure of the facility;
(v) Number and type of staff and the impact on the facility staff including other employment opportunities if the facility is closed;
(vi) The savings that will accrue to the state from closure or consolidation of a facility and the impact any closure would have on funding the associated services; and
(vii) For the residential habilitation centers, the impact on clients in the facility being recommended for closure and their families, including ability to get alternate services and impact on being moved to another facility.
(c) The office of financial management shall submit a final report to the governor and the ways and means committees of the house of representatives and senate by November 1, 2009. The report shall provide a recommendation and a plan to eliminate 1,580 beds in the department of corrections facilities, 235 beds from juvenile rehabilitation facilities, and 250 funded beds in the residential habilitation centers through closure or consolidation of facilities. The report shall include an assessment of each facility studied, where and how the services should be provided, and any costs or savings associated with each recommendation. In considering the recommendations of the report, the governor and the legislature shall not consider closure of any state institutional facility unless the report recommended the facility for closure."

The hits just keep on coming! -- Dennis

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Major Battles: Child Welfare Services

The Senate continues to push hard for the privatization of child welfare services on a massive scale. ESSB 5943 as passed by the Senate (and 2SHB 2106 as amended by the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee), represents the broadest contracting out proposal to receive serious consideration by the Legislature in more than a decade. Adding insult to injury, the Senate continues to wage a direct attack on state employee collective bargaining rights in the language of the bill. We agree change is needed at CWS, but the Senate proposal is risky, expensive, and continues to demonstrate contempt for the state employees who work so hard to protect our children.

On the other hand, the House is on a far more responsible path for reforming CWS. As adopted by the House, 2SHB 2106 would create a pilot program to find out if an evidence-based contracting scheme would even work.

ESSB 5943 passed the Senate, but the House Early Learning & Children's Services Committee stripped the Senate language from the bill and replaced it with a modified version of their pilot program proposal. At roughly the same time, the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee replaced the contents of 2SHB 2106 with a modified version of their privatization proposal. So, for those keeping score at home, now 2106 is the awful bill, and 5943 isn't so bad. -- Dennis

Major Battles: Community Corrections

Both budgets make significant cuts to community supervision, but the House budget cuts are much deeper and will result in a decimation of our entire transitional system. Not only is community supervision more cost-effective than incarceration, it provides offenders with the support structure necessary to change their behavior once they are released from prison. These cuts will result in higher crime rates and the House budget in particular represents a tremendous risk to public safety. -- Dennis

Major Battles: Institutions

The Senate proposal to close Yakima Valley School would result in traumatic disruption to 90 of the most vulnerable people in our society, eliminate respite services for over 100 families a year, eliminate hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity – all to save (optimistically) $2.5 million over the biennium. The proposed closure of YVS doesn’t appear to be motivated by cost savings. The Senate budget makes a bad situation worse with the inclusion of a proviso requiring DSHS to immediately prepare a plan to close the Francis Haddon Morgan Center [PSSB 5600 Sec. 205(2)(f)].

Both budgets would close a JRA institution even though studies have shown the evidence-based continuum of services provided by JRA to be very effective. The Senate proposes closing Green Hill School, which would completely dismantle the JRA institutional system -- and is unjustifiable on a cost-benefit basis. The House proposes combining the closure of Naselle Youth Camp with dramatic cuts in JRA’s enhanced parole services, which would cause permanent harm to our state’s transitional services for juvenile offenders. -- Dennis

Major Battles: State Employee Health Care Benefits

There are 17 days left in the Legislative session and the pressure is building daily. The House and Senate are both expected to be on the floor, in either session or caucus, all day every day (and often into the night) until they adjourn (or not) on April 26th. Legislators will take two days off for Easter weekend and then work straight through to the end.

A lot of issues are resolved, for better or worse, and now we're down to focusing all of our lobbying efforts on a handful of issues that are still up in the air. For state employees, the single biggest issue is health care.

State employees have already sacrificed our COLA, we’re losing thousands of jobs, and our pension funds are being raided. Health care is the only meaningful benefit remaining for state workers. Neither budget fully funds employee health care, but the Senate budget cuts much deeper and will result in significant erosion in benefits.

What's happening is that other interests are arguing that health care dollars should be taken away from state employees and be used to fund their favorite program instead. Many Legislators forget that you can't have programs without people, and so a battle ensues. Protecting health care benefits is our highest priority right now, and we need all the support we can get.

The Senate continues its assault on state employee benefits in the surprising striking amendment to SB 5869 adopted in the Ways & Means Committee eliminating the “substantially equivalent” language pertaining to state employee benefits in current law. The underlying bill was carefully negotiated between WFSE and the Administration, and we testified in support in committee. However, with the Senate amendment we are now opposed. -- Dennis

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Schoolhouse Rock: How a Bill Becomes a Law

This posting is for my boss who never thought I’d read our blog, let alone post to it.