The recession has been hard on your family’s budget and on the state budget too. Tax collections are down and demand for government services are at an all time high. As a result, lawmakers began the 2010 state legislative session with the challenge of a $2.8 billion budget shortfall. Solving this problem wasn’t easy and it took far too long, with negotiations dragging on through a month long special session.
In the end, lawmakers agreed to a balanced approach to the states’ budget gap. They identified ways to raise new state revenues in order mitigate painful cuts to education, health care and services that seniors rely on. The final budget that they agreed to isn’t perfect but it could have been much worse. It goes a long way toward preserving health and long term care services that help people stay healthy and independent as they age.
Seniors had more at stake than most people understand. Had the legislature not agreed to targeted tax increases, more than 20,000 people age 50+ would have lost health coverage through the Basic Health Plan; 85,000 low-income seniors would have had to do without help with prescription drug co-pays and more than 200,000 without needed vision, dental and hearing services. Long term care supports including home care and adult day health services would be scheduled for reduction. And senior services such as meals and transportation would be reduced.
To save these services lawmakers approved a nearly $800 million revenue package. Narrow interests were successful in stopping lawmakers from closing many identified tax loop-holes. Instead, lawmakers relied heavily changes to the Business and Occupation tax and on so called “7-11” taxes on soda, candy and beer.
While we can celebrate that the hits to health and long term care were not as deep as we feared they may be, reductions in other state services will be hard felt. Our children and grandchildren will lose teachers and face higher class sizes; our universities will be challenged; and state workers who provide valuable services will be laid off.
Voting for taxes and cutting popular public programs are difficult for any politician, especially in an election year. AARP commends Governor Chris Gregoire and Senate and House Leaders for their hard work and persistence in reaching a compromise that includes new revenues so that Washington can maintain services that people need to stay healthy, to age in their own homes and communities and to weather through tough economic times.
For a more thorough analysis of the state legislative session, download a copy of AARP’s 2010 session report.
AARP 2010 State Legislative Session Report
Washington State Legislature
Washington State Budget and Policy Center