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The 2012 Washington State Legislative Session – How Did Seniors Fare?

In 2012, what was supposed to be a short three month state legislative session turned into a long five month saga as lawmakers confronted the ugly, ongoing fiscal impact of the great recession. It started in Nov. 2011 with Governor Gregoire’s call for a temporary ½ cent sales tax increase to mitigate deep budget cuts and didn’t end until April 11.

See Also: Washington’s Best-in-the-Nation Long-Term Care System is at Risk

Lawmakers convened early to address the more than $1 billion recession driven budget deficit. They responded to the Governor’s budget proposal which included deep cuts to education and huge reductions to home and community based long term care services for vulnerable seniors, cuts she proposed the legislature “buy back” through a ½ cent increase in the sales tax.

Proposed long term care cuts included:

  • Reduced eligibility for Medicaid funded long term care
  • Elimination of Adult Day Health
  • Reductions to Home Care Agency Reimbursement
  • Reductions to funding for Area Agencies on Aging
  • Cuts to the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program

AARP along with the Aging Caucus, a strong coalition of aging advocates and long term care providers, made the case that the potential human impact of these cuts was too a high a price to pay. At the same time, revenue projections improved and the Governor’s sales tax proposal failed to gain traction. With each new budget proposal put forward the potential impact on seniors and people with disabilities improved. Aging advocates pushed for a budget that would be good for all generations.

The dramatic moment of the 2012 session came when three conservative Democrats sided with Republicans and used an obscure procedural maneuver called “the 9th order” to take control of the majority Democrat Senate. Their demand for government reform held up passage of the budget through a month long special session.

Finally, after a prolonged budget negotiation, lawmakers passed a budget (3ESHB 2127). At the end of the day, lawmakers were able to spare deep cuts to both health care and education. Notably, none of the long term care cuts proposed by the Governor and included in subsequent proposals were adopted. Over time, the deficit was whittled away by higher than expected tax receipts, lower than expected case loads for state services and accounting maneuvers.

The final budget included:

  • No cuts to home and community based long term care.
  • No reductions in funding public schools, colleges or universities
  • No cuts to the Basic Health Plan or the Disability Lifeline Program.
  • A Budget Maneuver: Instead of skipping a pension payment or delaying the K-12 apportionment payment by one day, lawmakers opted for a less controversial accounting change related to how sales tax moves from the state to cities and counties.
  • A Little Revenue: There is some new revenue, including $12 million from cigarette manufacturing, $14.5 million in closure of the first mortgage tax deduction for big out-of-state banks, and $6 million from a voluntary property tax amnesty program.
  • An Ending Fund Balance: A lower than expected $319 million ending fund balance helped to bridge the gap.

Thank you to all of the AARP members who participated in AARP advocacy during the 2012 session. Your e-mails, phone calls and visits with lawmakers made a huge difference.

We hope you’ll take a moment to download a copy of our detailed report on AARP’s work in the 2012 state legislative session.

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