Budget cuts are more than a paper exercise

The revenue shortfall and projected budget deficit have been the buzz around Washington State for months. We have seen reports of record numbers on state unemployment rolls, businesses reporting huge losses and politicians calling for ‘tightening our belts’ and ‘lean times ahead’. Unfortunately, these rarely capture how the proposed budget cuts will affect all of us, directly or indirectly.

For example, the first casualities of the new budget proposals will be lower-income women and children. The proposal would eliminate $1.26 million in funding for nurses who provide direct services to women—but federal dollars match that program 9-to-1, so the total loss is more like $12 million. This will, among other things, eliminate funding for prenatal care and annual exams–services that help to ensure healthy mothers and babies, and ultimately save the state money in the long term.

Washington’s Basic Health Plan, which insures low-income residents who cannot afford private health care plans, will see a 42% cut. The very people least able to afford to protect themselves in the event of a health problems will be left without insurance. That means more emergency room visits for them, and higher health costs for everyone.

Pay raises for teachers in institutions of higher-education have also been cut through 2010 (though there’s a lawsuit pending). Retaining high-quality teachers will be more difficult given opportunities at private schools and in other states.

Graduating high school seniors thinking about college may be forced to take a different path. Tuition increases at state colleges will top out at 7%, and even community colleges will see increases of up to 5%. The consequence: education and job skills will diminish for prospective employees, making them harder to train and less employable.

Also gone:

  • A program that currently provides minimal assistance and medical coverage to 21,000 poor and disabled people who are unemployable.
  • A funding source for Washington’s Paid Family Leave Insurance program.
  • The Early Education Career and Wage Ladder, which provides wage incentives to early childhood educators who pursue continuing education in their field.

All of the these cuts, and many others, will have serious long-term consequences Washington parents, children, businesses and communities. Serious thought should be given to the long-term costs of the governor’s proposed budget before they are traded for the short-term benefit of a balance sheet in the black.

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