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February 26, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Democrats, budget reforms

Preserve basic health services

We should be applauding the House for presenting a budget that avoids the dangerous cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire [“Washington’s House Democrat’s budget irresponsibly pushes problems ahead,” Opinion,, Feb. 22].

. The House avoided zeroing out essential state programs like the Basic Health and Disability Lifeline because it had more revenue to work with and knows that these programs are a smart investment in the health and productivity of the state.

The editorial states that the drop in caseloads on state programs is due to reforms passed in earlier years. It certainly isn’t because of a lack of need or demand for these services. In fact, basic health has a wait list of more than 157,000 Washingtonians. Policy changes such as cutting eligibility and benefits has reduced enrollment in both programs.

While that may make the numbers look better, it overlooks the human and financial toll that comes with people not receiving the services they need. The House wisely understands this and made critical health services a priority.

The Friends of Basic Health Coalition, with over 25 member organizations statewide, thanks the House for their leadership in doing the right thing and preserving basic health.

— Molly Belozer Firth, Seattle

Overtime not a pension issue

How does the editorial board rationalize the following statement buried deep in the content of an editorial on the House Democrat’s budget? “One would stop police and firefighters from boosting their pensions by working overtime in their final year.”

If the editorial board is referring to Senate Bill 6543 (a bill that would apply to other public employees as well), it is unclear whether it would save money or cost money according to the state actuary fiscal note.

Police officers, firefighters and their employers pay contributions on overtime, the same as they do for regular salary, and they have since 1977. Contributions are paid on overtime throughout a member’s career so the contributions on overtime early in a member’s career offset, and possibly exceed, any increase to the member’s pension from overtime in their final year.

Further, police officers and firefighters pay 50 percent of the cost of their pensions themselves and they have since 1977! We also have our pension calculated using a five -year-average salary (instead of a one-year-salary) to protect against pension spiking and this also has been in place since 1977.

Finally, the use of overtime is determined by employers according to their business needs. Overtime is not a pension issue, it is a resource-management issue.

Many employers have determined that it is more cost effective for them to pay overtime to existing employees than it is to hire, train and pay salary and benefits to new employees.

Along with this discretionary overtime, many circumstances arise where firefighters and police officers deliver emergency services that extend beyond the end of a scheduled shift or in response to natural and man-made emergencies.

As you can see, the statement made by the editorial board is misleading, inaccurate and moreover, false. There are no facts to support the assertion made in the statement as it relates to police and fire pension plans since 1977.

— Kelly L. Fox, president, Washington State Council of Fire Fighters

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