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Originally published Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Guest columnist

Con | Initiative 1163 not necessary and will force cuts in care for seniors, disabled

Initiative 1163 does not have the best interests of Washington's seniors and people with disabilities at heart, write guest columnists Cindi Laws and Julie Ferguson. The SEIU-sponsored measure would require new state-paid training and will force cuts in medical care and prescription drug coverage.

Special to The Times

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THERE is an old saying: When you find yourself in a deep hole the first thing you need to do is stop digging. Today, the state of Washington finds itself in a massive budget hole and Initiative 1163 will just make it deeper.

I-1163 must be defeated because its $80 million cost cannot be paid for without tax increases or cuts to vital senior services. Like the rest of the nation, the state of Washington has grappled with crippling budget deficits for four legislative sessions. With Gov. Chris Gregoire calling a special 30-day legislative session to deal with the crisis, there's an additional 1.4 billion reasons to oppose I-1163.

Maybe this massive new expense to state government could be justified if it were really necessary, but that simply isn't the case. Voters should not be fooled. Mandatory caregiver training and criminal-background checks are already required by law and are in place today.

The truth is, this initiative is designed solely to benefit one interest group. This Service Employees International Union-sponsored measure claims to protect vulnerable adults. But it really forces taxpayers to pay for the watered-down training of union members with inexperienced trainers managed by SEIU, eliminating the current training conducted by state-licensed medical professionals and credentialed educators.

So SEIU is trying to force taxpayers to pay tens of millions of dollars for a new training program that is redundant and that state officials don't believe is necessary. Meanwhile, in the real world, the Legislature is eliminating entire programs and contemplating possible ways to raise taxes.

Last spring, the Legislature cut more than $500 million in medical services and in-home care to seniors and adults with disabilities. Eliminated were vision and hearing aids, dental care, and a reduction in prescription-drug coverage. In-home-care services for seniors and people with disabilities were slashed. Overall, there were more than $2 billion in cuts at the Department of Social and Health Services, affecting children, the mentally ill and the working poor.

Less than four months later, state agencies have prepared additional 10-percent cutbacks to address the latest shortfall, including another $873 million slice from DSHS. Care will end for 17,000 seniors and adults with disabilities; the Health Care Authority sharply reduced emergency-room visits for those receiving Medicaid; and correctional facilities are releasing hundreds of inmates and mental patients into the community.

How does SEIU propose to pay the $80 million price tag of I-1163? SEIU's selfish, cavalier approach to the current budget crisis is unconscionable. Whose medical services will be eliminated to pay for I-1163? Whose school lunches do they intend to cut? Whose taxes do they intend to raise?

Our industry is absolutely committed to the highest standards of training and professional business practices, but that isn't what I-1163 is about. It's about a powerful special interest trying to write self-serving policy that the taxpayers can't afford.

At a time when our state is facing the biggest financial challenge since the Great Depression, we can't justify a new $80 million program while cutting essential services to seniors and people with disabilities.

SEIU wants to keep on digging. We say it's time to take the shovel away from them. To preserve services for seniors and people with disabilities, the only responsible thing to do is vote no on I-1163.

Cindi Laws and Julie Ferguson are co-chairs of People Protecting Our Seniors — NO 1163 (www.no1163.com), a broad-based coalition that cares for more than 500,000 seniors and people with disabilities in Washington.

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