Archive for August, 2013

Legislative Update: Highlights and Lowlights

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

By Pam Crone, PSARA lobbyist 

The 2013 Legislature at long last ended its business on Saturday, June 28 on the 153rd day, after a regular session of 105 days and two overtime “special” sessions. In odd years, the Legislature’s primary job is to pass an operating budget for the next biennium. Although it took an inordinate amount of time for the legislators to accomplish that job, they finally did. The results are a mixed bag, with definite highlights and lowlights.

For PSARA the 2013 session introduced an era of deeper involvement in Washington State legislative work. PSARA hired me as a “contract lobbyist” to advocate for PSARA’s legislative priorities. Together we brought PSARA members’ voices to Olympia advocating to make Washington State a safer, healthier place for our seniors, their children and their families.

Highlights: 

Our new biennial budget fully expands Medicaid, restores adult Medicaid dental coverage while protecting health programs and the larger social safety net. This final budget books $351 million in savings from Medicaid expansion. This reflects the full commitment of the Governor, Senate, and House that Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for Washingtonians. The budget raises revenue by restoring the estate tax ($159 million) and by changing the way the telecommunication industry is taxed ($99 million).

Lowlights: 

Legislators steered way off course by creating $15 million dollars in additional tax breaks. In sum, 17 loopholes were newly enacted or extended. These “loopholes” are a prime example of the yawning gap between the House and Senate in their approach to building a revenue solution that addresses the long term economic well-being of our state and its citizens.

At one point during the session the House had proposed eliminating tax loopholes and extending current taxes that would have led Washington State toward a more sustainable budget. Had this proposal been adopted it would have provided resources we need for a first rate educational system and other services that assist Washington families. It was a non-starter in the Senate.

To wit: our Legislature yet again failed to support working families by failing to move forward with funding our family leave insurance program. Nor did they see fit to ensure workers are able to take paid time off work when they are ill, need to care for a sick family member, or need to cope with the effects of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

In fact, the Senate went so far as to try to preempt local governments from enacting ordinances similar to Seattle’s providing Paid Sick and Safe Days to workers. And the Senate attempted to place geographic limitations on Seattle’s ordinance as well. PSARA was part of the coalition that successfully fought off these attempts to curb worker leave protections. Successful lobbying involves both offense (pressing for social reform legislation) and defense (preventing bad legislation from passing).

The biggest disappointment of this extra-long session may have been the failure to pass a transportation revenue package despite strong leadership by Governor Inslee and the House. The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus blocked this action. Because of this failure, King County cannot send a car tab tax to the local ballot. The immediate consequence will be cuts by Metro to routes and services. As you know, this will disproportionally impact seniors and working families dependent on bus service to access services and jobs.

In summary, we can claim a huge victory on the healthcare front by our state’s decision to provide healthcare to 300,000 people who do not currently have it by expanding Medicaid. We also made a “down payment” on our paramount duty to fund basic education. We’ll return in 2014 to continue to advocate for all of our families to ensure they have the opportunities they need to be healthy and prosper.

What do the 1% Really Think?

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

By Mark McDermott, Chair of PSARA’s Education Committee 

We live in an age of the super-wealthy, the wealthy and the 99%. Public opinion polls constantly tell us what the 99% think and do. But what do the 1% think and do politically?

We know what the 1% do. They give big money to influence elections and government. In the 2012 election, Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave over $90 million. Another 31 superrich people gave $223 million. This $313 million equaled the $312 million given by 3.7 million contributors who gave less than $200. Under Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, we are all equal under the law and can contribute $90 million to make sure our voice is heard.

But what are the 1% thinking? A recent first-of-its-kind, cutting-edge academic study entitled “Democracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans” reveals the political thinking of 83 wealthy Chicagoans who participated in in-depth interviews.

Who are these people? Their average yearly income amounted to $1.04 million.Their average wealth was $14 million, and their median income was $7.5 million.

How do these wealthy folks participate in politics? Ninety-nine percent vote. Eighty-four percent “attend” to politics. Twenty-one percent collect donations from others and send them to the parties and candidates of their choice. Fifty-three percent contacted the White House, Congress and/or senior administration officials in the previous six months.

They are serious about influencing the government. So what ideas guide their efforts?

Here is what the “one-percenters” think: 67% want to cut Social Security; 64% want to cut food stamps. Only 19% of “one-percenters” think the federal government should see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job. Sixty-eight percent of the general public think so.

Should the minimum wage be high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below the federal poverty line? Only 40% of the “one-percenters” say Yes, compared with 78% of the general public.

What about education? Only 28% of the “one-percenters” think the federal government should make sure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so. Only 35% of the super-rich think the federal government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that all children have really good public schools, but a whopping 87% of the general public thinks so.

What about racial justice in education and opportunity? Only a bare majority, 53% of the super-rich think the federal government should make sure that minorities have schools equal in quality to whites, even if it means higher taxes; 71% of the general public think that.

The children of the overwhelmingly white 1% go to excellent public or private schools. They don’t need financial aid to go to college. It is refreshing to know that the wealthy are not interested in ensuring that kids of working class, poor and people of color backgrounds have an equal chance at a bright future.

What about skyrocketing income and wealth inequality? Only 13% of the “one-percenters” think the government should try to reduce income disparities between people with high incomes and those with low incomes. Eighty-seven percent of the general public thinks that’s a good idea..

A quick summary of the thinking of the 1%: Cut Social Security. Sub-poverty minimum wage. No commitment to full employment. Strong opposition to quality affordable education for all. Weak support for racial equality in education. Strong opposition to government efforts to address issues of skyrocketing income and wealth inequality. Is it any wonder the 1% needs to buy elections and lobby hard when their clearly stated interests are so deeply opposed to ours.? The 1% is opposed to our American Dream.

We need to take the fight to them and their political allies!

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent defending the Voting Rights Act

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent defending the Voting Rights Act.