Seniors – Stand Up to Smoke and Mirrors Budgeting
By Jean Godden
The advantages of getting older are not inconsiderable. Active seniors among us can count on a number of pluses. As seniors, barring cognitive disease, we are savvier, wiser and no longer prone to the tensions that afflict young families. We probably won’t have to take our adult kids to soccer practice or bake cupcakes for a young child’s homeroom; we may even save a little on a movie ticket and on bus fares.
But, as elders, we do have far more pressing concerns. More than ever, we need to be vigilant to keep strong those programs that we rely so heavily upon – programs like Social Security and Medicare. These and other entitlement programs like Medicaid and food stamps – programs won through years of hard-fought effort – are basic to our federal system. I’m a proud senior, proud of using accumulated wisdom to keep others from running away with our hard-earned benefits. We must beware of those who would “fix” entitlements by exercising raw power and by such veiled and cynical approaches as raising the minimum retirement age or instituting means testing.
While we must remain united in protecting federal benefits, we must also face challenges within our own state system. In February, local seniors participated in a trip to Olympia for “Senior Lobby Day.”
Among the issues seniors brought to lawmakers’ attention were our robust backing for a state minimum wage, investment in public transportation, expanded health care coverage and new resources for low-income housing. Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA) members also asked legislators to look at eliminating tax exemptions that do not produce a public benefit.
Meanwhile, because the state has a looming budget shortfall – perhaps as much as $2.5 billion –the legislature likely will move to cut the state’s health and human services programs. It will be particularly difficult to counter irresponsible budget cutting because it often comes in shrouded maneuvers.
Legislators are prone to talking airily about “across the board cuts,” a term that seems to say that there can be fiscal savings, but no real pain.
This, of course, is the worst kind of stealth budgeting, some call it “voodoo finance.” Faced with this ploy, citizens should insist that lawmakers who favor “across the board cuts” tell us where and how much these cuts will affect us. In other words: Specifics, please.
There is no question that eliminating a flat percentage across all state departments cannot help but lead to painful reductions. We will all be poorer for the loss of services. There, alas, is no free money, no magical way to save.
The governor spoke eloquently to a group of council members from Seattle earlier this month, saying he feared there will be attempts to fashion a state budget using this “across the board” technique. He said that it is his hope that constituents – city officials in particular – will demand to be told when and where the ax will fall. He said that it’s time to stand up and insist on transparency and honesty in budgeting.
Without strong advocacy from all of us, seniors as well as others, there is the risk that there will be a number of gimmicks used to balance the state budget. We must look out for such tissue-thin tactics as one-time accounting changes and deferred responsibility for vital programs. We should oppose “across the board” nonsense.
It is scandalous enough that the state relies so heavily on regressive taxation, but to bank on obfuscation in budgeting state revenues is to compound the injustice. Seniors in particular need to face these issues and insist on the facts.
One of the great advantages of being a senior is that we have lived long enough to know when newcomer legislators are using the old “blue smoke and mirrors” routine to cut benefits we have worked for and deserve. Another advantage of being a senior is that there are now more of us who vote – and with senior voting can come much accountability by those wishing to stray. Make your voice and vote count in this legislature! This is nothing short of a call for action. If we do not speak out now on these concerns, in the end we will all be the losers.
Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council representing District 4 (Eastlake, Wallingford, University District, Roosevelt, Ravenna, Wedgewood, Laurelhurst and Sand Point).
She currently serves as Chair of the Parks, Seattle Center, and Gender Pay Equity Committee. Jean is a long-time PSARA member.