Thousands rally against cuts in human services

Tuesday, February 19, 2002


OLYMPIA -- Thousands of state workers and social services advocates gathered at the state Capitol yesterday to demand that lawmakers maintain livable wages and stop cuts to human services.

"We're asking the governor and the state legislators not to balance the budget on the backs of our poor, on people with disabilities, children and senior citizens," said Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council.

More than 2,500 people gathered at the Capitol steps as part of a "Save Our State" rally for the preservation of state services and the protection of public- and private-sector workers who provide them.

Groups included members of the Children's Alliance, Washington Association of Churches and the Living Wage Movement.

Lawmakers this session are struggling with a $1.25 billion budget shortfall. Gov. Gary Locke has proposed a combination of spending cuts, federal aid, use of reserves and "sin tax" increases.

Other sources of revenue must be found to develop realistic and long-term solutions to the budget hole, said Dorry Elias of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County.

"We stand in front of the state Capitol where our elected leaders simply choose not to take a stand to secure our human services safety net," Elias said.

Legislators also must pass an economic stimulus package that includes a transportation budget to fund all modes of transportation, said Ron McGaha, of the International Association of Machinists.

Locke has asked lawmakers to approve a package that includes a multibillion-dollar roads plan and a state construction budget.

"If the Legislature can find the courage to build a baseball stadium, it should be able to find the courage to build a road so we can go to the game," McGaha said.

Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, attended the rally and listened to speakers as they demanded legislators find viable solutions to the state budget without slashing health care and human services.

Locke has proposed cutting reimbursement for nursing homes and pharmacy services for Medicaid clients by about $35 million each.

"The governor has put us on a death spiral with health care right now," Campbell said.

Later, state troopers temporarily locked Capitol doors after students held a sit-in outside Locke's office.

A group of about 100 students from Washington universities and colleges gathered at the Capitol to protest proposed tuition increases.


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