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Parks and Kids Are Focus of State Budget Protests

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PHOTO: State employees in Washington plan to call attention to priorities they believe are being ignored in legislative budget negotiations at five events around Western Washington on Thursday. Photo courtesy Washington Federation of State Employees.
PHOTO: State employees in Washington plan to call attention to priorities they believe are being ignored in legislative budget negotiations at five events around Western Washington on Thursday. Photo courtesy Washington Federation of State Employees.
June 11, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. – State employees are turning up the heat on legislators to get a new budget approved.

As hopes for a budget deal dwindle in Olympia, five protest rallies are planned for Thursday afternoon around Western Washington as state workers call attention to higher funding needs for children's services and state parks – which the state Senate has left out of its budget.

Tim Welch, director of public affairs for the Washington Federation of State Employees, says public frustration is growing about some lawmakers' apparent inability to compromise – and a looming state government shutdown July 1.

"These events get through to legislators but, more importantly, they get through to taxpayers and users of these services," he says. "I think it is getting across, but it's painfully slow. It's time for them to wrap up the business, and let's go home."

Welch says the demand for state services continues to grow, and what he calls a "modest" capital gains tax could generate revenue to fund those services. However, Senate GOP leaders have been adamant about no new taxes.

According to Welch, state employees are especially unhappy that some lawmakers plan to attend a U.S. Open golf tournament in Pierce County next week, instead of staying at the budget bargaining table.

Four of Thursday's protests – at the Capitol, Everett, Tacoma and Vancouver – are about whether to fund 107 new positions in the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The House and Gov. Jay Inslee's budgets include the funding, but the Senate budget doesn't.

Welch says after years of cutbacks, DSHS is struggling to oversee the cases of more than 19,000 children in the child welfare system.

"There are fewer social workers to meet the demand, high caseloads, high frustration, high turnover," he says. "The potential for a tragedy or for at-risk kids to not get services is quite high. That's what this is all about."

A fifth rally, at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore, is in support of a state park system preparing for a busy summer, despite an extensive maintenance backlog. Funding for an additional 90 maintenance workers is at issue in the budget negotiations.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA