Budget and Health Care: Legislative Update

Thursday, Governor Inslee released his proposal for the 2013-15 operating budget. We expect that the Senate will follow with their own plan early next week, and the House will roll out our plan soon after. Then, budget writers in both chambers will begin finding common ground, ironing out the differences, and ultimately pass a balanced, two-year state budget.

The $2 Billion Myth

One argument you will hear in the upcoming weeks is that the state has $2 billion more in revenue coming in during the upcoming budget cycle than we did during the last one – and that is true.

But it is also just one part of the equation.

Let’s say you drive your car 100 miles a week as part of your job responsibilities, and your boss gives you $50 a week to cover your gas expenses. Then one day your boss says, “Good news, I’m increasing your fuel stipend to $60, but we’re also doubling your route to 200 miles.”

While the stipend increase would be welcomed, is that really good news? The added miles would more than wipe out the extra $10 a week.

General Fund 2008 Chart

State expenses have also increased by more than $2 billion since the last biennium. As you can see in the above chart, we have more kids in public schools, more students enrolling in higher education that need financial assistance, more people in prison, and more low-income families and seniors that need medical care.

In other words, it costs more this year to run the state than it did last year. Despite having more money this year, our revenues are not keeping up with expenses. Based on current expense and revenue projections, the state budget is about $1 billion short of paying for our obligations. When you add up our current obligations with the requirement by the State Supreme Court to provide an additional $1.3 billion in education funding, we’re about $2.3 billion short.

Health Care for Our Heroes

Included in Governor Inslee’s budget proposal was assumed savings from Medicaid Expansion. Beginning next year, the federal government is offering to send our tax dollars back home to cover 385,000 Washingtonians making less than $15,000/year. Over the next two years, Medicaid Expansion is estimated to save our state about $265 million.

There is no shortage of good reasons to support Medicaid Expansion, and the Urban Institute has just given us yet another.

On the national level, about 1.3 million American veterans go without health insurance. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We can all agree that we have a responsibility to these heroes, as well as their families, who have sacrificed so much for us. Medicaid Expansion gives us another opportunity to make good on that promise.

From the Urban Institute:

An estimated 40 percent of uninsured veterans (535,000 people) have incomes that, under provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could qualify them for Medicaid.

Whether or not these veterans qualify for Medicaid under the ACA depends on whether – and which – states opt to expand Medicaid.

Most of those eligible – about 414,000 uninsured veterans – will only have new coverage options if they live in a state that expands Medicaid.

Right here in Washington state, about 12,200 veterans would be eligible for health care coverage under Medicaid Expansion. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we can all agree this is a step in the right direction.

For the Urban Institute’s complete report, follow this link.

Keeping Track of the Action in Your Capital

So what’s really happening in the House and Senate?
While it’s easy to look up a single piece of legislation, it’s sometimes harder to keep track of the big picture.

  • Which bills are alive?
  • Which ones are probably dead?
  • What did the House pass that the Senate is considering – and vice versa?

Here is a handy guide to help you track bills
, keep up with your legislators, and know what’s happening on the floor.