At least one Republican in the Legislature is willing to consider voting in favor of a tax increase if it means avoiding life-threatening cuts to services for people with developmental disabilities.
Reps. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla; Terry Nealey, R-Dayton; Larry Haler, R-Richland; and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick; and Sens. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, and Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, listened for more than an hour Thursday to pleas from about 150 people with developmental disabilities, their families and their advocates at a forum in Pasco sponsored by the Benton Franklin Counties Advocates for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities coalition.
Recent proposals developed by the Department of Social and Human Services for potential 5 percent and 10 percent budget cuts would eliminate all services for 8,600 people with developmental disabilities, or about 41 percent of the current caseload, the group said.
Among the proposed cuts include loss of prescription drug coverage for disabled adults, loss of employment supports, loss of family support such as respite care, and loss of in-home care for disabled people living on their own.
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Several parents told lawmakers they feared their children would end up in institutions, or that they would lose their jobs, their homes and their savings trying to keep their children in their homes as long as they could.
Jeremy Hernandez, a young man with cerebral palsy, arthritis and depression, said without access to his medications and other services, he would sink further into depression and lose his ability to live independently.
A number of people in the audience were brought to tears watching Hernandez struggle to read his speech, and applauded him when said he scored 100 percent on his oral exam and 97 percent on his written exam to become a peer counselor.
"This has been my dream to help others," he said. "(Department of Developmental Disabilities) counseling supports allow me to be healthy and stay employed. ... Keep persons with disabilities healthy and independent in our community. We need our medications and staff. Please do not cut our services."
John Tuttle, who works at Columbia Industries, told the story of an employee in his 20s who died after budget cuts meant he no longer could get his brand name seizure medication and had to switch to a generic that didn't work as well.
The man spent the last week of his life in a constant seizure, either in agony or under sedation when the medications doctors tried didn't work, Tuttle said.
"For a week, his mother had to sit by his bedside and watch him deteriorate further and further," Tuttle said. "It could have been prevented if he had been allowed to stay on the medication that had worked for 10 years."
Walsh said she could support a 1-cent increase in the state's sales tax -- which she said would solve about half of the $2 billion budget problem lawmakers face in an upcoming special session Nov. 28.
Walsh added that thinks she isn't alone among her party members, if Democrats would be willing to offer concessions and vote in favor of some Republican policies.
"I would say let the Democrats give some of those agenda items we think would be great for the economy and great for the state, and I bet we could get the two-thirds vote for that tax," she said.
The Legislature is constrained in raising or creating taxes by a voter-approved initiative requiring approval from a two-thirds majority of lawmakers. Democrats hold a majority in both legislative houses, but not enough to overcome the supermajority requirement.
Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, suggested he also might be willing to consider a tax option, but doesn't believe Democrats will be willing to compromise.
"We had this conversation earlier today. I said if I could get some guarantees from the Democrats across the aisle ... I might be willing to go there," Delvin said. "I think there are some sacred cows they're not willing to sacrifice."
Sen. Mark Schoesler said he believes lawmakers need to do a better job of setting priorities and make cuts to areas other than services for people with developmental disabilities, and offered the Department of Ecology as an example.
"I think it's time some other agencies had a very sobering look at what a real cut is," Schoesler said.
Klippert told the group to bring their stories to Olympia and tell them to lawmakers.
"There's just a few of us here, but there's going to be a whole bunch more of us in Olympia on Nov. 28," he said. "You need to look them in the eye and tell your stories."
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org