News

Budget foils: Prisons, healthcare, education

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

Local legislators are back in Olympia staring down a $28 billion operating budget deficit and hoping to provide a finished product by the end of next week.

Rep. Mark Miloscia (D, Federal Way) told a meeting of the 30th District Democrats earlier this month the deficit is coming from three main sources:

• Education costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation. “We can’t keep people from going to school and going to college,” he said.

• Prison construction and operating costs are rising. While voters like to hear tough-on-crime rhetoric from the Legislature, in reality, the state is having a hard time keeping up with the cost of incarceration.

• Medical costs are rising, too. Miloscia said a third of the state budget is gobbled up by healthcare, whether providing services to the poor, covering state employee (including teachers), benefits or processing medical claims. Miloscia said medical costs are rising at 19 percent a year.

“We have to make a choice in this country: offer healthcare or not,” Miloscia said. Because Gov. Gary Locke’s budget proposal included no new taxes, “it made a number of options in the Legislature very limited,” he said.

He expressed frustration at voters who challenge lawmakers to live within the state’s means.

“How do you live within your means when people want to go to college? Or when people want healthcare?” he said.

Still, House and Senate operating budgets aren’t far off from each other — Miloscia said they’re working through a difference of about $500 million — and they’re hoping to finish up by next week.

“We recently decided on a spending level, now we just have to decide what to spend it on,” he said. “It’s all fine-tuning.”

The House passed a capital budget on the last day of the regular legislative session with funding for several projects that will benefit Federal Way.

Rep. Skip Priest (R-30th District) said residents in the district will see several projects funded in the state 2003-05 budget, including:

• $250,000 for the West Hylebos Park;

• $100,000 for a Boys and Girls Club Youth Development Center at Truman High School;

• $31,500 to build a trailhead at the Interurban Trail

• $106,000 to preserve two historic cabins in Federal Way.

House members passed a $2.45 billion capital budget that includes government construction projects as well as funding for parks, housing, prisons and heritage facilities.

The capital budget doesn’t include funding for transportation projects.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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