An unaffordable mandate

Having failed to convince the Legislature to fund expanded background checks and training for long-term-care workers, the union that represents many such folks is taking its pitch directly to voters for the second time in three years.

We think voters should say no to Initiative 1163, the timing for which couldn’t be worse. It would cost about $18 million over the next two years, just as another $2 billion in state budget cuts are ravaging other programs, including health care, education and corrections.

Voters may well say yes to Initiative 1163, having passed a nearly identical measure in 2008 by a 73-27 percent margin. That won’t make it any more affordable than it was then, when lawmakers facing deep budget cuts declined to implement the unfunded mandate.

Even Gov. Chris Gregoire, who says she agrees that adding more training for people who provide care to seniors and people with disabilities would be a good thing, opposes I-1163, saying the additional costs can’t be justified now.

Among other changes, the measure would increase the training requirement for new long-term-care workers from 34 hours to 75 hours. It would also require that all new workers undergo a federal criminal background check — currently, all workers must pass a state background check; those who are new to Washington already undergo a federal check.

Such changes would be nice to have, but are hardly essential — and certainly not when services such as community supervision of parolees is being slashed.

The Legislature didn’t kill the measure voters passed in 2008, it simply delayed it until the current budget crisis subsides. That so irked the Service Employees International Union that it’s spending more than $1 million to have the Legislature’s responsible decision overturned.

Initiatives that create expensive mandates but no mechanism to pay for them should be among the first things delayed in a budget crisis. The Legislature has also done so, appropriately, with two expensive education measures intended to reduce class sizes and guarantee teachers cost-of-living raises.

I-1163 was born of impatience and stubbornness, and without regard to glaring fiscal realities. Voters should reject it.

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