Lack of funds hinders disabled assistance
By Michael Simpson - Staff Reporter
Washington's ability to help the disabled is limited by a lack of tax dollars, a state official said last week.
Toby Wilson, the executive secretary of the governor's committee on disability, visited Highline for Disability Awareness Month, a campaign to celebrate the achievements of the disabled and examine the leading obstacles to equal treatment.
This is an issue that tends to affect everyone, Wilson said before a standing room crowd in Building 8, Mt. Skokomish.
Approximately one in five adults in the United States has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A disability is any restriction one faces in any activity, because of physical, mental, or emotional problems, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Anyone over the age of 40 has a 50 percent chance of acquiring disabilities and many will need tax dollars to adequately fund programs such personal assistance services, mental health assessment and treatment to remain productive, Wilson said.
King County currently offers a variety of public services and information on crisis intervention, mental health treatment, individualized care, reentry, employment and housing.
Unfortunately, any additional available tax dollars are dedicated to meeting the McCleary decision, Wilson said.
The McCleary decision is a state Supreme Court order to fully fund public K-12 basic education by 2018.
Also, funds are stretched thin because of the recession, which makes it difficult to fund additional disability efforts that can cost up to $100 million, Wilson said.
"When you're in a tight budget situation, when you're fighting for every dollar, this kind of eats up all of the available oxygen," he said. "[This] has the impact of forcing people who have the talents, desire and energy to support themselves, support family and pay taxes to be dependent on underfunded public support."
With proper public assistance, people with disabilities can be more productive, Wilson said.
The resulting tax revenue generated by them will outweigh the cost of the programs, he said.
Washington's regressive state tax system, where one's tax rate decreases as income increases, has created a $3.5 billion "budget hole" that needs to be filled, he said.
Taxes in Washington are the 35th lowest in the country and have dropped 30 percent between 1990 and 2011, Wilson said.
If taxes were raised to the U.S. average, the state would have $5.6 billion to "completely make that $3.5 billion budget hole go away," he said.
Fortunately, McCleary is a disability issue because special education is included in basic education, he said.
This connection was established, in part, because of a special education lawsuit, the School Districts' Alliance for Adequate Funding of Special Education v. the State of Washington, he said.
Fifty school districts out of 285 sued because special education money was being spent on other students without disabilities, he said.
This contributed to the formation of the McCleary lawsuit, he said.
"The court said obviously this basic education is part of the state's funding for students that are in special education," Wilson said. "It established that special education is part of basic education. And that's important because the state has a constitutional mandate to fully fund basic education."