Budget negotiations in the state legislature are not going well. House Democrats want taxes; Senate Republicans don't.
Now, Republicans are telling Democrats to hand their tax proposals over to the Republican-controlled senate (where leaders promise no new taxes) before the two sides start negotiating. As the Seattle Times reports, the Democrats are like, uh, no thanks.
So negotiations are stalled and a special session seems likely.
One of the many efforts that hangs in the balance is the Republican-controlled senate's plan to raid almost $300 million in expected marijuana tax revenue to pay for K-12 education. (House Democrats also want that money. Their budget keeps most of the 2012 initiative's earmarks, but redirects some of them to non-marijuana-related needs like life skills training in schools and home visitation programs for new parents.) As I've explained before, marijuana tax dollars are—according to the initiative 56 percent of Washington voters supported in 2012—supposed to pay for public health efforts, like drug use prevention, treatment, research, public education campaigns about using marijuana safely, and healthcare. Not only does diverting those funds run counter to the vision of public-health-focused legalization that was sold to the voters. It also has some experts worried about negative impacts on public health.
In its second letter to lawmakers this month, the ACLU of Washington is joined by a long list of substance abuse prevention advocates in pleading with legislators to stop trying to snatch marijuana tax revenues to balance their budgets.
"Using I-502-earmarked funds to fill a budget hole now is dangerously shortsighted and unwise from both a public health and a cost-benefit perspective," the group writes. "Reduced funding for prevention and drug education programs today means increased substance abuse tomorrow, which translates directly to lost productivity and more health care costs down the line. The increased costs of these outcomes in the years to come will make today’s supposed savings pale by comparison."
The letter also points out a recent University of Washington survey of 115 low-income families of teens attending Tacoma middle schools, in which only 57 percent of parents knew the legal age for consumption and 63 percent knew home grows are illegal.
"To combat this misinformation," the letter reads, "the legislature must invest in prevention and drug education, which is known to work—for example, youth initiation of tobacco use was cut in half when tobacco litigation settlement dollars went to prevention programs. Now is not the time to cut funding for programs that prevent marijuana use and abuse by youth."
Here are the guys who wrote the senate budget plan, which redirects almost all of the tax revenue: Republican Andy Hill (email@example.com) and Democrat Jim Hargrove (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And here are those who sponsored the house proposal, which is less dramatic in its redirecting, but still opposed by the ACLU: Ross Hunter (email@example.com), Timm Ormsby (firstname.lastname@example.org), Pat Sullivan (email@example.com), Mia Gregerson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Chris Reykdal (email@example.com).
Here's the full letter:
April 15, 2015
Re: Reallocation of Initiative-502 tax revenue in SSB 6062/SSB 5077 and 2SHB 2136/SHB 1106
The undersigned organizations and individuals, representing Washington State’s substance abuse prevention, treatment, and public health communities, along with the ACLU of Washington, are greatly concerned about legislation currently under consideration that seeks to reallocate earmarked tax revenue in Initiative 502 (I-502). Diverting these funds would directly contradict the will of Washington voters, who made it clear in passing I-502 that they wanted a well-regulated and public health-oriented approach to marijuana policy rather than just legalization without more. And these funds provide resources for substance abuse prevention and treatment programming, drug education for youth and adults, community health care services, academic research, and evaluation, all of which are currently grossly underfunded.
Reallocating money from I-502’s original earmarks defies the will of Washington’s voters. By eliminating the Dedicated Marijuana Fund, the relevant Senate proposals, SSB 6062 and SSB 5077, would effectively eliminate I-502’s earmarks, ignoring the Initiative’s intent to "[g]enerate new ... tax revenue for ... health care, research, and substance abuse prevention." Initiative 502 (2012), Part I – Intent – available at http://www.newapproachwa.org/sites/newapproachwa.org/files/I-502%20bookmarked.pdf. The House proposals, 2SHB 2136 and SHB 1106, are not as sweeping as the Senate’s, but would still redirect money away from prevention programs to other non-marijuana-related programs. In moving forward with this cash grab, the legislature would be risking the interests and health of both Washington’s youth and its adults—the former would not get the benefit of participating in evidence-based prevention programs, and the latter will not get sufficient education about risky marijuana use. Neither is a good outcome for Washington. I-502 won by a large margin, receiving almost 56% support, and won in 20 of Washington’s 39 counties (including 5 east of the Cascades)—the legislature should respect the clearly expressed will of Washington’s voters.
Using I-502-earmarked funds to fill a budget hole now is dangerously shortsighted and unwise from both a public health and a cost-benefit perspective. Reduced funding for prevention and drug education programs today means increased substance abuse tomorrow, which translates directly to lost productivity and more health care costs down the line. The increased costs of these outcomes in the years to come will make today’s supposed savings pale by comparison.
As the Washington State Institute for Public Policy has shown repeatedly, the benefits from evidence-based public health/prevention and substance programs far outweigh the costs. WSIPP – Benefit-Cost Results – available at http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/BenefitCost
Washington voters also enacted a measure that was to have been robustly evaluated by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. RCW 69.50.550 Independent, reliable cost-benefit evaluation of the impacts of I-502 is critical to ensuring the legislature has solid data to inform future decisions about funding priorities that protect and promote public health and safety. SSB 6062 repeals the provisions mandating and funding these evaluations, which is unwise from a policy and public health perspective. Under the Senate proposal, funding for marijuana related research at the University of Washington and Washington State University would also be cut.
I-502 is still a new law and the general public is unfamiliar with its features—making this a crucial time for public education about the law. According to research from the University of Washington, “only 57 percent of Washington parents surveyed knew the legal age for recreational marijuana use.” UW Today, Deborah Bach, Study Shows Teens and Adults Hazy on Washington Marijuana Law, March 9, 2015, available at http://www.washington.edu/news/2015/03/09/study-shows-teens-and-adults-hazy-on-washington-marijuana-law/. One of the study’s authors indicated it “convincingly points out that people don’t have good information about the new law.” Id. To combat this misinformation, the legislature must invest in prevention and drug education, which is known to work—for example, youth initiation of tobacco use was cut in half when tobacco litigation settlement dollars went to prevention programs. Now is not the time to cut funding for programs that prevent marijuana use and abuse by youth.
Lawmakers should not defy the will of the voters by reallocating I-502 tax revenue away from substance abuse prevention and treatment programming, drug education for youth and adults, community health care services, academic research, and evaluation. Please leave I-502’s critical earmarks intact.
Carolyn Bernhard, Co-Chair, Prevention Works in Seattle Coalition
Kimberlee R. Brackett, President and CEO Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA)
Julie Campbell, Director, Ballard Coalition
Mark Cooke, Campaign Policy Director, ACLU of Washington
Brittany Rhoades Cooper, PhD Assistant Professor, Human Development, Graduate Faculty in Prevention Science, Extension Specialist, Washington State University
Shelley Cooper-Ashford, Executive Director, Center for MultiCultural Health
Josh Daniel, Content Inventions
Norilyn de la Pena, concerned parent, Federal Way
Aileen De Leon, Executive Director, WAPI Community Services
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (ret.), Initiative 502 Co-Sponsor
Dennis M. Donovan, Ph.D., Member, Board of Directors, Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA) Foundation
Sinivia Driggers, President, Samoan Nurses of Washington
Derek Franklin, Washington Association for Abuse & Violence Prevention (WASAVP)
Tracie Friedman, Youth Program Volunteer, Lau Khmu Association of Seattle
John Gahagan, Vice Chair, Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA) Foundation
Mike Graham-Squire, Washington Association for Abuse & Violence Prevention (WASAVP)
Gary Goldbaum, MD, MPH, Snohomish County Health Officer & Director
Kevin Haggerty, MSW, Ph.D., Director, Social Development Research Group
Mona T. Han, Executive Director, Coalition for Refugees from Burma
Patty Hayes, Interim Director, Public Health-Seattle & King County
Laura G. Hill, Professor and Chair, Department of Human Development, Interim Director of the Prevention Science PhD program, Washington State University
Alison Holcomb, National Director, Campaign to End Mass Incarceration at ACLU
Renee Hunter, Executive Director, Chelan-Douglas TOGETHER for Youth
Elaine Ishihara, Director, APICAT for Healthy Communities
Mark Johnson, Johnson Flora, Initiative 502 Co-Sponsor
Ramona Leber, Washington Association for Abuse & Violence Prevention (WASAVP)
Priscilla Lisicich, Executive Director, Safe Streets Campaign – Pierce County
Inga Manskopf, Prevention WINS coalition member
Marcos Martinez, Executive Director, Entre Hermanos
John L. McKay, Visiting Professor of Law Seattle University, Initiative 502 Co-Sponsor
Michael McKee, Health Services & Community Partnership Director,
International Community Health Services
Delton Mosby, Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Professional, Therapeutic Health Services
Sal Mungia, Gordon Thomas Honeywell, Initiative 502 Co-Sponsor
Adrienne Quinn, Director, Department of Community and Human Services, King County
Roger Roffman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, School of Social Work, University of Washington
Andrew J. Saxon, MD, Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA) Board Chair, Professor Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington
Lorena Silva, community member, Yakima Valley
Rick Steves, Guidebook author and travel TV host, Rick Steves’ Europe, Initiative 502 Co-Sponsor
Jennifer Stuber, Associate Professor, University of Washington
Val Thomas-Matson, Program Manager, Health King County Coalition
Linda J. Thompson, Executive Director, Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council (GSSAC)
Leslie R. Walker, MD, Chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine, University of Washington Department of Pediatrics & Seattle Children's Hospital
Paul Weatherly, Bellevue College Alcohol/Drug Counseling Program
Leondra Weiss, Nurse Manager, Harborview Women’s Clinic
Robert W. Wood, M.D., Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Washington, Initiative 502 Co-Sponsor
The Washington State Psychiatric Association