Kitsap legislators say health care is top priority

"Democrats in the Legislature sent health care to the top of their list for priority funding next year. And that’s good news for the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District, which is cutting $750,000 worth of programs from its 2000 budget.Legislative caucuses and committees are meeting this month in Olympia to prepare for the Legislative session that starts Jan. 10. Much of the discussion is about plugging the worst of the budget holes created by Initiative 695.I-695, approved by voters last month, repealed the motor vehicle excise tax, effectively cutting off a revenue source that funded health-care programs, transportation, public safety and local government.And with local governments feeling their own budget crunch, they are less willing to contribute cash to help local health programs stay afloat.Last week, Poulsbo Mayor Donna Jean Bruce told the other members of the health district board that her city was willing to pay its fair share for programs that serve its citizens. However, she said they couldn’t afford to subsidize others.That was the sentiment all around the table, including other mayors and the County Commissioners. Bremerton Mayor Lynn Horton said it’s time for legislators to contribute more from state coffers for local health programs.Most legislators from Kitsap County agree.“I think, in her shoes, I would probably say the same thing,” said Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District. Bremerton is struggling, in part, because it collects less than 70 percent of the statewide average for sales tax per capita. Port Orchard and Poulsbo are both way ahead of the curve, and Bainbridge Island raised taxes to compensate for its expected budget shortfall.Horton said she’d like the state money to come “with no strings attached.” And Sheldon said that while she is sympathetic to that wish, “maybe a bill would come through that I would want to be more narrow.”Sheldon explained that some state money has strings because legislators want “to ensure that a focused population will get the benefit of the legislation.”Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-35th District, added, “The Legislature tries to stay accountable for their dollars.” In doing so, Haigh said, legislators attach strings so they’ll be able to show taxpayers exactly what they pay for.But Rep. Pat Lantz, D-26th District, had a different take on spending state money. “I think that enabling local governments to give the best service possible means not attaching strings,” she said. Lantz said local governments are closest to the problems and best understand their communities’ needs. Therefore, she said, they should be able to make spending decisions.Kitsap County residents are represented by six Democratic lawmakers and three Republican legislators. The 60-day legislative session will ends March 11."

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