by Amanda Hunt, BSW

Since September, I have had the pleasure of working with the Peace and Economic Justice Committee. In this committee, we set our 2012 legislative priorities which included fighting to raise revenue in the state by closing corporate tax loopholes and rejecting cuts that will disproportionately affect low-income children, families, and people of color. This has been a difficult year in the legislature, as our law makers were struggling with another almost billion dollar revenue short fall.

Many unethical budget cuts were proposed by Governor Gregoire that would have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable populations in our state. She proposed the elimination of disability lifeline, severe cuts to K-12 and Higher Education, the Basic Health Program, and as well as other programs and services. Senator Joesph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, forced a vote on an all-cuts budget which was passed by the Senate. The House couldn’t agree and the legislature went into another special session.

We worked hard to protect education and the social safety net in Washington State by advocating with partnering organizations such as Washington Community Action Network and Our Economic Future Coalition. We organized legislative coffees with our local legislators to share our personal stories of how the budget cuts have affected or would affect our community as a whole. Alyssa, Regina and I organized a legislative Panel on EWU’S campus and addressed the budget cuts and encouraged legislators to raise revenue in our state by closing corporate tax loopholes. We co-sponsored WA CAN!’s report “Facing Race: How Budget Cuts Are Increasing Racial Disparities” and helped with its Spokane release. We held trainings to become more effective conveying our message, wrote letters to our legislators, participated in rallies and lobby days in Olympia, and even canvassed the neighborhood of Senator Michael Baumgartner, who supported and voted for the all-cuts budget in the Senate. Many PJALS members took action.

During the Special session, a people-powered miracle happened. Because of our hard work and determination to advocate and save such programs, the majority of programs were preserved! No cuts were made to K-12, Higher Education, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the State Food Assistance Program, State Family Assistance, and Apple Health for Kids, and Maternity Support Services. Disability Lifeline and Basic Health were saved from complete elimination. And, after escalating public pressure, lawmakers finally closed one of the most worst loopholes in our state budget: a lucrative giveaway for out-of-state big banks worth tens of millions a year. It is a good start and it would not have happened without public pressure, but we still have a fight on our hands to make our tax system fair and ensure we have adequate resources to fund the public services we need.

This has been my first introduction to how advocacy can have an impact on our legislators. If we share our stories and voices, together we can create change to protect our families and neighbors in our communities! Thanks to all of you for the inspiration you have given me at every meeting and every event!