Why open government matters: State cut mental-health funding … by mistake?

Washington lawmakers crafted their budget this year largely in secret, and passed it in such a rush that many of them didn’t have time to read it. Now, predictably, we’re paying the price.

When Washington state lawmakers finished writing their $43 billion budget, the writers, who had been meeting in secret, released it to be reviewed by colleagues at 4 a.m. Friday, June 30.

If the public wanted to see the thousand-page blueprint for state government, acopy was posted online that afternoon.

But by 6 p.m., both the state House and Senate had already passed it, rushing to avoid a government shutdown. Leaders dismissed concerns about haste, even as some members warned there wasn’t time to read the bill.

One state senator confessed: “I don’t think any of us knows what is truly in this.”

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At least they got that part right.

Two months later, the more we learn about the work of state lawmakers this year, the worse it looks.

Example: There was much crowing by legislators this year that they had finally delivered to fix Washington’s notoriously bad and underfunded mental-health system.

“If this was not a K-12 year, we would call it a mental-health year,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, at a forum in August.

But this past week, after finally decoding what the budget actually does, state officials revealed that, in fact, it cuts mental-health and substance-abuse treatment in King County by $18 million — or 8 percent compared with last year.

It means that the urban area’s biggest social-services problem, a homelessness emergency fueled by opioid abuse and mental-health issues, is likely to get worse. And apparently it was all just a glitch.

“This is a huge disappointment,” says Nicole Macri, deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, and also a Democratic state legislator for Seattle’s 43rd District. “Our intent was to put in more money. To find out now that the result is less money is surprising, and very disappointing.

“It shows that these complex issues are difficult to get right when you only leave days, or hours, to work them out.”

Apparently what happened is lawmakers misjudged Medicaid-payment rates. Many homeless people on the street with schizophrenia, depression or drug addiction can get treatment under Medicaid. But the math of these payments in the budget, finally sent out this week by state officials,…

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