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HIV/AIDS funding for King County slashed in state budget crisis
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HIV/AIDS funding for King County slashed in state budget crisis

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The all-cuts budget announced last week by Gov. Christine Gregoire may jeopardize HIV/AIDS prevention and services in King County, according to Dr. Bob Wood, director of HIV/AIDS Control for Seattle-King County Public Health.

King County receives about $3 million in state money for HIV/AIDS prevention. But Gregoire has proposed cutting more than $2 million of that to help cope with a projected $2.6 billion budget deficit for 2010.

Wood worried that the proposed 70% cut in state funding could complicate prevention and treatment efforts.

"This is AIDS Omnibus money - what we call the AIDSNET system - it's a very generous contribution the state has made over the years," Wood told SGN. "We also get federal money through the CDC. There's no other source of revenue."

The money goes to support a variety of HIV/AIDS prevention programs, including those run by Seattle-King County Public Health and by other agencies.

"A good chunk goes to community organizations," Wood explained. "Gay City, Entre Hermanos, Lifelong, Multifaith&."

"We'll be able to phase in the cuts a little, but by 2011 the full impact should be felt," Wood told SGN. "At least for some populations the cuts could be catastrophic."

Wood also discussed proposed cuts in the HIV/AIDS early intervention program, which is a care program targeting newly diagnosed HIV cases.

"We think that care cuts could be handled without establishing a waiting list for services," Wood said. As of 2008, there were some 7,000 people living with HIV in King County.

NEW REVENUE

Legislators contacted by SGN said they will seek new revenue sources to make up at least part of the state's budget shortfall and avoid the most severe cuts.

"Funding [for HIV/AIDS prevention] is not going to be restored completely because nothing will be, but we'll make a real effort to find the revenue," Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-11) told SGN. As chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Prentice will be a key player in the legislature's work on the budget.

Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43) agrees. "We'll try to find $700,000 to $1.5 million in new revenue," he told SGN. "I think we'll be successful if we can close half the gap."

"If you do an all-cuts budget - three-quarters of the budget is not available for cutting because of constitutional mandates or federal mandates - and some of the rest has already been spent & you have to find $2.6 billion in the $7 billion that's left," Pedersen explained.

Prentice said she believes the Democratic majority in Olympia will prioritize HIV/AIDS funding. "Our caucus is committed to AIDS prevention and treatment. The LGBT community is very important to me," she said.

I-960 REPEAL?

Prentice was less clear on where the necessary revenue would come from. "I think the governor is correct when she says people are not going to go for more property taxes," she said.

Prentice and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-3) have both raised the possibility of repealing I-960, the Tim Eyman creation designed to impede the legislature's ability to raise taxes. Since it was passed in November 2007, the legislature can legally repeal it in its upcoming session.

"We're looking at absolutely everything," Prentice told SGN. "I'd seriously consider repealing I-960. If we're going to do it, that would have to be first on the agenda."

Pedersen was doubtful that any big tax reform measure would be passed, however.

"We'll look at long-term stuff but I don't expect any long-term solution to come out of a short 60-day session," he said.

"I'd be happy to vote for revenue to close the whole gap because I think we cut too much from the last budget," Pedersen continued, "but I'm just reporting the political realities to you."

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