By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
On Dec. 14, Gov. Chris Gregoire, along with members of the Transforming Washington’s Budget committee, announced her intention to consolidate state agencies and eliminate boards and commissions to cut costs and streamline state government. Gregoire’s proposal would reduce the number of state agencies included in her consolidation plan from 21 to nine. The consolidation is expected to save nearly $30 million while reducing the number of state positions by 125 over the next two years.
The Human Rights Commission, Commission on African American Affairs, Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA), and Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise are among the agencies to be eliminated. By combining the commissions into one office, the governor hopes to eliminate redundant administrative overhead and duplicate expenses. The new “Office of Civil Rights” would continue the vital work and efforts of the social organizations.
Gregoire said the agencies can’t handle more cuts. In order for the services to survive, they must be combined into one organization.
CAPAA was founded after a group of local Asian Pacific American community members met with the governor to examine a broad range of issues facing the APA population in the areas of employment, education, social services, community development, immigration, and civil rights. In January 1972, Gov. Evans created The Governor’s Asian Advisory Council by executive order. On Feb. 26, 1974, the 43rd Washington State Legislature formally created The State of Washington Commission on Asian American Affairs as a state agency.
On April 17, 1995, Gov. Mike Lowry signed a bill to change the commission’s name to the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, to include Pacific Islanders.
CAPAA performs several functions such as research and analysis, education, and resource and plays various roles including advisor, conduit, and consultant.
Kendee Yamaguchi is the executive director of CAPAA, which will be consolidated. “The organization has worked hard with the commissioners to accomplish the goals since its inception 36 years ago,” said Yamaguchi.
No matter what happens, Yamaguchi said staff members will continue to work and improve the well-being of the Asian/Pacific Islander communities. They will continue to aid the community by obtaining governmental services and improve health and safety of residents in our state.
One of CAPAA’s 12 commissioners and education chair, Frieda Takamura, has been involved with CAPAA for about three years. Her initial reaction to the governor’s proposal was one of disappointment.
“I think most people in the community are disappointed. I understand the budget constraints that the state faces, but I’m sad that the commission will be part of the cuts because it will dilute the community’s voice at the state level,” she said.
Takamura has worked closely with Yamaguchi and praises Yamaguchi’s dedication and hard work to making sure that API issues are addressed appropriately. However, Takamura worries for the future.
“Her voice will not be as strong because there will be no CAPAA anymore,” Takamura said.
“Because of the budget cuts, our voices will not be collectively obvious to the governor’s office and at the state level. Cutting that many people’s voices throughout the state would really make it less vocal,” Takamura said.
Takamura stated that Asian Americans are often overlooked because they are the model minority, but in reality, some APIs aren’t doing as well (in school, for example). The stereotype is misleading, and the issue needs more direct attention since there isn’t enough attention paid to the API communities.
“[The] commission represents 57 ethnic groups and 12 percent of the population,” said former CAPAA commissioner Ron Chow. “It consists of many first generation American, and they need a lot of help and information. We are already underrepresented in the government, and to cut the commission means we will have no voice from now on. The commission’s budget is only a very, very tiny part of the budget, [about] $200,000 per year. [Cutting it] doesn’t really help the overall budget [deficit] of [$4.6] billion. The governor shouldn’t cut the minorities commissions because the four commissions together don’t even exceed a million dollars. There are other bigger items the government should cut, and yet no one is talking about those.”
Other changes mentioned in the proposal include the consolidation of 11 natural resource agencies down to only five. The central services that consist of the departments of General Administration, Personnel, Printing, and portions of the Department of Information Services and the Office of Financial Management would merge into a new department, called the Department of Enterprise Services.
Alexis Oliver, the governor’s executive policy adviser, explained that the governor’s proposal would need legislative action in order for the Office of Civil Rights to be established. If passed, the changes would take effect in July 2011.
She also said the government will save an estimated “1.4 million dollars as 16 positions will be reduced and that the positions being reduced will come across all of the agencies.”
The new office will continue to work on the five functions of the agencies. It will continue to work on the issues that the human rights commission is dealing with, enforcement of the anti-discrimination statute, minority and women’s business enterprises, and state- and federal-level outreach.
There will also be three specialists who will work on outreach, which is part of the programmatic work of the commission. Oliver said that the specialists would propose a new commission on minority affairs to continue outreach efforts. The goal is to have more involvement from various ethnic communities to address a broad range of issues that are affecting the communities.
“We see this policy proposal as a better customer service model, particularly around the anti-discrimination statute. We actually see this proposal bringing together all of these agencies to provide a better fiscal resource to continue the outreach efforts,” Oliver said. The new combined office will also protect the communities that would not otherwise survive the budget crisis, she added.
“Many of the cuts that the agencies had to experience and the proposed cuts for the biennium (two years) — we were looking at it being virtually impossible [for the commission] to carry out their mission, so that was the reason that the governor proposed the idea. It was a protection to continue those outreach efforts if they were going to take any further reductions in the budget crisis,” Oliver explained.
The next step will be to see if the proposal is passed by the legislature this month. ♦
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.