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UPDATE: Sen. Baumgartner’s sequel on contracting out targets state Motor Pool, custodians, real-estate brokering

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Feb. 11, 2013 at 8:16 am | 1 Comment »
February 11, 2013 11:49 am

It was only a matter of time until Republican state Sen. Michael Baumgartner followed up on his 2011 reform bill that consolidated parts of five state agencies and created the Department of Enterprise Services. His sequel removes limits on contracting out for DES and targets the state Motor Pool, custodial services, and real-estate brokering for possible privatizing.

Senate Bill 5717 doesn’t actually require the contracting out of those three services. But it does build on the earlier legislation in specifying that those three activities must be evaluated for potential savings when the Office of Financial Management considers up to six state functions for privatizing.

Organized labor can be expected to tear into the proposal, just as it fought hard against the earlier bill, which let former Gov. Chris Gregoire carry out a multi-agency merger. “I expect politically the same kind of battle,” Baumgartner said Friday.

I have queries in to the Washington Federation of State Employees and to DES for comment.

Baumgartner dropped the bill in the hopper Friday and is to be introduced in the Senate today [Monday]. It can be seen here.

Baumgartner said in an interview he wants to lower state operating costs through greater efficiency in order to free money for education and other state priorities. He said the Consolidated Technology Services agency that runs the new State Data Center was freed from some collective bargaining restraints in his first bill, and he wants DES to have that same freedom.

Language in his bill appears to exempt those state purchases of services that are identified in a state business plan for technology investments and also approved by the state Technology Services Board.

He also wants to be sure that OFM takes a look at the three areas of activity that might produce savings if done by the private sector. OFM already is looking at printing and other activities of DES. Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County has eyed some of those same activities for savings.

Because a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats hold the narrow majority in the Senate, there should be no trouble giving the bill a hearing and perhaps a floor vote in Ways and Means where Baumgartner is vice chair.

The Republican-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has been loading up bills likely to be shot down in the Democrat-controlled House, and this may fall into the same category.

Other controversial GOP measures would rewrite workers compensation protections just two years after a major reform package passed the Legislature and too little time has gone by to let pieces of that package take full effect.

But in a split Legislature that has weighed in the House Democrats’ favor for many years, the pro-business bills (deemed anti-labor by many Democrats) may become valuable trading cards as Democrats look for Republican support for tax increases late in the session to save off deeper cuts to higher education and health programs.

Of course, Monday today the start of Week 5, which is barely a quarter of the way through a 15-week session that ends in late April. A lot can and will happen between now and then.

Many more bills will be stacked up in both chambers before the real debates get under way – most likely after the revenue forecast comes out on March 20 and the Senate lays down its operating-budget proposal for 2013-15.

Once again, stay tuned.

UPDATE on original 8:16 a.m. post: The Department of Enterprise Services is not taking a formal position on the bill, but the Washington Federation of State Employees strongly objects to it. Federation spokesman Tim Welch called it a “bad bill.”

“Custodians could lose jobs without getting chance to offer alternatives under the competitive contracting part of the PSRA and rules,” Welch explained. “We have prevailed in court on this.’’

Welch said it is too early to tell if there is any threat of the bill passing. The union battled against elements of the original reform in 2011 and eventually was able to prevail in stopping Consolidated Technology Services from making two thirds or more of its staff exempt from collective bargaining.

That earlier reform bill sponsored by Baumgartner began as a request of then-Gov. Chris Gregoire, who wanted to consolidate agencies for savings. But Enterprise Services did not ask for the sequel.

DES spokesman Steve Valandra said the new agency that formed in October 2011 continues to look for savings and was able to reduce operating costs for the next biennium by a net $20 million (savings were estimated by up to $37 million last December).

Meanwhile, OFM has selected web services and mail delivery outside Thurston County for an evaluation of cost savings if the activities were contracted out under terms of the 2011 reforms. Decisions on those are pending. The agency also is reviewing bulk printing.

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