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UPDATE – Inslee’s budget outline upholds worker contracts, suspends COLAs for teachers – overall adds $660M-plus for worker compensation

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on March 28, 2013 at 7:09 pm | No Comments »
March 29, 2013 10:45 am
Gov. Jay Inslee
Gov. Jay Inslee

Public sector workers in state government agencies got a boost from Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget outline Thursday, which proposes to honor contracts with some two-dozen worker unions while also raising taxes to pump $1.2 billion in new spending into K-12 public schools. All told, Inslee’s outline supports an increase in employee compensation of more than $660 million – if pay for private home care workers hired through the Medicaid program is included.

On the other hand, Inslee calls for a suspension of Initiative 732 for the third straight budget cycle, canceling cost-of-living raises for teachers. The Washington Education Association criticizes that proposal as a “cut” worth about $295 million for teachers.

I have written a story that explores this topic for Friday’ print editions – now linked here. For now, here’s a preview – including my calculation that the labor costs are a roughly a fifth of the $3.15 billion more that Inslee wants to spend than was budgeted for worker pay for the 2011-13 cycle. But Republican Sen. Mike Hewitt is saying this evening employee costs appear higher – $800 million in new spending.

It is still unclear if the Democrat-controlled House or Republican-led Senate will follow suit on worker contracts, home-care pay or changes in teacher compensation.

Early reactions this afternoon were good from the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents more than 40,000 state agency and college workers. Some line workers are getting weary of the double-digit staffing cuts, rising health-care premiums, furloughs and no across-the-board pay hikes since 2008.

“Overall we are just delighted we have a governor willing to make a bold move and close tax breaks,’’ said Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents more than 40,000 workers in general government agencies and higher education. “By closing tax loopholes it takes pressure off cutting other services.”

Some of the worker costs – $170 million or more for general government workers – are going to happen whether lawmakers approve two-dozen union contracts or reject them. Under terms of contracts agreed to in 2010, most general government workers had temporary 3 percent cuts in pay and hours worked and their pay “snaps back” automatically in late June.

Another $166 million of the total new outlay is to restore similar temporary cuts for K-12 employees, which some school districts did not require of their teachers.

Inslee said he also wants to spend $146 million to cover costs for an arbitrator’s award to home-care workers represented by Service Employees International Union 775 Healthcare. After negotiations hit a standstill under former governor Chris Gregoire, the dispute went to an arbitrator. She awarded 5 percent yearly pay raises for more than 45,000 home-care workers whose starting pay is about $10.03 an hour.

Inslee’s proposal is to cover those individual providers and also those homecare workers employed by agencies; Gregoire had proposed a tax hike to cover just individual providers.

Adam Glickman, secretary-treasurer for SEIU 775’s 43,000-member union, applauded Inslee “for preparing a budget that helps homecare aides take a modest step out of poverty and rejects additional cuts to long-term services and supports … The governor is showing leadership by balancing funding for education and social services, closing tax loopholes and fulfilling his promise of creating a jobs-rich economy in Washington.”

All of the proposals face great uncertainty in the final month of the legislative session.

In the House, Appropriations Committee chairman Ross Hunter, D- Medina, said he was not yet ready to say what his caucus’ budget would do for public sector workers. But Hunter and other House Democrats have said pay adjustments need to be made for public sector workers after years of stagnant or lowered take-home pay.

“The goal is to have a consistent set of polices across all of them,’’ Hunter said.

In the Senate, the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus is still opposed to tax increases. Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said public employee compensation is still going to get a careful look.

“We’re going to examine those areas and not just rubber stamp them,” Schoesler said. “We will examine each one of those areas of compensation, one by one, look at them closely and then make a decision. I think the governor was too eager to raise taxes to fund all of those areas. He went there early and he went there often.”

If Schoesler’s caucus really is putting out its budget plan early next week, time is running out on that examination of options.

Despite Inslee’s support for increasing spending for workers, one employee group is griping: the teachers union.

Inslee proposes to suspend Initiative 732, which the Washington Education Association championed in 2000 to give yearly cost of living pay raises to public school and community college staffers. WEA says the raises would be worth 2.5 percent for the next year.

A link to elements of Inslee’s spending and tax plans is here.

 

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