House Democrats’ latest budget proposal gives in to Senate Republicans on many spending and tax questions, but it holds firm its opposition to the Senate’s plan to shift part-time school or state employees into the health exchange being opened next year via Obamacare. Washington appears to be the first state to seriously consider the concept as a budget-saving tool.
Rep. Ross Hunter, the Medina Democrat who chairs the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said the proposal included in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus budget has problems. It assumes some $127.2 million in savings from giving part time workers a $2 an hour stipend for health care if they shift to the exchanges where they could be eligible for health premium subsidies.
Hunter said the Senate’s proposal makes rosy assumptions and the math doesn’t pencil out – partly because it assumes high participation rates early on for workers who may already be under contract with their employers for health care.
“They assume that in the first year, 62 percent of K-12 employees who work between 20 and 30 hours would voluntarily contract to have their school district drop coverage for them in order to get what might be cheaper coverage on the exchange that hasn’t started yet – and all those contracts have already been negotiated,’’ Hunter told reporters after his budget roll-out Wednesday. He added he doesn’t think anyone will agree to it in the House.
But Senate Bill 5905 is a key piece of the Republican-authored Senate’s no-new-taxes budget, and the Senate approved the measure on a 25-23 vote that was almost party line in late April. Senate Ways and Means chairman Andy Hill of Redmond is the prime sponsor of the proposal, and his Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has not given any sign it is dropping the savings idea.
Labor is united against the bill.
CLARIFICATION: The Public School Employees union that represents part time school bus drivers, school cafeteria workers and classroom aides sent a letter to budget negotiators on May 29 to express its opposition to the bill.
PSE opposes it although its leaders believe it offers “potential for some school employees to gain more affordable coverage through the exchange down the road,” spokesman Rick Chisa said.
But Chisa said the bill does not provide an adequate road map for getting that coverage.
The Washington Federation of State Employees is dead set against creating what it calls a two-tier system of state worker benefits.
Nearly 7,000 state workers could lose benefits through the Public Employees Benefits Board system that serves state employees under the plan and another 11,374 school employees could be eligible for the shift, according to legislative analyses of the financial impacts of the legislation.
Federation spokesman Tim Welch said that despite the continued House resistance, the union believes the bill remains alive as lawmakers work toward the June 11 end of their 30-day special session with pressure growing to cut deals and go home. The bill is not one of the 33 policy bills the Senate leaders introduced in budget negotiations, but the savings were in the Senate budget.
“It’s very much a worry,” Welch said. “In fact we have a major call to action to our members to oppose the bill as well as the 401(k) pension bill. We still have a fear the Senate is going to continue to hold on its 33 ‘reforms.’ ”
The pension bill in question moves new hires into a 401(k) style retirement plan and gives many existing workers an option to shift their pensions into the new system
“We just think they need to put those policy bills aside and work on the budget,” Welch said. “At this point we have no indication from the Senate Majority Coalition they intend to back down on those bills.’’