Senate Ways and Means chairman Andy Hill says the handshake budget agreement reached with the House negotiators at 10:40 a.m. Thursday does not force part time state or K-12 employees into the Obamacare health exchange to get their health coverage. Instead, the goal is to try pilot projects that a limited number of unions could opt to consider, Hill said.
The Republican budget writer spoke shortly after Gov. Jay Inslee announced the budget agreement in a minute-long press conference.
Labor unions including the Washington Federation of State Employees had been strongly opposed to any mandatory push that created a two-tier benefit system for public employees, and the Democrat-controlled House had spurned the idea in its budget earlier this month.
“I haven’t seen the final wording,” Hill said of the budget language still being drafted. “We’re looking at pilot projects, and we’re looking to make it more on a voluntary basis. We actually think there are some great policies – a lot of people can get better benefits and coverage.”
An earlier Senate plan, which assumed $127.2 million in savings from putting thousands of part time workers into the exchanges. That proposal appeared to make Washington the first state to seriously consider it as a budget-saving tool.
UPDATE: House Appropriations chair Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said after a briefing of his caucus on the overall budget agreement that it assumes $10 million in savings from public employee healthcare. But he said the part time worker option is not being pushed in the budget.
Democratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater had said he did not think the budget would list any savings from moving workers into the exchange, and he speculated that any shift of workers might have to be done by a separate bill.
Reykdal said that moving workers out of the state’s Public Employees Benefits Board system was another attack of public-sector workers.
The Washington Federation of State Employees said in an alert to members that it believes the $10 million in employee health care reductions would be done through bargaining.