Inslee’s budget boosts agencies

Public sector worker unions’ contracts would be honored

bshannon@theolympian.comMarch 29, 2013 

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. The labor costs are roughly a fifth of the $3.15 billion more that Inslee wants to spend than was budgeted for the 2011-13 cycle.

But Inslee’s plan also 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.

The governor got a better reception from the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents more than 40,000 state agency and college workers. Some 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 – will be unavoidable whether lawmakers approve two-dozen union contracts or reject them. Under terms of contracts agreed to in 2010, most general government workers took temporary 3 percent cuts in pay and hours. 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 Gov. Chris Gregoire, the dispute went to an arbitrator, who awarded 5 percent yearly pay raises for more than 45,000 home-care workers whose starting pay is about $10.03 an hour.

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

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 will get a careful look.

“We’re going to examine those areas and not just rubber-stamp them,” Schoesler said. “... 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.”

Schoesler’s caucus is expected to put out its budget plan early next week.

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.

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 spokesman Rich Wood said the bump is estimated to be 2.5 percent next year, equaling $296 million.

Inslee also proposes to restore funding for teacher and administrator pay that was cut in 2011. The governor’s budget plan puts in $166 million for that – covering the 1.9 percent reduction in the state allocation for teacher pay and 3 percent cut for classified and administrative school staff in the 2011 budgets.

The Senate majority is also eying I-732. Schoesler, noting that the baseline budget assumes restoration of 2011 pay cuts, suggested that even “doing nothing is an increase” in pay for teachers.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 Download the Capital Update app for iPad and iPhone.

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