Senate Republicans offer a budget that would be devastating to the working people who provide Washingtonians with vital public services.
The Republican’s budget provides a one-two punch to working households. First, it rejects most already-negotiated public employee contracts and inserts the legally dubious tactic of dictating the terms of any renegotiation. Second, their budget eliminates 2 percent of all state jobs across the board at a time when we are facing a personnel crisis. Both proposals are misguided at best.
In 2002, Washington’s population hovered at just above 6 million people, who were served by nearly 64,000 state employees. Jump to 2016 and our population has grown by 1.2 million people who are now served by 1,000 fewer public employees. Our need for social workers, public health workers, highway workers and many other services has not diminished. Also, remember that over half of state employees are in postsecondary education.
These numbers alone demonstrate that we should be investing in retaining and hiring quality employees to ensure state services meet the needs of the people and keep Washington working. Instead, Senate Republicans propose reducing essential state resources and have taken pains to hide their cuts. They seem to believe they can fool the public by eliminating management positions and “agency positions that do not provide a service directly to the public.” While it’s likely that the public might not notice the absence of someone they never see, it’s highly unlikely they won’t notice the loss of a vital service on which they depend.
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What constitutes a direct service, and who would lose their jobs? Will it be the snowplow drivers on call 24 hours a day to keep our mountain passes clear? The forensic scientists who perform DNA casework? Perhaps the health inspectors who ensure our food is safe for consumption? These individuals may not interact directly with the public, but just like those that do, they each provide a service that directly affects the public.
This lack of clarity and attempt to mitigate the blowback of reduced public services through an opaque employment reduction is nothing less than a veiled plan to damage public services.
The state employee contracts negotiated by the governor constituted a modest proposal to ensure Washington can keep and attract qualified, quality workers. In 2015 alone, the Children’s Administration lost about 20 percent of its caseworkers in response to being overworked and underpaid. After a six-year period of pay cuts or no pay increases, a modest cost of living adjustment to ensure workers are not being priced out of their own neighborhoods should not be considered remarkable.
We must invest in Washington to ensure our residents can access the services they need and to treat our public employees with the respect they deserve. Anything less is a recipe for unraveling the strength of our households and the health of our communities. We cannot do this without a strong state government workforce.
Democratic Sen. Sam Hunt represents the 22nd Legislative District.