Politics & Government

Full Senate OKs contracting out in DES bill

A bill merging several state government agencies into a new Department of Enterprise Services sailed through the Democrat-controlled Senate this afternoon. Nine Democrats crossed over to join minority Republicans to pass a measure denounced by the largest state employee union.

The final vote to pass Senate Bill 5931 was 29-to-18. As we reported in this story today, House Democrats are leery of changes proposed by Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane to require a yearly review of six state functions with an eye toward farming out the work to private sector contractors.

Go here for a summary of the striking bill amendment that also drops a requirement previously important to the GOP in its negotiations for a bipartisan Senate budget, and that is the privatizing of the state Office of the State Printer.

But while allowing the State Printer to survive inside DES, the bill creates a new collective bargaining set-up for a Consolidated Technology Services branch in the new agency. That latter provision lets CTS decide on its own to put work out to bid in the private sector without first bargaining with unionized employees that have traditionally done the work.

Democratic Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County fought the collective bargaining changes, saying it would be confusing to have two collective bargaining laws for state government. The Senate rejected her amendment, which sought to retain collective bargaining rights for all CTS workers but would have given more leeway to the governor to designate some jobs as exempt from bargaining.

The Washington Federation of State Employees considers the bill an attack on collective bargaining rights.

But Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, voted for the provisions, saying he had voted in 2002 to approve the Personnel Reform Act that gave state workers the right to bargain for pay. As part of that reform, Kastama said, he was also embracing a way to contract out for services in the private sector, something he had not seen happen to any significant way since then. He said SB 5931 was keeping the bargain he and other lawmakers had made with taxpayers.

Baumgartner’s bill also delays the actual merger date for the departments of Information Services, Personnel, General Administration and pieces of Financial Management until Oct. 1. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s staff had requested that.

The nine crossover Democratic votes were from Senate Floor Leader Tracey Eide of Federal Way, and Sens. Kastama, Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, Brian Hatfield of Raymond, Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, Paull Shin of Edmonds, and Rodney Tom of Medina.

If the Democrats are turncoats in labor's eyes, their numbers appear to be growing faster than the Washington State Labor Council can identify and mock them here.

South Sound Republicans voting in favor included Sens. Randi Becker of Eatonville, Mike Carrell of Lakewood and Dan Swecker of Rochester. South Sound Democrats voting against were Sens. Fraser, Steve Conway of Tacoma, Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Debbie Regala of Tacoma. Two Republican lawmakers, Sens. Don Benton of Vancouver and Pam Roach of Enumclaw, were excused.

Many questions still dog the $255 million project to build a new Department of Information Services headquarters and data center, which Fraser had supported and Republicans like Baumgartner view as a symbol of all that is wrong in state government.

About 1,000 state employees will move in after July 1, despite much higher rents for agencies, uncertainty about the formal elimination of the departments of Personnel and General Administration, and questions about how the agencies will merge and make their new technology systems work.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, has said he is “not a big fan” of the data center portion of the project, which he regards as too large for the state’s needs. He said last week he prefers to restrict money for the Information Services agency as a way to slow down its move-in to two of the building’s four data halls.

UPDATE adds comments from Kastama.