Politics & Government

Budget deal: Pay cuts for K-12, state workers

For public employees, it could have been worse. The proposed budget agreement between Senate and House negotiators of both parties was released this morning.

“You knew it was coming but it’s still a grim day with the budget cuts,” said Mary Lindquist, president of the 80,000-member Washington Education Association. The union members include K-12 teachers who will see pay cuts of 1.9 percent – in addition to losing a cost-of-living pay increase, but still will get a “step” increase based on an individual teacher’s level of education.

Lindquist didn’t blame lawmakers and said “they did the best job they could” without adequate resources. She blamed Tim Eyman and passage of his Initiative 1053 last fall, which requires a two-thirds vote for new taxes, for limiting lawmakers’ hands.

Overall the budget includes a $617.5 million cut to higher education institutions, raises tuition by up to 16 percent at the University of Washington, and lops more than $1 billion from public schools and teacher pay. But it keeps pieces of the social safety net intact. The Disability Lifeline and Basic Health Plans are reformed or made thinner. But Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposals to completely end those safety net programs won’t happen.

The temporary cuts to public employee and teacher pay are in line with what most observers expected:

** Public-school administrators’ pay is cut by 3 percent with a smaller 1.9 percent cut for classified and certificated staff such as teachers. The school year is not shortened due to worries about constitutional challenges, and lawmakers hope most school districts reopen their local union contracts to make the cuts.

** Public employees’ compensation and hours worked are reduced by 3 percent, just as the Washington Federation of State Employees and other several unions had bargained in two-year contracts taking effect July 1. (In effect, employees get 3 percent less each month in pay after July 1 and they will be credited with an additional 5.2 hours of time off each month off that will be paid at the lower rate.)

** Higher education institutions also must make compensation cuts like state government cuts, but are given leeway in capturing the savings.

**Ends automatic cost-of-living raises each year in state pension payments for participants in the Public Employees’ Retirement System Plan 1 and the Teachers Retirement System Plan 1.

Additional furloughs for higher-wage state employees earning more than $50,000 a year were dropped by the Senate. The House negotiators saw legal problems and lawsuits related to employee contracts, which already cut worker pay and would appear to rule out additional furloughs.

Jon Gould of the Children’s Alliance said advocates for children’s health programs “came out a little better” than the governor and Senate earlier had proposed. And Tony Lee of the Solid Ground advocacy group for human services programs appreciated the continued (albeit lower) funding for the Disability Lifeline, Basic Health and continuation of immigrant programs including medical-interpreter services.

“I think this is a pivot, if you will,” Lee said, believing the erosion of the safety net is temporary. “We are becoming more lean but I hope more efficient and effective” in delivering services.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the approach sparing the disability program, which will continue to give health and housing aid to temporarily disabled people, is “care not cash.”

My reporting partner Jordan Schrader already posted pieces on what the budget spares and on deal highlights.

He also speculates on whether lawmakers can get done by Wednesday’s end of the first special session.

There were rumors of an agreement on the debt limit issue that was holding up lawmakers after resolution of worker compensation Sunday and Monday. It appeared lawmakers would not put the debt limit reduction on the November ballot as a constitutional amendment.

One moderate Democrat in the so-called “road kill” caucus that has pushed for bipartisan action in both chambers – Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens – said he was not hinging his vote on the budget on whether the debt limit question goes on the ballot.

UPDATE: The Children’s Alliance just released this statement from Gould:

“In a major accomplishment for child advocates, the successful Apple Health for Kids health coverage program will stay open to all eligible children. It took a monumental effort to protect the health of our state’s children. In the end, families, advocates, and supportive legislators succeeded in blocking attempts to limit enrollment or deny coverage to children.

“This achievement is especially significant given Governor Gregoire’s budget had called for ending health coverage for 27,000 undocumented children, and the Senate had proposed undoing the state’s commitment to cover all eligible kids. These proposed cuts were a major step backwards for our state and unfairly targeted at children in immigrant families.

“Apple Health for Kids will receive a small funding cut that raises premiums for children who are undocumented and living in families above 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($37,000 in annual income for a family of three). If a bill authorizing this cut is adopted and signed by the Governor, their monthly premiums will increase from $20-$30 to approximately $80-90 per month sometime this fall.

“The Children’s Alliance has already begun efforts to identify premium sponsors to help families experiencing financial hardship pay higher premium. No child should go without the health care they need.”