State Employee Compensation and Benefits

There was a great article in the Sunday Seattle Times about state worker compensation that lays out some of the issues we face in doing the budget this year. Wisconsin’s state capital is in flames (not really, but figuratively) because the governor proposes requiring employees to contribute 12.8% of the cost of the premiums for their health care plans, among other cuts. The contract agreed to by Governor Gregoire and the state employee unions makes deeper cuts than the Governor of Wisconsin is proposing.

The article in the Times was a news piece so it doesn’t have a recommendation, but they do point out how limited our options are.

Even if the Legislature wanted to whack pay and benefits more than what Gregoire has proposed, its options are limited.

Under state law, the governor is responsible for negotiating general government-worker contracts.

The Legislature can take an up-or-down vote on the agreements but cannot tinker with the details. If lawmakers reject the contracts, the existing agreements remain in place for another year.

That would mean workers would not take wage cuts or pay more for health insurance for at least another year, although lawmakers could lay off workers. After a year, the Legislature could unilaterally decide pay and benefits for workers.

Seattle Times Sunday February 27: Have Washington state workers given their fair share?

The Governor has negotiated a contract with the public employee unions that includes the following givebacks:

  • A 3% pay cut, coupled with an equivalent amount of time off (about 1.5 weeks.) This is a temporary cut that expires at the end of the biennium, and is incredibly difficult to administer. This saves $177m.
  • A 25% increase in the amount they pay for their healthcare, for 12% of cost to 15% of cost. In King County they pay 0% of cost. This saves between $100-$150m over the previous 88-12 split.

Going to 80-20 on healthcare, which is what I proposed this summer, would save about an additional $40-50 million. The collective bargaining law was passed before any of us were elected. We are stuck at this point with the following set of options:

  1. Accept the contract.
  2. Reject the contract. If we do so, the employees get the current (higher) contract for another year. We could then impose a higher contribution rate for healthcare and make other changes, but only in the second year of the contract.
  3. Find some way to send them back to the negotiating table. It is not clear how this would happen, since we would need results in the next 5-6 weeks to finish the budget.

Any solution we do would have to get 50 votes in the house, 25 in the senate and be signed by the governor.

The key element for me is to ensure that our budget focuses on the investments we need in our future, both in education and protecting our vulnerable children. We need to have a high-quality workforce, but I believe it is inappropriate at this time to give raises to people instead of protecting services for vulnerable, at-risk children.

About the Author

Ross
I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.

1 Comment on "State Employee Compensation and Benefits"

  1. Two corrections, sir.

    You wrote: “Wisconsin’s state capital is in flames (not really, but figuratively) because the governor proposes requiring employees to contribute 12.8% of the cost of the premiums for their health care plans, among other cuts.”

    Actually, the conflict in Wisconsin is because the governor is trying to strip public servants of their collective bargaining rights. The unions have already agreed to ALL economic concessions the governor has asked for — as did state workers here in Washington.

    You wrote: “I believe it is inappropriate at this time to give raises to people instead of protecting services for vulnerable, at-risk children.”

    Actually, nobody is getting a pay raise. Everybody — from the custodian to the agency director — is getting a pay cut, and compensation for public servants is in a steady decline.

    Otherwise, I think you describe the process well. Keep up the good work.

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