State's labor negotiators need to save money for education
The Seattle Times editorial board urges Washington state negotiators not to give away too much on state labor contracts, in order to save taxpayer money for education.
Seattle Times Editorial
On Tuesday the state will resume negotiations with the Washington Federation of State Employees over the contracts that begin July 1, 2013. Gov. Chris Gregoire and the representatives of the state should be reminded that they cannot give away the store.
Twice now they have done this. In September 2008, they agreed to pay raises in the two-year contract. In the midst of the worst financial crisis in 75 years, Gregoire approved them and within weeks the state's Office of Financial Management (OFM) said the contracts were impossible. The state had to go back and ask that the raises be canceled. The union sued, lost, and agreed to cancel the raises.
In 2010, deals were reached in October; a month later the Office of Financial Management declared them to be infeasible. Gregoire asked that the employee share of health-insurance premiums, set in the contract at 12 percent, be increased to 26 percent, which was the average for family coverage among private employers at the time.
But a contract had been signed, putting her in a poor bargaining position. She settled for a 15 percent employee share, plus a 3 percent pay cut that is due to expire June 30.
The 2012 negotiations are Gregoire's last time for instructing the state's bargaining team and approving the result of their work. She will not have to live with the agreements. Either Rob McKenna or Jay Inslee will -- and she should not saddle either of them with an impossible burden.
Another thing. The Legislature and governor have been ordered by the Washington Supreme Court to increase state support of K-12 public schools. In a 21st-century economy, the state needs to do more than this. It needs to increase support of schooling from age 3 to 23, and it needs to begin doing this in the legislative session of 2013.
Education will have to be saved out of current revenue sources, because voters are likely to approve Initiative 1185, reimposing a two-thirds-vote-for-taxes rule on the Legislature.
The state's labor negotiators have to be tough. The reason is not any blame cast upon state employees. It is simply that the state must make a down payment on its obligation to education, and it has to have the money to do it with.