Teachers' and state workers' raises in jeopardy

The OlympianDecember 17, 2013 

Washington’s biggest teachers union complained Tuesday that Gov. Jay Inslee’s modest supplemental budget plan leaves out a 1.3 percent cost-of-living pay raise for teachers.

That omission would extend the time educators have not received inflation-based pay increases to six years.

But if teachers are miserable, they’ll have company. It now is likely that the state’s nearly 60,000 government agency employees - whose temporary 3 percent pay cuts ended in June - will go another year without a cost-of-living adjustment.

That is because a COLA written into contracts for most state workers is triggered next July only if state revenues grow by a certain amount by February. The latest revenue forecast showed the state is still $189 million short of the $200 million increase needed to give the raises.

“It seems unlikely to me,” state budget director David Schumacher said Tuesday morning after Inslee held a press conference to explain details of his supplemental budget request. “It’s based on the economy.”

Inslee’s supplemental budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for some new spending, but it does not include the $41.6 million that would have been required to cover the 1 percent raise.

The cost to give teachers the inflation-adjusted COLA would be $57 million. Covering eligible staffers at community colleges would cost $4.7 million more.

Greg Devereux, executive director for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said he was not surprised that pay increases are not likely.

“I think the forecast that came out in November was horrible – it was bad. I assume they are banking on it not happening,’’ Devereux said. “I’ve been prepared for the worst since that forecast.”

Unlike federation workers whose revenue-dependent pay adjustments were written into binding contracts, teachers in the K-12 public school system and some community college employees were guaranteed annual COLAs under Initiative 732. The Legislature has suspended I-732 for three straight budget cycles – or six years – to save money.

Kim Mead, president of the WEA, delivered a shot at the governor for not bucking the trend.

“All we keep getting is promises that it’s going to be put back in place. The bottom line is the people of this state voted for this back in 2000. They expected it to be implemented. They had 63 percent of the people who voted for this,” Mead said.

Inslee sympathized with public sector workers, saying they deserve pay adjustments.
He said 2015 is the year the pay adjustments should occur - a year the state Legislature also will be making another heavy financial lift toward fully funding schools as required under a state Supreme Court decision.

“Teachers have not gotten their voter mandated cost of living adjustments since 2008 That situation is untenable and I fully intend to rectify it … in the next biennial budget,” Inslee said. “State employees have also gone without COLA increases since 2008. That is just too long to wait.’’

Top budget writers in the Legislature were divided on the prospect of cost of living raises in 2015.

House Appropriations chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said public sector workers are due for pay adjustments. He noted the last raises were authorized in the 2007 budgets, estimating “they’ve lost 15 percent to inflation.’’

But the Senate’s top budget writer, Republican Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond, was unwilling to promise any pay adjustments in 2015.

He added that as Inslee negotiates with labor unions next year and works with the Legislature, “We can see what we can do.’’

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688



Twitter: @bradshannon2

Reporter Jordan Schrader contributed to this report.

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