Politics & Government

Inslee’s budget plan adds roughly $1.5 billion for state-paid worker, teacher compensation

The budget Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled Thursday included pay raises for K-12 teachers and other school employees that are meant to match the roughly 4.8 percent increases that most general-government employees would receive spread over two years.

The first yearly raise is worth 3 percent for most general-government workers and takes effect next July 1 if lawmakers agree to pay for two-dozen employee contracts Inslee included in his budget. The governor’s office said the raises end a six-year absence of general-wage increases, which it called the longest such lapse since 1960.

The Washington Education Association representing K-12 teachers was looking for even more of a raise than Inslee provided.

“What is in the governor’s budget is a step. It needs to go further,” said Kim Mead, president of the teachers union. “We’ll be urging our legislators as well as our governor to make sure they are taking care of those educators as well as our children.’’

In a surprise to higher education, Inslee is asking universities and colleges to make up some of the costs of pay hikes using tuition — roughly in the percentage of college costs that tuition provides. At the University of Washington, vice president of external affairs Randy Hodgins said that would amount to about two-thirds of the pay adjustments and marked a change in state policy.

“To a certain extent there is no other way to interpret this than to cut from the base,” Hodgins said, suggesting this will mean fewer courses available for students who may need to remain longer in school at higher cost. “We’re going to advocate strongly that we don’t do that once we get into the legislative arena … There is no other way to describe it than we are disappointed.”

State budget director David Schumacher defended the squeeze on higher education, explaining that tuition increases in past budgets let higher education escape the depth of cuts seen in social services after the Great Recession. He said the share of pay increases paid with tuition dollars would vary by institution and be less at community colleges.

The total cost for raising pay for all general agency personnel, K-12 schools, universities and home care workers is $867 million from the general fund; that includes rising costs for health care insurance. The agreements hold state employees’ share of premiums at 15 percent and protect them against most increases in out-of-pocket payments.

The $867 million price tag also includes pay adjustments for non-union workers in state agencies, colleges and K-12 schools as well as more than 40,000 home care workers who are not actually state employees.

The total is $1.49 billion if all funding sources, such as federally subsidized Medicaid spending on home care workers, are included, according to the Office of Financial Management.

Some House Democrats have expressed concern about being able to retain skilled workers in public agencies, and Inslee repeated that message about losing skilled workers when he released his budget.

“We’re going to talk to Republicans about (contract costs) and their ideas. I will share with them the fact … that when you run a large organization you have to have people to run it,” Inslee said. “And we’re losing people because our compensation packages are not adequate to retain personnel.”

Inslee specifically cited the State Patrol, which says it has 80 trooper vacancies and is losing about five troopers a month.

Republicans in the state Senate including Sen. John Braun of Centralia have expressed reservations about the impact of the entire pay package cost. They also question whether the state has a problem with employee retention, given that its workforce has a turnover of less than 10 percent, compared to the national public sector average of 16.3 percent.

Lawmakers can accept or reject the employee contracts but cannot amend them.