Secret budget meeting to be held at Thurston County Fairgrounds
The latest in a series of secret summer sessions is scheduled for tomorrow in the Expo Center at the Thurston County Fairgrounds, 3054 Carpenter Road, in Lacey, according to the Washington State Federation of Employees (WFSE).
The clandestine budget meeting begins at 9:00 am Tuesday, and deliberations are to wrap-up by 5:00 pm Wednesday. Members of the public, the media, even state lawmakers, are barred from attending or observing the high-level talks.
The closed meetings are being conducted between executives of the state’s powerful public sector unions and a small negotiating team appointed for the purpose by Governor Jay Inslee.
Union contributions were an important factor in Governor Inslee’s most recent election effort. He received $311,000 from public sector unions, according to OpenSecrets.org.
At stake in the Expo Center talks are close to $1 billion in potential new costs for taxpayers. The Office of Fiscal Management has announced it expects the state’s health benefit cost to increase by $308 million and that “Other policy enhancements (including state employee compensation increases)” will add another $600 million.
These figures appear to reflect concessions the Governor’s negotiating team plans to make in the secret talks taking place over the summer. Once the final terms are in place, the Governor will present his proposed budget for the 2015-17 budget cycle in January.
In advance of that announcement, the Governor seems to be preparing the public for bad news. According to Richard Davis of the Washington Research Council, the Governor said:
“We are going to recognize the cold hard fact that the state of Washington is going to have to find a way to generate additional revenues to solve this problem.”
As Mr. Davis rightly points out, when a public officials say he needs “Additional revenue” it means a tax increases. The early notification about a coming a tax increase is further indication the Governor’s representatives plan to concede steep increases in state payroll costs in tomorrow’s secret negotiations with union executives.
Washington’s economic recovery remains fragile, with families and small business owners struggling to make ends meet. A deliberate policy of increasing taxes raises important questions about fairness, since it would divert money from the households of working families and the unemployed to increase the incomes of those who already benefit from good jobs with the state.
The secret budget meetings are expected to continue through September 3rd.