Secret state budget talks start today - Governor makes early concession on salary costs
Governor Inslee’s appointed representatives will meet today in Lacey with executives of the state’s public-sector unions to begin a series of closed-door meetings. The secret sessions will decide how much the public will pay in state employee salary and benefits in the 2015-17 state budget.
The high-level negotiations are expected to last several months. No open meetings are planned, and participants have indicated they will not take comment from the public.
The secret talks will set pay and benefit levels for 30,000 general government workers. The final agreement will be funded with public money. The agreement must be approved by the legislature in the session that starts in January 2015.
Lawmakers will not be allowed to offer amendments or propose alternatives. Elected lawmakers are also barred from being informed about the progress of the negotiations, or seeing details about the different offers made by each side. Lawmakers may not attend the budget meetings underway in Lacey, even as observers.
The amount taxpayers spend on employee pay in the state budget is directly related to the union’s budget. A portion of state worker pay is transferred to union bank accounts each month as dues money. Payment of union dues is mandatory, and state managers are required to fire any employee who does not stay in good standing with the union.
Critics of secret collective bargaining express concern about the undue influence powerful union executives bring to discussions with representatives appointed by a governor they helped elect.
An indication of the union’s insider standing was revealed by Governor Inslee’s remarks at a meeting in Sea-Tac Saturday of AFSME union delegates and the 500 Federation Policy Committee. The Governor offered an early concession, announcing his support for giving state employees a general pay raise. “It’s just clear to me that it’s unacceptable that state employees have gone so long without a general pay increase,” Inslee said. His remarks prompted a standing ovation from delegates.
The Governor’s comments are seen as setting the negotiating position government representatives will take in closed-door talks with union executives.
The cost to taxpayers of a collective bargaining agreement will not be known for several months, but a sharp rise in spending would likely lead to calls for a tax increase. Governor Inslee has said he supports raising taxes, as when he proposed (but did not get) a $1.2 billion tax increase in his first budget in 2013.