Secret state budget talks start today - Governor makes early concession on salary costs

May 20, 2014

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.


state employees

I find it offensive that only a half truth was printed in this article. State Employees take care of the people that no one else tolerates. The people who can't take care of themselves. They keep prisoner where they can't hurt the good taxpayer of our State. Yes, we pay their salaries, but they do a difficut job. They do work that individuals in the private sector can turn down.

Thanks for your comment.

Thanks for your comment. State employees provide essential public services that benefit all of us, no one is disputing that. The concern is that secret collective bargaining allows union executives to negotiate with representatives of a governor they helped elect. The off-the-record talks involve millions of dollars in public spending, without public accountability or legislative oversight.

No Secrets here

I think the point that you're missing in the critique of your leading title is that these same methods are used in closed door committee meetings held every session, and every budget talk, be it capitol or transportation budget. Those involve more behind closed door meetings involving many more millions of dollars.

Thanks for your comment. You

Thanks for your comment. You make a good point, which is why we have consistently called for greater openness in the legislature too. Leaders in the House, for example, often announce bills and hearings with only a few hours notice giving almost no chance for public input. Drafting initial proposals, whether for union contracts or bills, is done privately, obviously, as proponents put specific ideas together, but decisions that involve spending millions in public money should be made publicly.

Secret public union negotiations

What are we going to do?

The legislature should change

The legislature should change state law to make the collective bargaining process transparent, so the public can be informed about how decisions to spend our money are being made. Openness in government is important to prevent insider dealing and political corruption, and so voters can hold public officials accountable for their actions. More on this recommendation is provided in Chapter 1, page 23, of WPC's Policy Guide to Washington State