The governor’s office would be limited in how much money it could put into future collective bargaining agreements with state employees under a bill by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.
By a voice vote that was apparently along party lines, the Washington Senate Ways & Means Committee recommended Wednesday that Braun's bill be passed. While the Republican-controlled Senate will likely pass the bill, the Democratic-dominated House will almost certainly oppose it.
The bill would set how much money could be covered by a tentative collective bargaining agreement between the state government and one of its unions. The Legislature normally ratifies such an agreement as a whole or votes it down.
The proposed limit in Braun's bill is highly technical, based on the difference between the predicted revenues for a budget biennium and the predicted appropriations. Essentially, though, the Legislature would not be allowed to install a new tax, to increase a tax or to close a tax break specifically to find payroll money to fulfill a new tentative contract with a state employees union.
Since this bill — if passed — would not go into effect until late summer at the earliest, it should have no direct effect on one of the current budget-related deadlocks between the House and Senate. The House Democrats want to honor a new tentative collective bargaining agreement with state employees totaling $583 million in 2015-2017. The Senate Republicans want to trim that package by $75 million. The Senate and House are still mapping out a basic framework on conducting their overall budget talks.
At Wednesday’s hearing, representatives of the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Public Employees Association and the Washington Federation of State Employees testified against Braun's bill. "This is an unnecessary erosion of collective bargaining rights," contended Joe Kendo of the Washington State Labor Council.
"I find it aimed at collective bargaining agreements, an attack on collective bargaining agreements," argued Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma.
Conway and Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, contended that too many economic and budget variables are not understood on how this bill would affect state employee's salaries, and contended more study is needed. Hargrove said: "I think this legislation has broad and not necessarily understood impacts in recessionary times."
Maxford Nelsen, an analyst with the anti-tax-oriented Freedom Foundation, supported Braun's bill, saying any raises for state employees should depend on existing revenues and not on added new revenues.