Tomorrow Governor Gregoire will be holding a press conference outlining her recommendations to address the state’s budget deficit. Today her budget director Marty Brown sent a letter to state unions informing them that the Governor was re-opening the 2011-13 health care benefits agreement “in order to negotiate a reduction in the employer premium contribution.”

Here is a copy of the OFM letter.

Last year the Governor and unions agreed to change the health-care ratio for state employees from an 88-12 split to 85-15. This was far below the 74-26 split the Governor had previously said was necessary.

Moving from the current 85-15 split to 75-25 could save as much as $30 million (preliminary numbers).

While this is an encouraging development, ultimately the Legislature should have full authority to make this change on its own.

Under the 2002 collective bargaining law, state unions no longer have their priorities weighed equally with every other special interest during the legislative budget process. Instead they now negotiate directly with the Governor, while lawmakers only have the opportunity to say yes or no to the entire contract agreed to with the Governor. Lawmakers can’t make any changes.

To put the Legislature back in charge of the budget so that all spending can be truly prioritized, the 2002 collective bargaining law should be repealed and replaced with something similar to what Indiana did in 2005.

One of the first things Governor Mitch Daniels did when he took office in 2005 was to issue this Executive Order which in effect ended any state negotiations with unions.

In response to my email asking about this action, Anita Samuel, Assistant General Counsel/Policy Director for Gov. Daniels, wrote:

“Employees are still able to pay union dues through payroll deductions. It is completely their choice. Union reps are allowed to represent employees in the grievance procedure. We expanded who was eligible to take a grievance through our State Employees Appeals Commission under this EO. Every employee, merit and non-merit below an executive level could file a complaint. The prior process only applied to merit employees.

The state does not negotiate with the unions on any issues. At times, the State Personnel Department will meet with the unions when requested. The state sets the compensation, pay for performance increases and benefits without negotiating with the unions. Governor Daniels put in place a robust pay for performance system starting in 2006. The first year the structure was 0% for does not meet expectation, 4% for meets and 10% exceeds.  The second year it was 0,3,8.5%. Employees were also given a 1.5% general salary increase that the legislature called for. I think that most employees were pleased with this system.”

Unions exist to fight for their members, not to advocate for policy that is in the best interest of taxpayers. This why it is incumbent on the Legislature to have the authority to weigh all spending requests equally in the context of the priorities of all taxpayers and citizens and not be cut out of budget decisions totaling millions of dollars.


[Reprinted from the Washington Policy Center blog; photo credit: BC Gov Photos]