RESOURCES AND LINKS Legislative website: www.leg.wa.gov Email Seamus Petrie: Seamus@wpea.org Legislative Hotline: 1-800-562-6000 ACTION ITEM Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and ask your legislators to fully fund state employee contracts this year, including 100% of the funding for higher education employees. TRANSCRIPT Hi, it’s Seamus Petrie, your WPEA lobbyist, here to give you the information you need to know about how the legislature works, and why. Today we’re talking about the budget process, and the process our state employee member contracts go through, from negotiation to ratification to funding. This upcoming legislative session starts in an odd-numbered year, which means is a “long” session, scheduled to last 105 days. It’s a long session because during odd-numbered years, the legislature passes the state’s two-year operating budget. (Actually, the legislature considers (and in most cases, passes), three budgets each year: 1) The operating budget, which pays for the bulk of the state’s operating expenses, including the salaries of most WPEA-represented state employees. 2) The transportation budget, which pays for roads, ferries, and the salaries of Washington State Patrol employees (including our members at WSP). 3) The capital budget, which pays for construction, maintenance, and repair projects around the state, including projects on our community college campuses. The 2022 capital budget, for example, paid for asbestos removal from a building at Pierce College. But we’re going to be talking mostly about the operating budget – that’s the biggest one, at about $60 billion per biennium. The operating budget bill itself is long – 700, 800, 900 pages long, with sections on K-12 education, state parks, mental health, housing, and so on.As part of that budget, the state pays for the vital public services that our members provide: helping students at our colleges,keeping our roads and food supply safe, taking care of our natural resources, and collecting the tax revenue to pay for those services. And in a few short sections near the back of the budget, you’ll find sections that approve the contracts that WPEA members negotiated with the state. Those sections are short – just a paragraph or two – but they took a long road to get here. So let’s go back, now, and talk about how these contracts made it into the budget.
Throughout the life of the contract, WPEA members can submit contract proposal ideas. As bargaining gets closer, that effort ramps up as members have ideas about how to improve their contracts.
During spring and summer of each even-numbered year, our state employee members negotiate our two-year contracts with the state. Those contracts last two years, concurrent with the state’s two-year budget cycle.Once our negotiating teams reach tentative agreements, those tentative contract terms are sent to WPEA members for a ratification vote.
All those things – the negotiation and ratification votes – have to happen, legally, by October 1st, in order to be put into the governor’s budget and considered by the legislature.
The governor puts out a two-year budget in December of each even-numbered year, and – and assuming the rest of the process has happened as I just described, our state employee contracts are included in that budget.
Side note – in 2020, due to the complications of negotiating during the early days of the covid pandemic, we were still negotiating after the October 1st deadline, so our contracts weren’t included in the governor’s budget. So WPEA – that's me and a bunch of WPEA -- went to the legislature to get a one-time exemption written into the law.
The budget committees of each chamber – the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee – hold hearings on the governor’s proposed budget in the first few days of session in odd-numbered year. But the governor’s budget might end up looking nothing like the final budget. That’s because each chamber of the legislature writes its own budget. Those get introduced a lot later – in early April. Typically the final budget looks more like a combination of the House and Senate budgets than it does to the Governor’s budget.
Regardless of what the final budget looks like, it’s important to remember that legislature votes “up or down” on approval of our contracts, and for money to fund them. The legislature doesn’t get to change the provisions of the contract once they’ve been negotiated and ratified. There have been a few times when Senate Republicans tried to mess with the contracts in their proposed budget – things like replacing COLAs with small one-time lump sum payments – but none of those schemes have made it into the final budget.
Throughout legislative session, WPEA members have the chance to have their voices heard in the legislature, to make sure that our contracts get fully funded. The easiest, quickest thing to do is to call the legislative hotline and ask your legislators to fully fund our state employee contracts. That’s 1-800-562-6000. You don’t even have to know who your legislators are – you just provide your address, and legislative staff will make sure your message gets to the right people. Just call 1-800-562-6000 and tell the legislature to fully fund state employee contracts this year. And there are a couple of things in this year’s budget that are critically important... Typically, the legislature doesn’t actually fully fund the cost of the higher ed contracts for classified staff. The legislature pays about 2/3, and the community colleges make up the difference out of their own local money. Many of our community colleges are already facing budget shortfalls, and WPEA members there are facing furloughs or layoffs, due to underenrollment and chronic underfunding. Fully funding the higher education contracts will help prevent layoffs on our college campuses.
So again, you can call 1-800-562-6000 and tell your legislators to fully fund our state employee contracts, including fully funding the contracts for our community colleges.