Will the state’s collective bargaining agreements pass the “financial feasibility” test? Key GOP Senator wants to know.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, has written the state budget director a pointed letter questioning the costs of this year’s negotiated collective bargaining agreements. The November 28 letter to OFM director David Schumacher states,

The cost of the CBAs, with compensation terms extended to non-represented and exempt employees, total over $700 million General Fund-State (GF-S) in the upcoming biennia and more than $1.7 billion GF-S over the next four-years. The legislature must also adopt balanced budgets over this same four-year period. This cost of the negotiated CBAs is more than double any other previously negotiated CBA proposals submitted to the Legislature.

He then reviews the requirement that the budget director must certify the agreements as being financially feasible, adding

Furthermore, state law requires the Governor’s budget submittal to balance expenditures and resources. RCW 43.88.030(2) It is upon this framework that “financial feasibility” is to be determined.

Braun writes that he believes the measures taken in the governor’s budget two years ago to balance the budget and fund the contracts were not appropriate.

Last biennia, while meeting the statutory requirements of (a) certifying the agreements as financially feasible, and (b) including them in the Governor’s current law budget, the actual budget decisions in that submittal were indefensible.

The cited decisions included reducing health care services, early release of some prisoners, and a reduction in levy equalization payments. Read the letter for the full list.

The letter concludes,

I respectfully request, as you undergo your assessment of whether the 2017-19 CBAs are financially feasible, that you please carry out your statutory duty as the law was intended. Only certify the CBAs if they can be funded within existing law and revenues without jeopardizing essential services to our most vulnerable.

It’s hard to read this as anything other than an indication that the Senate’s lead budget writer considers the CBAs something well short of a done deal. Braun signaled his intent in early October, as we wrote here.

The News Tribune reported at the time, 

State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said rejection of the contracts is a real possibility next year as lawmakers struggle to comply with a court order to finish fully funding public schools.

Jason Mercier writes in the Washington Policy Center blog, 

The last time an OFM Director decided secretly negotiated pay raises for state employees were not “financially feasible” was in 2008.

With the 2017 Legislative Session just a month away, the Governor’s budget rollout in December will help set the tone for how the debate unfolds. One thing to keep an eye on is whether tax increases are proposed if the budget also includes these pay raises. 

Based on the November revenue forecast, lawmakers will have $41.3 billion to spend during the 2017-19 biennium (not counting federal funds). This is an increase of $2.6 billion in revenue from 2015-17…

Of course, if the proposed 2017-19 pay raises are determined to be “feasible financially” that should mean the Governor’s budget won’t have any tax increases at all, right? 

In a budget year rife with challenges, funding the collective bargaining agreements may have just become another decision point.