OLYMPIA (Aug. 5, 2015) — “This is no way to run a state government.”
That’s the assessment of Washington State Labor Council’s 2015 Legislative Report, which was released today, summarizing this year’s session(s) of the State Legislature. After three costly overtime sessions and 26,000 pink-slip warnings sent to state workers, a budget deal was reached just hours before a state shutdown was to begin. The WSLC’s report places the blame squarely on “the Republican-controlled Senate (that) embraced the threat of a state shutdown this year so Washington’s wealthiest could continue to avoid paying their fair share and to pursue an ideological anti-union agenda.”
The report describes the fate of 2015 legislation and includes the annual WSLC House and Senate voting records, which are published each year so union members can understand how their elected representatives voted on issues that affect their jobs, wages, and working conditions. The report is available at the WSLC web site in PDF format.
That’s not to say that there was no good news in the 2015 session. In an effort championed by Gov. Jay Inslee, a significant investment was made in the state’s transportation and capital infrastructure that will create and preserve jobs. And at the end of that interminable budget process, state employees’ contracts were funded and they got their first raises in seven years.
But as the WSLC’s 2015 Voting Records demonstrate, there was a stark difference between the performance of the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate on working families’ issues. House Democrats advanced a shared prosperity agenda, with every single Democrat voting in favor of raising the minimum wage and allowing all workers to earn paid safe and sick leave. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans pursued an ideological agenda that included attacking public employees’ collective bargaining rights, putting a Band-Aid on the state’s underfunded education system so the wealthy and corporate special interests could avoid paying their fair share in taxes, and killing the Washington Voting Rights Act.
In addition, many important issues were considered but not acted upon, including establishing some accountability from aerospace companies that receive billions in state tax breaks and addressing what has become the most unfair tax system in the nation. The wealthiest 1% pay just 2.4% of their total income in state taxes, but middle-class families pay four times that rate, and low-income families pay seven times that rate. Meanwhile, five of our state’s biggest industries — aerospace, high-tech, agriculture, timber and mining — combine to contribute just 4% of all the B&O taxes collected last year, while smaller businesses were responsible for paying the rest.
“The truth of the matter,” writes WSLC President Jeff Johnson in his column that appears in the report, “is that… (Senate Republicans) don’t care that we have the most regressive tax system in the country, they don’t care that teachers will only get one-quarter of the cost-of-living pay increases that the legislators themselves will get, and they don’t recognize the social safety net has so many holes in it that thousands of our most vulnerable citizens fall through it every week.”
Johnson says the lesson is that “elections matter,” and working families will have to recognize who their champions are at the ballot box in 2016.
The WSLC is the largest labor organization in the state, representing some 600 affiliated union organizations and some 400,000 rank-and-file members across the Washington state.