Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Washington state Senate drop budget ax, leaves Family Leave and Paid Sick Days untouched

Don Orange, owner of Hoesly Eco Tire and Auto in Vancouver, testifies in support of Family and Medical Leave Insurance

Don Orange, owner of Hoesly Eco Tire and Auto in Vancouver, testifies in support of Family and Medical Leave Insurance

Today, Washington’s State Senate released a no-new taxes budget for the 2013-15 biennium. The Senate’s proposed budget does increase funding for education – at least in selected areas. But without any new funding, it does so at the expense of pretty much everything else. Low income working parents would lose childcare, disabled adults and homeless families would lose critical support, and public employees, including teachers, would continue to be squeezed.

But there is a glimmer of good news: The Senate budget does not roll back paid leave protections vital to working families.

It may not seem like much, but the silence of the Senate’s budget on paid leave is thanks to an outpouring of public support for paid leave protections for working families and the good work of all the members of Washington’s Work and Family Coalition.

We’ve made some progress in Washington over the past few years, passing a family and medical leave insurance bill in 2007 and Paid Sick and Safe Leave standards in the city of Seattle. This year, both were under threat in Olympia, and it seemed likely the caucus controlling the Senate would demand repeal of FMLI and restriction of city sick leave laws in exchange for passing a state budget.

Family and medical leave insurance was adopted in 2007. Because of the recession, implementation was postponed from 2009 to 2015. This year, two competing bills were introduced: SB 5159, supported by leaders of the majority caucus, would have repealed the program. SB 5292/HB 1457, supported by Washington’s Work and Family Coalition, would fund and implement an expanded program.

Competing bills on paid sick leave standards were also introduced this year. SB 5726 and 5728 would restrict or prohibit local governments from adopting paid sick leave standards, while SB 5594/ HB 1313 would extend the standards adopted in Seattle to all people working in the state. SB 5726 passed the Senate, but died in the House.

The Senate budget doesn’t include any funding to begin start-up work on family and medical leave insurance, but doesn’t eliminate it either. The documents explaining the budget and related policies are also silent about restricting paid sick leave.

In previous years, key members of the Senate “Majority Coalition” demanded repeal of family leave, but they did not hold power then. Now they do. However, after the strong show of public support for paid leave policies, apparently Senate leaders thought better of undermining protections for working families.

Of course, until the budget is finally adopted and legislators leave Olympia, anything could happen, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the state really does need new revenue for the 2013-15 biennium. Our creaky, 1930-style tax system was struggling before the even recession hit. Over the past 4 years, the legislature has slashed funding of higher education, the social safety net, homecare services for seniors and disabled people, and even K-12 education. Just to maintain this lower level of essential services would require finding $1.2 billion more than our existing tax structure is expected to produce. On top of that, the Supreme Court has ordered the state to substantially increase funding for public schools – starting now.

Governor Inslee started on the right path last week with a modest proposal to continue expiring surcharges on beer and service businesses (such as lawyers and accountants), and to end a handful of the more than 600 special tax breaks. Along with some fund transfers and other actions, these new revenues allowed Inslee to propose $1.3 billion in additional funding for education, from preschool through university. Still, Inslee’s budget made further cuts that would harm individuals and families across the state.

The Senate chose to ignore the Governor’s advice and protect corporate interests over Washington’s children and families. We can and should do better as a state.

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