There is no doubt about it, our state’s once thriving economy has been hit — hard. As we all continue to cope with the effects of COVID-19, lawmakers are looking at options to address the financial fallout from the mandated shutdown. To his credit, Gov. Jay Inslee previously reduced program spending before signing this year’s budget. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to plug the $9 billion hole Washington state faces over the next three years due to lost revenue.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly called on the governor to halt the remainder of new spending that was adopted in the 2020 supplemental budget — including this year’s 3% raise for Washington state public employees beginning this month — as an additional way to prevent a larger financial deficit in the future. Our state employees do tremendous work for the citizens of Washington, and if our state economy were flourishing, there would not be a need for them to forego their scheduled salary increase, but that is not the situation we are in.
Recently, the governor announced he would allow this year’s 3% pay increase for state employees to continue but will require these employees to take furloughs for the remainder of the calendar year to reduce state spending. These furloughed employees will take one day off a week in July and one day a month from August to December while simultaneously qualifying for unemployment benefits, which could allow them to receive larger paychecks.
The governor claims that he is saving money, but is he? Why would the governor agree to such a thing at a time when so many of our neighbors are struggling, out of work and desperately trying to get their own unemployment insurance? Will taxpayers receive fewer services due to furloughs — costing them more only to get less? Will other state workers need to fill the void via overtime hours, ultimately eating away at the projected furlough savings?
At a minimum, Gov. Inslee is only saving one-third of the money he could have saved had he simply kept state employee salaries at their previous rate. Once the furloughs expire at the end of the year, so do any purported savings. By no means do we want to harm Washington state employees; they play an important role in providing vital services to the people of our state. But as individuals and families across our state have had to make cuts due to lost jobs, lost business and income, it’s also up to state leaders to look at all avenues to reduce state spending while protecting the most vulnerable citizens and the programs they rely upon.
The governor’s course of action does very little to repair the hole in our state budget and ultimately cheats the taxpayer out of services they’ve already paid for. He should have convened the Legislature for a special session in June to make necessary cuts to the $1 billion of new policy spending that began on July 1. The longer he waits to do so will require deeper cuts down the road to vital services that Washingtonians currently depend upon.