Jay Inslee is concerned that a key provision in the Republican-controlled state Senate’s 2015-17 budget is unconstitutional. Referring to Republican’s plan to deal with state employee pay raises by granting every state employee a flat $2,000 raise over the next two years, Inslee argues in letter to Senate lawmakers that, under state law, the Legislature only has the power to “approve or reject the request for funds for collective bargaining agreements as a whole.” The law does not permit the Legislature to “preapprove or set the fiscal parameters for negotiations” between state employee union executives and the state.
It’s Inslee’s last-ditch effort to ensure his million-dollar campaign donors receive their secretly negotiated paybacks.
Senate Republicans responded by insisting their plan does not dictate the “exact terms of the contracts” and, therefore, is “within the bounds of the law.” The News Tribune points out that the Legislature “did something similar in 2003, when it rejected labor contracts for home health care workers. While rejecting the contracts, lawmakers approved enough money to cover pay increases of 75 cents per hour for those workers.”
According the Washington Policy Center, the bigger issue is not whether or not the Legislature has the authority to execute the Senate’s plan, but if the 2002 state collective bargaining law’s restriction of the Legislature’s ability to make budget decisions is even constitutional. The Washington Policy Center,
“This compelling 2006 article in the University of Washington’s Law Review, however, makes the case that the 2002 law is an unconstitutional infringement on the Legislature’s constitutional authority to determine appropriations and also a violation of separation of powers by giving the Governor too much power over the Legislature on this budget question (h/t Freedom Foundation):
“In its present form, the PSRA would not survive a challenge under Washington’s separation of powers doctrine. Section 302(3), which requires the legislature to accept or reject funding as a whole for proposed collective bargaining agreements, runs afoul of three factors courts often use when applying the separation of powers doctrine. The PSRA upsets the delicate balance between the Governor and the legislature in the appropriations process, it transfers power to the Governor in an area of the law traditionally marked by legislative-executive conflict, and it infringes on the legislature’s core function of controlling spending policy. Specifically, section 302(3) contains two constitutional flaws. First, section 302(3) reverses the traditional roles of the Governor and the legislature. Second, by forcing legislators into a dilemma of either approving an appropriations act containing measures that would not pass if considered alone or rejecting the act wholesale, it undermines the legislature’s core power to substantively set the state’s spending priorities.”
The Washington Policy Center concludes that, since 2004, the Legislature has “chosen to rubber stamp the contracts secretly negotiated behind closed doors by the Governor. With the Senate now deciding to reject those contracts and the Governor and unions claiming the way the Senate did so is illegal under the law, perhaps it is a good time for lawmakers to further explore whether the 2002 law is even constitutional to begin with.”