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Published in Print: March 7, 2001, as Union Breaks With Wash. Governor Over Pay Raises

Union Breaks With Wash. Governor Over Pay Raises

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In a public rebuke of an old friend, the political action committee of the Washington Education Association has voted unanimously to express "official regret" over its endorsement of Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, who received the union's support during his re-election bid this past November.

Gov. Gary Locke

The union and the governor are at odds over how to interpret Initiative 732, a ballot measure approved by more than 60 percent of Washington state voters in November that guarantees annual cost-of-living increases to teachers and other school employees.

Gov. Locke's proposed biennial budget would allocate roughly $300 million to provide the pay hikes to the 75 percent of school employees whose salaries are paid with state money. He maintains that employees paid with local or federal money have not and should not receive cost-of-living increases through the state.

But Lee Ann Prielipp, the president of the WEA, a National Education Association affiliate, says that Initiative 732 clearly called for salary increases for "all" district employees, and that Mr. Locke is being remiss by not delivering.

"We're balancing our budget on the backs of education, which means our students as well as teachers and school employees," Ms. Prielipp said. "Our members said we have to let people know what's going on."

The governor has not issued a direct response to the union over the vote last month. But officials in his budget office have noted that the state is already having to make severe cuts in other state services to balance a budget squeezed by rising medical costs for state and school employees and for residents receiving public assistance. Total state spending on basic medical coverage is expected to increase by 33 percent, or $1.2 billion, over the next two years.

Further, the officials say, the state has never footed the bill for raises given to employees whose salaries are paid for through local levies or federal funds.

Vol. 20, Issue 25, Page 23

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