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But state pensions suffer political attack
Advocates for economic stimulus and job creation in Washington State scored a major victory in 2012 when the Legislature approved the Infrastructure Jobs Bonds legislation, also known as "Jobs Now." This expanded $1 billion capital construction budget will create tens of thousands of new jobs across the state.
The bipartisan legislation easily passed -- with only a handful of state legislators voting against it -- but only in the final hours of April's second extended special session. Why did it take months of public pressure and lobbying by an unprecedented labor-business coalition to finally get some action to address the long-term unemployment crisis in the construction trades?
Senate Republican leaders, with the help of a handful of conservative Democrats, politicized the issue of jobs and held Jobs Now hostage -- along with the supplemental operating budget -- to coerce passage of a handful of conservative ideological "reforms" that included a political attack on state employees' pension benefits and restricting school employees' bargaining over health care benefits.
"It is a shame that much of the current construction season was wasted while political gamesmanship over unrelated legislation took priority over jobs and our state economy," said Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson. "Senator Mike Hewitt and the Republican team turned a non-partisan issue -- jobs -- into a political football and cut the package in half."
That said, Johnson called its eventual passage "a great victory for working men and women of our state," crediting House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) and sponsors Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) for their leadership on the issue. Johnson also thanked Sen. Linda Evans Parlette (R-Wenatchee) and Rep. Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake) for their work and support of Jobs Now.
Here's how it played out.
The WSLC and the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council began working with the Associated General Contractors last fall on a plan to spur private-sector economic development, to create work for struggling construction contractors, and to address persistent long-term unemployment in the building trades. The result was a plan to issue $2 billion in capital construction bonds to be repaid by streams of money already dedicated to the capital budget. No new revenue would be required from the cash-strapped Legislature.
This labor-business coalition began pushing the idea during the December 2011 special session called by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
David Myers, Executive Secretary of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, made a strong case that high unemployment is causing long-term damage to the industry as experienced workers in the trades are leaving the state and the industry in search of other job opportunities. It takes up to five years to train journey-level workers to replace them. Jobs Now, he said, would not only put these skilled workers back to work, it will keep them in Washington where we need them.
Positive momentum carried through to the start of the 2012 session, especially after a draft list of projects across the state was released by the billís sponsors. But the coalition warned that swift passage was needed not only to secure historically low interest rates and low bids from contractors desperate for work, but also to create jobs as quickly as possible during the current construction season.
It soon became clear that GOP leaders were in no hurry. Although Republicans are in the minority in both houses, over the past two years, a handful of conservative Senate Democrats who call themselves the "Roadkill Caucus" have broken with their party leadership to side with Republicans on procedural votes. The effect is to give Republicans the ability to block votes on any legislation they choose.
Having adopted a "Reform Before Revenue" mantra, Senate Republicans decided early on to block the supplemental operating budget until House Democrats agreed to a list of "reforms" on cutting pensions and school employee health care bargaining rights, and creating an unworkable 4-year budget horizon, among other things. Apparently, they thought even more hostages were needed so Jobs Now legislation was held up as well.
After Republicans and conservative Democrats successfully pushed through enough of what they considered "reforms" to declare victory, they took their foot off of Jobs Now.
The legislation included two bills: SB 5127, authorizing the sale of the bonds, which passed the Senate 44-2 (see Vote #9) and the House 80-18 (Vote #11); and SB 6074, the supplemental capital budget list of projects, which passed the Senate 44-1 and 85-13.
There are many, many more stories included in the print version of the WSLC's 2012 Legislative Report. See the Table of Contents at the top of this page. Also, members of WSLC-affiliated unions can request a free copy of the printed version of the report.
Copyright © 2012 Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO