HEADLINES : Washington
Gov. Gregoire begins contract
OLYMPIA - Gov. Chris Gregoire will leave office in eight months, but the state worker contracts she's negotiating now could tie the hands of Washington's next governor for three years.
The governor's office started bargaining with the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 37,000 state workers, on Wednesday and already has talks under way with the Washington State Ferry unions.
Neither Gregoire nor the federation would comment on what they hope to get out of negotiations, but the governor noted the state has been whittling away at pension and health-care benefits for state workers since the recession hit, and there haven't been pay increases for years.
"The idea of giving back to your community, the calling of John F. Kennedy and so on, just goes so far," she said. "We need to be careful."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna has offered several proposals that would affect government employees, including shrinking the state workforce through attrition, contracting out more state work and increasing how much public employees pay for health insurance.
He called on Gregoire to not agree to any contracts that would create a shortfall in the next two-year budget.
"I don't think the next governor or next Legislature should be left with a big hole in the budget as a result of these negotiations," McKenna said, adding, "I'm not predicting that's what will happen."