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A Few More Bucks in WA Teachers' Pockets?

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PHOTO: Although voters in Washington approved an annual cost-of-living adjustment for public school workers in 2000, the last time they received one was in 2008. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Although voters in Washington approved an annual cost-of-living adjustment for public school workers in 2000, the last time they received one was in 2008. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
 By Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA, Contact
January 20, 2014

SEATTLE - An issue coming up again this year in the Washington Legislature is whether to restore the cost-of-living allowance (COLA) to paychecks of teachers and other education workers who have done without it since 2009.

To community college instructors such as Esther "Little Dove" John, a psychology instructor at Seattle Central Community College, the COLA is a matter of fairness. Washington voters decided in 2000 that workers in public education should get cost-of-living adjustments based on inflation, but the legislature put them on hold during the state budget crunch.

Today, John said, the budget crunch is hers. She said she worries about spending even an extra $5.

"Since the COLA has been suspended, it's felt like I've been in one of those rooms where the walls are closing in on you. It's gotten harder and harder for me to make my rent, to afford food, to find the money to pay for my health care," John said.

Teachers' unions have said restoring the COLA also helps the local economy by giving more workers a little more take-home pay to spend. Gov. Inslee's proposal, for a 1.3 percent COLA, is part of a $200 million boost he is advocating for school funding.

A preliminary bill in the House (H 2832) would restore the COLA, which has bipartisan support from more than 50 lawmakers. It's an idea that has not made headway in past sessions, but John said this year could be different, with the governor's backing.

"He said that by closing some unnecessary tax loopholes that big businesses get, we could fund the cost-of-living adjustment for this year," John said. "So, I feel like we have a better chance this time than we've had in a while."

The governor did not specify which tax loopholes might be closed, although one that has been unpopular is the so-called "Big Oil Loophole." Passed in the 1940s, it gives today's oil refinery owners what detractors say is an unintentional $41 million annual state tax break.

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