News Gregoire Caves on Family Leave
posted by April 3 at 12:53 PMon
Gov. Christine Gregoire has (once again) endorsed punting a politically contentious decision to the voters, endorsing a statewide vote on a new payroll tax to fund mandatory paid medical leave. A measure to create a statewide paid family-leave program has been struggling in the state House, where business lobbyists have been putting pressure on the Democratic leadership to kill it.
The plan, to be paid for with a 2-cent-an-hour tax subtracted from workers’ pay (up to 40 hours a week), would provide $250 a week for leave from full-time work to care for a newborn or for a sick family member for up to five weeks, starting in 2009. Polling shows that 61 percent of voters support paid family leave, and that 70 percent of those support splitting the cost between workers and employers.
This year’s proposal doesn’t even go that far, placing the entire burden on workers. Moreover, it’s a flat tax (as opposed to a percentage of wages), so it’s also regressive, placing a heavier burden on those who make less.
California’s family leave program, in contrast, was funded by a 02. increase in workers’ payroll taxes. Minimum wage workers pay an additional $11.23 a year; the average worker pays $46.00 a year. For that, workers get approximately 55 percent of their pre-leave wages, up to $840 a week—far more than the proposed Washington State standard of $250 a week. And California’s leave lasts a week longer.
So the Washington proposal, though it would be a huge improvement over current state policy (basically: You’re on your own), is already a tremendously watered-down, entirely worker-funded version of California’s far more comprehensive family-leave law. Despite that, businesses oppose it, in part because large businesses will have to hold positions open. (Translation: They can’t fire you for taking five weeks off to bond with your baby.) Caving to pressure from the business lobby, Gregoire now says she wants to put the family leave proposal up for a public election, where the very same lobbyists whose predictions of disaster swayed legislators and Gregoire into punting it will be able to spend millions working the same magic on voters. (There’s a reason you never hear about a well-funded, all-powerful new-mothers’ lobby: There isn’t one.) Gregoire is up for reelection in 2008. I wonder if she’ll brag about killing aid to working mothers.