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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Gregoire Caves on Family Leave

posted by on April 3 at 12:53 PM

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.


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I can't wait to see the commercials from the anti-family leave people. This should be fun.

Posted by elswinger | April 3, 2007 1:03 PM

"she’ll brag about killing aid to working mothers"

I agree it's disappointing, but putting this to a vote is not tantamount to killing it. My take: Gregoire is betting (correctly I think) that it would pass, and she can retain her moderate credentials.

Posted by Sean | April 3, 2007 1:08 PM

Has Gregoire ever decided anything? What did we hire her for?

Posted by john | April 3, 2007 1:10 PM

She can brag about whatever she wants, I'm not voting for her again.

Posted by monkey | April 3, 2007 1:11 PM

@4 - I'm sure the Red Bushies appreciate your decision.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 3, 2007 1:19 PM

So those of us without family and who have no plans to have children get to pay for others to take family leave. That sounds fair.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 3, 2007 1:20 PM

Businesses already have to hold their positions open for mothers and their newborns, under the federal family leave law. They don't have to pay, but they have to hold the job. So that's nothing new.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 3, 2007 1:23 PM

Keshmeshi @ 6, yes, just like you have to pay taxes for schools that won't be attended by the children you're not going to have.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 3, 2007 1:26 PM

@6 - Yes, that is fair. Unless you're going to argue that you don't benefit in the slightest from other people rearing the children who will pay for your Social Security benefits and care for you when you are older.

And seriously, Gregoire is looking increasingly worthless. At what point does the lesser of two evils become insufficiently lesser to merit our vote?

Posted by tsm | April 3, 2007 1:28 PM

Worker-funded or payroll-tax funded are the same thing, the come from the same budget at corporations, workers treat them the same way because they of course know how much they get paid.

Just imagine a 10 cent per gallon tax on gasoline at the pump or from the store. Either way, the price you pay for gas will go up by 10 cents per gallon. It's not like in the one case the gas station is going to decide not to charge it's customers. This works the same way for salaries and anyone who took econ 101 could explain that to you.

That's the problem with the left, when it comes to some sciences (biology) they go apeshit if the right doesn't understand, but on others (economics) they can't be bothered to learn the first thing about them.

Posted by Andrew | April 3, 2007 1:29 PM

Here in Canada, employers must hold positions open for up to a year, and the two parents can access up to 50 weeks of Employment insurance (together - i.e. parent 1 can access 15 weeks and parent 2 access the other 35).

Posted by Ken | April 3, 2007 1:30 PM

#11 That's just another reason I wish I could live in Canada. There isn't even a law here to make employers hold jobs for Reservists and National Guard members who had to go to Iraq whether they wanted to or not.

Posted by elswinger | April 3, 2007 1:34 PM

#5 thanks for the guilt trip. You're right, I'll vote for her no matter what she does. Feel better?

Posted by monkey | April 3, 2007 1:39 PM

Flat payroll taxes are bad for the average worker. I like the idea, behind this legislation, but it should be funded in a more progressive manner.

And I'd cap it at the first two children. No need to reward overpopulation.

Posted by DOUG. | April 3, 2007 1:47 PM

keshmeshi #6:

You've captured in a nutshell the short-sighted and ultimately money-losing idiocy of conservative economic theory.

A society that invests in the common good will be achieve greater wealth in the long run.

Posted by Sean | April 3, 2007 1:59 PM

#5 You seem no different than the Conservatives who give Bush a pass on everything, even stuff they are against, just because he is a Republican.

I voted for Gregoire and I'll vote for her again if she makes it to the General election. But as a liberal I find her a big disappointment and hope she either starts reflecting the wishes of the people that elected her, or that she is beaten in the primary by someone better.

Posted by elswinger | April 3, 2007 2:04 PM


I am a biologist AND understand economics. Do you understand the difference between a progressive (i.e. percentage of income) vesus regressive (i.e. flat amount taxed per hour worked) tax?

Washington State has one of the most regressive tax structures already, thanks to a capped property tax and horrifically regressive sales tax providing the bulk of the revenues.

@6 I'm about as likely to bud into two as to have children and a family. Still, paying for family leave is fine by me. The single most important criteria for the future success of a child is quality parenting. The country has enough foolish losers running around. Money well spent, in my opinion...

Posted by golob | April 3, 2007 2:41 PM

#7 The Family Leave Act applies to people who work for a company with 50 or more employees, have worked for the same company for at least one year, and work some minimum number of hours per week (25, I think). Does the Washington law hold the same standards or would more people be covered - Erica?

Posted by Erica T. | April 3, 2007 2:51 PM

@6- it's Family Leave not just new babies. You don't have any partners or relatives? or you wouldn't take time off for them? or they won't take time off for you?

Posted by Anna | April 3, 2007 3:16 PM

@ 10

So economics is a science in the same way that biology is a science? That's just too rich. Why is it always the Econ101 types who are so sure of their own grasps of macroeconomic phenomena? They must not cover the divergence of practice and theory until Econ102...

Posted by Geekonomist | April 3, 2007 3:20 PM

The Washington State Family Leave regs (updated in 2006) make WA's leave laws identical to FMLA. 50+ employees get up to 12 weeks for the care of a newborn or sick family member.

The disability regs require employers with more than 8 employees to hold positions for the duration of a woman's maternity disability (typically 6-8 weeks).

Washington needs a family leave solution for the care of family members who are not newborns - paid or unpaid, we need job protections for extended absences for caring for an ill or disabled family member or ADOPTED children.

Posted by Soupytwist | April 3, 2007 3:27 PM

Geekonomist, I have a phd in economics. You're right that economics, which is a social science, is not a science in the same way that biology is. But, certainly both economics and biology have the scientific method at their core, and have vast swathes of their study that are difficult if not impossible to prove (yes, more vast in economics). This is in contrast to Mathematics, physics or chemistry where these "proofs" of ideas are more straight-forward.

Posted by Andrew | April 3, 2007 3:40 PM


I've already benefited from public schools, thanks much. That's why I don't have a problem paying for future generations to be educated. I benefited, they'll benefit, that's the wonderful thing about entitlement programs.


Social Security is an entitlement. I'm currently paying for seniors on the plan. I'll benefit from it when I get older. It's an entitlement. As far as I'm concerned, this family leave plan isn't remotely similar. Single, childless people already get the shaft taxes- and government program-wise in this country. I'm not fond of programs that force me to pay for other people's life choices. Would it kill prospective parents to plan their pregnancies?


Sure, and wouldn't it be nice if these programs could be set up in such a way so they are not regressive and are primarily funded by people who are going to benefit from them?

Posted by keshmeshi | April 3, 2007 4:10 PM

@13, @16 - at least I don't live in a fantasy world.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 3, 2007 4:27 PM

@23 -

"I've already benefited from public schools, thanks much. That's why I don't have a problem paying for future generations to be educated."

And the next generation will benefit from more family leave. What's your point? By your reasoning here, the last generation before mandatory public schooling was introduced should've refused to pay for it.

"Social Security is an entitlement. I'm currently paying for seniors on the plan. I'll benefit from it when I get older. It's an entitlement."

Better child-rearing = more stable society and better labor force to pay for your entitlements.

Single, childless people like you (and me) do, on the whole, pay more in terms of taxes and the like. I do not consider this necessarily unjust, because a free market economy is inherently hostile to those who raise children - they are (generally) a significant economic liability to parents, despite being (generally) an economic gain to society. I *do* benefit from others choosing to have kids.

Posted by tsm | April 3, 2007 4:31 PM

#24 Nice comeback.

Posted by elswinger | April 3, 2007 4:53 PM

Why is this the job of the state? The provisions would appear to apply only to people who can officially "take time off" (that is, not freelancers or the self-employed). But lots of employers offer family leave benefits, paid and unpaid; this is one of the ways in which employers compete for new hires.

And on another note, if you would otherwise take five weeks maternity leave but for a lack of $1250, you need to plan a little better financially.

Posted by joykiller | April 3, 2007 5:19 PM

@27 - because we have to take care of people who live here.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 3, 2007 5:54 PM

Family leave will pay off in the long run. Better families, better kids, fewer drug addicts and inmates and girlfriend-shooters.

2/3 of all government spending in this country goes to the elderly, who are by far the richest age segment of the population. 1/3 goes to everybody else, including defense, and schools, and so on. We spend virtually nothing to support the poorest age-segment -- young children and their young parents.

Posted by Fnarf | April 3, 2007 6:17 PM

Let me be the first to note that paid leave is fundamentally different than unpaid, which by definition excludes those who lack savings or other support that enable them to go without pay for six weeks.

Posted by ECB | April 3, 2007 10:06 PM

@ 28: That's a retarded feel-good-ism, first of all. Secondly, this isn't "us" taking care of anyone, it's the state providing new parents a minor subsidy by raising taxes on everyone else.

@ 29: Somehow I doubt that five weeks of postnatal bonding and $1250 will turn would-be felons into model citizens. Bad, inaccessible parents won't suddenly become great through this program, and good parents that spend time with their children will do it regardless.

@ 30: A child is a great big financial liability from birth until at least age 18. Encouraging people with little financial stability to have children is bad policy.

Posted by joykiller | April 4, 2007 9:43 AM

wow, what a puss...she's the Democrat governor of a state with Democrat controlled Congress and she wimps out on everything...

Dear State Democratic Party...I ain't voting for Gregorire in the next better find another candidate or I'll either vote for another parties candidate or just not vote for governor next time thereby throwing it to the Republicans...

Wake up, Dems, and stop being pussywhips....

Posted by michael strangeways | April 4, 2007 9:55 AM

@ 31, how on earth do you think the promise of paid leave time will encourage anyone to have a baby? It's not a tax deduction for crying out loud. And please don't tell me that people will do anything for a "vacation." I have a kid and those first few weeks are anything but relaxing.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 4, 2007 12:13 PM

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