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Lawmakers address questions of teacher COLA

Voter-approved teacher cost-of-living-adjustments, or COLAs, have been tabled for the past six years. So, midway through the 2015 session, Republican and Democratic lawmakers addressed questions about whether this is the year the teacher COLA would come back.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that she was happy to see the 3 percent cost-of-living-adjustment for teachers built into the state’s balanced four-year budget outlook.

She said teachers in her district have been seeing take-home pay shrink in recent years.

“Their paychecks are declining because they are actually paying more for their health care, and they are bringing home significantly less money, and I’m not just talking a little bit,” she said. “So I was really thrilled to hear Sen. (Andy) Hill say that he built in the 3 percent COLA into the four-year balanced budget.”

Rivers was one of several Republican panelists at a weekly media availability.

The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which produces the Budget Outlook, projects expenditures and revenue for the next four years based on current law. Hill not only chairs the council, he is the Senate’s chief budget writer as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

While Initiative 732, an annual cost of living adjustment for teachers, was approved by voters in 2000 and is written into law, it has been suspended by the state during economic downturns. However, the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council did include the initiative in the most recent iteration of the Budget Outlook, which shows a positive balance over the next four years.

For the Democrats, Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Seattle, at a press availability on Thursday, said there was strong support for a teacher raise in their caucus, but declined to fix on a percentage.

“They’ve gone six years without a COLA,” he said. “I think there will be strong support on our budget team and in our caucus for a COLA.”

The House proposed budget is expected to be released in March, followed by the Senate’s proposal.

Gov. Jay Inslee‘s 2015-17 budget included a 3 percent cost of living adjustment the first year and 1.8 percent the following year, which will cost $386 million over the two years.

The press conferences followed the week after the release of the state revenue forecast for 2015-2017, which showed a moderate increase of $140 million over previous predictions. 

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