July 1, 2011 in City

State employee paychecks shrink a little

Variety of new laws go into effect today
By The Spokesman-Review
 

On the Web: Keep up with Olympia activities at spokesman.com/spincontrol.

Happy new fiscal year, Washingtonians.

Forget about making resolutions, but remember to get a new tab for your boat, or a Discover Pass if you plan to be spending time in state parks. If you’re a state employee, your paycheck gets smaller starting today.

Some restaurant owners get a break, shoppers who come down from Canada don’t. The state’s two-year budgeting cycle starts today, although many program cuts the Legislature approved to make that budget balance will be phased in.

The owners of some 250,000 boats registered in Washington need to get renewed registration tabs. Their old ones expired Thursday, and the state Department of Licensing is cutting costs by no longer sending out renewal reminders, said spokesman Brad Benfield.

Registration renewals for cars, trucks and trailers are staggered throughout the year. Not so with boats; their year always starts on July 1.

The department knows some people who won’t take their boat out until later in the summer will wait to renew their tabs, and that’s OK if it’s sitting on land. But if you renew later, the fee isn’t pro-rated, and your new tab still expires next year on June 30.

Boat licenses can be renewed online, at www.dol.wa.gov, or at county or private vehicle licensing offices. The fine for operating a boat without proper registration is $257.

Today also is the beginning of the need for a Discover Pass for people driving into state parks, recreation or wildlife areas. It’s $10 for a day or $30 for the whole season, and private vendors are allowed to charge a small handling fee, although not all of them will. Money from the passes will be used to help maintain parks and other state recreation lands.

Today marks a shift for some programs. The Washington Medicaid program is being merged into the state Health Care Authority. That means Medicaid, which provides health care coverage to about 1.2 million low-income residents, will be run by the same folks who handle health insurance for about 340,000 state employees, retirees and dependents and about 38,000 people on the state’s Basic Health program.

If you’re in one of those groups, you probably won’t notice a change. It started last year and “should be largely invisible to Medicaid providers and clients as well as Basic Health and Public Employee Benefits subscribers,” said Doug Porter, the director of the new agency.

State employees’ paychecks go down by 3 percent starting today, part of a contract change negotiated by state employees unions and the governor’s office. The hourly wages aren’t being reduced, but employees will work 5.2 fewer hours per month, and their pay will be reduced to reflect the drop in hours.

A change in state tax law provides a break to some restaurants, starting today. If they give free meals to their employees, they used to pay sales tax and business and occupation tax on those meals. Those meals now are tax exempt under a law passed this spring.

The state also officially eliminated a sales tax exemption that was on the books for residents of British Columbia. One year ago, British Columbia changed its tax system to adopt the Harmonized Sales Tax, making them temporarily eligible for a break on sales tax when shopping in Washington. A Skagit County Superior Court judge blocked the tax break, and this spring the Legislature passed a law saying states or provinces with the HST aren’t eligible for the exemption.

The law takes effect today, on Canada Day. Probably just a coincidence, eh?


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