State workers to get parking, bus breaks

SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2013

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law Saturday that lets state employees pay for their work-related parking and transit costs using pretax earnings. Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia sponsored the measure, House Bill 1456, and said it offers some small financial help to state workers.

“This is their pay raise,” Hunt half-joked.

Keith Cotton, manager of commute-trip reduction for the state Department of Transportation, said his agency has about 800 workers who use bus passes that cost the worker about $25 a month. For someone paying that rate and taxed at the 25 percent marginal rate, the savings would be about $75 a year, or just over $3 per pay period.

For a worker paying $50 a month for parking and getting taxed at the 25 percent marginal rate, the legislation is worth twice that.

The Washington Federation of State Employees had pushed for the measure for three years, and union President Carol Dotlich said the savings can make a small difference to a lower-paid custodian at the University of Washington.

“We hope this encourages more state employees to take the bus,” federation spokesman Tim Welch said.

The bill passed by a large margin in the Senate – 41 to 7 with 15 Republicans joining all Democrats in favor – and was closer in the House, where 11 Republicans joined Democrats to pass it 65 to 31.

The bill drew no formal opposition in hearings. But Republican Rep. Vincent Buys of Lynden spoke against the measure when it was approved in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee, chaired by Hunt.

“We just have some concerns with the precedent it continues to set about nonessential things coming out pre-tax,” Buys said before voting against it.

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