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Originally published July 6, 2010 at 5:02 PM | Page modified July 6, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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King County Council must revise cost-of-living pay policy

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan King County Council ponders new labor policies that end the requirement for automatic cost-of-living increases. It is time for county employee rules to match the harsh reality of the 21st Century economy.

TWO Metropolitan King County Council members propose new labor policies that would end the county's long-standing and anachronistic automatic cost-of-living pay increases. The council would be wise to adopt either or a combination of both plans.

County employees have been living in an altered state, pretending the county has enough money to award employees 2 to 6 percent annual cost-of-living increases even if that cost dropped as it did last year. That makes no sense.

Council Chairman Bob Ferguson and Councilmember Kathy Lambert offer different proposals to accomplish similar goals: to change de facto policy that institutionalizes cost-of-living increases. Lambert has been working this issue almost two years and deserves considerable kudos for bringing the matter to the forefront.

Lambert and Ferguson should join forces to combine and refine proposals and rally enough votes to support the new approach. By doing so, the council would send a powerful message to labor that the economic realities of the 21st century require new rules.

Lambert's plan says annual cost-of-living adjustments to wages and salary increases should range from 0 to 6 percent in an economic downturn.

Ferguson's plan goes a bit further and, coming from a Democrat on the supposedly nonpartisan council, that gives the plan added political cachet. His proposal affects all wages, including step increases and merit pay and allows pay reductions during deflation. Ferguson offers flexibility to hold wages down even if revenue edges up slightly.

Another labor policy that ought to be adopted this week or next requires county employees to begin paying toward health premiums like their counterparts in the private sector.

Any politician pondering a tax increase to shore up public safety and the court system must help the county establish credibility with voters. The economy is not improving the way everyone hoped and it may be a while before things improve.

Councilmember Jane Hague, chairwoman of the committee that establishes labor guidelines, needs to ensure that both proposals get a fair hearing and she should help marshal votes for a healthy majority.

Many changes are needed. It is time for all council members to take the tough votes and alert everyone the county is changing the way it does business.

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