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May 14, 2009 at 6:18 PM

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Employee health cost becomes a county exec issue

Posted by Keith Ervin

Metropolitan King County council members -- especially those running for county executive -- have a political problem.

As the council looks at a 2010 budget shortfall of up to $50 million, more people are asking why county employees don't pay a monthly premimum for health-care coverage as most other Washington workers do.

It's a particularly tricky issue for county exec candidates Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, Democrats who have had cordial ties with organized labor but who are facing candidates who say the county should cut labor costs before asking taxpayers to pony up more money.

They face potentially strong opponents in three "outsiders" -- state legislators Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett and former TV news anchor Susan Hutchison.

Constantine is trying to get his arms around the problem by proposing that non-union-represented employees pay 2 percent of any earnings above about $60,000 for health coverage.

The county can't impose cost-sharing on union members without first bargaining the issue.

Republicans Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert want to make it county policy to push for cost-sharing in future labor agreements. (Council members now run in nonpartisan elections, but they are still politican animals.)

Phillips hasn't made any proposal for shifting more health-care costs to employees, but he can say that he was the only council member who voted against a costly five-year contract with sheriff's deputies.

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