Long-distance commutes for WA state employees 'not reimbursable,' agency says

Legislation working its way through the Oregon Legislature would prevent state agencies from paying for long-distance commutes when government workers living out of state travel back to Oregon for mandatory meetings.

Senate Bill 853 would stop Oregon state agencies from sticking taxpayers with the bill under such circumstances, with two exceptions: if long-distance travel cost reimbursements were negotiated in labor agreements, or if a state agency deems than an employee has to live out of state to do their job.

The Center Square reached out to the Washington Office of Financial Management to find out whether or not the Evergreen State has taxpayers pick up the tab for state workers living in far-flung locations.

“In answer to your question, the State Administrative and Accounting Manual states that the costs of a commute between and employee’s official residence and official station is not reimbursable,” Hayden Mackley, deputy communications director for OFM, said an email response.

He added, “So for example, if an employee’s official station is at an office in Olympia but they telework from Portland (which would be rare), and they need to come into the office for an in-person meeting or training, that wouldn’t be reimbursable.”

There are certain circumstances where state workers could be reimbursed, Mackley noted.

“An agency might choose to make another location the employee’s official station, like their home or a field office, if that meets the business needs of the agency,” he explained. “This might include recruiting workers in hard-to-fill positions, or retaining valuable workers with extensive knowledge. In this case, if an agency needed the employee to report to somewhere that wasn’t their official duty station, like go to an office for training, the employee could be reimbursed for that travel.”

But it’s not a case of one size fits all.

“It’s up to individual agencies to figure out the cost/benefit of each situation, and they would likely look into how often an employee might be required to travel, and factor that into their decision,” Mackley said.

Oregon legislators proposed SB 853 in response to a story by Willamettee Week last summer that spotlighted how some highly paid employees of the Oregon Lottery had moved to Florida and Texas, with thousands of dollars’ worth of travel costs back to Oregon reimbursed.

The publicity generated an uproar among local state workers who commute to the office at their own expense.

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