On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and members of the city council will announce a new benefit for gay and lesbian city employees who get married under the state’s marriage equality law, according to multiple sources who work for the city.
The benefit to gay couples will cost taxpayers an estimated $162,000 a year. Sources say the expense has been worked into the city’s 2013-2014 budget.
Starting Jan. 1, gay and lesbian city employees who get married will receive a monthly allowance of $90, or approximately $1,080 over a 12-month period. The money will help cover healthcare expenses for their spouse.
While the city already offers health coverage to employees in same-sex unions, the stipend is designed to offset federal taxes that those couples must pay due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Opposite-sex couples are not subject to federal income and payroll taxes on the value of their health coverage.
The coverage for same-sex couples is taxed at an average rate of 15 percent.
“The city wants to mitigate at least part of that by providing employees in same-sex marriages an allowance to help offset some of the extra taxes they pay the federal government,” one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the changes, told KIRO Radio.
During an unrelated press conference Tuesday, Mayor McGinn was asked about the benefit and whether the city would be criticized for giving same-sex couples “special treatment.”
“Of course, of course I would be criticized,” he said. “But at the same time, if the federal government has an unjust law I don’t think it is fair to punish our workers who are following all the rules.”
Currently, there are 150 city employees who have a same-sex spouse enrolled in a city-provided health plan. However, the stipend would only be given to those who marry once Washington’s marriage equality bill takes effect.
According to the source, the specific numbers are preliminary and could change before the end of the year.
The source said figuring out how to implement the allowance was “incredibly complicated” and an “Interdepartmental Workgroup” continues to sort out details.