As you know, we’ve been engaged in a struggle to see real reform come to Pennsylvania. As part of that struggle we have advocated for the passage of School Property Tax Independence and in both the House and the Senate, in spite of the support by legislators and the people, real reform bills like this stall either in committee or with leadership.
SB 76 was on the Senate calendar 4 days where leadership prevented it from moving forward for discussion. Previously, when it appeared the bill was stuck in the Finance Committee a plan had been started to attach SB 76 to another bill as an amendment. Once again, leadership got in the way and prevented that bill from moving forward after learning of the intent of an amendment to get the bill on the floor for a vote.
SB 76 isn’t the only reform bill trapped by leadership attempts at forestalling these reforms. Paycheck Protection, Prevailing Wage, Pension Reform, Privatization, School Choice…when the legislative bodies start to move, leadership gets in the way. The end result has been four years of GOP leadership obstruction to real reform in this state on issues that matter the most to its base.
Those actions can be reflected in the Governor’s polling data. In spite of the fact that Governor has taken the bully pulpit on some of these issues, the House and Senate failed to deliver. Those actions by House and Senate leadership have reflected poorly of the Governor’s ability to lead on these issues which has made it more difficult to mobilize the base of support for the Governor.
While at first glance, the failing issues seem diverse; there is, however, a common theme that runs through most of these issues. That theme is a simple one. It is holding the people accountable for the extravagances of a Public Sector Union System in this Commonwealth. It gives new definition to the term “pay to play” where the people of this state pay while the Public Sector Unions in the state play.
By not enacting Paycheck Protection in this state, Public Sector Unions collect union dues using taxpayer money freeing up more public sector union money to pay for lobbyists and to make campaign contributions to candidates that their own union members may not support. By not enacting real Prevailing Wage Reforms, the private sector once again pays, often inflated by 20-30% or more, to allow for Public Sector Union inflations of the cost of building and infrastructure projects in this state. By not enacting Pension Reform, the private sector once again pays to provide for retirements of Public Sector Union employees that most in the Private Sector could never dream of acquiring. By not enacting School Property Tax Elimination, once again it is the private sector footing the bill as the Public Sector Unions in Education continue to drive up the cost of education while producing very little advancement in Education in the state.
To make this even clearer, taxes collected from the private sector are being used to provide more revenue for Public Sector Unions which is used, in part, to pay lobbyists and make generous campaign contributions during important election cycles that work against reform minded legislation that would be beneficial to the private sector in the state.
As Citizen Alliance Of Pennsylvania point out:
In 2011 and 2012, states all across America worked to rein in government unions. The government of Wisconsin no longer collects the unions’ dues or political contributions. The unions, like every other private enterprise, now have to send their members a bill. Michigan now prohibits teachers unions from using their members’ dues for political purposes without their written consent. In Indiana, a worker can no longer be forced to join or support a union as a condition of employment.
In Pennsylvania, where the supposedly pro-taxpayer Republican Party has its largest majority in over 50 years, why has nothing changed? Because government union money flows to members of both parties from “leadership” to newly elected members. (http://paunionmoney.com/#sthash.vmNt1wvo.dpuf)
The truth is that the private sector in Pennsylvania isn’t being represented in this state. They’ve been replaced with representation for public sector unions that include American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA ), Service Employees International (SEIU), and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 (UFCW).
If you watch any hearings on reform minded legislation in this state these unions will send out their own representatives to those hearings. Those hearing will also include representation from groups like the Pennsylvania Budget And Policy Center whose board is made up of representatives from these unions and you will probably also be hearing from the Keystone Research Center which is just a sister organization of the Pennsylvania Budget And Policy Center. No matter how many groups, it’s all still one voice…Public Sector Unions in the state who are trying to protect the status quo of citizens paying while the Public Sector Unions play.
As we have seen with SB 76, both the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and its sister alliance the Keystone Research Center are not above misrepresenting the facts when it comes to this type of legislation. One of the problems is that there is no accountability to them when they do this and even after their misrepresentations are exposed, they still get a seat at these hearings while the voice of the private sector during these hearings is painful vacant.
According to the Commonwealth Foundation:
- PAC revenue from just six of Pennsylvania’s largest government unions totaled more than $4.7 million in the last election cycle.
- UFCW 1776 claimed to spend $1 million on TV ads opposing liquor store privatization, including one falsely claiming liquor privatization will cause more drunk driving deaths.
- Union dues are also funneled to other political entities that engage in lobbying and partisan activities. Union dues fund a variety of political advocacy organizations, including the Keystone Research Center, Keystone Progress, the CLEAR Coalition for lobbying, Planned Parenthood, and others.
- A recent federal court ruling allows a new “Super PAC” to operate in Pennsylvania and collect unlimited contributions from union dues. The Super PAC can’t give directly to candidates but intends to run independent ads supporting and opposing candidates for offices. (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/research/detail/government-unions-political-spending)
As has been pointed out in the past, lobbying firms like Long, Nyquist and Associates are involved with helping these Public Sector Unions advance their agenda that hurts the private sector. They are paid to do this and part of that revenue comes from the private sector taxes put into law to protect public sector unions at the expense of the private sector. The scale of Justice in this Commonwealth has been tipped in favor of Public Unions at the expense of the Private Sector
Take a look at the following chart from a 2010 study by the Center for State And Local Excellence (http://slge.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Out-of-Balance_FINAL-REPORT_10-183.pdf)
The chart demonstrates public sector vs private sector pay scales with public sector pay markedly higher than private sector yet most of this is made possible because of legislative policy in this state that allows for taxpayer resources to be used to free up money for lobbying and campaign efforts by the public sector unions. Our taxes are being used to advance policy that is harmful to the private sector.
That harm includes policy that allows for the monopolization of Public Sector Unions in Education and Infrastructure that hinders both job creation and job growth in the Private Sector.
According to data released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, 52 percent of union workers in the country are now in the public sector, marking the first time ever that private sector union workers make up a minority of the total. But the decline in union membership is a reality in Pennsylvania too. In 1984, more than 1.23 million people in the Commonwealth were represented by a union, while in 2009 there were only 844,000 workers represented (http://paindependent.com/2010/02/government-unions-grow-while-private-sector-fades/). While we see a decline in unions overall, the public sectors are growing in percentage and in influence in the state.
In yet another report from National Affairs in 2010 (http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-trouble-with-public-sector-unions) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for the roughly 330,000 office clerks who work in government was almost $27,000 in 2005, while the 2.7 million in the private sector received an average pay of just under $23,000. Nationwide, among the 108,000 janitors who work in government, the average salary was $23,700; the average salary of the 2 million janitors working in the private sector, meanwhile, was $19,800.
That same reports also tells us that when unions have not been able to secure increases in wages and salaries, they have turned their attention to benefits. USA Today journalist Dennis Cauchon notes that, since 2002, for every $1-an-hour pay increase, public employees have gotten $1.17 in new benefits; private-sector workers, meanwhile, have received just 58 cents in added benefits. That doesn’t include Pensions. According to the Pew Center on the States, 18 states face long-term pension liabilities in excess of $10 billion.
According to Pennsylvania’s own estimates, the total unfunded pension liability is set to grow by 38 percent, to $65 billion, in 2018. The Commonwealth Foundation released a report in November 2013 which examined the overall cost of Pennsylvania’s pension system for the state’s taxpayers. The report found state and school district contributions to the pension system would rise from $2.5 billion in 2012 to $6.2 billion in 2016-2017. When it comes to the school district pension, that funding gap will come out of the real estate tax levied by school districts. With the Real estate Tax already forcing people from their homes, how can anyone think it reasonable that one family should lose their home to provide for another individuals retirement?
Many of our State legislators are beholding to the Public Sector Unions. They hire political consulting firms who are also working for Public Sector Unions. They take money from Public Sector Unions who are working to keep the private sector accountable to them in the provisions of luxuries not afforded to the private sector and made impossible by policy enacted to protect Public Sector workers.
Unless leadership in both the House and the Senate concerning the GOP changes, we will continue to have the same struggles with getting reform minded legislation through in Pennsylvania and more GOP candidates in strong Republican districts are going to struggle in elections as the conservative private sector base continues to feel more and more disenfranchised.
The November general elections are going to be important to us and we need to know where our candidates really stand on these issues. That isn’t going to be enough though. When you have a bill like SB 76 that has enough cosponsors to pass in the Senate but leadership can tie the hands of those bills to keep them from advancing to the floor for a vote, nothing changes. That will require our holding our legislators feet to the fire and demanding a change in leadership that will begin to reflect the principles of the party, not to sell the soul of the party to the highest public sector union bidder.
The shift towards private sector accountability to public sector unions is turning principles of American Government on its head as public sector unions becomes a predominate voice in campaign funding and policy influence at the expense of private sector workers. In a true Representative Government the voice of all should have the same precedent but sadly, in Pennsylvania, that is no longer the case.
That is not to say that all is lost. Real reform can come but that requires an active citizen advocacy to make that real reform happen. It must go beyond simply expressing your opinion at the voting polls in November. It will require your active involvement to insist that your voice is heard and that you will be represented. That will require not only changes in representation at the legislative level but changes to leadership as well. Finally, it will require a vigilance on our part to untangle the protections of Public Sector Unions at our expense to create a more representative government concerning the rights of the people in this state. Instead of a government interested only in protecting the campaign revenue and lobbying factions of the Public Sector Unions, its time to represent all the people of this state and only you and I can make that happen.
When the dust finally settles on the statewide elections this November we will face a new session where reform minded legislation will have to be re-introduced. We have that legislation already, we simply need to get it re-introduced and then moving in the House and in the Senate. The last four years have clearly told us that we already know that isn’t going to happen under the current leadership so the first change necessary to seeing those reforms realized is a change of leadership in the GOP and sending a very clear message that we the people of this commonwealth aren’t going to go away.