The Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has proposed legislation that would eliminate most of public employees' collective bargaining rights. This has led to nearly a week of massive protests by both supporters and opponents of the governor's plan.
How long will it take till we see similar attempts in other states, including here? Frankly I think the more stories we see like this, about Massport chief Tom Kinton retiring with a sick leave payout of $459,616 and a pension around $200,000 a year, the more Massachusetts voters are going to applaud what Governor Walker is trying to do.
Cities and towns are broke and it seems like their solutions are always the same - cut teachers, cut police, let the potholes grow bigger than our cars. So it was good to hear this story on WBUR about what Amesbury and Salisbury did about it - they put their heads together to figure out what services they could combine resources on so that their citizens could get more for less.
It wasn't easy though, according to the Amesbury mayor: “Everybody’s in favor of improving efficiencies in government,” Kezer said. “Everybody’s talking about ‘regionalizing,’ getting more bang for your buck, making these changes — until you actually try to do it. The same critics that were complaining about not doing enough to control our costs — ‘Gotta come down hard on the unions, you’ve gotta do all these things’ — were the same critics that came up, ‘How dare you lay these people off? How dare you change this on us?’ ”
A new report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation shows "the 50 largest cities and towns in Massachusetts face a crushing $20 billion liability for retiree health care benefits that threatens to wreak havoc with local government."
According to the press release, "The report concludes that funding these obligations would place an overwhelming burden on taxpayers. The average single family homeowner in Lawrence would pay an extra $180,000 in taxes over 30 years to meet that city’s obligation. In Boston, the average single family homeowner would pay nearly $100,000 in additional taxes. In seven other communities—Worcester, Lowell, Brockton, Newton, Revere, Attleboro, and Holyoke—the average homeowner would pay more than $50,000 in additional taxes over 30 years."
It was eye-opening to read that municipal employees are not even required to enroll in Medicare upon retirement, as state employees are. It boggles the mind that local taxpayers are paying for retiree health care benefits when there is a perfectly good federal plan that could cover these employees at a fraction of the cost - and by the way it's the plan that the rest of us will be relying on (or already are).
The report offers practical recommendations to control these spiraling costs so that taxpayer dollars can actually be spent on government services rather than retiree health care. Read the full report here
Haverhill Mayor: "A five dollar co-pay means that someone is losing their job, it means we provide less services for people in the community, and people’s taxes are higher than they need to be."
This twelve minute segment of Emily Rooney's show covered the topic of public sector unions and how poll numbers show public opinion has turned against them. Her guests are Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini and Northeastern University dean of public policy Barry Bluestone.
Mayor Fiorentini hired private investigators to expose sick time abuse among his employees.
Mayor Fiorentini on the need for municipal health care reform: "A five dollar co-pay means that someone is losing their job, it means we provide less services for people in the community, and people’s taxes are higher than they need to be."
Barry Bluestone calls for "interest-based bargaining" with municipal unions rather than each side starting out with their demands.
(Emily Rooney says she thinks the public is most upset about the sick-time abuses rather than pensions, but I disagree with her on that - I think taxpayers see themselves subsidizing others to have a secure retirement that they themselves will not have)
It's a terrific segment, definitely worth the twelve minutes.
This column by Tom Keane makes the case that while Deval Patrick seemed to have no interest in reform upon first taking office, he is now kicking butt and taking names: "...the distinction between the gauzy and idealistic man of “together we can’’ and the hard-nosed governor of today is marked. The remade governor is far less ideological. He seems unafraid to offend (even when the aggrieved are Democratic allies such as public employee unions) and possessed with a sense of urgency."
Fascinating history of public sector unions - including how they amassed so much political power, and why it is not immoral to try to restrict this power
The Wall Street Journal published an article by Fred Siegel a couple weeks back detailing how public sector unions came to be, and how the problems they present now were predicted by the strongest defenders of government:
Liberals were once skeptical of public-sector unionism. In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia warned against it as an infringement on democratic freedoms that threatened the ability of government to represent the broad needs of the citizenry. And in a 1937 letter to the head of an organization of federal workers, FDR noted that "a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable."