In case you have been living under a rock, here’s a newsflash: we are experiencing one of the most severe recessions in our history, and there are no greener pastures in the immediate future.
So common sense dictates that with high unemployment, decreased tax revenues, large deficits, and, most significantly, massive pension obligations, governors would take whatever steps necessary to ensure that their states remain solvent, especially when it comes to negotiating public-sector union contracts.
That happened in places like Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, where true Republicans are in charge. Govs. Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels, and John Kasich took the heat and did what they had to do, reeling in the out-of-control taxpayer largess afforded to these unions.
But most amazing of all is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s success. He pushed through a monumental union pension and benefit reform package that will save taxpayers $120 billion — and did so with heavily Democratic, pro-union legislative majorities.
So effective was Christie that alongside him at the bill-signing was the Senate president — a longtime union member.
Contrast that to the deal just reached by Pennsylvania’s GOP Gov. Tom Corbett with the largest state unions. Instead of acting in the best interests of the taxpayers footing the bill, he simply continued the Ed Rendell legacy of keeping the cash register wide open.
It’s bad enough the governor rolled over on all the sweeping concessions he was seeking, but he ended up giving the unions a sweetheart deal.
Over the next four years, unionized state employees will receive an almost 11 percent raise and a guarantee of no furloughs. This is in addition to their 3 percent raise two years ago, 4 percent raise last year — and three annual step increases which averaged 2.25 percent during that time. And they have guaranteed healthcare, too. Cha-ching!
How do these pay raises compare to those in the private sector? Most aren’t even receiving cost-of-living adjustments. And those fortunate enough to still have a job have no choice but to hang on for dear life, praying they survive the next round of layoffs.
Making matters worse, many have to also shoulder ever increasing healthcare costs, if they have coverage at all.
It used to be that working in the public sector was a tradeoff. One wouldn’t earn as much as in the business world, but the benefits were good and contracts were guaranteed. But all that changed as union contracts exploded upward — at the expense of taxpayers.
Now, in many cases, unionized public employees make more than their peers in the private sector, and retire on pensions and benefit packages that would make Wall Street financiers blush with envy.
Of course, that has come with a price, and now it’s time to pay the piper.
States’ pension obligations have gone through the roof as annual taxpayer-funded contributions to pension funds are increasing exponentially.
By caving in to the unions, giving them a contact that would be way too generous even in a strong economy, Corbett has chosen not to address the reforms necessary to keep Pennsylvania on solid ground, which will eventually lead to higher state borrowing costs and push the state closer to the abyss.
There was a way to address these issues and reverse the state’s decline. The governor could have mandated a situation whereby union members would negotiate with their prospective employer individually, and free market-type incentives would allow for a fair offer — fair for the employee, and fair for the “employer” (the taxpayer).
So an offer would be made (salary, healthcare, benefits) and the individual could choose to accept or decline it. Which is exactly how it’s done in the free market. And for those who would claim it wouldn’t be “fair” to the state worker, you know what? There would be a line a mile long of qualified individuals ready and willing to accept such an offer.
Accountability and efficiencies would increase, and unmotivated, bureaucratic sloths would be eliminated in favor of those willing to be good stewards of taxpayer money.
Sound simple and fair enough? It is, and it’s called the elimination of collective bargaining. It’s something successfully implemented in other states, but was incomprehensibly taken off the table by Corbett three months ago while getting absolutely nothing in return.
The result? No pension reform, and a lucrative union contract that the governor says will be a net cost to the taxpayers of $164 million (which means that figure can be safely doubled).
The Wall Street Journal just labeled Corbett as leader of Keystone Cops. After this latest debacle, it’s hard to disagree.
Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
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