This week is Sunshine Week, the American Society of News Editor’s national initiative to educate the public of the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive government secrecy. Washington State, controlled by Democrats for decades, would do well to pay special attention to the week’s message. As Shift has reported, secrecy defines Democrat lawmakers’ relationship with the special interest groups that deliver millions in campaign contributions to them. Jay Inslee’s secretive negotiations (read: giving away taxpayer money) with top state employee union executives who supported his gubernatorial campaign brought this unsettling reality to light.
Inslee conceded a whopping $867 million for state employee pay hikes, making disproven claims (re-iterated by Democrats) to justify the unprecedented amount. The concessions would require Washington’s working families to fork over even more of their hard-earned dollars through historic tax increases Inslee proposed as part of his $39 billion budget.
The results of Inslee’s secret negotiations prompted Republican lawmakers to act. They introduced a bill (Senate Bill 5329) that would have opened collective bargaining to the public by removing union exemptions from the state Open Public Meetings Act. The bill would have lifted the veil of secrecy Democrats placed over the proceeding more than 10 years ago. As Shift reported, SB 5329 sought to strengthen government transparency by curbing the ability of governors (read: Jay Inslee) to reward their top campaign donors with generous contract concessions made during secret collective bargaining negotiations.
SB 5329 managed to move out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee despite strong opposition by Democrat lawmakers. Unfortunately, it was held up in the Rules Committee and did not reach a vote on the state Senate floor before last week’s deadline. GOP lawmakers will try again next year.
Perhaps the most interesting result of SB 5329 is the reaction it generated from media outlets. State newspapers overwhelmingly sided with the GOP’s position of opening collective bargaining to the public. Many were not too pleased with the bill’s untimely death this legislative cycle. And, few bought Democrats’ excuse for opposing the bill.
“Union representatives say secrecy is needed so both sides can speak frankly, but that’s a tiresome excuse used by employees in all levels of government, including lawmakers, to shield activities from public view. SB 5329 would not block either side from holding strategy sessions, but once they engage each other, it should be considered a public meeting.
“Collective bargaining isn’t just a discussion. It’s an act that bears significant consequences for the very people shut out of the process. Other states open the negotiations. Washington should do so again.”
SB 5329’s untimely death is regretful. But, we can rest assured that issue itself—the drive to open collective bargaining—is alive and well.