The state Legislature faces the end of the first special session today. Unfortunately, the State House has yet to pass a budget or a much needed transportation package – though the State Senate passed both during the regular session. So, lawmakers will be forced into a second special session, and if they are unable to accomplish the people’s business by June 30, state government will shut down.
As Shift previously reported, the refusal of House Democrats to even vote on the historic tax increases they have proposed and their refusal to negotiate on their record-setting spending package has intensified existing partisan tensions and forced budget negotiations to proceed at a snail’s pace. Not a whole lot of good news came out of the special session. There is, however, one shinning light of responsible governing.
Earlier this week, the Senate Ways & Means Committee held a hearing on GOP state Sen. John Braun’s Senate Bill 6126. SB 6126 would implement important reforms to Washington State’s collective bargaining process. Notably, it would improve government transparency by opening labor contract negotiations to the public. The bill would also require legislative approval for binding interest arbitration and statutorily define financial feasibility for the state.
Under current Washington State law, collective bargaining agreements are conducted behind closed doors, in secret. The current process only benefits unions and the Democrat politicians they give campaign money to during elections. Due to the secretive nature of the bargaining process, the public all too often sustains a financial blow with little to no knowledge of what happened.
SB 6126’s push for open government and greater transparency would curb the ability of governors (read: Jay Inslee) to reward their top campaign donors with generous contract concessions without public backlash. Last year, Inslee conceded pay raises and benefit increases to public employee unions worth nearly one billion dollars. House Democrats were quick to incorporate these pay hikes into their spending proposal. Of course, the proposed special-interest spending increases have come at a time when lawmakers must deal with much more pressing issues, including education and transportation funding.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an op-ed that sums up the importance of opening collective bargaining agreements to the public, mentioning Sen. Braun’s push to reform the process in Washington State. The Wall Street Journal,
“Year after year, elected officials behind closed doors negotiate labor contracts for 19 million state and local government workers. The result? Skyrocketing salaries, health-care costs and pension benefits are making services like public schools and policing unaffordable for taxpayers. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, compensation for government workers nationwide has grown 21% since 2000, compared with only 9% in the private economy…
“To date, 12 states offer some kind of public access to the negotiating room. More state and local governments should offer a clear view of what taxpayers are on the hook for. After all, taxpayers supply the money to employ government workers, and labor contracts can be years – and even decades-long financial commitments.
“It’s natural for people who hire representatives, like real-estate agents or attorneys, to monitor their performance—and the price at which it comes. The same should be done with elected officials who often have incentives to serve themselves rather than their constituents…
“In the end, open collective bargaining is a growing national movement because it’s good government. Allowing public access to contract negotiations will tame spending and shift control back to citizens, where it belongs.”