Anyone driving by the state capitol campus this week has seen the signs on the main lawn announcing a “rally for raises” for state employees. Unfortunately that is about all that anyone other than the negotiating teams know about what the unions are asking Jay Inslee for in this year’s “negotiations”.
Those who receive Inslee’s regular emails know what he is asking everyone one for – campaign cash. And, for those who paid attention in the 2012 campaign, they know that the state employee unions chipped in a million dollars to help Inslee get elected.
So, is it payback time (again) for Inslee, who gave away substantial pay raises in the last “negotiations” with his union buddies?
Jason Mercier at the Washington Policy Center puts a spotlight on an issue that has long troubled those who favor open government – the secretive nature of negotiations for a significant chunk of taxpayer money. As Mercier points out, it wasn’t always this way:
“These type of state compensation decisions haven’t (always) been made in secret. In fact, prior to 2002 all budget related decisions were made during the public legislative process allowing full transparency and the potential tradeoffs to be debated. Since the secret collective bargaining law went into full effect in 2004, however, state union executives no longer have their priorities weighed equally with every other special interest during the legislative budget process. Instead they now negotiate directly with the Governor in secret, while lawmakers only have the opportunity to say yes or no to the entire contract agreed to with the Governor. No legislative amendments to the secret deal are allowed.”
This arrangement works fine for the unions, since the public only finds out long after the fact what exactly they were asking for. And, it seems to work out fine for Democrat governors who negotiate the deals, since they seem to get plenty of campaign contributions from union employees.
However, it does seem like it might be hard to get folks riled up for a rally with so many unknowns, or to attract media attention for it. As Mercier rhetorically asks, “How are frontline workers supposed to know what exactly they are rallying for tomorrow if their leadership won’t tell them what they are demanding and what the Governor is offering? How are taxpayers supposed to know what the tradeoffs are? How are lawmakers supposed to fully exercise their constitutional power of the purse and make budget prioritization via the public legislative process if they continue to be cut out of this process?”
The answer to his questions, at least from an open government standpoint, would be much easier to answer if those in power in Olympia cared more about the state’s taxpayers and less about those who campaign checks. Mercier points out the relatively easy prescription:
“Budget decisions potentially costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars should not be made behind closed doors in secret. Ultimately the legislature should take back the power of determining compensation cost in the budget as was the case prior to 2002. At a minimum transparency needs to be provided for this process as occurs in several other states including the most recent reforms in Idaho and Colorado.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for such common sense, however. There are campaigns to fund between now and November.