Secret government union collective bargaining is the law in eleven states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. By statute, these states expressly require secrecy in collective bargaining.
Similarly, in Arizona, at least eight major cities keep collective bargaining with government unions in the dark. The secrecy imposed by towns like Avondale, Chandler and Maricopa even expressly prohibit anyone from sharing records of negotiations with elected officials and the news media. Elected officials and the public simply cannot meaningfully check and balance collective bargaining negotiations when they do not oversee them and the law keeps them and the news media blind, deaf and dumb during the process. When total secrecy in negotiations is combined with laws forcing Arizona cities to engage in collective bargaining—euphemistically called “meet and confer” ordinances—government unions are free to deploy maximum leverage in negotiations while hiding from any meaningful oversight.
That leverage has a price. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that state and local government employees make nearly 43 percent more per hour on average in total compensation than private sector workers. Even when controlling for similar occupations and skills, a study commissioned by Citizens Against Government Waste found state employees in Arizona make nearly 20 percent more per hour on average than their private sector counterparts.
The presence of government unions and the strength of collective bargaining laws explain a large portion of the pay gap between government employees and private sector employees. Arizona could save $550 million every year in excessive pay to public employees simply by banning government union collective bargaining. But the next best reform involves shining a light on the backroom deal making.
It’s time for public labor unions to conduct their negotiations in the light of day.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employer Costs for Employee Compensation
Citizens Against Government Waste: Public Servants or Privileged Class
The table below compares Arizona to its neighbor states on ten indicators of economic strength. Three of the rankings assess economic freedom, three assess the state’s business climate, three assess the state’s tax climate and one examines the cost of living.
The first thing to notice is that on average, Arizona outranks only New Mexico and California. Considering that both of these states achieve a rock-bottom ranking in at least one of the measures, it’s not much of an achievement for Arizona to beat out only those two.
Second, while Arizona achieves only one top-10 ranking, Utah and Texas achieve six and seven top-10 rankings, respectively. With regard to economic policy, Arizona has firmly established itself in mediocre territory.
Problem is, Arizona can’t afford to be mediocre. The state has just two percent of the nation’s population, we’re in a desert a very long way from ports, and even farther from the 60 percent of the nation that lives east of the Mississippi.
Arizona can improve its rankings and more importantly, its economy, by making some fundamental changes, including reducing the per-capita cost of government, which is higher in Arizona than in Texas. Arizona needs to simplify its sales and property tax systems – among the most complex in the nation. Arizona could jump ahead of Texas by reforming the sales tax and eliminating the corporate and personal income taxes. Arizona also needs to revise its regulations to make them more sensible.
The days of construction booms are over. Prosperity despite poor policy is a thing of the past. With California in an economic free fall, Arizona has a real opportunity to rise. But, if we don’t want to continue to lose out to Texas, Colorado, and Utah, we must address our economic policies now. There is no time to wait.
Goldwater Institute: Lessons from Texas on Building an Economically Healthier Arizona
Missouri Economic Research and Data Center: Cost of Living Data Series
Tax Foundation: 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to opt out of a state-funded health insurance exchange, declining to foot the bill for overreaching federal policies. One by one, states are learning that state-funded exchanges–which come with hefty price tags but zero flexibility–are a bad deal.
As states around the country get set to start their legislative sessions in January, making sure children are attending schools that challenge them and prepare them for life tops the list of priorities. Texas is one of the states considering a new scholarship for children in K-12, and even U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has suggested a tax credit scholarship program at the federal level.
Despite the new options in K-12 education that families have in states like Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina, only some 200,000 children in the U.S. are attending their first-choice school using a scholarship or education savings account. This pales in comparison to the 50 million children assigned to public schools across the U.S.
As lawmakers consider ways to give children the chance at a bright future, they should take a closer look at what made 2011 and 2012 so significant for students in states that passed laws giving parents the freedom to choose the education that is best for their child.
What sets Arizona’s education savings accounts apart from every other program in the country is the innovative combination of choice and flexibility. Parents can choose a school, but this is only the beginning. Parents can choose online classes, tutors, educational therapies, and save money in college savings accounts and beyond.
A few other states are catching on. New Hampshire’s scholarship tax credit allows parents to use scholarship funds for private school tuition or to homeschool their children. The Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program in Ohio also allows for multiple uses of scholarship money. In Michigan, a bill has already been drafted that would give children choices between school districts and online classes.
As other states consider new school choice programs, they should look beyond vouchers and tuition scholarship tax credits, or “school choice 1.0,” and embrace what other states, led by Arizona, are doing with “2.0.”
Education Next: School Choice Marches Forward
The Wall Street Journal: The Year of School Choice
The Heritage Foundation: New Hampshire’s Groundbreaking School Choice Expansion
Detroit Free Press: Education funding proposal allows school choice, more online learning
Star-Telegram: The Texas table is tilting toward vouchers
Tampa Bay Times: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio calls for federal tax credit scholarships
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