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Why Is Austin Paying Firefighters $1.25 Million NOT to Fight Fires?

March 2, 2020

March 2, 2020

In Austin, Texas, taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1 million to pay firefighters not to fight fires, but instead to work full-time for their private labor union. How is this okay? Well, it’s not: It’s an example of taxpayer abuse, and it violates the Texas Constitution. And the Goldwater Institute is fighting it in court.

What’s going on in Austin is not uncommon. It’s a practice called “release time”—and as Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches explains in a new video, while the practice may sound ridiculous, it’s a real and pervasive problem that exists at the federal, state, and local level. “Throughout the country, government workers are being paid not to perform the government jobs that they were hired for, but instead to go work exclusively for private labor unions—all while receiving their taxpayer-funded salaries,” Riches says.

This week, the Goldwater Institute is standing up for Austin taxpayers in a challenge to release time (you can read more about the case—Wiley v. Austinhere). The city of Austin decided that they would allow the equivalent of up to four full-time firefighters to be released from their very important jobs and instead go to work exclusively for their labor union, the Austin Firefighters Association (AFA). Rather than fighting fires and protecting the public, Riches says, these firefighters work full-time doing “things like recruiting new members, lobbying, [and] political activities.” And over the course of the current collective bargaining agreement between Austin and the AFA, release time will cost Austin taxpayers nearly $1.25 million.

However, Riches says, the Texas Constitution’s gift clause “prohibits the use of public funds for private activities.” This provision recognizes an axiomatic principle of republic government – public resources should be spent only for public purposes. Release time is an illegal subsidy that benefits a private labor union, not the public. It’s a clear violation of the Texas Constitution, and we’ll be in court this week making that argument and fighting this blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars.

You can watch the full video with Riches above.



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