One of the provisions of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining initiative that hasn’t received much attention deals with the role of the taxpayers.
The Republican governor, seeking to change the way all non-public safety state employees are compensated, would give the voters of Wisconsin a say in how much wages can increase.
According to an analysis of the legislation now before the state Senate, employees would retain their collective bargaining rights for wages only, so long as the increases sought are not greater than the change in the consumer price index.
According to cnsnews.com, a wage hike higher than the CPI could be secured only if approved by the voters of Wisconsin.
The news web site quoted the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau as saying “ … unless a referendum authorizes a greater increase, any general employee who is part of a collective bargaining unit is limited to bargaining over a percentage of total base wages increase that is no greater than the percentage change in the consumer price index.”
Gov. Walker, who is embroiled in an intense political battle with Democrats in the legislature, has a great idea — but he doesn’t take it far enough.
The Buckeye State
Since Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, and the GOP controlled General Assembly are following a similar path as their colleagues in Wisconsin, they should give serious thought to the compensation-referendum idea.
But, they should go further than what is being pursued in the Badger State.
Giving Ohioans, especially taxpayers in the private sector, the power to say yes or no to pay raises and other compensation for public employees is a sure way of winning the war of words that is now being waged in Columbus.
Thousands of pro-union demonstrators were on hand for more than a week while the Senate considered sweeping changes to Ohio’s collective bargaining law that was passed in 1984.
The bill, which now goes to the House where passage is all but guaranteed, would allow collective bargaining for all public employees, but limit negotiations to wages, hours, terms and conditions. Other areas, including health-care premium payments, would be excluded.
However, considering that public employees’ wages are a major point of contention for most private sector workers, a vote on the labor contracts hammered out in negotiations would silence the critics.
Since most labor agreements are for three years, having a vote of the people every third year would not be cost prohibitive.
But, the referendum should apply across the board, from the governor on down. A statewide vote would be held for all statutory offices, including judgeships, while residents would decide on the salary increases for local officials and public employees.
Taxpayers are ultimately the employers of those in the public sector, but they do not have a say on wages and benefits.
It has been noted many times before in this space: Eighty percent of operating budgets of governments are gobbled up by payrolls.
Republicans in Columbus, led by Gov. Kasich, are making a strong argument that Ohio cannot cling to the past in the way it operates. Harried private sector taxpayers couldn’t agree more.
During the debate in the Senate on SB5, Democrats complained that they were largely ignored when the GOP leadership rammed through the collective bargaining bill.
Now, Democrats in House have a chance to at least put the majority Republicans on the defensive by pushing an amendment that would give the voters of Ohio a say on any and all wage increases for public employees.
For instance, wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what the people think about Gov. Kasich raising the salaries of some key members of his staff by nearly $100,000, compared to what his predecessor Ted Strickland was paying?
The advantage in giving the people the final say on what those in the public sector should earn is that it will force accountability.
You want a pay raise? Tell me, the taxpayer, what you’ve done to justify it.
As things now stand, the governing principle in the public sector is this: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours — with money we get by taxing the people.