Fleecing the taxpayers: it’s not just the Chicago Way

September 23, 2011

Yesterday I linked to a John Kass column about how some union bosses are legally ripping off the taxpayers of Illinois. (ST covered it in much more detail here.) But lest one think this kind of “authorized corruption” is limited to Blue states like Illinois, California, or New York, consider how the public sheep are being sheered in deep-Red Arizona:

Phoenix taxpayers spend millions of dollars to pay full salary and benefits for city employees to work exclusively for labor unions, a Goldwater Institute investigation found.

Collective bargaining agreements with seven labor organizations require the city to pay union officers and provide members with thousands of additional hours to conduct union business instead of doing their government jobs.

The total cost to Phoenix taxpayers is about $3.7 million per year, based on payroll records supplied by the city. In all, more than 73,000 hours of annual release time for city workers to conduct union business at taxpayers’ expense are permitted in the agreements.

The top officials in all of the unions have regular jobs with the city. But buried in the labor agreements are a series of provisions for those employees to be released from their regular duties to perform union work.

For top officers, the typical amount of annual release time is 2,080 hours, a full year of work based on 52 weeks at 40 hours each. They continue to draw full pay and benefits, just as if they were showing up for their regular jobs. But they are released from their regular duties to conduct undefined union business.

Union officials say the time is a good investment that leads to a more productive workforce. Critics say it amounts to an illegal gift of taxpayer money.

Be sure to read the whole thing. I’m not surprised the union officials think this is a good investment. While no mention is made of union political donations,  it wouldn’t surprise me to learn they “invest” a little cash (drawn from member dues) in the campaigns of pliant councilmen, which then leads to the sweetheart clauses that allow them to collect a public salary while never doing a bit of the work they’re being paid for. Or they threaten to use their members’ dues to campaign against uncooperative officials, giving them an incentive to play along to the detriment of the public interest.

This is what happens in general when labor unions are allowed to become a labor cartel, to have a monopoly over the supply of labor: with no fear of competition, union bosses can concentrate on feathering their own nests. (I wonder how long it’s been since Trumka actually got his hands dirty in a mine?) With public employee unions, the situation is even worse, since political leaders are negotiating with the public’s money, not their own, and thus have less incentive to worry about the economic consequences, which may not come about until years later. (I posted a good video explaining this last March.) Combine a labor cartel with control over other people’s money, and you have a recipe for what we see so often at the local, state, and federal levels: a kickback scheme.

It may not be illegal, but it surely is corrupt.

via Jazz Shaw

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


When did the Wisconsin Supreme Court become Fight Club?

June 26, 2011

This is one of the weirder stories I’ve seen in a while, and it’s illustrative of how heated Wisconsin politics have become in the wake to the government’s efforts to rein in public employee union privileges: either newly-reelected Justice David Prosser tried to strangle a colleague in her chambers in front of witnesses, or she attacked him and he was defending himself. Byron York has the story(ies):

Over the weekend, a Madison-based liberal journalism group reported that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser “allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers last week.”  Prosser, a conservative, was recently re-elected in a contested election in which he was the target of an intense union-funded effort to defeat him.  The argument was said to be about the court’s 4-3 decision allowing the Walker budget law, with its restrictions on organized labor, to go into effect.

The report said details of the incident were “sketchy” and came from three sources who insisted on anonymity, “citing a need to preserve professional relationships.”  Neither Prosser nor Bradley commented.

But wait, there’s another version:

As the activist press was running with the story, new evidence emerged in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report to suggest the matter was more complicated than originally reported.  Whatever happened, happened during a meeting of six of the court’s seven justices; in other words, there were several witnesses.  One witness supported the original accusation.  But another witness said that during a heated conversation, Bradley “charged [Prosser] with fists raised” and that Prosser had put out his own hands defensively.  According to one of the paper’s sources, Bradley then accused Prosser of choking her, to which another justice reportedly replied, “You were not choked.”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, first: whatever did happen up there, it’s evident one of the two justices physically attacked the other. This is unacceptable in any case, but particularly from people who are supposed to be sober interpreters of the law and upholders of the rule of law. Whoever is at fault should resign and allow Governor Walker to appoint a replacement. (1)

As much as it is about the conflicting stories of what happened, York’s article also shows how, for the Left and Big Labor, the Battle of Madison is not yet over. Leftist papers and web sites, while piously saying Prosser should not be judged before all the facts were out, were quick to paint him as the aggressor and to point out ways he can be removed from office. (You may recall Prosser’s vote was crucial to upholding the controversial collective bargaining law passed over union screeching a few months ago.) In other words, fearful that the reforms Wisconsin enacted will spread, as they already have in Ohio and Tennessee, the Left is taking any shot it has to overturn election results and quash democratically enacted laws. And when you look at the groups involved and who’s funding them (2), it’s likely there’s coordination at well-beyond the state level.

And we’re going to see many more efforts like this as other states try to right their finances, while public unions and their Democratic allies try to keep the money-train rolling.

Footnotes:

(1) Which the Left should not want, since Walker would almost certainly appoint conservative justices. Be careful what you ask for, progressives…

(2) Both the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which broke the original story rumor, and the Center for American Progress, parent of the web site Think Progress, which described ways to remove Prosser from office, receive money either from George Soros as an individual, or through his Open Society Institute. While not probative, it’s certainly suggestive.

UPDATE: Some good discussions at both Althouse and Legal Insurrection. At the latter, Professor Jacobson points out that only one justice is saying a crime was committed: Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, accusing Justice Prosser. She should either back up her charge with evidence, or retract it and apologize.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Giving public employees raises disguised as bonuses

June 24, 2011

Here’s an interesting (and maddening) video from the California branch of Americans for Prosperity that shows how city governments disguise raises for public employees as “incentive bonuses,” often given for meeting the basic requirements of their job. For example, a licensed veterinary technician can get a $3,132 bonus for… being a licensed veterinary technician, which is prerequisite to even getting the job.

Oh, and it gets better than that:

Now, I usually have nothing against public employees (1), except when they try to treat the public treasury as a piggy bank. However, I reserve the bulk of my ire for public officials who are supposed to be responsible stewards of the public’s money (2) and instead use that money to buy votes, favors, and election help. And I have no respect for the dishonesty required to disguise a pay raise as a bonus because the elected official is too scared to honestly ask his bosses, the voters.

While this video is local to Los Angeles, we can be sure this dishonest graft-by-another-name goes on in other cities. It’s wrong at any time, but it is especially galling in an age when many municipalities are facing bankruptcy. And who would be surprised to find similar shenanigans at the state level?

The age of pigs-at-the-trough is coming to an end, and it’s past time to treat a public trust –the power to spend the people’s money– as a trust. Los Angeles can start by putting a stop to its ridiculous bonus system.

Footnotes:

(1) Being one myself, that is. But I do have to wonder how I missed out on the gravy train. Must’ve picked the wrong agency to work for. Danggit.

(2) Yeah, I rolled my eyes at that one, too.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Because the right to Viagra equals the right to vote!

March 18, 2011

AFL-CIO Top Thug head Richard Trumka and his colleagues in the (shrinking) labor movement must live in a really good echo chamber, because only in a world isolated from reality could one claim that the struggle for African-American civil rights is the same as the tantrums being thrown by well-compensated public employees:

Union equates lavish benefits to black civil rights

“Madison is just the beginning!” AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka told a union rally in Annapolis on Monday. “Like that old song goes, ‘You ain’t seen n-n-n-n-nothing yet!’ “

Fresh from defeat in Wisconsin, union leaders are planning a new campaign not just to head off future challenges to their collective bargaining powers but also to make the case that organized labor’s benefits and prerogatives — wages, health care, and pensions that are more generous than those of comparable workers in the private sector — are the moral equivalent of rights won by black Americans during the civil rights movement.

To make the point, the AFL-CIO is planning a series of nationwide events on April 4, the 43rd anniversary of the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated after speaking in Memphis, Tenn., on behalf of striking black garbage collectors. The message: King’s cause, and that of angry schoolteachers in Madison, are one.

“April 4 [is] the day on which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for the cause of public collective bargaining,” Trumka said in another speech, in Washington, on Wednesday. And on the AFL-CIO blog, there is this notice: “Join us to make April 4, 2011, a day to stand in solidarity with working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and dozens of other states where well-funded, right-wing corporate politicians are trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for.”

Yep, you read that right.

“Shameless” and “chutzpah” don’t begin to describe it.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Andrew Klavan: Your public-sector unions in action

March 12, 2011

Klavan on the Culture returns with an incisive and satirical look at the many good things public-sector unions bring to our national life, such as kickback schemes, a corrupted political process, and threats of violence:

Now aren’t you glad you work for them?

PS: The journal he mentions at the end, City Journal, is a very good magazine on conservative politics and culture, which I highly recommend. And, while I haven’t read “Obama and America’s Public Sector Plague,” if it’s as good as the rest of the Encounter Broadsides series, then it is must-reading.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Wisconsin has the real “Governator”

March 9, 2011

California’s Governator turned out to be mostly a bad joke, but Wisconsin’s Scott Walker looks like the real deal for sticking to his principles to reform abusive collective bargaining procedures for government employee unions. And the Wisconsin state senate Republican caucus deserves a lot of credit for at last realizing the Democratic minority had no intention of acting in good faith and finally passing those collective bargaining reforms:

Wisconsin’s Senate has been paralyzed on dealing with its budget because it requires a 20-vote quorum to address budget issues. And tied into the governor’s budget bill was the provision that caused all of the Democrats in the Senate to flee the state — a provision diminishing collective bargaining rights for state workers too wages only, leaving benefits and work rules for most state employees to be determined by the legislative process instead.

But Wisconsin’s Senate does not require 20 members to be present to pass non-budget legislation, and some people have asked why the Republicans haven’t simply passed the union provision separately. Well, tonight, they did just that.

The state assembly is scheduled to vote tomorrow. Passage is all but assured, and Governor Iron Man Walker should sign it soon thereafter. Unions are already talking about a general strike, so things should be quite… interesting, tomorrow.

Meanwhile, let me pose an Allahpundit-style exit question: Minority-party legislators have fled the state to prevent a democratically elected legislature from doing its job and instead are trying to impose its own will on the majority — in effect, attempting to overturn the results of the last election. Meanwhile, union members are using extremist language, vile insults, and inciting violence to intimidate those same elected official and, by extension, the voters who put them in office. Now, riddle me this: Who are the anti-democratic fascists here?


Why collective bargaining for public unions is a corrupt deal

March 5, 2011

I wrote about this earlier, but the Heritage Foundation has put together a nice video illustrating the problem:

In other words, it’s a kickback scheme, and we have to end it for the good of the nation.


Dear public employee unions: You work for us

February 25, 2011

Via Power Line, a nicely-done video from Minnesota Majority that clearly draws out the battle lines in the fight to rein in public union benefits and collective bargaining privileges. It’s a goodie:

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Public employee unions show their true face

February 18, 2011

Forget the overheated rhetoric and signs comparing democratically elected governors and legislators to Hitler and rapists. Forget the spoiled-brat demands and Athens-style protests for the unquestioned continuation of gold-plated benefits that most private-sector workers would give their eye teeth for.  You want to know just how much of a threat to democracy, representative government, and the general safety public-employee unions can be when threatened?

Try to take away their goodies, and they’ll go after your mother:

Idaho has a “superintendent of public instruction,” and his name is Tom Luna. He has proposed some measures that the teachers’ union doesn’t like, at all. And his opponents have made sure that he feels good and threatened.

Someone went to his mother’s house — his mother’s. Someone slashed his tires and spray-painted a threat onto the door. As reported in this article, Luna has said, “Family and personal property are off-limits. You don’t cross that line . . .”

Oh, yes, you do. At least some do. I will repeat what I have already said this morning: I don’t want to hear from the Left about “civility” for the rest of my life.

Neither “civility” nor “democracy.” And this is in deep-Red Idaho!

This isn’t just (or at all) a fight over benefits or economics; this is a struggle over who has power — the elected representatives of the people or union bosses and their paid-for allies in the Democratic Party. Right now it’s just Idaho, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, but the battles here and, inevitably, in other states will determine who has that power. The Left has drawn such hard lines already against any reform that the governors can’t afford to back down, lest they let Labor know the elected representatives of the people  can be intimidated through intransigence and thuggery. It’s a sad thing for decent union members who would likely have accepted reasonable compromise if the situation had been honestly explained to them, but their leaders have lead them into a battle that forces the governors to break the unions in order to keep faith with their voters — the taxpayers who are the public employees’ real bosses.

More than being about fiscal soundness, this is a battle between representative democracy and corporatism.

Regarding the President shameful insertion of himself into what is purely a matter for state governments, Matt Welch at Reason cuts through the bull and asks “Is this how a President should act?

I have written in the past about how libertarians are pretty lonely in the political scheme of things in terms of constantly being challenged to defend themselves against the “logical conclusion” of their philosophy. But I think it’s time to amend that. We are witnessing the logical conclusion of the Democratic Party’s philosophy, and it is this: Your tax dollars exist to make public sector unions happy. When we run out of other people’s money to pay for those contracts and promises (most of which are negotiated outside of public view, often between union officials and the politicians that union officials helped elect), then we just need to raise taxes to cover a shortfall that is obviously Wall Street’s fault. Anyone who doesn’t agree is a bully, and might just bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler.

The president’s heavy-handed involvement, along with House Republicans’ refusal to sign off on any new bailout of the states, means that this may very well be America’s biggest and most widespread political fight in 2011. It’s a cage match to determine first dibs on a shrinking pie. A clarifying moment.

And that clarity will not work to the unions’ benefit. The public is on to their racket.

Break them.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


An infantilized society

September 7, 2010

The economic troubles in Europe are leading to public unrest, as EU governments try to pare back their bloated public sectors, in some cases trimming wages and benefits, in others by delaying access to them. In France, plans to save the national pension system by raising the retirement age from 60 (!) to just 62 has lead to a massive strike of over one million people:

French strikers disrupted trains and planes, hospitals and mail delivery Tuesday amid massive street protests over plans to raise the retirement age. Across the English Channel, London subway workers unhappy with staff cuts walked off the job.

The protests look like the prelude to a season of strikes in Europe, from Spain to the Czech Republic, as heavily indebted governments cut costs and chip away at some cherished but costly benefits that underpin the European good life — a scaling-back process that has gained urgency with Greece’s euro110 billion ($140 billion) bailout.

In France, where people poured into the streets in 220 cities, setting off flares and beating drums, a banner in the southern port city of Marseille called for Europe-wide solidarity: “Let’s Refuse Austerity Plans!” The Interior Ministry said more than 1.1 million people demonstrated throughout France, while the CFDT union put the number at 2.5 million.

(…)

French protesters are angry about the government’s plan to do away with the near-sacred promise of retirement at 60, forcing people to work until 62 because they are living longer. The goal is to bring the money-draining pension system back into the black by 2018.

As debate on the subject opened in parliament, Labor Minister Eric Woerth said the plan was one “of courage and reason” and that it is the “duty of the state” to save the pension system. He has said the government won’t back down, no matter how big the protests.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon reminded the French that it could be worse: In nearly all European countries, the current debate is over raising the retirement age to 67 or 68, he said. Germany has decided to bump the retirement age from 65 to 67, for example, and the U.S. Social Security system is gradually raising the retirement age to 67.

That sense of perspective was missing from many of the French protests, where some slogans bordered on the hysterical. One sign in Paris showed a raised middle finger with the message: “Greetings from people who will die on the job.”

Nothing like Gallic hysterics, eh?

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised at this: statist societies like France and much of the EU use ever-expanding government-provided benefits as bribes to buy social peace, making dependents out their citizens and, in effect, infantilizing them. It’s no wonder, then, that the public then throws a tantrum when the state is forced to cut back.

But before anyone indulges in some schadenfreude at French expense, bear in mind that President Obama and his progressive allies want to take us down this same statist, dependent, and infantilized social-democratic road. (And, to a lesser extent, big-government Republicans have been willing to accommodate them.) We’re already seeing that with the growth of public sector unions in the US and their outlandish benefits*.

While Europe seems to be in for a season of unrest, the problem isn’t yet so bad in the US and, importantly, many people agree that it is a problem in the first place. Hopefully we can make the necessary reforms before we have our own mass tantrums.

*(For the record, I’m a member of a quasi-public union, and apparently it’s one of the dumber ones; we’ve never received the over-the-top wages and benefits the other unions do. I tell ya, it ain’t fair…)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Video: The New Orleans school voucher program

August 19, 2010

Following up on this report, Reason.TV takes another look at the sweeping reforms of the New Orleans school system after Hurricane Katrina, changes that saw the enrollment at Charter and other private schools climb to 70% of the city’s students. In this case, the documentary focuses on one private academy and the satisfaction of teachers, parents, and students with their new arrangements:

Granted, this is only one case and it’s meant to showcase the benefits of a voucher system, but, given the empirical success as measured in test scores and the parents’ reports of how much their children look forward to going to school, isn’t something like this worth trying in other poorly performing districts, such as LA Unified?

Okay, so there’d be a few roadblocks

RELATED: Billions for teacher unions, nothing for students.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Not just no, but “Hell no!”

April 20, 2010

Barack Obama was in Los Angeles yesterday to foul up traffic and attend a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Moron). While praising Senator Ma’am, the President said the nation should take inspiration from California and try to be like the (once) Golden State. Reason’s Matt Welch does a spit-take and gives this reply:

While I appreciate any shout-out to my home state, what California’s Democratic elite are “about” is enabling their union backers to drive a once-thriving economy into a bottomless pit of unemployment, perennially busted budgets, and unfunded pension contributions that transcend most human comprehension. This is not a spirit Washington should try to “recapture,” unless the goal is 12.6 percent unemployment (with a bullet!), a credit rating hurtling toward junk-bond status, and a perpetual round of bailouts from a faraway government entity.

And here’s the kicker–Obama in his speech said that “one of the main reasons our economy faltered was because some on Wall Street made irresponsible bets, with no accountability.” The exact same language could be used, with 100 percent accuracy, to describe public officials all over California–including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who just today is unveiling his latest too-little, too-late package of reforms. All of these labor-backed bureaucrats bet irresponsibly that they could more than double pension promises to state employees over the past decade, because the “accountability” moment was deferred to when those payments came due. Well, they’re only beginning to come due now, and it’s a damnable mess

Read the rest for the gory details.

I realize he has to say nice things at a fundraiser, but the rest of the nation shouldn’t emulate California, they should run screaming from us*.

*(And New York and New Jersey, too.)


On government unions

April 20, 2010

Political cartoon of the day:

(via International Liberty)


California can have jobs or high taxes, not both

April 12, 2010

From Reason.TV, a look at how California’s high-tax, no-cuts regime is costing the state jobs and driving businesses and residents elsewhere. The focus is on one business, Creator’s Syndicate, that may well leave not only because of high costs imposed by the state, but because the City of Los Angeles has lowered itself to legal theft to raise money:

Money quote from a consultant who specializes in business relocations:

“I would love to have companies calling me saying, ‘We’d like to move to California, can you help us with that relocation?’ I get none of those calls,” says business relocation coach Joe Vranich. “The calls I do get are, ‘Hello, we want to move out of California, can you help us do that?’”

Argh.  Doh


Of public unions and state debt

April 4, 2010

Following up on this post, the Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso writes about a study done by the Cato Institute (PDF) that shows a strong positive correlation between the size of public-sector unions and per-capita state debt:

There are hundreds of reasons why states accrue debt. In some cases, it has to do with special programs they pursue. (See RomneyCare.) In others, it has to do with their method of taxation.

But the states with the highest per-capita debt all have something in common: Robust public-sector unions that have, over the years, cut sweetheart deals with politicians — usually, but not always, Democrats.

In the graph below, each blue square represents a state (some are labeled), plotted by its per-capita debt and the percentage of state and municipal workers in public sector unions.

(Click the graph for a larger view)

I’m not sure what the answer is to this problem, but a major problem it is because of both the corrupting influence unions wield over state officials anxious for campaign donations and the increasingly underfunded and over-generous pension systems. Something has to give somewhere, but, if human nature is a guide, it probably won’t until states start going bankrupt.


Government unions vs. the taxpayers

April 3, 2010

Larry Kudlow talks to Dan Mitchell about the startling disparity between compensation in the public vs. the private sectors: