Friday, December 23, 2011

When Lessons Are Not Learned

One of the biggest stories of 2011 occurred in Wisconsin.  GOP Governor Scott Walker, and the GOP majority in the Wisconsin Legislature, worked to fulfill a campaign promise made in 2010 to address the fiscal challenges inside the state.  At local levels, in school districts, and at County / City / State levels, these entities faced major fiscal challenges. 

One major aspect of the solution to these challenges pushed by Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature was to address the effects of public sector unions, like the teacher's unions, on the fiscal crisis.  The steps advocated included curtailing the collective bargaining rights of these unions.  The combination of fiscal reforms and curtailing collective bargaining rights for these public sector unions mobilized the progressive left in anger.  Massive demonstrations took place around the state, particularly in Madison, where the State Capital was occupied by leftist Democrats / Union members.  Democrat lawmakers fled Wisconsin in an effort to deny the Republicans the ability to vote on adopting the legislation - knowing that the Republican majority would pass it in a party line ballot.  We were told that if these efforts became law - disaster would result. 

The law eventually was passed.  The Unions and Democrats attempted to recall legislators in the hope of reversing the GOP majority so the legislation could be reversed - but they were unsuccessful.  Now, an effort is underway to recall Governor Scott Walker for promoting and signing this legislation.  But disaster didn't happen.

The Washington Examiner's Chief Political Correspondent, Byron York, wrote a follow-up to the Wisconsin kerfuffle in June of this year.  He noted that the bill was not the disaster promised, and in fact for a number of fiscally beleaguered school districts, the legislation was the source of solving their fiscal challenges.

York cited the Kaukauna School District, which has 4,200 students and about 400 employees.  The District faced a budget deficit of $400,000.  To address this, programs would need to be further cut or eliminated, employees, including teachers let go.

But after the new law took effect, the School District applied new policies they were now able to implement - and found that after these steps, they now had a $1.5 million surplus.  Among these new policies were requirements that forced union employees to pay a greater share of their health care costs (from 10% to 12.6%), contribute 5.8% of their salary towards their pension costs, and permit the District to source their health insurance coverage for union employees of the District from other than the Teacher's Union itself.  Part of the collective bargaining agreement with the union stipulated that the District could only buy it's insurance coverage from a company created by the union - and one that fixed its prices in the monopoly it had.

As a result of the Wisconsin law, schools are getting better and school districts are now far more fiscally sound.  But unfortunately, this lesson isn't being learned everywhere.

Let's now jump to the present day, in Las Vegas.  The Clark County School District, the 5th largest school district in the nation with 310,000 students in 340 schools and employing 33,000 of which 18,000 are teachers, is faced with an immediate need to cut $78 million from it's budget over the next 2 years.

To achieve these cuts, the District is looking at either trying to freeze teacher's salaries and reduce their costs by finding a more affordable health insurance carrier, or being forced to lay off 1,000 teachers.

The District however has a major problem with the option to finding a more affordable health insurance carrier.  It's is required, under the collective bargaining agreement it has with the Teacher's Union, to only source its health insurance coverage from the 'Teachers Health Trust' - a company owned and operated by the teacher's union, the Clark County Education Association.  The union's company, being the sole provider, also can set whatever price it wants for the cost of coverages - and the District has to pay those prices even if they are far above what's available on the open market.

Sound familiar?  It's the problem that the Kaukauna School District and others in Wisconsin had prior to the new legislation curtailing collective bargaining for public sector unions.

Wouldn't the solution be similar - to curtail the collective bargaining 'rights' of public sector unions so they can't hold taxpayers hostage to their greed?

And where are the questions about the real interests of this union - as they are far more willing to force the district into eliminating 1,000 jobs than to lessen their greed? 

Of course, the union is probably pretty confident that the PR outcry over 1,000 job cuts will ultimately force the district into keeping the jobs, paying the exorbitant health insurance costs, and making up the deficits by increasing taxes on the taxpayers of Clark County....because in the mindset of public sector unions, more money is always available via taxpayers or deficit spending.

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