Colorado Voters Ready To Tell State To Follow Constitution

In Colorado, Douglas County School Board members are questioning the district’s current collective bargaining system due to arcane provisions and a decaying relationship with their union. And rightfully so. Currently, taxpayers pay the salaries of teacher union bosses who do not teach or perform government duties and the district acts as the union’s bill collector free of charge.

During an August 22 board meeting, county officials proposed submitting three ballot measures for the November general election to let voters determine how to address the board’s concerns. According to The Denver Post, voters will be asked:

  1. Should the district be prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining with the union?
  2. Should the district be prohibited from using public funding for the compensation of union leaders?
  3. Should the district be prohibited from collecting union dues from employee paychecks on the union’s behalf?

Although recent results in Wisconsin and California indicate voters are fed up with paying for lavish government union contracts, voting on the second and third possible ballot measures is redundant to what is already in the state’s constitution. Article XI Section 1 of Colorado’s Constitution reads:

1. Pledging credit of state, county, city, town or school district forbidden.

Neither the state, nor any county, city, town, township or school district shall lend or pledge the credit or faith thereof, directly or indirectly, in any manner to, or in aid of, any person, company or corporation, public or private, for any amount, or for any purpose whatever; or become responsible for any debt, contract or liability of any person, company or corporation, public or private, in or out of the state.

The intent of the constitutional provision, referred to as the “Gift Clause,” is to protect taxpayers from the very collective bargaining conditions that are in place. The clause is unambiguous and succinct: the Legislature or political subdivision shall not provide any “gifts” for any private purpose.

Further, the second potential ballot measure, known as union “release time”—a collective bargaining privilege that pays government union employees for time spent doing union business—recently was declared illegal in Arizona under the Gift Clause. In a Witchita Eagle op-ed I explain the lawsuit:

The Goldwater Institute, a pro-free market public policy organization, sued the city of Phoenix over its compensating the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) for time spent negotiating union contracts, lobbying legislation, and attending union functions. “Such activities promote the private interests of PLEA and, as a result, do not constitute public purposes,” ruled Judge Katherine Cooper. “It is a subsidy and subject to Gift Clause analysis.” Arizona’s Gift Clause stopped what amounted to a $1 million subsidy to the union.

Douglas County, like municipalities across the country, is struggling to balance its budget while maintaining essential government services. Union release time is a cut the county can clearly afford, especially when the activities performed during release time commonly conflict with the public interest. For example, union release time allows union leadership to participate in collective bargaining, lobbying, and representing members in grievances, which benefit only union members, not the public. Similarly, collecting union dues from government employees, on the union’s behalf, provides no public service or benefit to taxpayers.

But the real question taxpayers need to answer in these times of economic hardship is: Should taxpayers pay individuals to do work for private entities—such as a union or corporation—that provides absolutely no benefit to the taxpayer? Thankfully, taxpayers have the Gift Clause—an available means of recourse against special interest spending.

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