If You Can’t Defend It, Don’t Spend It

Legislators in Louisiana are proposing an ingenious bill entitled, “Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act” (PEBTA). If enacted, Louisiana would become only the seventh state to have their government truly negotiate these collective bargaining agreements in view of the public. Louisiana would join Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas. The act specifically calls on the state to “provide for legislative intent; to provide with respect to public access to collective bargaining sessions and to documents; to provide definitions; and to provide for related matters.” Basically, it allows the taxpayers in the state to observe the actions of elected officials in matters of how their tax dollars are spent.

The Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act should be added as an amendment to series of legislative proposals to limit collective bargaining rights. The addition enhances freedom and democracy for citizens. No longer could elected or unelected officials freely dole out favorably contracts to their cronies without repercussions. Collective bargaining limitations only achieve so much. They do not stop officials from negotiating fiscally irresponsible contracts with public workers.

Even without bargaining rights in the public sector, government officials are still able to give Cadillac benefits, inflated wages, and favorable workplace conditions that all private-sector employees envy. In only the few states that have enacted or proposed limiting collective bargaining legislation do the states prohibit negotiating contracts that put the local, municipal, or state government in the red.

Opening public bargaining negotiations to taxpayers would avoid draconian measures to ensure fiscal responsibility and democracy. For example, in the state of Michigan’s implementation of Emergency Financial Managers (EFM), EFM’s are unelected officials who take financial control of towns or cities. As well, they can strip local officials of their powers temporarily. States like Michigan would not have seen this legislation pass if the need for fiscal restraint was not so readily apparent. Citizens would unseat officials who wasted their money and put their municipality in dire straits, eliminating the need for financial managers.

Resistance against this legislation is vigorous, but the arguments against this legislation are laughable. Elected officials and union officials alike cite:

“At the negotiating sessions, both parties frequently ‘test the waters’ by putting forward proposals that will never be incorporated into a final agreement,” Richardson wrote in his response. “The ebb and flow of negotiating sessions can, when viewed in isolation, produce a distorted and inaccurate view of the progress and potential for a mutually agreeable finally (sic) agreement.”

Excuses such as this prove the necessity for public negotiations to be transparent. Negotiation sessions do not need to be conducted to “test the waters” for obnoxious and far-reaching ideas that will never be incorporated into law. Making public negotiations “open” would eliminate grandstanding and the politicization of taxpayer money. Elected politicians have shown with the states’ fiscal crises that they are not dependable to handle public funds.

Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act does not solve problems of corruption or spendthrift attitudes in government; however, it does allow the citizens of states to be conscious of officials who have put the states and citizens into troubling fiscal positions. Transparency in negotiations allows the citizens to give input to make the contracts responsible, and is in the best interest of the taxpayer. Citizens with the ability to observe these negotiations would be more likely to unseat officials who are not concerned with using taxpayer money to serve the interests of the taxpayers.