User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Public Employees Deserve the Right to Contribute to Political Campaigns

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Public Employees Deserve the Right to Contribute to Political Campaigns

Finally we're back on track after a few articles about broken-down Catholic cemeteries, dirty ghetto kitchens and a homely-looking female suburban mayor with a masculine-sounding voice.  Now we're back to looking at the antics of our favorite governor, Chris Christie.

While at work I got the following copy of an an article which appeared on the NJ Biz website on September 14, 2010.  It was written by Andrew Kitchenman.  If you are interested in the NJ Biz website, it can be found at   Mr. Kitchenman's email address is

Pension Proposal Would Reduce Benefits, Increase Public Worker Contributions

State employees would see lower pension benefits and pay more for health insurance under a set of pension changes proposed Tuesday by Governor Christie.

Christie proposed rolling back the 9 percent increase in pension credit passed in 2001 for any work done by state employees from this point forward.  In addition, he would increase the nominal retirement age for public employees to 65, increase the number of years they must work to be eligible for early retirement from 25 to 30, eliminate annual cost-of-living adjustments and increase the pension contribution of current employees - which currently is as low as 3 percent of salary - to 8.5 percent.

Along with the pension changes, Christie also proposed increasing the share of health insurance costs paid by public employees from 8 percent to 30 percent.  In addition, he would shift from a system where employees pay 1.5 percent of their salary to one in which they pay for a share of premiums.

The proposals were met by a warm response from business groups.

New Jersey Business and Industry Association President Phillip Kirschner said private-sector employees are currently paying four to five times what public employees are paying for health insurance.  "Current pension costs represent a benefit the state simply can't afford' Kirshner said,

Karen A. Davis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said the current health insurance contributions unfairly affect single employees by being based on salaries.

"For years, our chamber has been calling for reforms of public employee benefits to bring them in line with the private sector and save taxpayer dollars." Davis said.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said private-sector employees have been making difficult decisions throughout the recession from cutting benefits to making layoffs.

"They're doing what they have to do to meet their bottom line, and we want the state, county and local governments to do the same," Egenton said.  "These are not very popular decisions, but certainly on the private-sector side, we recognize and appreciate and applaud the governor's efforts.

The point of reprinting the NJ Biz article here is not to use their words to explain Christie's plans for legislation to modify pension and health insurance benefits for state, county and local employees in the state.  This article is not so much about the substance of the governor's plans as the reason why I am very much in disagreement with another one of his proposed legislative initiatives.  Under the guise of "ethics reform" the governor wants to ban unions representing government employees from contributing to the political campaigns of candidates for elected office on the state, county or local level.

He already tried to do this once.  Shortly after taking office Christie issued an executive order which stated that public employee unions are covered by pay to play legislation and as a result, unions that represent public employees cannot legally contribute more than a nominal amount to political campaigns.

Needless to say, the unions took this matter to court and the state supreme court sided with the unions.  They ruled that pay to play was meant to keep private businesses wishing to do business with governments from gaining favor from officials who may contract for government services after they get elected.  In other words, the legislation was to keep companies from financing candidate's campaigns in return for government contracts to provide goods and services once the  candidates get in office.

Unions weren't targeted by the original legislation because they have noting to sell to the state or to local governments.   All public employee unions do is represent employees when they negotiate contracts covering wages and benefits.  Currently, the only money that public employee unions can use on political campaigns is the money that is contributed by "full" union members, or those people who actively choose to join the union.  Non-members only pay "agency fee" dues, which only covers the cost of negotiating and administering the contract and not political activity.

Now here we come back to the NJ Biz article.  As you can recall. it is a highly-biased piece written in support of the governor's position that the legislation is necessary to safeguard taxpayer interests.  The article quotes officers of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce taking positions supporting the legislation.  

While I may disagree with the position taken by NJ Biz and these three organizations, I support their right to lobby in support for their position.  The members of the state business and industry association and of the two chambers of commerce mentioned collect dues from their members with the understanding that this money be used for political activity.

If we can accept the idea that business people have the right to band together and form organizations that collect dues to lobby for legislation beneficial to business interests, we must also support the right of workers to contribute to similar organizations suppoorting pro-worker positions.  When public employees pay dues to their union that are used to lobby on their behalf, they do so willingly.  If they didn't want their money spent that way, they can opt out of the union and become agency shop members.  The money is not being given to bribe officials to award a contract from a governmental entitity to pay money to the union.  The only money the union gets comes from its members.  The contributions to the union are voluntary and are the same as contributions from businesses to their organizations like the Chamber of Commerce.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  If Christie wants to make it illegal for unions to support candidates he should also make it illegal for business organizations like to Chamber of Commerce of the Association of Realtors from supporting candidates as well.  This is probably illegal and is not going to happen, of course.  The point being made is that both unions and business organizations should be allowed to contribute because both workers and businesses have equal rights to free political speech.  Its only fair.

No comments:

Post a Comment