January 6, 2008

Washington's Experiences Undermine Ritter's Case for Executive Order

The Denver Post features an excellent article today examining what happened in Washington state when unions were given more power in state government:
Since its first union-negotiated collective-bargaining agreement for state workers took effect in July 2005, Washington has spent or earmarked $3 billion in taxpayer money to cover increases in wages and benefits.

The state shelled out $13.9 billion on wages and benefits for about 108,000 workers in fiscal 2006 and 2007, about $1.4 billion more than the previous two years, according to state data. About 70,000 of those workers are represented by unions.

Washington expects to spend $1.6 billion more during the next two fiscal years.

Another $14 million or so has also been spent to fund a newly created agency, the Labor Relations Office, that negotiates contracts with unions, as well as the growing costs of a separate agency, the Public Employment Relations Commission, which oversees disputes between unions and employers.

Yet after Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order authorizing the unionization of state government, this is the best assurance we can get:

Evan Dreyer, Ritter's spokesman, said Colorado's "partnership agreement" approach is different from Washington state's, and what has occurred there won't necessarily play out here. [emphasis added]

Large increases in state government expenditures to a workforce that is already among the best paid in the nation won't necessarily happen? Not a tremendous assurance, especially with what Washingtonians are expecting to come down the pike:

"We're just beginning to see the impacts of the full unionization for state employees," said Don Brunnell, president of the Association of Washington Business. "We think that when the economy starts to slide and when we begin to have revenue shortfalls, it's going to be much more difficult . . . to negotiate a contract with these folks."

Bogdanoff notes that, as a safety measure, the contracts require approval from both the governor and state legislature.

If that's what happens in Washington with a "safety measure" in place like the one included in Ritter's order, what are Colorado taxpayers to expect? Just one reason why the governor's honeymoon is over.

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