Friday, July 13, 2012

Message to Liberals - Unions Are Destroying Government

Liberals who want government to take over ever larger parts of the economy have an enemy, public employee unions. The poor service and high costs associated with public employee unions makes government the unaffordable source for services.

Exhibit 1: Charter School Successes. Charter schools are outperforming public schools. There, I said it. There will be lots of criticism that this isn't proved, but even The Economist is conceding that when states get the law regarding charter schools right, they out perform. Further, they deliver superior performance at lower cost. First on the performance.
The Credo study has been criticised for not comparing the results of children who have won charter-school lotteries with those who have not—a natural experiment in which the only difference between winners and losers should be the schooling they receive. Such studies suggest that charters are better. For example, a lottery study in New York City found that by eighth grade (around 13), charter-school pupils were 30 points ahead in maths.
. . .
Credo finds that students in poverty and English language learners fare better in charters. And a national “meta-analysis” of research, done last year for the Centre on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, found charters were better at teaching elementary-school reading and mathematics, and middle-school mathematics. High-school charters, though, fared worse. Another recent study in Massachusetts for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.
. . .
Massachusetts, meanwhile, has had excellent results and is strict about the schools it allows to operate; the state will step in and close an underperforming school at short notice. Caps on the number of charters in a state drag down performance as much as lax oversight, because they cramp the diversification of the market and discourage investment. Bad laws make bad charter schools.

Further, in Colorado, we have seen that charters can deliver for significantly less than public schools. The reasons are that the unions push for levels of staffing and benefits that are unaffordable. Further, the state educracy imposes unreasonable rules on education. If liberals want government to deliver education, they need to support reforms that mimic free markets, like open enrollment across district lines and within districts and giving principles full control of budgets and the ability to hire and fire. Liberals need to stare down the unions if they care to save public education and force reform. Parents are voting with their pocket books when they can afford to do so and abandoning public education. What's your answer, liberals?

Exhibit 2. Bankrupt Municipalities. California now has four cities that have filed for bankruptcy. I will concede that union pensions are not the sole cause, but they are contributing factors. Bob Beckel keeps saying that this isn't the unions fault, because elected officials negotiated these contracts in "good faith bargaining." There are a number of flaws with this logic. First, the politicians did not negotiate in good faith; they are afraid of union dues funding campaigns against them. Second, the pension benefits don't accrue until long after they have left office. This is why government employee pay and benefits should not be negotiable, but set by law. This is how the federal government does things, and I have yet to hear a liberal complain that the federal work force is "oppressed." Stockton and San Bernadino in California and Scranton in Pennsylvania are the biggest recent municipal trouble spots. Consider this from San Bernadino:
Two years ago, Husing told city leaders to consider dismantling the city's police and fire departments and instead contract with the county sheriff and fire agencies. Public safety accounts for nearly 75% of the city's general fund budget.

"The costs for police and fire have tended to crowd everything else out," Husing said. "They immediately started attacking the idea. It just shows how powerful those unions have been in that community."

Police union President Steve Turner said officers have done more than their share to help bail out the city, agreeing to a temporary 10% cut in compensation. He discounted the escalating employee pension costs, which are expected to increase from $6.5 million to $7.5 million this fiscal year, as a major contributor to the city's financial woes.

"Public pensions are not what's breaking the bank in this city," he said. "It's the mismanagement. Spending money like there's wheelbarrows of it."
Given that the city's budget shortfall is $45.8 million, he may have a point about the pensions, specifically, if he's telling the truth. But if the city is facing a 15% increase in public pensions in a single year, that sure isn't helping. The OC Register has a different take:
For example, San Bernardino's contribution rate to its "public safety" – police and firefighter – pension payments for fiscal 2012-13, which began July 1, is estimated at 30 percent. But for employees classified as "Miscellaneous," the contribution is 17 percent. In that city, 75 percent of the budget goes for "public safety." Which means 23 percent of the city budget goes to police and fire pensions, money not available for other services.
This was the result of the "pension spiking" for public-safety employees that occurred in many localities beginning in 1999, and which we warned about at the time. There had to be a day of reckoning, especially after the dot-com bust of 2000-01 and the housing meltdown of recent years diminished the investment returns for pension funds. This is that day.
Further, why would outsourcing public safety to the county save so much money? Clearly, labor costs are a big deal. If you are a liberal, consider this. You want cities to do more for there residents, but no one is going to vote to allow that if it means cutting police and fire protection. In one bankrupt city, this now takes up 75% of the budget due to high labor costs. Labor and pension costs are going to eventually drive out every service cities attempt to provide. What is the liberal solution, more taxes? Do the people of San Bernadino, a large percentage with underwater mortgages really need to pay more taxes? I await an answer.

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