May 5, 2015

Surprising No One, Big Government Union Wants State to Spend More

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 72 (AFSCME), a big government union representing various health, service, and maintenance personnel employed by the state government, is complaining about state employee compensation. The claim that Missouri ranks 50th for state worker pay is at the crux of their argument. This point is wildly misleading.

Missouri has nearly the lowest cost of living in the country. Each dollar I spend in Missouri goes quite a bit further than it would in a high cost-of-living state, such as California or Maryland. As a result, residents of low cost-of-living states, even if paid less, might be able to afford more than people working the same job in a high cost-of-living state. A comparison of pay among the states that does not adjust for regional differences in the cost of necessities like rent, food, and gas is not very meaningful.

A better way to determine whether state employees are underpaid would be to compare state employee compensation with the pay of people performing similar jobs in the private sector. How much do maintenance workers, office clerks, and lawyers make working for the government versus working for a private business located in Missouri?

Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine of American Enterprise Institute looked at state employee compensation this way. They found that in Missouri state employees often make more—by an average of 7 percent—than comparable private-sector workers when the value of benefits is factored in. In other words, Missouri state workers are not in urgent need of an across-the-board pay increase; in fact, they’re often compensated more generously than their private-sector counterparts.

Perhaps we shouldn’t fault AFSCME for using misleading information to suggest that Missouri state employees are underpaid. It’s not AFSCME’s job to conduct a serious study of the adequacy of public employee pay; AFSCME’s job is to get more for its members. Members of the public should keep this in mind any time a government union issues a statement on public policy.

Jeff Mazur, AFSCME executive, urges Jefferson City to spend more on government services.

Jeff Mazur, AFSCME executive, urges Jefferson City to spend more on government services.

April 19, 2015

Missouri Could Save Millions by Looking to Wisconsin

A bill is making its way through the Missouri Senate that would allow government workers to hold their union representatives accountable through regular elections. Unfortunately, the bill’s fiscal note—an estimate of how much this bill will cost—overstates the cost of these elections.

If the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DOLIR)—the agency tasked with managing government union elections—had examined Wisconsin, another state that has a law like this, they may have seen how the agency would have been able to conduct elections with existing resources.

voteInstead of looking to Wisconsin, where similar elections are already held at no additional cost to taxpayers, DOLIR estimated that it would have to hire at least 21 new employees and 760 temporary elections officers to physically conduct each election. According to DOLIR, these elections and new hires would cost $1.5 million to $2.7 million a year. While $2 million is not a huge portion of a multibillion-dollar budget, it is a significant amount to most of the people paying for it, especially when DOLIR could eliminate that cost altogether by following Wisconsin’s lead.

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Council (WERC) holds union elections at no cost to the taxpayer. This cost savings is possible for two reasons: First, WERC contracts out with a respected arbitration company, the American Arbitration Association, for its union elections. In these elections, workers vote through telephone or the Internet using a secure ID number, rather than a traditional paper ballot. This service has been used successfully in Wisconsin for a couple years now, providing convenient, low-cost union elections to government workers. Second, WERC charges a filing fee to a union seeking election. The filing fee is administered on a sliding-scale basis, charging more to larger unions and less to smaller unions, and is enough to cover the cost of elections. Because of these two smart moves by WERC, Wisconsin began holding elections for state workers in 2013 without increasing WERC’s staff or its impact on the state budget.

Why didn’t DOLIR look to the practices of other state agencies when estimating the cost of these elections? That seems like the first thing you’d do when estimating the cost of a new government practice. I don’t know why DOLIR screwed up so badly. I do, however, know that government union elections can be an inexpensive and reliable way to protect our government workers’ voices when it comes to their unions and professional associations.

January 7, 2015

What Do Home Care Union Executives Really Want: A Wage Increase for Their Workers or a Union Contract?

residentialworker1On Christmas week, while many Missourians were exchanging presents or grabbing Chinese food, members of the Missouri Home Care Union were hard at work lobbying the governor. Ostensibly seeking higher pay for the home care attendants the union represents, the union placed carolers outside the governor’s mansion singing Christmas songs with lyrics altered to convey their message. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” became “I’m Dreaming of a Fair Governor,” and St. Louis Public Radio captured union members singing several bars of “home care workers are coming to town.”

The odd thing about this press junket is that the governor wants to give home care workers the pay increase the union is asking for, but the union objects to the method the governor proposes to give home care workers this pay bump. From the governor’s Office of Administration:

“The governor supports the wage range provision of the labor agreement between the Missouri Quality Home Care Council and the Missouri Home Care Union that provides a pay raise for home health care workers. To ensure the wage range provision of the agreement has the full force and effect of the law, the administration will be implementing the wage range recommendation through an administrative rule.”

Jeff Mazur, executive director of the union, responded by calling the governor’s proposal to enact the pay raise “unnecessary and unwise.” It appears union executives like Mazur are really after a governor’s order implementing a collective bargaining agreement. We’ve seen this before in other states.

Home health care unions, like the Missouri Home Care Union, formed to represent home care attendants who received Medicaid funding for acting as a personal assistant of a person in need of care. In many states, such as Illinois and Michigan, once home care unions were formed, they negotiated a union contract that forced all home care workers to pay a portion of their check to the union, whether or not the worker wanted union representation.

Imagine you’re enrolled in Missouri’s home care program and you’re getting a check from the government to help offset the cost of taking care of a disabled relative. Now imagine that the state bound you to a union contract against your will, and a portion of your check is going to union executives and their pet political causes.

Governor Nixon is right to be cautious of the union’s demands. If Missouri is better off increasing payments to people enrolled in the home care program, it can do so without entering a collective bargaining agreement. Such collective bargaining agreements can have bad consequences for the home care assistants subject to them, who often cannot afford to have their benefits tapped into by a union that they do not support.

October 25, 2012

Watch Live Tonight: John Fund, Denise Lieberman, and A Debate on Voter ID

Click below for live video of tonight’s policy event — “Suppressing the Vote or Stopping Fraud: the Voter ID Debate” — which begins at about 6 p.m. CDT. Tonight’s speakers are John Fund of the American Spectator and Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project, with the Hon. Robert Dierker of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court of Missouri moderating.

Video streaming by Ustream

September 27, 2012

Watch Live Tonight: John C. Goodman and Curing the Healthcare Crisis

Click below for live video of the Show-Me Institute’s Speaker Series on Economic Policy, which will begin at 6:00 p.m. CDT. Tonight’s speaker is John C. Goodman, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and the President and Kellye Wright Fellow in health care at the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is the author of Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.

Video streaming by Ustream

February 14, 2012

Privatization of Parking Meter Collecting was Worthwhile Change for Saint Louis

Saint Louis Alderman Fred Wessels has filed a lawsuit regarding Saint Louis City Treasurer Larry Williams’ privatization of the city’s parking meter operations. One may certainly wonder if this lawsuit is political? Mr. Williams made the change to privatize the parking meter collections three years ago and the lawsuit was just filed now, two months before the two men (and several others) face off in an election for the city treasurer position.

There are some public services that should never be privatized, some that should always be privatized, and some that depend on certain factors. Parking enforcement is in the “always” category. Contracting out the enforcement of parking meters is something that the private sector can easily do, and should do. There is no reason parking enforcement jobs should be on the public dime, with the benefits, pensions, etc., that are included in government jobs. Mr. Williams deserves a great deal of credit for making this change and reducing the political imprint of his office to save taxpayer dollars. If Alderman Wessels was really so offended by the manner in which the privatization occurred, I think he should have contested the move long ago.

The Reason Foundation has done some excellent work on all types of parking privatization. To be clear, Mr. Williams has not gone nearly as far with this privatization effort as Chicago did – where the entire city street parking operations were contracted out. All Williams did was contract out the collection of money from meters – the city still controls the rates, meter placement, etc. I do not support privatization law enforcement functions, but meter enforcement is hardly that. I view meter collection as a support service to law enforcement, like the mechanics who work on the police cars or the clerks who manage the department documents. You do not need a police officer to do it, and you do not need a government employee to do it.

Now, if Mr. Wessels wants something to legitimately criticize Mr. Williams for, how about the dearth of readily available data on the city treasurer’s office? This post would have been a longer and more detailed defense of the city treasurer’s privatization effort if I had easy access to the budget data from the office. (This is a blog post, not a policy study, so I do not have the time to gather data which should be up on the city website.) The city’s budget division only has very cursory information available on the treasurer’s office and the parking meter fund. So, whomever among the five candidates for the office wins in April, I hope they improve the available information for the office.

August 12, 2011

David Stokes Appearing on KMBZ with Chris Merrill Monday Morning

I’ll be on the Voice of Merrill this Monday morning at 10 AM on 980 AM KMBZ. We’ll be discussing property assessments and real estate taxes in Jackson County. Please listen in if you can.

Here is the Show-Me Institute’s latest study on property assessments and taxation in Missouri.

August 1, 2011

Grandview to Vote on Hotel Tax Tomorrow

Residents in the Kansas City suburb of Grandview will vote tomorrow on imposing a hotel tax of five percent in order to promote tourism. The city estimates that the vote will net an additional $120,000 in revenue from those staying overnight in the town.

Take a moment to check out the two commentaries my colleague David Stokes has published on hotel taxes: here and here.

May 26, 2011

David Stokes on KMOX Radio Tomorrow Morning With Hancock and Kelley

Show-Me Institute Policy Analyst David Stokes will be appearing at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow on KMOX radio 1120 AM with John Hancock and Mike Kelley, who are guest-hosting for Charlie Brennan. The topic will be property assessment and taxes. David will be discussing the issues raised in this op-ed on reassessment, and previewing his policy study and case study on the subject of property tax capitalization, cowritten by he and Christine Harbin, both to be released soon.

May 13, 2011

Tune In to 98.1 KMBZ FM at 10:00 a.m. on Monday: In-Studio With “Voice of Merrill”

I’ll be visiting KMBZ’s Chris Merrill after the weekend’s out to talk about Kansas City’s plan to build a new convention center hotel downtown. Check that link if you’re unfamiliar with the subject, or check my commentary published today in the Kansas City Business Journal. Then, on Monday morning, click here to listen in!

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