Protecting employees from coerced union membership (and with it, forced union dues) has always been a top priority for the Free Enterprise Club, which is why we are proud to once again participate in National  Employee Freedom Week (NEFW).  NEFW is a grassroots campaign of 97 groups educating citizens and voters about workplace rights—specifically, their right to leave their union and opt-out of paying a portion of their union dues.

A new survey released by the coalition demonstrates that over 39 percent of union households nationwide aren’t aware that they can opt-out of union membership and of paying at least a portion of their union dues without losing their job or any other penalty.

This isn’t surprising: Unions would prefer that their members not to know about their rights, and to counter, some unions restrict opt-outs to certain windows each year – sometimes as short as two weeks a year.

Unions have been losing support among everyday workers, and the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics bear this out. According to data released in January, the union membership rate has continued its steady decline to 11.1 percent, down from 12.4 percent in 2008 when President Obama won his first presidential election.

Additionally, it’s not only employees that have been voting with their feet, but employers as well. Over the last several years, businesses and corporate headquarters have been relocating to right to work state at a rapid rate, and with it taking their jobs and economic growth with them. An extensive analysis done by economists Steve Moore and Arthur Laffer showed unequivocally that two factors—the income tax and right to work laws–are the key determining factors between high growth states vs. low growth states.

 

While union membership has been plummeting, political spending by union bosses remains stronger than ever. During the 2012 election cycle, big labor spent a whopping $1.7 billion on political activity. Where did the money go? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 92 percent went to Democrats. Conversely, approximately 40% of union members voted for Romney in the Presidential election.

Here in Arizona, while we are a right to work state, we continue to lack adequate taxpayer and employee protections against union overreach. Two such examples include the failure to pass paycheck protection laws and our lack of more robust collective bargaining limitations to protect both taxpayers and union members from abuse.

Thankfully, just last week the Goldwater Institute won a landmark case that will limit the abuse of a practice known as ‘Union Release Time’, a benefit that allowed union members to engage in political activity and negotiate new union contracts at taxpayer expense.

Of course, some union employees may decide that they’re getting their money’s worth, and that’s okay. But many union members have had enough, and the NEFW coalition is in place to show them the way out. No one should feel compelled to pay thousands in union dues as a condition of employment. Now, as more employees are learning, they don’t have to.

The city of Tempe faces a myriad of important issues – education, public safety and economic development to name just a few.  But recently the Tempe City Council has decided that there is an even higher priority for taxpayers’ hard-earned money: Giving it to political campaigns.

Yes, the Tempe City Council is looking to place on the ballot a Charter Amendment that would create a publicly financed election system in Tempe as soon as next year – virtually identical to the Clean Elections system in place statewide.

As a general rule of thumb, whenever incumbents rewrite the rules of the game, it is never in their challengers’ favor.  Government-funded elections are no different.  Incumbents enjoy enormous advantages over challengers, not least of which is free exposure – or earned media – through various media appearances as a public official.  In contrast, challengers need to spend a lot of resources just to introduce themselves to voters, not to mention outline their platform and draw contrasts.

Then there is the matter of how to pay for it all.  Knowing full well that a new tax or more deficit spending for taxpayer-funded campaigns would never fly with voters, Tempe politicians are attempting to quietly add a new court fee, on top of countless other surcharges, that people who commit minor traffic violations have to pay.  So much so that a simple speeding ticket could soon cost you as much as $250, partly because you are being forced to give money to a politician’s campaign – whether you support them or not.

A speeding ticket is – by definition – an unexpected expense, one most people can ill afford as it is.  In fact, go into any courtroom in Arizona, and it’s clear that many of the people who would be paying these fees for government-run elections are already poor.  Now politicians in Tempe want to soak them a little more to bolster their own re-election.

Furthermore, once again, no one watches the watchers.  The Arizona Clean Elections Commission, faced with dwindling support and fewer participating candidates each year, has taken to extraordinary abuses of power in an attempt to remain relevant.  These include trying to actually fine non-participating candidates and committees in a gross overreach of authority, as well as override federal law, the US Supreme Court, the authority of the Legislature and Secretary of State, and the US Constitution, in order to abolish protections on political speech by disclosing the donor lists of non-profit advocacy organizations.

Fortunately voters will have a say in whether this goes forward, likely in March 2016 when its on the municipal ballot.  Will the proposal to tax the poor to pay for taxpayer-funded campaigns – overseen by an unelected, unaccountable commission – actually become law? If you live in Tempe, that will be up to you.

Yesterday it was announced that the City of Glendale and the Arizona Coyotes have reached an agreement that substantially reduces the payments being made to the team. The new deal is a victory for city, the Coyotes and most importantly, Glendale taxpayers.

For those not familiar with the dispute, Glendale entered into an agreement in 2013 with the owners of the Coyotes that would pay the team $15 Million dollars each year for 15 years to “manage” Gila River Arena. This is in addition to the $9 Million the city pays each year in debt service for the construction costs of the arena.

That is a lot of money for hockey, and taxpayers have been paying the price. Since the agreement went into effect in 2013, Glendale has approved 3 property tax increases and also dropped the sunset on the “temporary” sales tax increase. At 2.9%, Glendale has one of the highest sales tax rates in the region:

Without a substantial change to the management agreement, high taxes and cuts in city services were going to be a fact of life for Glendale. That is why the widely criticized decision by 5 members of the city council to cancel the management agreement last month was a bold yet necessary move. It didn’t matter that the city had a very good legal case to terminate the agreement, the public relations deck was stacked against the council. Yet they did not blink from the scrutiny and held firm in trying to protect Glendale taxpayers.

As a result, the city was able to renegotiate a new agreement with the Coyotes that cuts the management fee by more than half, reduces the length of the contract to two years and makes what was a clearly a one-sided agreement a bit more equitable.

And while it is questionable as to why any fee should be paid to manage the arena (most similar management deals involve little to no fees), it was not a sure thing that the city would prevail on their conflict of interest claim. It is better to get some relief than risk getting nothing.

Glendale is not out of the woods. Even with the millions saved under the new agreement, the city is still bleeding red ink on other questionable ventures such as Camelback Ranch.  Additionally, the council should not ignore Glendale’s sky high tax rates and see if some much needed reductions can be made.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but today’s agreement goes a long way in getting Glendale back on the right path.



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The Arizona Free Enterprise Club is a free market policy and lobbying group dedicated to promoting a strong and vibrant Arizona economy.