State Senate Passes Financial Transparency Bills

For Immediate Release
Commonwealth Foundation

State Senate Passes Financial Transparency Bills

Lets Public in on Secret Government Union Talks Worth Billions of Dollars

May 6, 2015, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Transparency, openness, and the public’s right to know are critical to holding politicians accountable. But contract negotiations between public-sector unions and state and local government officials worth billions of dollars are closed to public scrutiny. This year, at just the state level, contracts with 16 government employee unions worth $3.4 billion are being negotiated behind closed doors.

Today, the state Senate took a historic step by passing two financial transparency bills designed to let taxpayers in on those secret negotiations to see how big of a bill they’ll be paying for government services.

“Taxpayers and legislators have a right to know the cost of government union deals negotiated by the governor before they’re handed a bill and told to figure out how to pay for it,” commented Matthew Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation. “The Senate has taken a long-needed step toward greater transparency and accountability thanks to the leadership of Senators Folmer and Stefano.

“If passed by the House and signed by Governor Wolf, Pennsylvania would join at least 12 other states that have already enacted similar legislation. It’s time Pennsylvania joins this movement towards opening up union negotiations to the people forced to pay the bills.”

Transparency bills passed by the state Senate

  • SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, empowers the Independent Fiscal Office to provide the public with cost estimates on state public sector union contracts prior to ratification.
  • SB 645, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano, requires public sector collective bargaining agreements to be posted on state, school district, or local government websites two weeks prior to signing.

Governor Wolf has indicated support for these measures to open up collective bargaining talks. Last month, Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Gov. Wolf, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the governor would “consider signing the transparency bills” if the bills reached his desk. And this week, Sheridan told PennLive, “the governor is keeping an open mind on the bills and would review them on the merits if they reach his desk.”

Brouillette responded:

“We know that ethics, transparency, and open governance are important values to Governor Wolf. He has already taken several laudable steps to shine the disinfecting light of public scrutiny on the inner workings of government.

“But the public sector unions engaging in contract talks were some of Wolf’s biggest campaign donors, to the tune of $2.6 million. Dealing in secret with these special interests creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Now that Wolf has the opportunity to support a serious legislative effort for transparency reform, we hope he will follow through on his campaign commitment to the people of Pennsylvania and help foster a ‘government that works’.”

See Commonwealth Foundation’s research on collective bargaining transparency for more information.

Matthew Brouillette and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment today. Please contact us at 717-671-1901 to schedule an interview.

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