Contract Transparency Still Critical

Harrisburg is abuzz as the budget battle continues. With high profile legislation on liquor privatization, pension and education reform receiving much attention, it’s easy to lose sight of a fundamental issue: contract transparency.

Contract transparency is critical to giving taxpayers influence over a process often captured by special interests.

Here is a short summary of the two transparency bills aimed at improving the collective bargaining process:

  • 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.

By making union contracts and their costs available to the public before they are implemented, taxpayers will have a chance to offer their input on the terms of the deals. If they feel the terms are unfair, they can demand changes to the contracts.

The current collective bargaining process provides no such recourse. As my colleague Nate pointed out last week, new union contracts were ratified more than a month ago, but we still aren’t privy to the contracts’ terms. However, thanks to a story from Capitolwire, we do know the contracts will make government more expensive.

In writing about the budget process, Chris Comisac details why a few appropriations bills needed to be amended (paywall):

During the meeting, House Appropriations Committee Minority Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny, noted some of the bills have been amended with larger appropriation amounts. Markosek explained those increased figures – which have been agreed to by legislative leaders – represent the additional costs associated with the new collective bargaining agreements (emphasis mine) reached by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and the various state employee labor unions.

The new union contracts negotiated by the Wolf Administration—with some of his largest campaign contributors—will increase the cost of government by millions of dollars. This is the result of a process played out entirely in secret. No debate. No accountability. No transparency.

As Gov. Wolf likes to say, the status quo is unacceptable. Let’s upend it.