Wolf on Transparency: Do As I Say, Not As I do

Note: Gov. Wolf's press conference referred to below was cancelled. 

Wolf on Transparency:
Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Gov. Calls for Openness, Negotiates $3.6 Billion Contracts with Donors in Secret

March 16, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Today, Governor Wolf will unveil a new effort to limit campaign contributions as a “transparency” measure. Yet, his own political conflict of interest taints his message.

Wolf received nearly $2.6 million in campaign contributions from six government union PACs last election. He is now negotiating contracts worth $3.6 billion with these six and 10 other government unions—and the talks are being held in secret.

“While the governor touts gift bans and ethics reforms, he’s negotiating massive contracts with major campaign donors behind closed doors,” commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. “This is a matter of public trust. It’s hard to claim transparency when taxpayers—and even legislators—are kept in the dark until they are handed the bill.”

Major government unions AFSCME, UFCW, and SEIU gave a combined $1.7 million to Wolf’s election campaign and stand to benefit from the negotiations with the governor they helped elect.

“When you’re negotiating with your campaign donors, the appearance of a conflict of interest is inescapable,” Benefield said.

Secret negotiations have contributed to a rapid rise in state employee costs. Since 2000, average government worker benefit costs have tripled from $12,732 to nearly $39,000. Total per worker compensation reached an average of nearly $93,000 per worker in 2014-15.

Last year, taxpayers learned about $23 million in additional costs in a one-year contract with AFSCME only after the contract was ratified.

Legislation to shine light on public union contract negotiations is currently before the House. Senate Bill 645, sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano, would require state and local governments to publicly post a summary union contracts before finalization. Another bill, SB 644 sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer, would empower the Independent Fiscal Office to provide cost estimates on government union contracts prior to ratification.

“Closed-door union contract negotiations are the opposite of transparency and accountability,” continued Benefield. “If the governor wants to restore trust in government, he should support reform and shine light on the government employee contracts he is negotiating right now.”

Nathan Benefield and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 to schedule an interview.

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