Big Win for Transparency

One year ago, Governor Tom Wolf began negotiating contracts worth billions of dollars with state employee unions. Despite his rhetoric about improving government transparency, these negotiations took place behind closed doors. To make matters worse, six of these government unions contributed more than $2.6 million to Wolf’s campaign.

Thankfully, yesterday's passage of SB 644 is a huge step toward revealing the price of these contracts before taxpayers are asked to foot the bill.

SB 644 garnered wide support in the House with a 108-83 vote and returns to the Senate, where it passed last summer by a wide margin. The bill provides taxpayers with an IFO (Independent Fiscal Office) estimate of the costs associated with each collective bargaining proposal before a ratification vote.

Why is this legislation so critical? Case in point: Last April, a contract was negotiated that added $23 million to the state budgetand taxpayers only discovered this news weeks after it was a ratified

Unfortunately, rapid increases in state employee costs are nothing new. Since 2000, average government worker benefit costs tripled with total compensation per employee reaching an average of nearly $93,000 in 2014-15.

Two more contract transparency reforms are also under consideration. SB 645, which requires collective bargaining proposals be posted online before a ratification vote, and SB 643, which opens collective bargaining negotiations to the public.

CF President and CEO Matt Brouillette noted the similarity between SB 644 and the governor's recent calls for transparency,

Last week, Gov. Wolf called for expanded government transparency, claiming, ‘special interests still wield too much power and influence in Harrisburg’. Now, Wolf has a chance to put his money where his mouth is.

Just last year, Wolf's spokesman explained that the governor is,”keeping an open mind on the bills and would review them on the merits if they reach his desk.” Wolf should back up his rhetoric on transparency by supporting this legislation.