Around the public policy horn …
There were a number of public policy developments this past week that government leaders, elected and appointed, and, of course, taxpayers should be keeping an eagle eye on.
The first comes from neighboring West Virginia where a Circuit Court judge has ruled that parts of the Mountain State’s right-to-work law – formally known as the Workplace Freedom Act of 2016 – are unconstitutional.
The West Virginia Supreme Court had remanded the case to Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey after it overturned her preliminary injunction against the law and ordered Bailey to hold a final hearing on the matter.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that it was in her final ruling, issued this past Wednesday, that the judge said the law was unconstitutional because it allows workers to refuse to pay dues, fees or other charges to a union, which nonetheless must still represent those workers.
Perhaps the most troubling part of Bailey’s ruling is this line:
“Other states have reached a consensus that labor performed for money is property.” And the right-to-work law “would take union’s property without any compensation.”
If you just gasped, join the crowd. It is no stretch to extrapolate that sentiment to mean those covered by collective bargaining agreements are property owned by the organizing union. It is, in a word, nothing short of slavery. And it certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “slavish devotion to unionism.”
Additionally, the judge ruled that the law “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally imposes an excessive burden on the plaintiffs’ (i.e. organized labor) associational rights.”
Never mind the excessive burden placed on the associational rights of workers who might disagree with a respective union’s public policy positions.
And never mind that, at least where public sector unions are involved, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision would supersede any local or state court ruling. But, that said, this case is applicable only to private-sector unions.
No doubt this full and final ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. For as even this judge was forced to concede:
“West Virginia clearly has legitimate and substantial interests in protecting workers from being forced to support political and ideological messages with which they disagree or to join an organization they do not support.”
We repeatedly are told by Allegheny County officials – those in county government and those at the county Airport Authority – that no local tax dollars will be spent on the $1.1 billion-plus reconfiguration of Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).
The rationale is that bonds issued to pay for the project will be paid off by a combination of fees paid by the airlines operating at PIT and by proceeds from shale gas drilling on airport property that, per federal law, must be used to underwrite airport operations. And let’s not forget that the authority receives $12 million annually from gambling taxes.
But those same officials concede that state and federal tax dollars likely will be a part of the mix. Of course, local taxpayers contribute to those tax coffers.
All that said, here’s a question we’ve not seen posed anywhere else:
Given that union labor no doubt will be given preference for this construction project, and that prevailing wage laws will apply, what premium will the airlines and taxpayers be paying for the “privilege” of paying artificially inflated wages?
Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards told the state Legislature on Tuesday that, “in a few years,” nearly 70 percent of the state Turnpike Commission’s budget will go toward paying debt service. It now stands at about 50 percent.
That’s do in large part to prior legislation that, in contravention of federal law, requires the commission to annually remit to PennDOT nearly half a billion dollars that is spread among non-Turnpike transportation “needs,” including mass transit.
That has forced the Turnpike Commission to keep raising annual tolls in an attempt to cover it all. But the commission has racked up, to date, a debt of $11 billion.
A lawsuit by a truckers’ groups, now pending in the courts, claims such transfers are illegal, per federal diktat, and that the ever-rising tolls (up an estimated 200 percent over the last decade and to rise more) are untenable.
Should the Turnpike Commission lose the lawsuit – and, given the federal prohibition against using tolls for non-Turnpike projects, it should – chaos could ensue for PennDOT projects and mass-transit agencies.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) already has postponed nearly 40 improvement projects because of fears it could lose a third of its funding. PennDOT also has scaled back. It’s unclear what the effect has been on the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
The Turnpike Commission stopped making remittances to the state pending the lawsuit’s outcome. It also has stopped issuing debt.
This is what happens with legislators thumb their noses at the rule of law:
They rob Peter to pay Paul, then when Peter fails, Paul wails and everybody points fingers at everybody else. And the term “public policy” becomes a pejorative.
Colin McNickle is marketing and communications director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (firstname.lastname@example.org).