I’ve been slow to share it, here, but the recent Providence Journal editorial on the return of perpetual-contract legislation to the General Assembly is important to read and take to heart:
Like a painful rash that keeps returning, the idea of “evergreen contracts” is back before the Rhode Island General Assembly. Year after year, union leaders who want even more taxpayer money revive this campaign.
Under this special-interest measure, police, fire and teacher contracts would remain in effect indefinitely after they have expired. The idea is to weaken the bargaining position of local cities and towns and pry more money out of the taxpayers, already burdened with some of America’s most crushing property taxes.
A fair accounting of this policy suggests that Rhode Island’s insiders understand that they’re really just managing the decline of the state. Theoretically, perpetual contracts could benefit either side, given the circumstances. We all understand that when the economic pressure would be on lower compensation for unionized employees, they’ll just sit on their contracts until things improve. When the economic pressure goes the other way, promoting higher pay, local governments could be the ones to sit on the contracts.
However, everybody from the unions to municipal and school district leaders to the Providence Journal understands two things:
- Economic flourishing isn’t in Rhode Island’s future unless the state can break insiders’ strangle hold on the state, and that doesn’t look likely, absent a terrible crash.
- Interacting with that point, the deals that unionized government employees get in Rhode Island are so generous that it’s even less plausible to imagine circumstances in which Rhode Island’s economic growth would be so strong that the government would struggle to find people willing to work for that amount of remuneration.
Add in the fact that union employees can disrupt government services much more readily than government agencies and school districts can get out from under their unions, and it’s clear why this is such a one-sided issue. At least the insecurity of a lapsing contract instills some discomfort among Rhode Island’s privileged class, which gives elected representatives a little leverage. Whether or not they take advantage of that leverage — which hinges, in large part, on whether they were elected with the unions’ help — is another question.