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Unionizing Home Care Workers

Reading the section in this week’s Providence Journal “Political Scene,” one can’t help but think that our legislators are either not thinking things through or have ulterior motives:

Sponsored by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin in the Senate, and Rep. Christopher Blazejewski in the House, the legislation envisions a new class of worker — the “independent″ home care worker — going into the homes of the elderly and the disabled to help them with basic daily activities such as eating, bathing, dressing and getting to and from the toilet. The legislation would allow these independent contractors to choose a “representative″ to negotiate with the state over their rates, benefits “and other economic matters.”

Granted, the consequences of this bill would be much less than they would have been a few years ago, before the Supreme Court ruled that Illinois couldn’t force this class of worker to join a union.  Before that ruling, parents who were simply seeking financial assistance to care for their disabled children were being billed for union dues.  Even so, allowing unions into the equation will raise concerns about whether care providers are being fully informed about their rights and the pluses and minuses of joining the union as well as provisions that the unions might negotiate to be written into laws affecting even non-union workers.

More directly, though, this legislation would be another issue raising the question of who is actually advocating on behalf of taxpayers.  As the Providence Journal points out, “since then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the child-care unionization bill, the state subsidized cost of child care has increased by 54 percent.”  Is Rhode Island’s budget not growing fast enough?

The article also raises the question of why this is needed.  The legislation already calls for 10–20% raises for home care workers and implements annual inflation adjustments.  Moreover, the column closes with Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello arguing on behalf of making pay for the workers more-competitive.

Two possibilities emerge:  Either unionization is absolutely unnecessary and is simply a way to siphon off home care dollars to the unions and then back into politicians coffers, or it will drive up costs beyond what even sympathetic legislators think is reasonable.

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Summing Up the Budget (And RI’s Problem) in One Sentence

The Providence Journal article on the Rhode Island House’s budget vote last night captures in one quotation the problem our state is struggling to overcome:

“I expect the budget to rise every year,” said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello after the final vote, a few minutes before 10 p.m., in response to Republican complaints about overspending. “To not expect it to rise every year is not realistic.”

First, let’s go along with the premise that the state budget should rise every year.  Does it have to go up 3.9% every year, regardless of the health of the economy or changes in taxpayers’ ability to pay?  That’s the important next question.  From Mattiello’s explanation, it doesn’t seem that there is any limiting principle.  From his comments to WPRI’s Ted Nesi:

“I always look at the specifics,” he said. “The level of spending in this case was appropriate to the needs of our society.” He noted that the cost of social services continues to rise faster than other areas.

But there is no reason a budget this big has to climb every year.  If it’s possible that annual growth of 3.9% is too much, then it’s possible for it to be too high, right now.  Sadly, state leaders exhibit is no underlying philosophy.  There is only a balance of various interest groups’ power.  Raises for state employees.  Increases in welfare-related spending.  More crony deals (as foreshadowed by the increased generosity of tax credits for movie productions).

Taxpayers will only become a consideration when they do one of two things:

  1. Change their voting habits in a way that threatens entrenched politicians.
  2. Leave the state in sufficient numbers that the politicians have no choice but to reduce spending or squeeze those who remain painfully enough that they notice (and resort to #1).
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Michigan Helps Us Imagine the Possibilities on Prevailing Wage

Warner Todd Huston and Jeff Dunetz report on a cost-saving measure in Michigan that seems nearly unthinkable in Rhode Island:

Its common knowledge that parts of Michigan are falling apart. One reason for the disintegration of infrastructure within Michigan is a jobs-killing union rule that drives up the cost of government projects. This puts many necessary repairs and upgrades outside the reach of State’s budget. Finally, this budget-killing rule has been thrown in the trash by the state legislature.

Wednesday, June 6th the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate passed a measure to put an end to the budget-killing union rule called the “prevailing wage.” This rule required that all construction projects initiated by the state government to pay workers the same wage union members make, even if the workers hired for said projects are not members of a union.

Rhode Island’s infrastructure maintenance budget would go so much farther (and require much less debt) if the government would allow itself to pay market rate for the work.  Unfortunately, when it comes to our state government, we’re not a pragmatic state, but one concerned mainly with keeping insider arrangements alive.

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The Union Organizer Who Thinks States’ Worth of People Don’t Care About Their Children

Americans periodically complain about the rancor in our political discourse, and while it’s certainly nothing new (and is better than, say, murderous feuds between factions), they have a point.  We do better as a society to the extent that we can discuss difficult matters without doing and saying things that escalate emotions unnecessarily.

For the most part, doing and saying such things is probably inadvertent; relatively few people are so deeply engaged in public debate that their rhetoric is thoroughly conscious.  Among those who are deeply engaged, some portion who use inflammatory rhetoric do so because they’re passionate and their sincere beliefs can’t help but inflame the other side.  And then there are those who escalate emotions in order to isolate their opposition and manipulate everybody else.

I’d put American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten in that last group, and find the sort of rhetoric that Dan McGowan reports from her to be beyond the pale:

“Providence, Rhode Island is not Oklahoma City or Phoenix, Arizona,” Weingarten told reporters gathered outside Mount Pleasant High School. “And the fact that a mayor of this city is not sitting down trying to solve these problems and acting more like what we see in states that haven’t really cared about their kids is shocking to me.”

According to this self-interested union organizer, entire states’ worth of Americans don’t care about their children.  Why?  Presumably because their elected officials don’t give as much money to her members as she’d like.

If this were some isolated statement, that’d be bad enough, but we’ve more than ample experience with teachers unions in Rhode Island to know that it’s part of a deliberate organizational strategy to keep union members feeling undervalued and citizen-governments in constant turmoil that can only be relieved by giving in to the union’s demands.  In short, it’s exactly the sort of attitude and behavior that ought to embarrass professional teachers and, if the Supreme Court decides for freedom in the upcoming Janus decision, lead them to cancel their memberships.

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The Two Options for Keeping New-Economy Companies

A Ted Nesi WPRI article related to Pinnacle Logistics, an Amazon distribution company moving from Rhode Island to Connecticut, has me thinking that the Ocean State really has only two options, when it comes right down to it.

The termination letter, provided by an employee who asked to remain anonymous, said Amazon “has elected to terminate its PVD operations” due to “business reasons unrelated to PVD’s performance.” The employee said workers were stunned by the news in light of how busy and high-performing the facility appeared to them. …

State officials had said last fall Pinnacle planned to develop “a permanent facility in the near future on the airport premises,” and it’s unclear why the company changed its mind. T.F. Green spokesman Bill Fischer said the airport learned of Pinnacle’s decision Friday morning. …

“I know Amazon is a notoriously anti-union company and has been fighting unions in its various facilities since 1994, so it would not surprise me to learn that Amazon and Pinnacle decided to close this operation in retaliation for the union activity,” [Teamster lawyer Marc] Gursky told Eyewitness News.

Gursky said the Teamsters filed a new complaint against Pinnacle on Friday afternoon, alleging that the company had engaged in unfair labor practice by closing the plant to retaliate for the unionization effort.

I’d suggest a little bit of skepticism that any company running away from labor unions would head to Connecticut, which tends to come up higher on lists of labor union strength.

Be that as it may, we who live in Rhode Island can think of dozens of areas of insider leverage that might have made our state unacceptable to this sort of company.  That leads to our two options, of which we can only pick one:

  1. A vibrant, innovative economy in synergy with economic advances.
  2. An insider system that gives enhanced leverage to special interests like labor unions, quasi-public companies, and countless fiefdoms.

One suspects that most people would choose option #1, if given the chance, but then, our electoral system has evolved to limit that chance.

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Sinkholes of One Kind and Another

Readers in the Rhode Island area, particularly to the east of Providence, may have caught wind of the heavy traffic along I-195, yesterday.  Apparently, crews were repairing some sort of “depression” in the road, perhaps from a prior patch.  These things happen, of course, but the longer a fix takes, the more traffic it causes, and the more expensive it is to do road work and maintenance, the less state and local governments will be able to do.

With regard to that second point, this still from WPRI’s coverage arguably tells the deeper story:

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To be fair, the reporter does say that the video was being taken as the crew was doing “finishing touches,” so at earlier periods the ratio of people working to standing around might not have been two to eight, as appears to be the case in this short clip.  That said, seeing high proportions of watchers to workers is hardly an unusual experience in Rhode Island.

One suspects a large part of the calculation is the strict assignment of jobs.  In traffic, recently, I watched a crew setting curbs along an exit ramp.  Two guys were hanging out in the truck with all of the traffic cones, another appeared to be supervising, two guys were in the hole setting curbs, another was standing on a truck to offload the curb pieces a few feet away, and another was driving the machine back and forth to move the curbs.  (Plus the cop directing traffic, of course.)

That crew could easily have been cut nearly in half without a loss in efficiency or safety simply by putting the cone placers to work setting curbs and giving the supervisor a more-active task.  I never did road work when I was in construction, but similar tasks would probably have called for only three people: One helping to set the curbs, one operating the machine, and one going back and forth to hook the machine to each new curb piece.

Multiply that excessive labor cost times every task associated with every yard of roadway, and the potential savings that could be put toward accelerated repairs and maintenance or left in the private economy would be massive.  Eliminating any presumed need for truck tolls would just be the starting point.

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A Canary in Seattle

The city of Seattle is blazing trails in the assault on business and disincentive for job creation, and Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton is correct to warn of a reckoning:

One thing is clear. The tax will not be paid by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, or any other real or imagined toffs running the targeted companies. It will be “paid” by hiring fewer people here, making fewer investments, thus perhaps reducing overall taxes to the city. This is not sticking it to The Man.

One of the fascinating aspects of the jobs tax is how it reveals a tectonic shift in Seattle politics.

The slow-moving but generally pragmatic center-left that governed for years has collapsed.

Some of Talton’s lessons are either (it seems to me) either off base or specific to Seattle.  I’m suspicious, notably, of the blame that he puts on the GOP for becoming a “hard-right party” that exploded its leverage by booting its centrists.  One needn’t change the tilt of one’s head too much to see that as something more like a center-right party that didn’t move far enough to the left to keep progressive activists from attacking its donors and volunteers.

Consider Talton’s complaint that voters don’t have options; that can be a sign that people won’t run, given the charged atmosphere.  In short, this probably isn’t quite the distinct trend that he presents it as:

Meanwhile, a hard-left movement arose with the activist foot soldiers, infrastructure and energy to win municipal elections. It might represent a minority of voters, but given the withering away of the old order, it can win. Voters don’t have alternatives.

This lesson is probably increasingly universal across the country.  An activist infrastructure has been built up with funding from embedded interests (like labor unions), a supremely wealthy progressive elite, and siphoned taxpayer money from the Obama Administration.  At the local level, it targets any politician or grassroots organization that attempts to offer an alternative, and so the alternative doesn’t get a voice.

So… the city gets insane tax-and-spend policies that create obvious incentives against economic activity and for reliance on public subsidies.  A reckoning will come, indeed.

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Raimondo’s Major (Union) Jobs Announcement

The expansion deal that the state government of Rhode Island has just announced with Electric Boat at the quasi-public Quonset industrial park includes an understated feature:

As part of the deal with Rhode Island, Electric Boat has agreed to use union construction workers on the expansion and pay the prevailing wage.

Why would the government of the State of Rhode Island negotiate for the mandatory use of union labor?  If state officials would rather have more money go to construction workers, rather than have it available for additional investment, the prevailing wage requirement would have been sufficient.

The likely answer sheds a different light on the component of the deal requiring “$14 million in state infrastructure spending at the Quonset industrial park.”  If the state is negotiating on behalf of unions, this provision may have been requested by the state negotiators.  That is, they were happy to tie taxpayers hands with a contract requiring new government spending for labor-union work.

Note, by the way, that the vast majority of the deal offered to Electric Boat is a targeted exemption from sales tax.  Imagine how much more other companies would invest here if the state would eliminate or dramatically reduce the sales tax as a blanket measure.  Of course, if people were investing their money in economic development on their own initiative, the government officials wouldn’t so often have a seat at the negotiating table to direct funds toward their friends and political supporters.

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Where the Unexpected Windfalls Go

In preparation for my weekly spot with John DePetro, this afternoon, I revisited Katherine Gregg’s Providence Journal article about the 7.5% in raises (actually 7.7%, compounded) state employees under Council 94 are expected to receive as part of a deal with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo.  Raimondo, you may have heard, is facing a tough election this year.

These paragraphs jump out:

… the events at Council 94 union headquarters coincided with the announcement by the Raimondo administration that year-to-date revenue collections are running $46.5 million ahead of the estimates adopted at the state’s official Revenue Estimating Conference last November, on which Governor Raimondo’s $9.3 billion budget proposal was based.

A statement issued by the Department of Revenue said: “The major contributors to this surplus are personal income tax revenues, $43.6 million more than expected; estate and transfer tax revenues, $5.3 million above expectations; departmental receipts revenues, $4.5 million more than expected; and public utilities gross earnings tax revenues, $5.4 million ahead of estimates.” A few smaller sources of revenue fell short of projections, yielding the net surplus of $46.5 million.

Gregg notes that the new raises will be competing with the pleas of other special interest groups in their annual “more money” dance (which, admittedly, sometimes means more than a budgeted reduction).

But have you noticed that an unexpected increase in revenue is never cited as an opportunity to lower tax rates?  To the extent that it comes up, reduced taxes are typically handled in such a way as to make a special interest out of taxpayers, as with the specific elimination of the car tax.

In any event, time will tell whether Raimondo’s bid for the labor vote creates enough of a boost to save her job.  Valley Breeze publisher Tom Ward is skeptical of her chances, generally:

My take on it: There is no amount of money that will save her candidacy. The unfixable UHIP that continues to cost taxpayers more millions, the now-late and already unpopular tolls that create a new budget shortage, the “scooping” of energy conservation monies – and now, grabbing 911 emergency funds for God knows what. She owns all of it! She will lose a two-way race soundly, and needs to keep independents like Joe Trillo in the race to save her.

We’ll see.  The thing with full ballots is that a candidate can win with a small plurality, as Rhode Islanders keep learning… to our detriment.

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Competing Interests in Local News Media

As I told John DePetro in our segment last week, the attack on Sinclair Broadcasting and Channel 10 in Rhode Island has the feel of scapegoating, as if the mainstream media writ large wants to offload its own sins onto a creature it can banish into the desert.  That sense arose again whencombining two items from the Providence Journal.

The first is a column by Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg, who describes how the paper’s national owner, GateHouse Media, provides lots of content and support for local papers, without “must run” stories as with Sinclair.  Conspicuous, here, is that the content for which Channel 10 is currently under fire was essentially a corporate advertisement promising straightforward news, in contrast to “fake news” from elsewhere.

Well, just last week, I got identical emails at exactly the same time from the Providence Journal and Fall River Herald, both GateHouse outlets, asking me to subscribe:  “Real News, Because the truth Matters.  Truth and Honesty.  We know what matters.”  That sounds quite a bit like the Sinclair spots, which included language like, “We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced, and factual.”  Is it really the difference between journalistic integrity and a threat to our democracy that Sinclair had its news anchors read its version of that ad?

The second relevant item in the Providence Journal is an article by Katherine Gregg about a protest of fewer than two dozen people against Channel 10.  Anybody who’s followed local labor union activities will recognize the names of Patricia Ricci and Louis Rainone, and that connection is intrinsic:

“I am here to protest Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s attempt to muzzle what we think is free speech,″ said Scott Molloy, the retired University of Rhode Island labor-studies professor who appeared to be leading the protest by the newly formed “Free Speech Coalition.”

Rainone’s group, Jobs with Justice, is heavily funded by local labor unions, such as the RI AFL-CIO, and the AFL-CIO is an umbrella union covering Katherine Gregg’s labor union at the Providence Journal.  Shouldn’t that connection be worth a parenthetical note in an article about union activists attacking a competing news outlet?

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The Changing Raison D’Etre of Organized Labor

Gail Heriot takes the birthday of labor hero Cesar Chavez as an opportunity to point out a change in union activities since Chavez’s heyday:

Things are different now. Instead of focusing on their members’ wages as the bottom line, union leaders are often unwavering in their support for the leftist party line. It’s about political power. In order to gain or keep it, they seek to keep the coalition together, even if it means sacrificing the short-term good of their own members. Fight global warming. Support abortion rights. Honor same-sex marriage. Elect Democrats. Any of those may or may not be good policy. But none is directly the concern of farmworkers as farmworkers.  Somehow union leaders have to believe that in the long run their members will be better off by maintaining the coalition.

The problem with this strategy is that it’s so easy to lose sight of the people you are supposed to be representing. The thinking gets very complex. It gets easy to confuse policies that benefit union leaders (or just make them happy) with policies that benefit union members.   One can always come up with a story about why the policies you personally favor will, in the long run, benefit the rank-and-file members too. Sometimes it’s just wishful thinking.  Keeping the goal simple is a better guarantee that the fiduciary will remain loyal to the beneficiaries’ interests.

One wonders about such things often, in Rhode Island, where the labor unions (particularly government labor unions) seem to be behind every left-wing cause, not only through support but also through funding.  Does every public school teacher in Rhode Island, for example, support the full range of their union’s activities?  The prospect seems… implausible.

Indeed, this changing attitude — with unions’ seeming to treat labor services as the fundraising mechanism for their real purpose of progressive activism — may be a big contributor to opposition to unions.  It may also be a big factor leading to the Supreme Court’s pending ruling on compulsory union membership.

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The Incentives of School Bonds

Regular readers know I put a lot of emphasis on incentives as a way to understand events and a key consideration when crafting policies.  The $250 million school bond proposed for the November ballot is a good example.

On the front end, the incentive is very strong for school districts and municipalities to let facilities deteriorate.  First, the law is structured to give advantages to labor unions organized at the state and even federal level, creating incentive for them to manipulate the political structure.  Then, elected officials have incentive to tilt budgets toward organized labor, drawing money to compensation.  Next, having learned from that experience over time, taxpayers have incentive to squeeze money out of budgets so that even higher taxes aren’t paying again for things like maintenance that they thought were already included and that might be diverted again if available.

On top of it all, the near certitude of passing bonds for dire repairs creates disincentive for regular maintenance from the start.  This mechanism creates incentives for financial interests and investors, and the bias toward big projects brings in the incentive that got me thinking of these things.  As Dan McGowan reports for WPRI:

Fix Our Schools R.I., a 501(c)4 nonprofit formed last week, will spend the coming months “educating communities across the state about what this plan is and how it would affect them,” Haslehurst told Eyewitness News. …

The organization lists its address as 410 South Main St., the same building as the Laborer’s International Union of North America. Haslehurst said it will share space with the Occupational and Environmental Health Center of Rhode Island, a nonprofit that has an office inside the building.

A quick look at the health center’s IRS filing shows that it’s a labor union organization, with AFL-CIO poobah George Nee as the treasurer.

‘Round and ’round the incentives go, to the point that running things efficiently — in the way people run their households, planning ahead and all that — seems almost to be an impossible task.  Be skeptical of anybody who tells you that this is a “once in a generation” investment that fixes a problem.  After all, when the debt payments subside, the incentive will be to find more projects in need of debt or to build the payment amount into regular budgets.

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Ensuring More Such Union Behavior in the Future

Well, according to a Newport Daily News article appearing last week, the Newport school committee caved to the inappropriate behavior of its teachers’ union:

When teachers retire early, they can continue to receive health insurance under the School Department’s plan until they reach the age of 65. Then they go onto Medicare’s Plan 65. That is provided for under the labor contract.

These early retirees had been receiving dental insurance and life insurance until age 65 as well. However, the School Committee determined those benefits were a “past practice” not included in the labor contract, and ended them as of Nov. 16 last year. Now, however, the five teachers who announced their upcoming retirement well before November will receive the dental insurance and life insurance until they reach age 65 as well.

One could argue that the “compromise” was that the school committee is not barred from changing this absurdly generous benefit going forward, but then, the unions aren’t barred from renewing their inappropriate tactics.  They haven’t even been chastised for using them already.
The union has simply said that it won’t do something it never should have threatened to do in the first place.

This episode again emphasizes the imbalance in our government, especially in our schools.  The labor unions are essentially in place for eternity, once certified, so when they aren’t able to win the political contest over the school committee, securing friendly “opposition” in negotiations, they are free to simply make the job difficult until new people are in place.  The incentives are for the union constantly to push the envelope and for the school committee to be maximally accommodating.

So, over time, school committees across the state have allowed a system to develop that fails students and robs taxpayers.

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Perpetual Contracts and Managing the State’s Decline

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.

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The Imbalance of Perpetual Contracts

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Newport Sees Latest Teachers Union Outrage

In the Newport Daily News, Sean Flynn highlights another example of the outrageous behavior among teachers union organizers, which ought to embarrass well-intentioned, professional teachers:

Superintendent of Schools Colleen Burns Jermain sent a notification to all parents on March 1 informing them that the conferences would take place between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on three days this week, one day at each school, the same as has been done in past years. …

The conflict reached a new flashpoint over the weekend with an advertisement in this newspaper paid for by attorney Jennifer Azevedo, who is an assistant executive director of the National Education Association RI, on behalf of the Teachers Association of Newport. The ad claimed the parent-teacher conferences would be held during the regular school times at each school on the designated days. Regular school hours are staggered between 7:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. among the three schools.

On first review, this has the feel of parents who are tearing their children apart as they head toward divorce, but that analogy isn’t applicable.  The union advertised publicly in a way that presumed to set school policy.  Here’s the ad; it’s extremely misleading, with no indication that it’s actually part of a disputed policy.  This is the union saying, “Whatever your elected and appointed school administration might think, we run the schools.”

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will give teachers the ability to get out from under this thuggish organization when it decides its Janus case this year.  Be that as it may, parents and voters should respond to this abuse of contracts to figuratively rip the contracts up.

And any legislator who votes for the legislation to make teacher contracts last forever unless renegotiated ought to find him or her self unelectable.

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The Reason for Pension Shortfalls in Providence

Taking up Providence pension woes, Dan McGowan and Walt Buteau highlight a recent study concluding the following:

Wainwright Investment Counsel LLC projects the beleaguered fund would have an additional $305 million today if city leaders made the correct yearly payments between 1996 and 2006 and again in 2010 and 2012, an amount that would bring the city’s current pension funding level close to 50%.

The firm calculated the amount that city leaders failed to contribute to the system – $111 million – and the monthly returns the actual money in the retirement fund saw between July 1996 and June 2016. Between 1998 and 2002, Wainwright estimates the city shorted the fund by $76.8 million.

Keep in mind that this means the rest of the shortfall was due to generous benefits hidden under faulty assumptions:

Providence is still solvent, but its pension system was just 25.8% funded as of June 30, 2017, with an unfunded liability that exceeds $1 billion.

So, skipped payments account for less than one-third of the missing money.  The other 700-some million dollars are a result of elected officials’ giving away too much in benefits and deceiving the public about the cost by gaming the actuaries’ calculations.  The key piece of that deception has been (and continues to be) the discount rate, or the rate of return expected on the investment.

Both elected officials and labor union leaders (who often helped elect the people with whom they’re negotiating) haven’t minded understating the cost of government employees.  Both union members and taxpayers should be furious, but taxpayers shouldn’t be held liable for promises that they had no realistic means of preventing.

And as the bill comes due, we can be sure that the exploding tax bills and collapsing services will push taxpayers — including those collecting government pensions — somewhere that they don’t have to pay for it.

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