Public Employee Unions Plunder Maine
By: Guest Authors
By: Steve Merritt
The State of Maine has a $4.3 billion pension shortfall. 70,000 retirees are counting on a promised pension. The workers did not create this fiscal nightmare. Nor did the other 1.2 million Mainers who are being saddled with this shortfall. Maine already is shouldering the 5th highest tax burden in the country. 10% of every taxpayer dollar goes toward state employee and teacher pension funds. And the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting predicts that within 5 to 6 years pension costs could account for 20% of the budget. Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin’s office calculates that the Maine State public sector compensation is $9200 higher than counterparts in the private sector with nearly $5700 of that in the form of benefits. Maine voters wonder why public employees contribute nominal amounts towards their pension and health benefits when they, in the private sector, have to pay so much more.
Maine’s financial straits did not arise in a vacuum. It comes from nearly 50 years of power imbalance between unions and politicians with whom they “collectively bargain”. The privileged class of government unions and liberal politicians demanding higher taxes and more spending for themselves and their ideology placed us in this position while private sector unemployment is reaching post Depression era levels.
The turmoil gripping statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and soon Maine is momentous. In many states, including ours, Republican governors are addressing financially ruinous pension and health care obligations. The epicenter is Wisconsin, where the behavior by state unionized employees is shameful and disingenuous. The AFL-CIO and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) leaders dubbed Governor Walker the “Mubarak of the Midwest”. Michael Moore of leftist movie making fame prompted protestors to “shut down the new Cairo”. They are rioting in Wisconsin to maintain an unjust situation not overthrow it, all due to their entitlement being threatened. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that 48% of voters support Governor Walker and only 38% support the parasitic unions.
Wisconsin represents a harmful contagion to the Democratic agenda. Unions, most of whom are public employees, gave Democrats $400 million in the 2008 election cycle. The largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $90 million to Democrats during the 2010 period. Public employee unions are a mechanism by which each taxpayer is coerced to fund the Democratic Party. ‘Right to work’ states limit the ability of Big Labor to organize and forcibly collect dues from employees. Maine, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana are not among those states. Maine Representative Tom Winsor has two bills that advance right to work legislation. The bills are not union busting initiatives but an impetus for union leaders to be responsive to its members and deal with the realities that the private sector has dealt with for years. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research reveals that real personal income in right to work states grew from 28.3% from 1999 to 2009 versus 14.7% in forced union states. Growth in real manufacturing GDP jumped 20.9% from 2000 to 2008 compared with 6.5% in the forced union states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report that right to work states added 1.5 million private sector jobs from 1999 to 2009 for a 3.7% increase and states that are not right to work lost 1.8 million jobs over the same 10 years, a decline of 2.3%.
In 2010 private sector unions reached a record low of 6.9%. There are now 7.6 million workers in government unions and 7.1 million workers in private unions despite tens of millions more workers in the private sector. The deceptively named National Education Association (NEA) is actually a union consisting of over 3 million members and a staff of 500. Public sector unions serve no legitimate purpose other than to gorge at the public trough of taxpayer dollars. Tea Party activist, Michelle Malkin , sums up the union stranglehold on near bankrupt states, “the persuasion of power so ruthlessly and recklessly exercised by the SEIU and its thuggish union allies must be broken by the moral courage of fiscal discipline”.
Wisconsin Governor Walker, New Jersey Governor Christie and Ohio Governor Jasich are working to balance the states’ budgets by finally cutting spending and reigning in sweetheart pensions and benefits enjoyed by government employee unions. Maine Governor Paul LePage’s $524 million of proposed cuts in retirement and health benefits is an admirable commencement in the pursuit of fiscal responsibility for the State of Maine.