Alaska is in financial turmoil. The current governor has liberally used the power of his line-item veto to cut a great deal of spending from the budget. But what is the way forward? Is there a sensible solution that embodies the principles of individual liberty and subsidiarity, that could balance state and local budgets while improving education and local quality of life?
There is such a thing. It’s been tried, and it works. It returns greater control to municipalities, makes more money available to local governments, and provides greater flexibility in local funding decisions.
So what exactly is “it?”
The Wisconsin Legislature enacted “Act 10” in March 2011, abbreviating the associational and collective bargaining rights of most, but not all, Wisconsin public employees. Public sector unions are now divided into two categories: public safety and general employee. Wisconsin no longer allows automatic pay deduction of union dues for general employee unions. The state also requires general employee unions to recertify annually, and even if a union is certified as the collective bargaining agent for, say, the local teachers, the union may only bargain for a wage increase no greater than the change in the consumer price index.
Act 10 gives more freedom to individual employees, allowing them to bargain with the state and municipalities for larger raises or other benefits, without having to ask the union’s permission. And the state continues to treat public safety unions as it did before Act 10, allowing payroll dues deduction, engaging in collective bargaining without restriction, and not requiring annual recertification.
Act 10 highlights the tension between the obligation of the government to be stewards of the taxpayers’ money and the right of both individuals and associations to be free from government interference.
The people of Alaska depend upon the governor and the Legislature to work together to wisely allocate state revenue. Providing essential services to the people of Alaska must be balanced with fiscal responsibility so as not to squander the future for Alaska’s children. By changing the relationship between the government and general employee unions, the government can be more fiscally responsible toward its residents.
Here in Alaska, why can’t we make our public sector employees more free? Let’s allow them to bargain directly with the government for employment or join the union if they so choose. From a fiscal standpoint, take a hard look at the amazing savings combined with phenomenal improvement for students and teachers in Wisconsin.
An April 5, 2019, article in the Wall Street Journal, “Scott Walker‘s Gift to his Democratic Successor,” stated that “when public employees were required to contribute more to their pensions and health care, every level of government in Wisconsin experienced enormous savings; the conservative MacIver Institute estimates more than $5 billion statewide, $3 billion of which has been realized by local school districts. The city of Milwaukee ... saved $20 million.”
What’s more, without mandatory collective bargaining with local unions, local governments can shop around for the best deals on health care without being shoehorned into accepting union sponsored plans.
Local governments and school districts now compete for the very best teachers — as one rural school superintendent put it in the Wall Street Journal article, “The relationship between management and teachers is much easier. We as administrators have to do things to retain teachers because of the new marketplace.” This new market for teacher talent has led to improved student outcomes in math scores in just the few years since reform occurred.
Alaskans are sick of business as usual. Absolutely no one wants to give short shrift to teachers or any public sector employees. But the bloat of government must be addressed. The inflation of medical costs, especially since the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, means that regular people who don’t work for the government increasingly shoulder larger health care costs. In negotiation, there is strength in numbers. When you give local governments the flexibility to negotiate better health care plans for all their employees, Wisconsin’s example stands to show that the community benefits from the cost savings, and public sector employees benefit as well.
We all live and work together in these communities. We ask public sector employees to share a greater burden of their pension and health care costs. In return, the savings to both them and the taxpayers, and the benefits to the community at large, will more than answer those who might cry foul. Let’s make our own Act 10 — Alaska style — and let freedom ring.
Emily Jackson-Hall is a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel. She and her family will be returning home to Kasilof from her current assignment in spring.