Rhode Island is drowning in pension promises it cannot meet and benefits it cannot pay. Yet the municipal employee unions have opposed sharing the budgetary pain they created.
The unions have pushed too hard and too far, and politicians are incapable of standing up to them because of campaign contributions and the large municipal employee voting block.
The latest example was the last minute removal of union health care sharing provisions in Rhode Island's attempt to deal with budget deficits, as reported in the Providence Journal, Critics of R.I. Senate panel budget attack union influence (emphasis mine):
It's true. Drastic action will be the end result.
But the strongest reaction Friday, as people digested what lawmakers proposed, had to do with what was not in the plan.
Not in the plan was a cost-cutting provision that would have required municipal employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health-insurance premiums in new contracts — a change that local leaders wanted because it would help them absorb cuts in state aid.
The reaction was strong because the provision had been in the deficit-cutting plan as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, as indicated by House Speaker Gordon D. Fox in an interview at the time. But by 8:30 p.m., when the Finance Committee was voting, it was out.
Word that it was out came after AFL-CIO President George Nee vowed to lobby against the plan, telling a Journal reporter that “this is an election year” and the provision “could be a factor in how endorsements are made.”
On Friday, Nee’s comments prompted many observers to vent their anger at labor leaders and their ties to Democratic lawmakers.
“The unions are running the State House. The unions are demanding what they want in the budget,” said Harry L. Staley, chairman of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, which expressed its outrage in a news release issued Friday morning.
“They’re running the state into the ground.”
Expect the usual "union busting" or "anti-union" epithets to be thrown.
In reality, those of us calling for reform are the true friends of municipal employees because we recognize that the current system is unsustainable. Better to reform now than to break promises which cannot be kept.
The money just isn't there, and the economic base cannot support the current structure. Rhode Island is in an economic death spiral with extremely high unemployment fed by high taxes needed to sustain unsustainable government employee contracts.
Are union contracts the only problem? No, but they are the single biggest budgetary problem, both in the short and long term.
When promises are broken -- which is my prediction of what will happen nationwide if substantial changes are not made -- union members will have no one to blame but their own leadership.
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