Maybe Richard Corcoran can apply his transparency legislation this session to stop local governments allowing unions to rip off taxpayers to the tune of millions of dollars.
The Florida House speaker just said he's looking to promote “conservative principles of transparency” throughout state government.
What better time, then, to look at the “blatant misuse of taxpayer money,” as the James Madison Institute (JMI) calls it -- paying local government employees to conduct union business during work hours without loss of pay?
Right now cities, counties -- wherever collective bargaining takes place, not just the big blue cities -- are essentially giving away scarce tax resources to private entities for private benefit. And it involves millions of dollars a year.
It's all explained in a JMI policy brief, "Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime." Though the brief was released just ahead of Labor Day, it's as if it was made for a "Corcoran moment."
What the brief says is, even though Florida is a right-to-work state -- meaning no employee can be forced to join a union in order to get a job -- Florida municipalities give public employee unions access to millions of taxpayer dollars each year in the form of release time.
“The business conducted on release time has no public benefit -- it exclusively serves the interests of government unions. At a time of increasing scrutiny at all levels of taxpayer funding in Florida, organized labor, not taxpayers, should incur those costs. Yet, release time sticks taxpayers with the tab for private union activity,” according to the policy brief authored by Trey Kovacs, JMI adjunct scholar and policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s vice president of policy.
JMI's work on this policy brief is spellbinding.
While it's true, collective-bargaining municipalities large and small are all guilty, it's the big ones that reflect the most egregious loss of tax dollars:
- Miami-Dade, Florida’s most populous county, allowed nearly 100,000 hours of release time in 2016, costing taxpayers about $3 million. In fact, $3 million was the cost for each of the last three years.
- The City of Tampa spent $366,771 for unionized employees to conduct various union-related activities during 2016. Money spent for each of the last three years was between $188,000 and $366,000.
- The City of Jacksonville used $314,677 for similar release time in 2016. Counting up, money spent for release time during the last three years was between $300,000 and $400,000 per year.
In reviewing the release time data, CEI’s Kovacs said it was particularly concerning that some county officials do not track or record what activities are taking place on union release time. “This practice is unsettling as it demonstrates a complete lack of transparency and accountability,” he said. “Public unions exist across the country as some of the most powerful and well-funded political machines, and it is wrong for taxpayers to be held accountable to provide these employees compensation when they are performing non-public work.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Nuzzo told me addressing release time is one of JMI's priorities for 2018. "We hope at least one of two things will happen: That this will catch Speaker Corcoran's attention as he continues to focus on practices that require taxpayers' money for no taxpayers' benefit; or the Legislature will out-and-out outlaw paid release time in statute."
JMI recommends Florida eliminate union release time, even cites several ways to get the job done, including through specific policy or an elimination of release time provisions in collective bargaining agreements. The government should focus on ways to cut taxpayer funds to private organizations that do not benefit the public, JMI says, and government employees should not perform duties unrelated to their public duties while on the clock at their government jobs.
Concludes the brief, “The Sunshine State has the tools at its disposal to put an end to the practice of giving away scarce taxpayer resources to private entities for private benefit. It is now time to use those tools.”
It's all laid out for Speaker Corcoran and his committees, in fact, for the whole Legislature -- and, frankly, it's irresistable. It's tough for any lawmaker to say in good faith I want to protect the taxpayer dollar if he/she is going to turn away from this.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith